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EssentialsVisit Endview Plantation . You'll find history displays and lessons around every corner on the grounds of this restored home, which looks much as it did in 1862 during the Civil War. Be sure to attend Endview’s Civil war re-enactment—you just might see someone fire a musket.
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Spend an afternoon at the Hermitage Museum and Gardens . The 12-acre, 42-room estate was built in 1907 as a summer residence for the Sloane family. Its sprawling gardens only hint at the opulence indoors, where you'll find a diverse collection of art representing many cultures, some of it dating back to 2000 B.C.
AttractionsIn an area with a surplus of world-class attractions, you may have trouble deciding where to spend your time. Here are the highlights for Hampton Roads, as chosen by AAA editors. GEMs are “Great Experiences for Members.”
One can travel many “roads” when it comes to seeing attractions in Hampton Roads. Of course, because this is a coastal region, quite a few of the area's sites are water-centered, but there also are excellent art venues and children's museums. In addition you'll find many beautiful gardens and large nature preserves brimming with wildlife.
If sailing the seven seas isn't an option, go on another type of seafaring escapade at The Mariners' Museum and Park , where you can pace around the ready room of a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier or take the helm of a submarine. The interactive museum displays more than 35,000 prized artifacts, including old maps, handcrafted ship models, small sea craft, rare carved figureheads and ancient navigational instruments. This AAA GEM attraction also offers a fascinating exhibit devoted to the Civil War ironclad USS Monitor. You'll learn about its fateful battle with the CSS Virginia and see hundreds of salvaged parts from the ship's resting place at the bottom of the sea.
At the Virginia Air & Space Center , a AAA GEM attraction, you can sit in a jetfighter's cockpit, assist in a plane's landing as an air traffic controller or take a wing walk on a biplane. Interactive exhibits, including Space Racers for the kids and NASA displays, entice sure-footed earth dwellers to take flight. An IMAX theater and a seven-story observation deck top off the exciting skyward adventures.
Find your way to the Lightship Portsmouth Museum at London Boulevard and Water Street (it is affiliated with the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum at 2 High St.). Much like a lighthouse, lighted ships once shined their lanterns into the night, helping mariners navigate hazardous waters. Built in 1915 and operated by the Coast Guard, the Portsmouth lightship served as a beacon for nearly 50 years. Visitors can board the craft and see what life was like for 15 longtime members of the crew. The museum also presents exhibits about the Coast Guard and lightship service.
Hike the trails at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge . Some elevated paths in this 9,000-acre preserve traverse over marsh or water, and all the trails take explorers through a range of habitats—meadows, beaches, dunes, woods and marsh. You'll enter a world of quiet beauty where sea grass swishes in the wind and bald eagles and peregrine falcons nest in the trees. In December, visitors encounter 10,000 migrating snow geese.
Touch a live shark at Nauticus , a AAA GEM attraction. Norfolk's interactive, maritime-themed museum provides all kinds of hands-on opportunities to learn about the harbor's naval history and sea environment—you can even rub the head and dorsal fin of a sleeping nurse shark, practice tying rope knots or call the shots in a sea battle simulation.
While you're at Nauticus, visit The Battleship Wisconsin docked alongside. One of the largest battleships built by the U.S. Navy, the vessel saw combat in three wars, including World War II and the Korean War. Visitors can explore the main deck on self-guiding tours; interactive exhibits describe life aboard the hulking craft.
For an in-depth look at African-American art history (with a healthy dose of Native American and African history, too) head to The Hampton University Museum . Founded in 1868, the museum is one of Virginia's oldest and boasts more than 9,000 pieces of art, sculpture and cultural objects. Collections include traditional and contemporary art from North America, Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Learn about the Harlem Renaissance and folk art and see such rare objects as an ivory tusk trumpet and a Mukenga mask.
Stop to smell the roses—and hundreds of other plants at the Norfolk Botanical Garden . This AAA GEM attraction's 155-acre spread includes a vast collection of azaleas, camellias, rhododendrons and roses along 12 miles of paths. Hundreds of varieties of tropical plants are displayed inside the greenhouses. Warm-weather boat rides take visitors on a trip through the garden's waterways, where the luxuriant foliage along the bank provides a verdant canopy.
The Italianate exterior at the Chrysler Museum of Art is a wonder to behold. Inside this AAA GEM attraction, the nearly 40,000-piece collection is broad and deep in scope. A maze of brightly colored galleries spans 5,000 years of paintings and sculptures, including works by Cassatt, Degas, Homer, Matisse, Picasso, Pollock, Renoir, Rodin, Rothko, Rubens and Warhol. Don't forget to visit the photography gallery and glass collection.
Edgy, educational and edifying, the Portsmouth Art and Cultural Center is a modern-art experience. The exterior might be staid, but inside is anything but old-fashioned. Visitors learn about artistic forms such as trompe l'oeil and photorealism while perusing exhibits featuring noted regional or international artists. The gallery's art shows are ever changing, so there's always something new to see.
From the lifesaving tower, sight a ship on the horizon at Virginia Beach Surf & Rescue Museum . The United States Life-Saving Service, now known as the Coast Guard, once ran this facility, and visitors can learn about the service's lifesaving role in hundreds of shipwrecks off the Mid-Atlantic coast. Video displays include a breathtaking helicopter rescue at sea, and the museum displays a computer system that identifies vessels as they make their way into port. Want to learn about lifeguards and hurricanes? They make a splash here, too.
Talk to the animals—all kinds of animals—at the scenic 53-acre Virginia Zoo . Creatures of all shapes and sizes live in habitats reminiscent of their indigenous homes in Africa, Asia, South America, North America and Australia. Popular residents include prairie dogs, tigers, white rhinos, elephants—more than 350 animals are present. Don't miss the lovely gardens.
Hang the jib and duck for the boom onboard the American Rover Tall Sailing Ship Cruises . Topside, you'll hone your sea legs and trade fish stories while watching the crew harness the wind. This 135-foot-long, three-mast topsail schooner cuts a fast wake through the harbor. Keep one eye on the seas—passengers sometimes spot whales swimming in these waters.
Gen. Douglas MacArthur's notable words “I shall return” are engraved in bronze at the MacArthur Memorial . The museum in Norfolk's old city hall celebrates MacArthur's life and 20th-century war campaigns. At this AAA GEM attraction, chronologically arranged galleries circle the rotunda on two levels. On display are the general's famous corncob pipe, battered field cap, dark wire sunglasses and shiny black limo still sporting its five-star license plate. In addition to personal objects, letters, newspapers and gifts, visitors can view educational exhibits about America's history and wars. Before departing, pause for a moment in the main rotunda, where the great man is entombed alongside his wife.
From mountains to underground caverns to seashore, all the state's diverse ecosystems are represented at the 10-acre Virginia Living Museum . Visitors to this interactive AAA GEM attraction see wildlife firsthand—mountain laurel sways in the wildlife park; fish, crabs, turtles and amphibious creatures swim through aquariums; bald eagles call to one another through the tall trees; egrets swoop through a thick swamp; coyotes, red wolves, bobcats run through thickets. In the Virginia Underground Gallery's limestone caves, discover cave-dwelling animals alongside minerals and fossils. Nocturnal animals, including sharks and flying squirrels, come alive in Virginia's World of Darkness Gallery.
More than 800,000 gallons of water, 300 interactive exhibits, acres of marshland habitat, a .3-mile nature trail, three touch tanks, one outdoor aviary—it all adds up to a great time and a great learning experience at the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center . At this hands-on AAA GEM attraction, visitors can do more than touch sea cucumbers or watch river otters play. There's a harbor seal exhibit, a sea turtle aquarium and a huge ocean habitat for sharks. Catch a movie at the IMAX Theater, which presents 3-D nature films.
On a hot day, nothing's better than cooling down with a dip at Ocean Breeze Waterpark . The park offers 16 waterslides, white-water tubing along the Amazon and a million-gallon wave pool where surfers can hang ten on breaking 6-foot waves. No worries, mon—this Caribbean-themed park also has a large area just for kids.
See all the AAA recommended attractions for this destination.
RestaurantsOur favorites include some of this destination's best restaurants—from fine dining to simple fare.
Find the Beach Pub just a few blocks inland from the Virginia Beach strip. This restaurant is a combination of casual dining fit for families and a crowded bar packed with locals (even in the middle of the day). The pub sports a retro theme—prints and photos from the resort city's past line the walls. Of course, the specialty here is fresh Atlantic seafood with such favorites as creamy crab dip or crab cakes, fried flounder, and boiled shrimp, but the burger and fries also are a popular choice. For those who like Southern eats, try the country-style vegetables. Before the rooster crows, get here for breakfast—the pub is open early. The staff is young and friendly, and the T-shirts are a popular souvenir.
Mary's Restaurant has been a Virginia Beach favorite for breakfast and lunch for more than 40 years, and you'll find yourself eating alongside executives, surfers and tourists. This cozy spot offers such down-home Southern favorites as country-fried steak, barbecue and homemade soup. In addition there's always a rotating selection of daily specials. Desserts include a mouthwatering array of cakes and pies sitting on the counter under glass cake domes. Try the all-day breakfast, which includes the “Old Virginia,” homemade biscuits, omelets and pancakes.
Many come by land; others come by sea, mooring their boats to one of the docks at Chick's Oyster Bar . Arrivals may differ, but this destination is a fun and casual spot on the Lynnhaven Inlet. The views of the water and million-dollar homes are spectacular, and the people watching on Chick's open-air deck can't be beat. The bar is well known for its fabulous fried butterfly shrimp and its oversized steamer platters, but other favorites include fried flounder, crab cakes and the grilled catch of the day.
Coastal Grill in Virginia Beach is more than just a great neighborhood bistro— it's a place with a menu that locals love. Try the lamb with eggplant puree, the spinach salad with chicken livers in a deglazed-pan vinaigrette, the pepper-crusted tuna or the soft-shell crabs (in season). The side dishes change seasonally—the restaurant serves grilled corn in the summer and brown sugar-glazed butternut squash during colder months. The decor is understated, punctuated by butcher's paper over green tablecloths, bistro curtains and handsome artwork. Coastal Grill does not accept reservations, so expect a wait at peak times.
One Fish Two Fish is trendy and bright with a distinct California feel. Walls of windows overlook expansive views of the Lynnhaven River. Sit outside on the patio and enjoy gentle ocean breezes and lovely sunsets. A shiny chrome exhibition kitchen dominates the dining room, and diners can eat at the chef's bar to watch all the action. This has quickly become a trendy spot for locals, so expect a crowd. The menu offers sophisticated and modern choices, and diners will love the oyster stew with shallots, sweet corn and smoked bacon. Try the fried flounder in a lemon-jalapeno butter or the 20-ounce rib eye with scalloped blue cheese potatoes.
Steinhilber's Restaurant has been family-owned and operated since 1939. This former country club occupies a prime spot overlooking the Lynnhaven River and offers nostalgic charm with its mahogany paneling, vaulted ceiling and a portrait of the restaurant's founder hanging over a stone fireplace. The signature dish is the fried fantail jumbo shrimp, but the delicious she-crab soup, grilled fresh fish, back fin crab cakes and steaks are other wonderful choices. For dessert, order ice cream—made by a small, local dairy—or the pecan pie. The staff is warm and constantly attentive. There is a large patio overlooking the river, which is fun in warmer months.
The Doumar family has run its orange and white drive-in in Norfolk since 1915. This joint's all about good eats and nostalgia— Doumar's Cones & Barbecue still offers carhop service. Flash your headlights to prompt a carhop to approach your driver's side window. The drive-in sits between downtown and the trendy Ghent neighborhood and serves up traditional Southern barbecue, burgers, french fries and old-fashioned soda fountain favorites. Try their specialty, the banana milkshake.
Bolivian sisters run Luna Maya Cantina , a small and hip eatery in Norfolk where fresh ingredients and great tasting food prevail. The restaurant mixes Mexican and South American cuisine, and the menu includes chorizo corn casserole, fabulous sweet and spicy beef tamale and shrimp burritos. All meals start with chipotle salsa and fresh chips, and Luna Maya's made-to-order guacamole and white sangria are must-haves. Pale orange walls strike a warm tone contrasting with the cool and sleek chrome bar.
Crackers Little Bar Bistro in Norfolk serves numerous tasty dishes in equally small, appetizer-style portions. It's the perfect menu for those who like to sample many tastes. The offerings constantly change, but you can always expect to find the tomato mozzarella stack, the fried dumplings, the petite beef filet and the daily fondue special on the menu. The s'mores pu pu platter is a fun and sweet way to end a meal. Cracker's also offers a great wine and beer list—don't miss reading the humorous reviews.
A small, brightly decorated spot in Norfolk, the No Frill Bar & Grill has a cozy neighborhood feel and a heated patio for chilly winter evenings. Chalkboard specials shine with creativity and fresh seasonal influences, and the daily menu lists sandwiches, salads, burgers, local seafood and house specialties. Try the award-winning ribs, the famous chili, some barbecue, the grilled portabellas or the wonderful Spottswood spinach salad, piled high with crisp apples, blue cheese and caramelized onions. Desserts are excellent here, too—order the Carnegie deli cheesecake or the multilayered carrot cake.
Todd Jurich's Bistro is located in a new tower in Norfolk's increasingly sophisticated downtown. The seasonal menu presents unusual and delightful combinations of local products from the region. Cuisine influences range from Tuscan to Thai—try the grilled tuna with wasabi mashed potatoes or the sophisticated crab sauté over Johnnycakes. The wait staff is smooth and professional with excellent knowledge of the large stock of wines, which are stored in the restaurant's glass-walled wine room.
See all the AAA Diamond Rated restaurants for this destination.
EventsIn addition to its many cultural and historic landmarks, Hampton Roads hosts a number of exceptional festivals and events that may coincide with your visit.
In January, welcome the new year by welcoming the whales to the waters of Hampton Roads. On a Holiday Whale Watching Boat Trip with the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center , you might spot some of the biggest mammals on the planet—juvenile humpback and fin whales migrate through the harbor this time of year. Passengers also see coastal landmarks and witness cold-weather aquatic wildlife.
April is a busy month for Hampton Roads. In Gloucester during the first weekend, catch spring fever and see plenty of yellow at the Daffodil Festival . The 2-day festival includes a parade, a children's carnival, an arts and crafts show, a 5K race, an arm-wrestling tournament, a dog costume contest and garden tours. Everyone in the family, from beloved pooches to aspiring strongmen, will find something to tickle their fancy.
Take in some college hoops at the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament , where 64 hot prospects play for NBA scouts. At the tournament, which is the oldest amateur basketball competition in the nation, college seniors put everything on the line for a shot at playing pro ball—their efforts translate into outstanding action on the boards.
Most people are familiar with ink-and-needle tattoos, but there's another kind—an entertaining military extravaganza featuring bugles, horns and lots of drumbeats. Held in late April and/or early May in Norfolk, the Virginia International Tattoo is an awesome pageant of choreography and musical sounds performed by more than 800 dancers, musicians, gymnasts, singers, color guards, drum corps and bagpipe players.
In May, mouths start watering at the mention of the Pungo Strawberry Festival . Virginia Beach boasts miles of farmlands, known as Pungo, and many of the farms grow these plump, juicy berries. The best way to celebrate the harvest is with an all-you-can-eat festival with strawberries served more than 50 ways. There's also a parade, live music on three stages, a carnival, pig races, a pie-eating contest and an arts and crafts show.
More than 250,000 visitors attend Norfolk Harborfest , a summer blowout held every June along the Hampton Roads waterfront. The Parade of Sail kicks off this event with more than 200 watercraft—including tugboats, fireboats, tall-masted sailing vessels, old wooden ships and Coast Guard and Navy ships—cruising down the Elizabeth River to downtown Norfolk. There are plenty of activities for younger folks, too. Sample some delicious eats—seafood, soul food and Cajun are just a few of the cuisines represented—and enjoy live entertainment all weekend.
If you like hot music and hotter food, head over to Norfolk's Bayou Boogaloo and Cajun Food Festival , a 3-day event beginning in June. Nosh on some Big Easy eats—jambalaya, gumbo, crawfish and étouffée. You'll lick powdered sugar off your fingers when you down a few hot beignets. Find a partner—Zydeco and Cajun bands perform on the three stages—and dance the night away to accordion-squeezing, washboard-scraping, spoon-tapping tunes.
During September when days shorten and shadows lengthen, Virginia Beach says good-bye to summer with the Virginia Beach Neptune Festival . Named after the Roman god of the sea, this wild event features sporting competitions, an air show, an arts show on the Boardwalk and the boisterous King Neptune's Grand Parade. Grab your pail and head to the beach for the International Sandsculpting Championship, where sand castles and sculptures are transitory masterpieces.
A holiday tradition that dates back to Colonial days, Norfolk's Holidays in the City is still exciting—though enthusiastic celebrants no longer fire their guns in the air. Thousands enjoy live music as they line the streets to await the countdown to the grand lighting of the city skyline. The lighted parade is a procession of illuminated theme floats, massive balloons, marching bands, dancers and costumed revelers. Santa Claus brings up the rear and officially kicks off the holiday season. Holidays in the City festivities also take place in Portsmouth.
See all the AAA recommended events for this destination.
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Battle of Hampton RoadsThe Civil War. Imagine the scene on the cold morning of March 9, 1862. During the night, the USS Monitor has arrived in Hampton Roads, sheathed in metal and lumbering under heavy weight. Sailors aboard the untested warship are exhausted after a perilous trip from New York, and many are sick from the rough seas.
The Monitor is the first Union ironclad, constructed in a hurry by Northern shipmakers. The crew isn't certain she's ready for battle. The Confederate CSS Virginia, a scuttled Union ship that the South has refitted in iron, is wreaking havoc. Just hours before the Monitor's arrival, the Virginia has sunk two Union warships and scattered the rest of the blockade. Some 240 Union sailors are dead. The Virginia will surely return to destroy the Minnesota, run aground after yesterday's assault and listing undefended in the sandy shoals.
The Monitor's crewmen know they are the Minnesota's only hope. They grow quiet as their ship approaches the harbor. Burning Union ships light the way. Commanding officer Lt. John L. Worden shouts, “Full steam ahead!” Gunners ready the turret, which has never been fired before.
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No one wins. No one loses. The Union blockade remains, and the Minnesota survives.
Nine months later, the celebrated Monitor will be lost in a storm off the coast of North Carolina.
Places in Vicinity