The diversity of attractions and activities we found in Coastal Virginia sent members of the Eastern Chapter of the Society of American Travel Writers home with an impressive list of things to write about after meeting there last summer. No matter the interest, Coastal Virginia has a story to tell. That means it’s also a great place to explore on a long weekend or a longer vacation.
NEON: New Energy of Norfolk
Neon, we learned, has more than one meaning in Norfolk. After watching two female glassblowers transform fire, sand, and metal into glass shapes at the Chrysler Museum of Art’s Glass Studio, I decided glassblowing was a good metaphor for Norfolk — an ever-evolving city continuing to transform itself into a hip, vibrant destination. Arts supporters have created the NEON Arts District along a stretch of Granby Street just north of Brambleton Avenue, complete with galleries, murals, live performances, and pop-up retail. Artisans and talented, ambitious chefs, brewmasters, and an urban winemaker are benefiting from each other’s efforts.
As a central Virginian, I’ve checked out restaurants out of necessity when I’ve been to new exhibits at Nauticus or events at the Virginia Arts Festival. But, Norfolk’s culinary scene is no longer a side dish to the city’s entrée of attractions — it has become an attraction in itself. A foodie tour offered by Coastal Food Tours is a good way to combine cultural sightseeing — especially the city’s contrasting architectural styles — with a farm-to-table experience; the company’s beer-and-wine tour features two breweries and one winery, and small plates can be enjoyed while chatting with the hosts.
Insider tip: Visitors wishing to extend their gastronomic tour to a multi-day regional experience, including Hampton, Jamestown, Yorktown, Smithfield, the Eastern Shore, and other destinations, can find information at coastalfoodtours.com.
A sample of restaurants to try on your own might include St. Germain, where in-house charcuterie shines; Field Guide, with long, communal tables and a garage door lifted in good weather for open-air dining; Chartreuse Bistro, where a daily changing menu reflects the owners’ commitment to local, organic farms; Supper, offering updated versions of Southern fare; Green House Kitchen, with an Italian menu also available for pickup or delivery; and LeGrand Kitchen, combining food with rock ‘n’ roll as a nod to LeGrand Records, the mid-20th-century Norfolk record label.
One City Marathon celebrates Newport News
If the 17th-century captain Christopher Newport, for whom Newport News is named, was to return to his namesake on the Virginia peninsula this spring, he’d discover it’s as robust and vigorous as he was.
This year is the 25th anniversary of the Mariners’ Museum’s Noland Trail, a community treasure for activity, and the 15th anniversary of the annual Battle of Hampton Roads Weekend, March 5–6, with reenactment camps, cannon firing, and even Abraham Lincoln.
New to the event this year is Friday night’s Sip & Sculpt, where guests can enjoy libations while creating their own iron-cast molds, which will be transformed into art during iron-pour demonstrations throughout the weekend. Returning is the popular History Bites food-tasting event, with restaurants’ interpretations of 19th-century dishes; and, in its second year, the Civil War-themed beard competition, where participants literally face-off with their best impression of a famous beard.
The Newport News One City Marathon, the peninsula’s first full marathon, takes place on March 15, covering the city’s entire 26-mile length. “The geography of the city is ideal for a marathon,” says city manager James M. Bourey, who’s been a runner for 42 years. Participants will run along the James River, past museums and businesses, and through neighborhoods and the campus of Christopher Newport University.
An 8K run/walk, a kids’ fun run, and a health and wellness expo round out the marathon’s schedule.
April brings cruises, Garden Week to Hampton
The popular seasonal Miss Hampton II cruises begin in mid-April, just in time for the April 22–24 “AirPower Over Hampton Roads” event. The free show will feature aircraft ranging from vintage planes to the latest and most powerful fighter jets. Families will enjoy aircraft tours and photo opportunities with civilian aerobatics and military demonstrations, as well as children’s entertainment. (langleyairshow.com)
On April 27, Virginia Historic Garden Week in Hampton will be a day to remember, especially as Fort Monroe is on the tour for the first time since the historic homes and gardens tours began in 1929.
The largest stone fort ever constructed in the United States, Fort Monroe was named to honor President James Monroe.
With 8 miles of spectacular waterfront and buildings whose rooms have entertained many U.S. presidents, it was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2011.
The grounds, streetscapes, gardens, and homes of the former U.S. Army post tell a story of bygone military life and allow visitors to experience the ongoing revitalization of a national treasure. Each staff officer’s residence exhibits unique architectural character, such as sweeping porches, detailed mantelpieces, and mature landscapes.
Before you go:
Hampton Tourism: visithampton.com
Newport News Tourism: newport-news.org
Norfolk Tourism: visitnorfolktoday.com