The cities of Virginia Beach and Norfolk are the two main hubs of the Chesapeake Bay region. Home to early colonial settlements, both have become important for maritime industries, especially the military and shipping. Use this guide to plan your next coastal Virginia getaway.
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Norfolk was settled in 1636 but was later destroyed during the Revolutionary War. The coastal location made it easy to set up rail and shipping connections. Industry also grew around seafood, specifically the sought-after Lynnhaven oysters. Today, the modern city is home to Old Dominion and Norfolk State univiersities, enhancing the young, creative energy.
What to Eat in Norfolk
Brothers– Owned by a former NBA referee, Brothers is an upscale restaurant with the best local ingredients like scallops, shrimp, and pork chops. The wine list has labels from Europe and beyond. 200 East Plume Street, (757) 937-2789
The Birch– What could be better than craft beer and grilled cheese? This bar has both, including 21 beer taps and five with cider and mead. The fun sandwich varieties add toppings like blueberries and chorizo. 1231 West Olney Road, (757) 962-5400
Cork & Co– This wine and martini bar opened in 2018 and has a full menu with steak and lobster. The restaurant also offers weekend brunch. 244 Granby Street, Suite A, (757) 251-2723
Doumar’s– Open since 1904, Doumar’s Cones & Barbecue is an old-school drive-in restaurant that is an essential stop for travelers. Home to the world’s first ice cream cone machine, the menu features Carolina-style barbecue, hot dogs, and fried ham sandwiches. 1919 Monticello Avenue, (757) 627-4163
Freemason Abbey– Set in a 146-year-old church, this restaurant has popular seafood and steak dishes like the lobster tails and award-winning she crab soup. There are also wild game specials like bison and wild boar. 209 West Freemason Street, (757) 622-3966
Granby Waffle Shop– It’s always breakfast time at this restaurant that serves a variety of waffle creations like sweet and savory versions as well as classics like chicken and waffles. 235 East Plume Street, (757) 904-1645
Handsome Biscuit– This quick-service restaurant has outdoor seating and is the perfect spot for breakfast. The heaping biscuits piled high with eggs, fried chicken, and pimento cheese are crowd pleasers, along with waffle fries and cookies. 2511 Colonial Avenue, no phone
La Brioche– Feel transported to France at this artisan bakery that serves freshly baked bread, goat cheese quiches, sandwiches, and pastries, all made in house. 765 Granby Street, (757) 226-9745
Luce– The cozy Italian restaurant and bar brings the flavors of three regions of Italy. The menu includes favorites like pasta and veal milanese, along with European wines. 245 Granby Street, (757) 502-7260
Omar’s Carriage House– Tucked into an 1840s carriage house, the restaurant has American favorites with Moroccan influences. Choose from tagine, kabobs, burgers, and more. 313 West Bute Street, (757) 622-4990
Orapax– The popular Greek restaurant has been open since 1966, serving traditional fare like gyro platters and moussaka along with fusion like Greek pizza. 1300 Redgate Avenue, (757) 627-8041
Saltine– Located on the street level of a downtown hotel, the restaurant focuses on seafood. Highlights include crab cakes and oysters from the Chesapeake Bay. There’s also a rooftop bar. 100 East Main Street, (757) 763-6280
The Stockpot– Set inside Selden Market, this health-focused restaurant has a second location in Virginia Beach. The menu includes breakfast sandwiches and bowls, soups, and salads. 215 East Plume Street, (757) 227-3337
Syd’s FishPig Cafe– The downtown restaurant is full of quirky folk art and is helmed by the James Beard-nominated chef, Cowboy Syd. The menu features Louisiana-style gumbo, house-made sausage, and fried flounder. 210 East Main Street, (757) 904-3680
Wicker’s Crab Pot Seafood– Located in nearby Chesapeake, this seafood market has both prepared foods and ingredients you can take to go. Blue crabs are one of the many specialties. 4201 Indian River Road, Chesapeake, (757) 351-2724
What to Do in Norfolk
Barry Art Museum– Located on the Old Dominion campus, the city’s newest art museum has a variety of exhibits, including glass art, paintings, and dolls. It is free to visit. 1075 West 43rd Street
Chrysler Museum of Art– Founded in 1933, the downtown art museum has an incredible collection from early Medieval pieces to glass artwork. The adjacent glassblowing studio offers classes and demonstrations. It’s also free to visit. 1 Memorial Place
Hermitage Museum and Gardens– The historic home on the Norfolk harbor now operates as a museum, with artwork and artifacts from the Sloane family. Pieces include Asian artifacts, textiles, and decorative arts. 7637 North Shore Road
Nauticus and Battleship Wisconsin– Located in the harbor, Nauticus is an interactive science and technology museum that focuses on maritime and naval history from the area. The attached Battleship Wisconsin is a decommissioned ship you can tour. 1 Waterside Drive
Naval Base Cruises– This company operates the Victory Rover and American Rover ships from the Norfolk harbor, pointing out landmarks over the course of the two-hour cruise.
Norfolk Botanical Garden– Inspired by the stunning gardens of Charleston, this botanical garden was established in the 1930s with its famed azaleas. There are 53 themed gardens spread across 175 acres, with walking paths and boat rides. 6700 Azalea Garden Road
Norfolk Sightseeing Attraction Pass and Discount Book– If you’re planning on visiting multiple museums, this pass provides discounts and unlimited access.
Norfolk Chronicles Walking History Tour– Learn about the history of Norfolk on this downtown walking tour, which highlights important landmarks like the historic shipyard and churches.
Selden Market– Browse for locally made goods at this indoor market in a historic building. 208 East Main Street
Sip Your Way Through Norfolk– Using this self-guided app, visitors can learn about Norfolk’s craft brewery scene. You can choose from a three or six brewery pass.
Virginia Zoo– Home to 700 animals from across the globe, this zoo is the largest of its kind in the state. Highlights include the African lions, orangutans, and giraffe. 3500 Granby Street
Where to Stay in Norfolk
Glass Light Hotel and Gallery– The 1912 building was turned into a AAA Four Diamond boutique hotel and gallery with world-class art. The property also has a restaurant and bar. Guest rooms have views of the harbor, Illy coffee makers, and Nest toiletries. 201 Granby Street
Hilton Norfolk The Main– The modern hotel in the heart of downtown has amenities like an indoor pool, a restaurant and bar, and guest rooms overlooking the harbor. 100 East Main Street
The Inn at Four Eleven York– The charming bed and breakfast is convenient to downtown museums. Guest rooms have stylish decor and amenities include daily breakfast, free WiFi, and an in-house restaurant and bar. 411 West York Street
Norfolk Waterside Marriott– Located in the Waterside district, this hotel has an indoor pool, a gym, and two onsite restaurants. 235 East Main Street
Rentals- Choose from rentals ranging from high rise condos to beach houses like this charming ocean view cottage.
Cape Henry, near modern-day Virginia Beach, was the site of the first arrival of English colonists, who then moved on to Jamestown. Starting in the early 1900s, the resort community became a popular getaway, increasing the need for hotels and restaurants.
Today it’s the most populous city in the state. Virginia Beach hosts the annual East Coast Surfing Championships, one of the largest tournaments in the nation. An underwater tunnel connects the city to Norfolk.
Where to Eat in Virginia Beach
Bay Local– With two locations in town, the restaurant has popular brunches, serving over-the-top cocktails, waffles, and heaping biscuits. Multiple locations
Beachside Social– This fun shuffleboard bar has a full menu of drinks, including craft beer and cocktails, and food. Chow down on nachos, flatbreads, and sandwiches. 2728 Atlantic Avenue, (757) 578-2399
Big Sam’s Inlet Raw Bar– The Rudee Inlet restaurant is popular with locals, serving the best seafood and tiki-inspired cocktails. 300 Winston Salem Avenue, (757) 428-4858
Commune– With locations in Virginia Beach and Norfolk, this restaurant has a large menu that includes breakfast sandwiches, bowls, and crepes incorporating local ingredients. 501 Virginia Beach Boulevard, (757) 963-8985
The Pink Dinghy– The little pink house in the ViBe District is an organic wine shop and restaurant serving tropical flavors. The menu changes, but includes bowls and sandwiches. It’s open for lunch, dinner, and brunch. 609 19th Street, (757) 937-1010
Waterman’s Surfside Grille– Family owned and operated since 1981, the waterfront restaurant has a seafood-heavy menu, including crab cakes, burgers, steaks, and salads. Don’t miss the boutique inside! 415 Atlantic Avenue, (757) 428-3644
What to Do in Virginia Beach
Breweries– Virginia Beach has a number of craft breweries that beer fans can visit, inlcuding Smartmouth, Vibrant Shore, Commonwealth, Deadline, and Back Bay Farmhouse.
Cayce Center– Founded on the principles of Edgar Cayce, a holistic healer and medium, this health center has a spa, cafe, and treatments like dream interpretation, hypnotherapy, and acupressure. 215 67th Street
Cape Henry Lighthouse– Built in 1792, this is one of the many lighthouses that dot the Virginia coast. Because it’s on a military base, the hours for tours vary so you might have to make multiple attempts. 583 Atlantic Avenue
First Landing State Park– Set on 2,000 acres, this state park on the bay has a large beach for sunseekers as well as 19 miles of hiking and biking trails. It gets its name for the site where colonists first arrived. 2500 Shore Drive
Haunted Walking Tour of Virginia Beach– Learn about the spooky side of Virginia Beach on this two-hour nighttime walking tour.
Military Aviation Museum– This museum has exhibits on Virginia Beach’s many military contributions, with hangars holding vintage airplanes, making up one of the largest private collections of World War I and World War II era military aircraft in the world. 1341 Princess Anne Road
Sunset Stand Up Paddleboard Tour of Linkhorn Bay– See Virginia Beach from the water on this evening stand up paddleboarding tour. You might even spot dolphins and other wildlife.
Tarnished Truth Distillery– Set inside the Cavalier Hotel, this distillery gets its name from the legends and stories that come from the famous guests over the years. Visitors can enjoy daily tours and tastings. 4200 Atlantic Avenue
ViBe District Art Tour/Craft Beer Tasting– Explore Virginia Beach’s artsy neighborhood, sampling beers from craft breweries along the way.
Virginia Aquarium and Marine Center– Get up close with sea creatures at this family-friendly aquarium, which has animals from the state and beyond. The facility also has zipline and boat tours. 717 General Booth Boulevard
Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art– Also in the ViBe District is the state’s facility for what is happening in the art world now. Changing exhibitions, programming, and education are all a part of the museum. 2200 Parks Avenue
Where to Stay in Virginia Beach
The Founders Inn and Spa– Located outside of Virginia Beach, this resort has a spa, two restaurants serving Colonial-inspired cuisine, and both indoor and outdoor pools. A seasonal shuttle brings guests to the beach. 5641 Indian River Road
The Historic Cavalier Hotel & Beach Club– The historic hotel opened in 1927 and has welcomed notable guests over the years. It’s right across the street from the water and has a restaurant and bar, spa, and fitness center. 4200 Atlantic Avenue
Hyatt Place Virginia Beach Oceanfront– This beachfront hotel has large rooms that are popular with families. Perks include pet-friendly rooms, an outdoor pool, a fitness center, and breakfast. 2705 Atlantic Avenue
Marriott Virginia Beach Oceanfront– The ocean views at this hotel are just one part of the appeal, along with an outdoor pool, restaurant and bar, and free WiFi. 4201 Atlantic Avenue