Chesapeake Bay > Mouth of the Chesapeake Bay > Norfolk Area

Norfolk Area

As travelers on I-64 emerge from the tunnel to the bridge of the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel on their way to Norfolk and Virginia Beach, huge tankers and Navy ships come into view in the waters of Hampton Roads. To the south are giant destroyers, submarines, and aircraft carriers at the Norfolk Naval Station (757-444-7955), the world’s largest Navy base, which offers guided tours on a daily basis. The base is located at the western end of I-564 and the northern end of VA 337 (Hampton Boulevard).

Where the bridge-tunnel joins the mainland at Norfolk, US 60 and I-64 diverge. US 60 becomes Ocean View Avenue, tracing Norfolk’s northern border as it passes through Ocean View along the Chesapeake Bay. Ocean View has 7 miles of wide beaches fronting on the gently lapping waters of the Chesapeake Bay. Hotels, motels, efficiencies, rental cottages, and seafood restaurants line the waterfront. Though Ocean View is not as plush as the resort area of Virginia Beach and not as modernized as Norfolk’s downtown, many families prefer the less-populated beach and smaller waves for boating, swimming, and windsurfing. Restrooms are placed at intervals along the beach.

On Sunday evenings in the summer, families bring their children for the free Big Bands on the Bay concerts at Ocean View Park. The soothing surf and the fading play of light on the bay water enhance the band music and other performances at the park gazebo. The 6.5-acre park has a beach with a boardwalk and restrooms. Lifeguards are on duty during summer months.

I-64 heads generally south through Norfolk, with connections to the downtown area, as well as to other Norfolk attractions and to Virginia Beach. In recent years, Norfolk’s downtown harbor area at the mouth of the Elizabeth River has undergone a renaissance. Gleaming theaters and museums, giant shopping and entertainment Facilities, and high-rise hotels have replaced deteriorating warehouses and weed-choked vacant lots. The $52-million National Maritime Center called Nauticus represents the grand style in which this 300-year-old port city has embraced the future while celebrating its maritime history.

Many visitors come to shop, dine on the waterfront, or enjoy night life or special events at The Waterside (757-627-3300) at 333 Waterside Drive. The reflections of the lights on the Elizabeth River are mesmerizing as tugboats, sailboats, cruise boats, and Navy ships pass by. Hours are 10 to 9 Monday through Saturday and 12 to 6 on Sunday. Most restaurants and nightclubs are open until 2 a.m. except on Sundays. The Waterside operates its own visitor information center (757-622-3602) Tuesdays through Saturdays. The office, located on the first floor, is stocked with maps and brochures on the Norfolk area. An entertaining film highlights Norfolk’s history.

Several exciting boat cruises depart daily from The Waterside from late spring to fall. These include tall ship cruises aboard the American Rover (757-627-SAIL), trips on the Mississippi-style paddle wheeler, Carrie B (757-393-4735), and dining and dancing excursions on the Spirit of Norfolk (757-627-7771).

Also, the Elizabeth River Ferry (757-640-6300) takes pedestrians year-round from The Waterside in Norfolk across the Elizabeth River to Portsmouth. The ferry docks at North Landing in the Portsmouth Olde Town Historic District, which contains in a single square mile one of Virginia’s largest collections of antique homes. Architectural styles include Colonial, Federal, Greek Revival, Georgian, and Victorian. A walking tour of the district, which takes about an hour, encompasses 300 years of American history. Sites include the Lightship Museum, the Arts Center, the Children’s Museum, and the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame and Museum.

HarborLink (757-722-9400), a fast ferry passenger service between Norfolk and Hampton, docks at Waterside Drive next to Nauticus. The Naval Shipyard Museum (757-393-8591) at 2 High Street in Portsmouth offers the chance to learn what goes on at the nearby U.S. Naval Shipyard. The shipyard is the oldest in the country and one of the largest employers in the area. For a brochure on the Portsmouth walking tour, call (757) 393-5111 or (800) PORTS-VA.

From Memorial Day to Labor Day, Norfolk Trolley Tours (757-540-6300) provides a one-hour narrated round trip from The Waterside to many of Norfolk’s most celebrated sites. You can stop at the places that interest you and catch a later trolley back. Included on the route are such attractions as the Norfolk Naval Base (757-444-7955), the world-renowned Tiffany glass collection at the Chrysler Museum of Art (757-664-6200), the museum and theater of the Douglas MacArthur Memorial (757-441-2965), St. Paul’s Episcopal Church (757-627-4353) where a Revolutionary War cannonball is lodged in the wall, and Historic Ghent where you can stroll old streets lined with interesting boutiques, cafes, and formal gardens.

In 1999, the $300-million MacArthur Center (757-627-6000) opened just a few blocks from the waterfront in downtown Norfolk. A 70-foot-high atrium is the centerpiece, surrounded by Nordstrom, Dillard’s, and 150 other stores, restaurants, and cafes with outdoor tables. An 18-screen theater complex offers a tremendous variety of movies. Brochures are available at the center for nearby sites and for walking tours of Norfolk’s Historic District, beginning at the center.

Enjoy AAA baseball at Norfolk Tides’ Harbor Park (757-622-2222), which is within walking distance of the downtown covered garage in the 200 block of East Main Street. The Norfolk Tides are an AAA affiliate of the New York Mets. Summer in downtown Norfolk also brings musical performances and special events to Town Point Park, which is located on the Elizabeth River next to The Waterside. Major events include Harborfest, Art Explosure, and First Night Norfolk. Call Norfolk Festevents at (757) 441-2345 for more information.

Norfolk is rich with the performing arts. Broadway shows are produced at Chrysler Hall (757-664-6464). The nationally acclaimed Virginia Opera stages five productions annually at the Harrison Opera House (757-623-1223). Also, the Virginia Symphony (757-623-2310) performs more than 140 concerts a year in the Tidewater area. The 31-day Virginia Waterfront International Arts Festival, held at waterfront locations in the Norfolk area annually from early April into May, features both local and touring symphony orchestras, ballet groups, opera companies, jazz musicians, world-class instrumentalists and vocalists, and more.

Norfolk is a participant in the Civil War Trails program linking more than 200 Civil War sites in Virginia. Sites in Norfolk, designated by Civil War Trails signs, include Fort Norfolk, the Historic Freemason District, and the Civil War Memorial commemorating black Union troops. You can begin the tour wherever you see a sign. Brochures are available at information centers.

Mile Zero of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway is in Norfolk, marked by a flashing red buoy. The waterway, which stretches 1,095 miles from Norfolk to Miami, Florida, was created during the Roosevelt years to move goods up and down the Atlantic Seaboard. In recent years, however, the waterway has become important to recreational boaters as a scenic, protected route for cruising the coastline. "The Ditch," as it is whimsically called, follows inland sounds and rivers in what is the most extensive system of inland waterways in the country. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers maintains it.

The Virginia portion of the Intracoastal Waterway follows the Elizabeth River inland and southward between Portsmouth and Chesapeake, then turns sharply eastward in a straight canal that connects with the North Landing River. It follows the North Landing River southward through The Nature Conservancy’s North Landing River Preserve into North Carolina.

The Portsmouth Convention and Visitors Bureau (757-393-5327 or 800-PORTS-VA) has its main office at 505 Crawford Street in Portsmouth. The bureau also operates the Visitor Information Center (757-393-5111) at North Landing, 6 Crawford Parkway, where the ferry from Norfolk docks.

The Waterside Information Center (757-622-3602) is on the first floor of The Waterside at 333 East Main Street.

Fishing and Boating in the Norfolk Area.

Pier fishing, tackle, and charter fishing boats are available at Harrison Boat House and Pier (757-587-9630) at 414 West Ocean View Avenue and at Willoughby Bay Marina (757-588-2663) at 1651 Bayville Street. Both Facilities are near the eastern end of the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel. For information on public boat ramps, contact the City of Norfolk’s Facility Maintenance Department at (757) 625-2000.

Norfolk Botanical Garden

[Fig. 6(16)] Next to the busy Norfolk International Airport is a tranquil oasis that contains some of the largest collections of azaleas, camellias, roses, and rhododendrons on the eastern seaboard. The Norfolk Botanical Garden has 12 miles of quiet pathways that wind from one sun-dappled visual smorgasbord of trees, shrubs, and flowers to another.At the park entrance is Lake Whitehurst, where wintering waterfowl and spring nesting ducks and geese make it hard for motorists on the causeway to keep their eyes on the road. Just inside the park gates, though, you can pull over into the picnic area on the left and get out the camera to photograph long-legged wading birds or maybe ducklings or goslings that are already learning to beg for breadcrumbs. The sprawling lake, which nearly encircles the botanical garden, also has a fishing pier. Don’t forget your fishing license.The next treat is Baker Hall Visitor Center, with nearly 12,000 feet of sunlit space beneath a magnificent atrium. Here, visitors can learn about the garden, buy tickets for tram and boat rides, and check out the gift shop.The 155 acres of the garden are lovely in any season. A young couple in spring, after passing through the flowering arboretum, breathes air sweetened by a quarter-million roses at the peak of bloom in the Bicentennial Rose Garden. Aerobic walkers in summer inhale the heady aroma from the Fragrance Garden. An office worker needing a break on a crisp fall day can wander by the tranquil Japanese Garden, pause to watch migrating butterflies in the English Border Garden, and climb the steps for the panoramic view from the Hill of Nations Observation Tower. Even in winter, when new life waits beneath the soil for spring, there is color in the climate-controlled Tropical Pavilion, where rain forest vegetation and colorful plants from the equatorial regions of the world flourish. Outside the pavilion, evergreens, camellias, witch hazel, and other hardy plants defy the elements.From spring through summer, tour boats glide beneath stone archways and past quiet pools with multicolored, watery reflections of hydrangea, day lilies, and cascading roses. Trackless trains offer another way to tour the gardens from spring into fall.The garden has become well known for the International Azalea Festival each spring, which puts a visual end to winter with a vivid display of color. For the two weekends preceding Halloween, the Vietnam veterans host a Haunted Forest (advance tickets required). Also, each evening between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, you can drive through the garden for the stunning Garden of Lights display.Workshops for adults and children are held on a tremendous variety of subjects, such as medicinal plants, native plants, water gardening, attracting butterflies, tough plants for tough sites, perennial favorites, and spring pruning.

The Virginia Zoological Park

[Fig. 6(17)] Children especially love the 53-acre zoo situated on the Lafayette River in Norfolk. On the grounds are some 350 animals, ranging from such common species as white-tailed deer (Odocioleus virgianus) and red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) to endangered species such as Siberian tigers (Panthera tigris altaica) and white rhinos (Ceratotherium simum simum).The exhibits of primates, including spider monkeys (Ateles geoffroyi) and gibbons (Hylobates lar) always draw a crowd. But the two-toed sloth (Choloepus didactylus), which appears to move through the trees in slow motion, and Bennett’s wallaby (Macropus rufogriseus), a southeastern Australia cousin of the kangaroo, also fascinate both children and adults.One of the zoo’s newest additions, part of an expansion and modernization, is a 10-acre African Okavango river delta exhibit with a Xaxaba Village. When the plan is completed, zoo animals will live in enlarged spaces with habitats more closely resembling their homes in the wild.

Nauticus, the National Maritime Center

[Fig. 6(18)] The 120,000-square-foot Nauticus, the National Maritime Center, is in an impressive building that rises from Norfolk’s downtown waterfront looking like a giant ship. Outside the structure is a 600-foot deep-water pier where U.S. Navy, foreign, and commercial vessels dock and allow visitors to tour on weekends. Working boats such as the Norfolk skipjack and the Huntington tugboat are exhibited. Inside is a host of computer and video interactive projects on subjects including navigation, a sonar sub hunt, time travel, and reef diving.A multimedia naval battle is an attraction in the Aegis Theater, while the Academy-Award-nominated The Living Sea shows on a wide screen in the Nauticus Theater. At the touch tanks, children and adults can dip an arm into the water to stroke live sharks, starfish, and horseshoe crabs.The Hampton Roads Naval Museum is part of Nauticus. The museum tour explains the naval history of Hampton Roads, beginning with the Battle off the Capes in 1781, progressing through the Civil War battle of the ironclads, then the Battle of the Atlantic in World War II, and culminating in exhibits about today’s U.S. Navy.

Restaurants in the Norfolk Area

Norfolk restaurant cuisine is influenced not only by the proximity to the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean, but also by the many servicemen stationed here, as well as by patronage by visitors from abroad. Here is a list of some of Norfolk’s many fine restaurants.

Fisherman’s Wharf. 1571 Bayville Street, Norfolk. Watch boats bringing the catch of the day into the Hampton Roads Harbor while you sample the huge seafood buffet. Serves lunch Tuesday through Saturday and dinner nightly. Moderate to expensive. Phone (757) 480-3113.

Freemason Abbey. 209 West Freemason Street, Norfolk. Fresh lobster, pasta, fish, other seafood, and prime rib are on the menu at this unusual restaurant in a 126-year-old renovated church in the Freemason Harbor area. Inexpensive to moderate. Phone (757) 622-3966.

Green Trees Cafe. 112 Bank Street, Norfolk. Soup and sandwich menu. Outdoor patio. Lunch on weekdays, dinner on Wednesday through Saturday. Inexpensive. Phone (757) 625-7041.

Ships Cabin. 4110 East Ocean View Avenue at Shore Drive, Norfolk. Fireplace for winter dining, outdoor deck overlooking the Chesapeake Bay for summer visitors. The menu includes Cajun shrimp and crab cakes, oysters bingo, blackened tuna, grilled rockfish. Inexpensive to moderate. Phone (757) 362-4659.

Wild Monkey. 1603 Colley Avenue, Norfolk. Sample the American, Indian, European, and Asian dishes at this popular Ghent restaurant. Lunch on weekdays, dinner on Monday through Saturday. Inexpensive to moderate. Phone (757) 627-6462.

Lodging in the Norfolk Area

Lodging tends to be centered around the Ocean View area, where Norfolk fronts the Chesapeake Bay, and in the historic downtown area. Chesapeake Campground (757-485-0149) at 693 South George Washington Highway in Chesapeake is located on the Intracoastal Waterway, 2 miles south of the drawbridge in Deep Creek on US 17.

Bianca Boat and Breakfast. 10 Crawford Parkway, Portsmouth. Spend two nights aboard a yacht. The 43-foot motor sailor is docked at Portsmouth’s Olde Towne Historic District, a 10-minute ferry ride from Norfolk’s downtown. Expensive. Phone (757) 625-5033 or (800) 695-1487. E-mail [email protected].

Norfolk Marriott Waterside. 235 East Main Street, Norfolk. A 23-story hotel convenient to downtown attractions. Pool, two restaurants, lounge. Moderate to expensive. Phone (757) 627-4200 or (800) 228-9290.

Page House Inn. 323 Fairfax Avenue, Norfolk. Renovated Georgian-Revival manse in the Ghent Historic District. Gourmet food. Expensive. Phone (757) 625-5033 or (800) 695-1487. E-mail [email protected].

Tides Inn. 7950 Shore Drive, Norfolk. Located in the Ocean View area near naval bases, golf courses, and a marina, and 15 minutes from Virginia Beach. Pool. Inexpensive to moderate. Phone (757) 587-8781 or (800) 284-3035.

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