(The sand sculpture contest as part of the Neptune Festival is an amazing artistic sight.)
Three years ago we published a list of 101 Things to Do in Hampton Roads Before You Die. The feature story was well-received by readers, and many contacted us to share their favorites.
Month after month, this list has been a top 20 most-read post on our website. Since our region has undergone a few changes, I thought we’d update the list and make a few tweaks.
The original idea came to me a few years ago when I took some friends sailing on the American Rover schooner. Everyone knew about the Rover, but most had never been on board. A common remark was, “Wow, this is great. I can’t believe I’ve never done this before.”
I suspect many of us can think of something we’ve often considered but somehow never found the time to do. Ten or 20 years go by and you’ve still never hand-picked strawberries in a Pungo field.
With that in mind, we’ve put together a list of 101 things to do before you die for residents of Coastal Virginia as well as for those folks new to the area and visiting tourists. If you have your own bucket list, don’t you find it fulfilling to tick certain goals off? Whether one of your goals is to go whale watching california, go sky diving, swim with sharks or go bungee jumping, no matter how long it takes, hopefully, you get to achieve this one day.
Feel free to use it as a checklist. They are numbered but are in no particular order. How many have you done?
Enjoy – and get out and about this summer.
Attend as many outdoor festivals as possible including the Neptune Festival, Pungo Strawberry Festival, Norfolk Greek Festival, Hampton Roads Pride Festival, Norfolk NATO Festival, Shamrockin’ in Ghent, Bayou Boogaloo, American Music Festival, Norfolk Harborfest, Hampton Blackbeard Festival, Funk Fest, and Pharrell’s SOMETHING IN THE WATER.
Visit Back Bay Wildlife Refuge with wetlands trails, an interpretive center, wildfowl viewing, and access to False Cape.
Attend a Virginia Symphony Orchestra concert; take in a play at the Virginia Stage Company or one of several little theaters, and an opera presented by Virginia Opera. Catch something offbeat at Zeiders American Dream Theatre.
Hike, bike or take a tram ride to the remote False Cape State Park, with several beach and forested trails, with possible sightings of wild ponies, fox, deer, feral pigs, and wildfowl.
Walk, bike, or take a tram or boat through Norfolk Botanical Gardens, one of the true gems of Southside with 155 acres of trails and water, and walkways though 52 themed gardens, including azaleas, rhododendron, a nationally recognized camellia garden, and an abundance of flowers and trees, some which hold state records.
Walk around Virginia Beach’s ViBe District and Norfolk’s NEON District — both designated arts districts — and enjoy the many murals on the sides of building while visiting bakeries, restaurants and galleries.
Go surfing at the Oceanfront between 1st and 5th Street. We have the Atlantic Ocean at our doorstep. Get in it!
Hike or drive into the Dismal Swamp’s Lake Drummond from the Suffolk side on the Wildlife Drive. Or canoe to mysterious Lake Drummond on the mile-long Dismal Swamp feeder ditch from Chesapeake.
Dine at night on the rooftop of Leone’s Italian restaurant, Supper (Southern American), or Grain (5 floors up).
Go airborne at iFly at the Beach and feel what it’s like to skydive in a safe, monitored environment.
Visit historic Smithfield, VA, with fine restaurants, lovely shops, an attractive, historic main street, and many side streets filled with elegant homes
Hike the 5-mile Noland Trail in Newport News through forest, along lakes, over bridges, hill and dale for a great urban workout in the woods
Visit the Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, one of the world’s finest nautical museums, featuring the recovered turret of the famous Civil War-era Monitor, famous participant in the first battle of ironclad ships.
Check out the annual Sand Sculpture Contest as part of the Neptune Festival in Virginia Beach.
Attend the many beer and wine festivals including Fall Town Point Virginia Wine Festival, Virginia Beach Craft Beer Festival, Whistle Belly Festival, Common Grounds Fest and the Beach Ambassadors’ Battle of the Beers.
Cheer on marching bands, floats and more during the Grand Illumination Parade in downtown Norfolk each November to kickoff the holidays.
Bike the Elizabeth River Trail south to north mostly along or near Norfolk’s waterfront from Harbor Park through many lovely coastal neighborhoods as well as Old Dominion University’s campus all the way to Lochhaven and Norfolk International Terminals
Visit the Weyanoke Bird and Wildflower Sanctuary in Norfolk’s West Ghent, open for walks from 9 am Saturday until 6 pm Sunday
Bike or walk and dine on Duke of Gloucester Street and make a point to seek-out and tour the backyard gardens of historic Williamsburg. Many of the lovely gardens and side alleys and streets are open to visitors (except as noted as a private residence).
Visit the combined museum and visitor center facilities at both historic Jamestown and Yorktown’s battlefield, with many great forest, beach and shoreline trails for biking and walking, as well as archaeological digs often in progress at Jamestown.
Bike, walk, drive or run the beautiful 13½- mile Colonial Parkway along the York and James Rivers from Yorktown to Jamestown (or the reverse), a scenic drive that is a true area treasure.
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Visit the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk for one of the country’s finest mid-size museums with more than 30,000 items in its care, featuring a world-class glass collection and well-trained, helpful guides rather than guards.
Visit the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art in Virginia Beach, with the best of ever-changing modern, contemporary art exhibits from talents around the world. Also check out the latest exhibitions at Peninsula Fine Arts Center and Hermitage Museum & Gardens.
Bike the three-mile Virginia Beach Boardwalk, in summer. We recommend early mornings (to avoid crowds) on the designated bike trail, and on the Boardwalk itself in the off-season.
How many people know that Newport News Park is one of the largest municipal parks in the eastern United States? It’s got everything a park should have, including two golf courses, fishing, lakes, Civil War fortifications, campground, mountain biking and hiking trails, and more.
Take a Norfolk Naval Base bus tour and see the ships, carriers, and subs on the world’s largest naval base. Also, see it from the water on an Elizabeth River boat tour on the Victory Rover.
Take a sail on the Elizabeth River on the four-masted American Rover docked at Norfolk’s Waterside marina. Help raise the sails once under way.
Visit Norfolk’s Nauticus with interactive nautical attractions, an aquarium, films, and access to tours of the USS Wisconsin, the enormous battleship at the adjacent dock. While there, visit the free Hampton Roads Naval Museum. Enroll your young would-be sailors in the after-school Sail Nauticus program or have them learn to build a rowing skiff at the Tidewater Wooden Boat Workshop.
Forget the tolls! Get over there and bike or walk Portsmouth’s historic and beautiful Old Town and be charmed by the many port-style homes that will remind you of a mini-Charleston. Walk High Street and discover many fine restaurants and shops, plus the Virginia Children’s Museum, a must-see for the little ones. The Bier Garden features over 400 beers; the Commodore Theater has the largest movie screen anywhere!
Go see a non-fiction film and participate in the post-movie discussion on Wednesdays at the Naro Expanded Cinema.
Truly get away and disappear into 40 miles of biking and hiking trails in First Landing State Park from the Shore Drive north entrance in Virginia Beach; across the street is the park’s Bay beach and campground. At the south entrance of the park at the end of 64th Street at what’s called the Narrows on Broad Bay, rent a kayak, paddle-board, jet ski, or a motorboat or just enjoy the beach there.
People watch while enjoying a beverage on the sidewalk patio at one of locally-owned restaurants in Downton Norfolk, Ghent or Olde Towne Portsmouth.
Visit the Great Bridge Locks Park and watch barges and boats get a lift or a drop in the canal lock there. The American Revolution’s little-known but significant Battle of Great Bridge was fought in the area.
Bike all the way from Williamsburg to Richmond on the Virginia Capital Trail.
Visit five historic James River plantations along scenic Route 5, including Westover, Shirley, and Berkeley.
Visit the War Memorial Museum in Newport News with an outstanding collection of personal artifacts, weapons, vehicles, uniforms, posters and much more, tracing military history from 1775 to the present.
Visit the U.S. Transportation Museum at Fort Eustis. If it has wheels or a track and a motor, you will see it here, with an example or an exhibit of every vehicle that moved the U.S. Army from place to place in war and peace.
Visit Fort Story for a two-fer: see the First Landing Cross at the spot where the English explorers and first Jamestown settlers allegedly first set foot on the beach of the New World in 1607. Then climb the steps of the Cape Henry Lighthouse, the country’s first, dating from 1792.
Avoid the crowds at a North End beach anywhere north of 43rd Street in Virginia Beach. As you go further north, up to Ft. Story at 89th street, the beach gets wider and wider. Includes access to the First Landing Park trails from 64th Street.
Attend the over-the-top St. Patrick’s Day Parade at Ocean View for an unforgettably wild and fun Irish time American-style. The crazies crow and the hooch flows but you can bring the kids. Eye candy for those who like weirdness.
Don’t miss Norfolk’s Stockley Gardens Art Show or the Boardwalk Art Show at Virginia Beach for two of the Commonwealth’s best shows; the Boardwalk ranked as one of the nation’s very top outdoor shows.
Take the kids for a horseback trail ride at one of several horse farms in southern Virginia Beach and Chesapeake.
Go natural, fresh, and organic and visit an area Farmers Market, including the Virginia Beach Farmers Market on Princess Anne Road and the Old Beach Farm Market Saturday’s at Croc’s.
Rent jet skis, take a scenic boat ride, go head-boat or deep-sea fishing, whale-watching, or parasailing, all out in the ocean, from one of the many rental concessions at the Beach’s Rudee Inlet.
Visit the MacArthur Memorial where WWII hero General Douglas MacArthur is buried. See his famous corncob pipe, hat and car along with many other artifacts from the war.
Play games from the 1970s and ‘80s in one of the newly trend bar-arcades, which feature draft beer along with everything from pinball machines to Pokemon to air hockey. Fun for all ages.
Enjoy a day at one of the area’s first-class theme parks like Busch Gardens, Water Country, and Virginia Beach’s Ocean Breeze waterpark.
Visit the Virginia Aquarium at the Beach for everything you would want to see in an aquarium, including sea-critter touch tanks, otter and seal pools, an IMAX Theater, a walking trail, the multi-level Adventure Park, and much more.
Eat your heart out, Smithsonian! We also have a terrific Air and Space Museum in downtown Hampton. A special treat are the popular flight simulator rides.
Watch a glass-blowing demo at the Chrysler Glass Studio, already considered a big contributor to Norfolk’s growing reputation as one of the nation’s top destinations for world-class glass art and artists. And right across the street from the Chrysler is the d’Art Center, with more than 20 artists in residence in their studios. You can visit, chat, and watch them work and buy their creations right on the spot.
Hampton Roads is fast becoming a craft beer-lovers paradise. Visit a brewery tasting room or take a brew tour of several craft breweries in the area. Complete the Coastal Virginia Beer Trail— now over 30 strong.
Break the standard American grub habit and make a point to try one of the many ethnic restaurants in the area for new taste experiences. We’ve got South and Central American, Eastern and Western European, and Near, Far and Middle Eastern, etc. Don’t be scared to try that little place with the strange sounding name in the little strip shopping center – you might get a really exciting taste surprise!
Tour the recently restored historic Cavalier Hotel at the Oceanfront. Be sure to pull-up via the driveway to valet-park and checkout the indoor pool. Sample award-winning spirits downstairs at Tarnished Truth Distillery and enjoy the ambience of the Hunt Room and Raleigh Room.
Walk the fort walls behind the moat at Fort Monroe, one of the country’s newest National Monuments and a true area treasure. While there, bike or tour the grounds of the historic fort, visit the Casement Museum where Jefferson Davis was imprisoned after the Civil War and see Robert E. Lee’s home. You can have a beach party also while at Fort Monroe over at the Beach Club with its fine beach and huge pool and restaurant. Avoid a cover charge and take your boat there and beach it and enjoy the facilities. The Fort is commemorating the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first Africans to the New World. It happened at Fort Monroe.
Visit Munden Point Park in south Virginia Beach and rent a kayak and paddle in and around and along the Inland Waterway.
Take in a show at first-rate concert venue including Veterans United Home Loans Amphitheater @ Virginia Beach, The NorVa, Elevation27, The Vanguard, Ferguson Center, Sandler Center, Chrysler Hall and Constant Center. We have a wealth of them! Wanna know what’s coming to these local stages? Pick up VEER every month and you’ll see!
Go to a Tides baseball game, drink beer and eat hot dogs while cheering for our home team at Norfolk’s Harbor Park, or support the Admirals hockey team.
Coast-to-coast: Have a beverage at the Waterside District, take the scenic Elizabeth River Ferry to Portsmouth, and visit Legend Brewing Company for a pint of Legend Brown Ale. Both establishments are right on the riverfront.
Go mountain biking on several trails or rent a kayak to explore the waterways at the York River State Park.
Rent a room at Williamsburg’s Great Wolf Lodge and enjoy the huge indoor water park.
You are not local until you’ve had a barbecue sandwich with cole slaw and a side of baked beans at the iconic Pierce’s Pitt Bar-B-Que in Williamsburg. Additional smoked meats and BBQ must-visit options include Redwood Smoke Shack (front cover), 1608 Craft House, Beach Bully BBQ, Whitner’s Pit-Smoked Barbecue, Smokin’ Joe’s, Smoke BBQ Restaurant & Bar, and Small’s Smokehouse & Oyster Bar.
See on the ground, in the hanger and in the air one of the world’s largest collections of World War I and II classic airplanes at Virginia Beach’s first-class Military Aviation Museum.
Paddle and hike the woods and waters of Chesapeake’s Northwest River Park.
The kids will enjoy a ferryboat ride across the James River from Jamestown to Surry or the ferry ride from Knotts Island to Currituck. Take some bread to feed the swarms of gulls on the latter.
Go berry picking at one of several farms that open their fields to pickers in southern Virginia Beach or Chesapeake.
Go fishing. Try deep sea fishing by chartering a boat or cast your line off the pier.
Go to a college football game at Old Dominion or Norfolk State Universities or the College of William and Mary.
See African-American, Native American, and Pacific and Asian art and artifacts at the Hampton University Museum on the lovely and historic campus. It is the oldest African-American museum in the nation with over 9,000 objects in its collection.
Motorcycle, drive or bike the scenic back roads around the many Suffolk Lakes.
Camp locally overnight under the water oak trees at First Landing State Park and take a swim on the Bay beach there before returning to your campsite for the evening’s cookout.
Take the Amtrak train from Norfolk’s railroad station to Washington, DC’s Union Station, spend the night, and return the next day.
Take a country road drive from Great Bridge to Virginia Beach along Mt. Pleasant Road. On the way, stop by Bergey’s Dairy and get an ice cream. Oh, and go ahead and buy that inviting chicken pot pie in the cold case.
Vroom…go see a car race at Langley Speedway in Hampton. It’s a fun night for the family as several classes/levels of cars race around the track.
Party like it 1776? Walk back in time through the streets of Colonial Williamsburg and enjoy lunch or dinner at Shields Tavern, Josiah Chowning’s Tavern or by candlelight at the KIng’s Arms Tavern or Christina Campbell’s Tavern. Tell ‘em George Washington sent you.
Take a self-guided walking tour of the historic homes along Norfolk’s Freemason Street; then, from there, walk north across the Ghent Footbridge and stroll among the venerable mansions of Mowbray Arch along several streets.
Tour the Hunter House Victorian Museum on Freemason Street and see what it was like to live here in that bygone era.
GOLF! That new multi-level golf driving range with the huge threatening-looking net next to I-264; Sleepy Hole golf course/park; the ODU 9-holer; many top-notch Beach golf courses; etc etc.
Pull your vehicle up to the car port at Doumar’s and order a BBQ, limeade and ice cream as patrons have done for over 60 years.
Take the family to the Virginia Zoo and observe lions, tigers, giraffes, zibra and a world of reptiles.
Fly a kite from the top of Mount Trashmore in Virginia Beach.
Go see a local band performing at the Taphouse Ghent, Granby Theater Live, The Vanguard, Charlie’s American Cafe, BBQ by Froggies, The Bunker, Brown Chicken Brown Cow and Toast.
Take-in an international performance presented by the Virginia Arts Festival.
Attend the Virginia International Tattoo at Scope.
Walk the Labyrinth at the Edgar Cayce ARE Center.
Have drinks on the Ocean View Pier at sunset.
Purchase fish right off the boat next to Dockside Restaurant near the Lesner Bridge.
Watch the stars or a laser show at the Virginia Living Museum in Newport News.
Stroll the grounds and enter the historic Hermitage Museum & Gardens in Norfolk.
Join the Annual Olde Towne Ghost Walk in Portsmouth or Fort Monroe during Halloween season.
Drive across the Chesapeake Bay-Bridge Tunnel.
Enjoy a tasting flight at Mermaid & Williamsburg Wineries.
Watch a fireworks display on the 4th of July in downtown Norfolk, the Virginia Beach Oceanfront, or Colonial Williamsburg.
Stroll down Mellen Street in Phoebus, a historic main street with exciting new restaurants, bars, Sly Clyde’s Cidery, the American Theatre, a used bookstore and numerous antique stores.
Pitch in: Volunteer at a local soup kitchen; pick up trash on the sidewalk; clean the local rivers and Bay; help a non-profit sell beer; become a docent at a museum.
Attend a city council meeting in your municipality.
Sit in on an open mic night and play a song of your own – even if you make it up on the spot.
Attend a church, temple or masque service that is different from your faith or denomination. You’ll come away with a better understanding.
Attend a block party. It’s more fun when you can drink a beer and listen to live music in the streets of Ghent, downtown Hampton or Norfolk.
Challenge yourself on the ropes course at the Virginia Aquarium’s six-level Adventure Park with 15 trails, 21 zip lines, and almost 200 challenge bridges.
Go to a locally-owned coffee shop, have a cup of java and a conversation with someone you don’t know. Leave your laptop, cell phone and tablet at home. Consider it Digital Detox.