Laura Rennie

Amber's guide to Hampton Roads

Laura R.2 Comments

Today's post is brought to you by the newly(ish) domesticated Amber. I posted some travel tips on Amber's blog while she was in Ireland, and now she's returning the favor! Amber was writing features for the Daily News-Record in Harrisonburg when I was an intern there during my sophomore year. We still keep in touch through Facebook and the blogosphere. I was thrilled when she agreed to write a guide to Hampton Roads. It's an area I know very little about and I bet you'll be like me and want to make an immediate trip down to check out all the spots she mentions!

Amber and her husband Sean - aren't they the cutest?
I've either lived or spent significant time in almost every part of Virginia. I grew up in Appalachia, lived in the Shenandoah Valley for three years, married a boy from the DC metro area and now we live in Hampton Roads. Hampton Roads is known for a few things: traffic, ocean, Busch Gardens, Colonial Williamsburg and the military. But I promise, it offers something to see for absolutely everyone. 

It's a region comprised of seven main cities, each with their own character. The cities are separated by large rivers, so that means lots of bridge-and-tunnel traveling. If you're traveling east on Interstate-64 toward Hampton Roads, you'll come first to the Peninsula, which includes Williamsburg, Yorktown, Newport News and Hampton. Cross over the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel (HRBT to locals), and you'll end up in charming Norfolk and can continue past to Virginia Beach. If you cross the James River Bridge from Newport News, you can venture over to "Peanut country" in Suffolk and Surry, where there is plenty of farmland to admire and the best fish tacos at Captain Chuck-a-Mucks. From Suffolk or Norfolk, you can travel to Portsmouth, where Victorian rowhouses are the norm and you can sample international beers at the Biergarden.

Laura asked me to give a guide to some of the best things to do, places to visit and good eats. Here are some of my favorite spots in the seven cities.

For Beach Bums and Seafoodies
If you don't mind traffic and tourists, Virginia Beach is a great day trip. We like to go once a year, just to be as touristy as possible. You can rent tandem bikes on the boardwalk for about $20, which we did for our engagement photo shoot.

The boardwalk also has an amusement park and all the typical beach stores. If you want to have a drink with the beach in sight, you can't beat the fire pits at Catch 31, the restaurant at the bottom of the Hilton. At the top is an exclusive club called Skybar, where you can look out over the entire beachfront. For a less flashy but just-as-delicious seafood meal, hop across Pacific Avenue to Rudee's on the Inlet.

There's great shopping in Town Center, where there's also an ALWAYS PACKED PF Chang's and Cheesecake Factory. My friends like Bevello, a great boutique with trendy sundresses, chic clutches and flashy baubles. We also love the banana pecan gelato at Confetti and the huge drink selection at Yard House. If you plan enough ahead, you can catch a great show at the Sandler Center.

If you love a stretch of sand and swimming, but not paying for parking or battling tourists for umbrella space, there are plenty of great lesser known beaches. Buckroe Beach in Hampton is pretty and not touristy at all. Yorktown Beach has a lovely walkable area called Riverwalk Landing, where we like to get burgers at the Yorktown Pub. Watch out, though; this river can get packed with jellyfish!

Arts & Culture
Folks in the area know that Norfolk is one of the loveliest cities in Virginia, with an artsy culture and nightlife comparable to Asheville, N.C. or Savannah. But I find folks from outside the area don't seem to know what they're missing. It's a walkable city, built with lovely canals modeled after those in Belgium and a new in-town lightrail line called the Tide. Norfolk is home to beautiful museums and a strip of bars and restaurants that make for a great night out on the town.

Norfolk skyline
The neighborhood of Ghent cannot be missed on a visit to Hampton Roads. On the main drag, Colley Avenue, are plenty of great restaurants like Luna Maya for Mexican and Donut Dinette, a beloved brunch restaurant. My wine club had a great night eating grilled sandwiches and drinking wine flights at Press 626  and I love the drink menu at Public House

I love to see indie and artsy movies at the Naro theater, an authentic restored movie house with cheap prices and a balcony! During the holidays, they rotate regular showings of "It's a Wonderful Life" and "A Christmas Story," and every month they host a Rocky Horror night.

the Kennedy's at the Naro
If you have time to stroll, take a walk along the Hague and finish with a visit to the Chrysler Museum, a world-class art museum with an incredible collection of art glass. In the summertime, I also try to make it to outdoor movies at the Hermitage Art Museum, which is housed in an art deco mansion right on the water. It feels like going to a movie at Gatsby's house. Floral lovers should also make sure to visit the Norfolk Botanical Gardens.

on the Hague

If you love the nightlife, Granby Street is the place to be. It's home to several bars and restaurants, all with the same last call, so it's generally one large pub crawl. My friends love Baxter's, a comfortable, no-fuss sports bar with great drinks and plenty of pool tables. If you're interested in dancing, you can pay the cover to get into Granby Theater

I'm a little more chill than that, and my hubby loves nothing more than pizza and beer, so our favorite spot to take visitors is Cogan's Pizza on Colonial Avenue. Great atmosphere, good pizza, extensive beer list and long wait for tables, but worth it.

Downtown Hampton also has a great bar scene that's especially fun in the summertime, when you can play cornhole at Marker 20 and bands set up on the street. The Virginia Air and Space Center is just a couple blocks away, so we like to go see movies on the IMAX screen, then hop over to Taphouse for a pint before heading home.

Newport News and the Historic Triangle
Newport News is a great place to live and go to school, but alas, doesn't get as much tourist traffic as the rest of the region. Its best sights are outdoors: the Newport News Park is the largest municipal park east of the Mississippi and has paddleboating and canoeing. I have never been on a walk in that park and not seen a blue heron. 

If you're interested in boating or maritime history, the Mariners Museum is impressive and is home to the turret of the USS Monitor that was sunk in a famous Civil War battle. But the museum's park is even more impressive, with a lovely five-mile trail that ends at the Lions Bridge, one of my truly favorite places on earth.

Williamsburg is a well-known weekend destination. It's got the beautiful Colonial Williamsburg, super fun Busch Gardensawesome outlets and my FAVORITE antique-hunting ground, the Williamsburg Antique Mall. Within 20 minutes in either direction on the Colonial Parkway (a beautiful drive, btw) you can visit the Yorktown battlefield where the Revolutionary War was effectively won and Jamestown, where our country began.

Obviously, I could go on and on and on. Almost every weekend, I turn to my husband and say, "I love it here and I feel so lucky to have all these opportunities." For more Hampton Roads ideas, I have my local adventures all archived on my blog here

all pictures provided by Amber