(Symphony By The Sea will feature Virginia Symphony Orchestra on July 28 at 31st Street park at the Oceanfront. Free admission. Presented by Neptune Festival))
Three and six years ago we published lists of 101 Things to Do in Hampton Roads Before You Die. The feature story was well-received by readers, and many continue to share their favorites.
Month after month, this list continues to be a top 20 most-read post on our website.
This time around, we’re making a slight twist to the mix list and billing it as our 101 Things to Do This Summer in Hampton Roads.
Coming out of the pandemic, our staff felt not only do we need to remind locals and educate tourists about our many scenic gems and outdoor natural beauty, but we need to steer folks towards cool things happing in the 757, from concert experiences to the places we ourselves like to dine.
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 onboard. 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.
With that in mind, here’s our 101 things list. Enjoy – and get out and about this summer.
Experience a Symphony By The Sea concert on the Virginia Beach Boardwalk at 31st Street Park. This series is presented by the Neptune Festival. Virginia Symphony Orchestra performs July 28, August 18 and September 8. Symphonicity plays August 11 & 25.
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. Plus the Butterfly Garden is a must and don’t miss the Sunflower Music Festival August 28. Plus the NATO Tower is open for treetop level views.
As summer closes out, take the rare opportunity to see Kyiv City Ballet perform “Swan Lake” at the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts September 19-22. This Ukrainian ballet troupe has not returned home since the Russian invasion began.
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. Plus Back Bay Wildlife Refuge with wetlands trails, an interpretive center, wildfowl viewing, and access to False Cape.
Whimsical dining experience: If you’d not yet dined at Syd’s Fish Pig Cafe — go. Reserve a table in advance. Owner/Chef Sydney Meers let his mind wander and the result is a dining space unlike any in Hampton Roads. Plus an ingenious menu and wine selection from this local legend.
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. Plus Mural Fest in the ViBe District August 19-28)
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.
Veer Recommended: We dine out a lot and have some favorite local spots we’re willing to share: The Coach House on North Colley Avenue, Voila International Cuisine, 1608 Crafthouse, Syd’s Fish Cafe, The Green Onion, Fellini’s, Luna Maya, Crudo Nudo, Fuller’s Raw Bar, Kismet, The Bier Garden, Rajput, Coastal Grill, Fat Canary, and LUCE. There are others, but these will get you started. See you there.
Check out some local actors when the Little Theatre of Norfolk presents “Pippin: The Musical” August 5-28.
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.
The NorVa has been named one of the best indoor concert venues in America. Got see why when these fine artists headline: Howard Jones (July 20), Chvrches (August 1), Rise Against (August 8), or Beres Hammond (August 24)
Attend the 7th Annual Coastal Craft Beer Festival August 27 at 31st Street Park on the Boardwalk. Presented by the Neptune Festival, taste an array of beers to the music of Anthony Rosano & The Conqueroos.
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.
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.
Check out the Gas Light Hotel’s restaurant and bar. Visit the adjoining glass art gallery from the Perry Family’s personal collection.
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). It’s a living history museum in our backyard.
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.
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. Prints from MC Escher are on view through August 28.
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. Maya Lin’s “A Study of Water” is getting national press. See it through September 4.
Bike the three-mile Virginia Beach Boardwalk. We recommend early mornings (to avoid crowds) on the designated bike trail.
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.
Attend TRDance’s Summer Ensemble Concert August 13-14 at its Benjack Studio Theater in Norfolk. This is local contemporary dance at its finest.
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.
Speaking of movies, the Naro Expanded Cinema is an art deco jewel and a longtime beloved gem in the heart of Ghent. From blockbusters to independent films, throwback flicks from yesteryear to special events, this is a one-of-a-kind experience.
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.
Downtown Norfolk Restaurant Week is July 17-24. Get a taste and deal at participating restaurants including Codex, Freemason Abbey, 456 Fish, Grace O’Malley’s Irish Pub, 219 Bistro, Monastery, Leone’s and Grilled Cheese Bistro.
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.
Relax on the historic Elizabeth River at Town Point Park during the 39th Annual Virginia Waterfront Jazz Festival on August 26-27. Performers include Pieces of a Dream, Tower of Power, and Brian Culbertson.
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.
Go old school during Funk Fest at 24th Street on the Oceanfront. Enjoy the sounds of Midnight Star, Rose Royce and more on August 26-27. Free admission.
Take in a concert at Atlantic Union Bank Pavilion in Portsmouth. Key upcoming headliners include Kehlani (July 29), Iration & Atmosphere (July 31), ZZ Top (August 2). Halestorm (August 12), and Buddy Guy/Kenny Wayne Shepherd (August 21).
House Concert to benefit Hope House Foundation: Rick Mapp will host in his backyard (126 e. Severn Road in Norfolk). The $35 ticket gets you BBQ, beer/wine, and live music from Anthony Rosano & The Conqueroos and Big Forest Fire. Come meet some locals.
Watch the Virginia Beach screening of “In Good Keeping in 2022” on July 26 (5:30 PM) at Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art. This is a feature-length documentary film showcasing 18 artists from across the state who are working to sustain the cultural traditions of Virginia.
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.
Take a ride on a Lime Green Scooter through the streets of downtown Norfolk.
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. Over 30 to chose from.
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.
Attend the Beach Ambassadors’ Battle of the Beers for its 10th Anniversary at the State Military Reservation in Virginia Beach. All the regional breweries will be pouring September 24.
Take in a show at the region’s largest venue: Veterans United Home Loans Amphitheater @ Virginia Beach. Upcoming headliners include Dave Matthews Band (July 23), Jason Aldean (July 30), Wiz Khalifa (August 13), Keith Urban (August 14), Sting (August 31), and Willie Nelson’s Outlaw Music Festival (September 11).
Go to a Tides baseball game, drink beer and eat hot dogs while cheering for our home team at Norfolk’s Harbor Park.
Say bye to summer at the historic Wells Theatre when Virginia Stage Company presents “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” beginning September 14.
Go mountain biking on several trails or rent a kayak to explore the waterways at the York River State Park.
Grab a laugh when local funny folks Push Comedy Theater celebrate their 10th anniversary by presenting tan all female cast in “Panties in a Twist” August 12-13 at The NorVa.
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, 1608 Craft House, Beach Bully BBQ, Whitner’s Pit-Smoked Barbecue, Smokin’ Joe’s, and Smoke BBQ Restaurant & 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.
Get a taste of Music City during Nashfest (September 17) at Town Point Park with hot chicken, hard drinks, and country music from Eric Paslay, Peytan Porter, Tracie Lynn, and Cody Christian Band.
Dine at night on the rooftop of Leone’s Italian restaurant, Orion’s Roof on the ocean, or Grain.
Go fishing. Try deep sea fishing by chartering a boat or cast your line off the pier.
Go to an opening day college football game at Old Dominion, Hampton and 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.
Local Theater: First Colonial High School English teacher Zack Kattwinkel is playing William Shakespeare in the Little Theatre of Virginia Beach production of the hilarious musical comedy “Something Rotten” July 15 through August 7. His experience teaching Shakespeare gives him a unique perspective to portraying the sexy rock-star version of Shakespeare in the show.
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.
The Hampton Museum hosts a monthly Front Porch Music Series concert, and on Wednesday, July 20 bluegrass great Bill Jenkins & The Virginia Mountain Boys will be jammin’ from 6-8 PM.
SoNo Zine Fest: Enjoy live music, scenic vistas under the Jordan Bridge, free zine/art workshops, and food trucks at the SoNo ZineFest in Elizabeth River City Park on Saturday, August 20 from 12-5. This is being produced by Chesapeake Public Library.
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..
Enjoy a tasting flight at Mermaid & Williamsburg Wineries. Try a local cider at Sly Clyde’s and Back Bay’s Farmhouse.
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, zebra and a world of reptiles. Also be sure to check out the Zoo Grooves concerts on July 23 and August 20.
Fly a kite from the top of Mount Trashmore in Virginia Beach.
Go see a local band performing at the Taphouse Grill Ghent, The Vanguard Brewpub, BBQ by Froggies, Scandals Live, or Big Woody’s in Great Bridge.
Chrysler Hall is Norfolk’s gem of a performing arts center. Noteworthy performances this summer include the legendary Frankie Valli & The Four seasons (July 31), Gladys Knight (August 14), and the Broadway classic “Wicked” (September 14-25).
Though Virginia Opera is not in season during summer its Harrison Opera House will play host to legendary smooth jazz pianist Bob James on July 23 as part of the Church Street Jazz Series.
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.
Step way back in time at Norfolk’s French Bakery. This unique deli opened nearly 100 years ago. Order the orange donuts and get the hot pastrami on rye sandwich. Dine inside for character and characters.
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.
Drag Show, anybody? Be sure to checkout the schedule at 37th & Zen in Norfolk.
Drive across the Chesapeake Bay-Bridge Tunnel to Cape Charles and back.
Seafood on the Water: Just over the Lesner Bridge on Shore Drive are a cluster of seafood restaurants right on the inlet. Watch the pleasure and working boats motor past at Bubba’s Seafood Restaurant & Crabhouse, Dockside, Chick’s Oyster Bar, and The Back Deck. Another nearby scenic dining option is The Porch on Long Creek.
The neighborhood gay bar: MJ’s Tavern in the Riverview section is home to Norfolk’s popular restaurant and bar where everyone’s invited as long as you are LGBTQ friendly.
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.
The 2nd Annual Beerlympics will be held July 30 at St. George Brewing Company in Hampton. This could get strange and you’re invited to participate. Form a 4-person team and call 757-865-7781 to register.
The 757 region has several performing arts centers and the charming Ferguson Center for the Arts has two live performances of note this summer worthy of your attention: Weird Al Yankovic (August 9) and crooner Johnny Mathis (September 9).
Sit in on an open mic night and play a song of your own – even if you make it up on the spot. Suggestions include Stuft, South Beach Grill, Abbey Road, Winston’s Cafe and Stellar Wine Co.
Attend a church service at Christ & St. Luke’s.
Introducing John Koehler (pictured on front cover), a gifted, lifelong artist, illustrator, author, former ad man and 1991 Boomerang World Champ. The Virginia Beach artist is exhibiting his first solo show, “Works by John Koehler since 2018,” at Koehler Publishing & Artworks on Shore Drive. The show features 75 vibrant digital paintings created on an Apple iPad Pro during a period in which John says he was “on fire with a drive to create.”
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. Here are some good ones: Cafe Stella Ghent,