Greetings from Norfolk, Virginia! (Complete with the scariest looking black cloud I have ever seen – not sure how that crept into my photo without me realizing?!) But, the sign is just so welcoming that it felt wrong not to include it in my city guide. After all, “welcoming” is a term I would certainly use to describe my time in The Old Dominion State. From my Couchsurfing hosts who went out of their way to ensure I was comfortable to the waitress who brought me a plate of truffle fries on the house because I “just have to try them,” I didn’t encounter one unwelcoming person. And, while most people were certainly curious as to why I had chosen to visit their home region, they didn’t think it was strange. Instead, the locals seemed fully aware of what they had to offer. For them, it was more bewildering why people wouldn’t take the time to explore this area of the USA. Just as with Raleigh, North Carolina, I think that a weekend is the perfect amount of time. A few days to see the sights, hang out by the beach and have an ice-cream where the waffle cone was invented. Interested? Let’s get into the Norfolk/Virginia Beach city guide…
I flew direct from Cleveland to Norfolk on Allegiant Air (who seem to have recently started lots of new routes from Cle). As far as I could tell, they only offered flights on Monday and Friday, so I flew there on a Monday afternoon and flew back on Friday afternoon. This worked pretty perfectly for me. But, going the other way around (being there for the weekend) would be ideal for those who don’t want to use up all their vacation days. Norfolk is the main airport for this area and is where you will fly into regardless of if you are staying in Virginia Beach or Norfolk.
At first, I was a little confused by the distance between these cities (it looks a lot further on Google Maps), so I was excited to learn that it only takes about 30 minutes to get between them – similar to Miami & Ft. Lauderdale. As usual, when traveling on my own, I couchsurfed during this trip, and my host lived a 20-minute drive from both cities. Initially, I told myself I would take public transport to get to each of them (about $4). But, when Uber’s were only $12ish each-way and took one-third of the time, I splurged.
As with most of the USA, having a car would be beneficial to visit some of the natural beauty on the outskirts. However, if you are happy to wander the cities and chill by the beach, then Uber should be enough for you to get where ya need to go.
Norfolk was exactly my kind of small city. For the fellow self-proclaimed CULTURE VULTURES, you are going to find plenty to keep you occupied. My first stop was the Chrysler Museum of Art, specifically, their Perry Glass Studio, where you can watch free glass-blowing demonstrations every day at noon. They last about 35 minutes, and you get to watch the process of making a bowl! It was fascinating and well worth scheduling your morning/lunch around. Then, I headed into the actual museum to continue developing my new-found love of glass. Seriously, I didn’t realize how many forms and styles this miraculous material has taken over the centuries. Chrysler is home to one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of glass in the world, and their pieces span time, place, and purpose.
The Pagoda & Garden Foundation feels like a little oasis in the middle of the city and is the perfect rest-stop before venturing onto the USS Wisconsin – one of the largest and last battleships ever built by the U.S. Navy. Give yourself 45 minutes to an hour to stroll around the whole ship and imagine what life would have been like living on-board for months (if not years) at a time. Rough. Town Point Park is right next door and, if you walk toward the water, you will come to the Armed Forces Memorial – the most touching and creative I have ever seen. A few minutes walk away is the recently reopened Waterside District filled with plenty of bars and restaurants for you to sit in and watch the boats sailing by.
Granby Street is the main drag of Downtown Norfolk. Get to know this road by having lunch at The Grilled Cheese Bistro and a post-grilled cheese detox tea at aLatte Café. If you require a new read, Prince Books is a local independent bookstore. Unfortunately, I arrived after closing, but I heard great things about Selden Market, which is filled with offerings from Norfolk’s small businesses.
A 15-minute walk from Granby Street is the NEON District – Norfolk’s first official arts district. If you are a fan of public art, then a little wander around here will be a treat. Keep your eyes peeled for Bob’s Gun Shop (just kidding…you can’t miss it!). Keep walking another 15 minutes up the same main road and reward yourself after a full day of exploring with an ice-cream from Doumar’s Cones & BBQ. Even if you fancy yourself more of a cup-person, here you HAVE to get a waffle cone. It is where Abe Doumar invented them for the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904.
Personally, one day in Virginia Beach was enough for me. I started with lunch at Commune, which came highly recommended from a number of you (thank you!!!). Open just for breakfast and lunch; this sustainable eatery/bakery/cafe serves fresh, seasonal New American dishes, mostly made with produce from the backyard garden. The menu changes regularly based on what is in season so – to give you an idea – I had the Pungo Skillet Bowl which consisted of fried sweet potato, carmen peppers, diced onion, shishito pepper, roasted corn, and zucchini, tossed in tomato jam and topped with a fried farm egg. YUM. The restaurant is smack-bang in the middle of the VIBE Creative district, the vibrant center for various creative industries in Virginia Beach. Again, the murals and public art (most of which were done by local artists) here provide you an opportunity to immerse yourself in the creative world of the area. Take it!
The VIBE Creative district reaches right to the tip of Virginia Beach’s boardwalk. Stretching three miles from 2nd to 40th Street, the boardwalk has a separate bike path if you are looking to get your cycle on. Alternatively, do like I did, and find a welcoming bench to perch yourself and read for a few hours. Throughout the summer months, the boardwalk often has free entertainment (I saw the Virginia Symphony Orchestra play a concert), so keep your eyes peeled for anything that suits your fancy. Whatever you do, make sure to pay your respects to the Norwegian Lady Statue and the incredibly impressive Neptune Statue.
KIPTOPEKE STATE PARK
I have to give credit where credit is due, and the idea for a mini-evening road-trip to watch the sunset in Kiptopeke State Park was 100% from my Couchsurfing hosts. Honestly, until we arrived at the state park, I wasn’t entirely sure where we were going. I just hopped in the backseat, rolled the windows down, and smiled from home to the park and back again. We drove for about an hour, crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. This brought us to the rather picturesque town of Cape Charles (we stopped for ice-cream at CC Kool Eatz), before making our way to Kiptopeke. The guys had timed it perfectly. We arrived just as the sun was setting over Kiptopeke’s Concrete Fleet. Contracted by the U.S. Maritime Commission during World War II, these nine concrete ships were brought to Kiptopeke Beach in 1948 to protect the area during severe weather. After being exposed to decades of harsh elements, the ships now show an incredible amount of decay, while also providing a home for coastal fish, shellfish, and birds. A ghost fleet was the last thing I expected to see in the horizon this evening; but, that is why you take the local’s advice. Always.
+ See more of the city in my Virginia travel vlog
+ For more travel inspo, check out the rest of my city guides
+ Culture vultures! Here are 5 must-see art museums around the world
Photos by me, taken on my iPhone 8+