Hampton, located on the Virginia Peninsula where the Chesapeake Bay meets the Hampton Roads harbor, is a 405-year-old visitor hub that has welcomed new arrivals since the first Virginia Company settlers anchored on its shoreline in 1607. Hampton’s maturity as a visitor destination and the influence of the surrounding bodies of water on the visitor experience are revealed in an entertaining combination of history, attractions, events, and adventurous dining.
Hampton Virginia is unique from its Coastal Virginia neighbors in a lot of ways, but most pronounced is its charming, leisurely downtown. A mixing bowl of architecture indicative of centuries of history and redevelopment, the area extending from the Hampton riverfront is easily explored on foot. Historic churches, the Virginia Air & Space Center and IMAX theater, harbor tours and fishing excursions, museums presenting history and art, festival parks, galleries, and a historic carousel are all within a short stroll of downtown lodging.
The district has a pleasing array of restaurants presenting authentic multicultural dining. Trendy owner-operated eateries like Marker 20 and Conch & Bucket specialize in the seafood for which Hampton credits its renaissance following the Civil War that leveled many of the downtown buildings. Venture’s experimental recipes with exotic combinations of fresh produce and creamy cheeses emerge harmoniously from a brick oven, complimented by local brews and mad concoctions of the in-house mixologist. The Grey Goose, legendary for its stews, biscuits, and home-baked pie, is a must on the itinerary even if it’s for good old fashioned afternoon tea.
Exploring Hampton by water is a top-notch way to learn about the city’s rich and diverse history. A knowledgeable tour guide talks of Hampton past and present as the Miss Hampton II harbor tour passes landmarks along the waterfront including Hampton University established in 1868, Blackbeard’s Point where the scandalous marauder’s head was placed on display, moat-encircled Fort Monroe—a national monument operated by the National Park Service, Fort Wool (including a stop to explore the island fortress) and the world’s largest naval installation Norfolk Naval Base.
From downtown, land lovers traveling by bike or car can reach the formidable stone fort, beaches, and landmarks at Fort Monroe enjoying the heritage sites and funky shops in Phoebus along the way. The Point, Old Town Tavern, and Six Mellen Street are eateries that come recommended by the locals. Once on Fort Monroe, gastronomic pleasure can be found at The Deadrise, located dockside overlooking the Point Comfort Marina. Fort Monroe, built from 1819 to 1834, and an active army installation until 2011, satisfies the history buff within while stimulating the adventurer with beach, fishing, hiking and paddle-craft. During warm months, the fort’s Paradise Ocean Club hops with live music, private cabana rentals, tiki bar, swimming pool, and a private Chesapeake Bay beach.
Evening diversions can be enjoyed at Phoebus’ The American Theatre which presents internationally acclaimed artists in an intimate 400-seat setting. Year-round events that entwine the city’s very unique history are held in park settings that encourage you to relax and enjoy. For a bigger experience, the city’s iconic Hampton Coliseum, entertaining millions during its 45-year history, is the site to join 10,000 others for a live concert. The arena is surrounded by Coliseum Central where Peninsula Town Center and the Power Plant of Hampton Roads present many more options to dine, shop and celebrate.
Whether its Civil War landmarks and historic fortresses, African American heritage sites, the NASA legacy of space exploration at the Virginia Air & Space Center, or the seafaring legends founded on four centuries of Chesapeake Bay living, Hampton Virginia beckons to all ages, interests, and palates.