A to Z Summer Fun in Coastal Virginia
Your auspiciously alphabetical guide to getting the most out of the season of sun and sand in Coastal Virginia
Summer, summer, summertime. Time to sit back and unwind. And, wow, do we ever need it after the last year. So, take a cue from a classic by DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince, relax and enjoy yourself this summer, whether it’s on the beach, at the pool or doing one of the 26 fun activities suggested here in our feature. Stay safe and healthy out there, friends.
A Is for Al Fresco
As in outdoor dining is where it’s at.
From expanded outdoor seating at the restaurants in Williamsburg’s Merchant Square to a brand-new rooftop patio scheduled to open at healthy eatery Harvest at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront, the arrival of more opportunities to enjoy your favorite restaurant meals in the fresh air is one of the silver linings of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hit the recently erected “streateries” in Downtown Norfolk and Hampton, or have it made in the shade at one of Olde Towne Portsmouth’s classic covered patios and gardens like those at the Bier Garden or Baron’s Pub. Or opt for an elegant seafood dinner complemented by stunning waterfront deck views at spots like Riverwalk Restaurant in Yorktown or The Porch on Long Creek in Virginia Beach.
Pretty as a Picnic
Or how about one of these sweet picnic spots around the region? Sharpen your charcuterie skills, pack your own libations and a pretty blanket and spread the love:
First Landing State Park
Newport News Park
Norfolk Botanical Garden
Sandy Bottom Nature Park
B is for Brews
As in beer, beer and more beer.
Ah, the slow-burning brewery boom. Just when you thought the market was saturated with craft brew spots, a new one pops up and taps into our seemingly insatiable thirst for sours and saisons. But is it really the beer that we love? Or is it the experience that breweries offer—from the tasting rooms to a rotating lineup of food trucks, bands, games and more? Much of the fun often takes place outside, which has been relatively friendly to COVID times.
No doubt, breweries will be jamming this summer. Here are a few new kids on the beer block regionally, either recently opened or opening soon:
1865 Brewing Co.
Anticipation has been high for the opening of the region’s first Black-owned brewery in Phoebus, which doubles as a coffee shop.
Ironclad Distillery has a new neighbor in Downtown Newport News. The revitalization of the area takes a welcome and hoppy twist.
Reaver Beach Brewing Co. NFK
One of the early players in the local craft beer game has expanded to a second location in Beer Central, aka Colley Avenue
Three Notch’d Brewing and Craft Kitchen
Richmond-based Three Notch’d sours have become ubiquitous, but their arrival at the former Gordon Biersch location can’t come soon enough.
C Is for Catch
As in reeling in the big one.
Of course, you can get fresh-caught seafood at restaurants and shops around the region, but nothing beats catching it yourself. Whether you are casting for croaker from the deck of your own Boston Whaler or battling bluefish aboard a charter like those offered by Rudee Tours in Virginia Beach or Captain Hogg’s Charter Service in Hampton, get out there and get angling.
Or head to one of these local fishing piers:
- Cape Charles Fishing Pier – Cape Charles
- James T. Wilson Fishing Pier – Hampton
- James River Fishing Pier – Newport News
- Ocean View Fishing Pier – Norfolk
- King-Lincoln Park Pier – Newport News
- Virginia Beach Fishing Pier – Virginia Beach
- Little Island Park Fishing Pier – Virginia Beach
- Yorktown Fishing Pier – Yorktown
Be sure to check local and state regulations and licensing requirements.
D is for Dock and Dine
As in bring your boat to dinner.
There is a long list of cool things about having a boat in Coastal Virginia, but the ability to navigate to your favorite waterside watering hole and either dine directly onboard or hop off and claim your favorite table has to be high up on that list. Here are three classic restaurant destinations (and there are many) around the region where you can have your Oysters Rock after a long day of rocking the boat.
A locals’ secret in historic Pungo where “we’re not fancy, but the food is.” Classic seafood and libations accessible to boaters via Back Bay.
Foodies from far and wide fawn over these elevated oysters on the banks of the Rappahannock River. Boating there makes it even better.
The sunsets. The Southern hospitality. The Sunday brunch buffet. Book a boat slip and a stay in their just-renovated Lighthouse suites.
E is for Exercise
As in working out is fun.
Some people spent quarantine getting into beast mode in their home gyms. Then there are those of us for whom the “COVID 19” arrived squarely around the middle thanks to all that sourdough bread and take-out craft beer. But, summer’s here, COVID restrictions have eased, and it’s time to get your work out on. Here’s how:
Hit the Gym Again
If you were still understandably weary of indoor gyms, the prevalence of the vaccine may make you feel more comfortable as will the fact that most gyms have established strict protocols and distancing measures that are likely here to stay.
Run, Run, Run
Thankfully for runners, this option never really went away, but live race events are also starting to come back online. The I Love Mom 5K is on for May 8 at Windsor Castle Park in Smithfield as is the Elizabeth River Run 10K on May 29 in Norfolk.
Pump Up and Play
If working out inside is still not your jam, there are plenty of ways to burn calories al fresco. Join a sports league for kickball or softball, sign up for outdoor yoga classes, or own that obstacle course at your local park—those pullup bars are there for a reason.
F is for Flicks
As in summer films.
Perhaps the coolest and most nostalgic comeback during the pandemic was drive-in movies. Quite a few regional businesses and venues had success with these fun outdoor screenings including Hunt Club Farm, Anderson’s Garden Center, The Shack on 8th restaurant and Hampton Coliseum. And while we hope pop-up drive-ins hang around, there are many other options for enjoying a summer flick with friends and family—besides streaming them into your living room, of course.
While the Naro Cinema in Norfolk’s Ghent remained closed as of press time, they have been offering the theater space for private screenings as well as renting out their iconic marquee for personalized messages. The historic Commodore Theatre in Olde Towne Portsmouth is open, as is its kitchen, and so are local Cinema Café locations.
A few mainstream movie theater chains are also back in business, and some are still offering great deals on private movie theater rental for parties of 10 or 20 people starting at just $100. Or rent a screen and projector from a company like FunFlicks for your own backyard movie party. Because, let’s face it, summer just isn’t summer without a little movie madness.
G is for Going Green
As in earth friendly.
Show some love to Mother Earth this season. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s annual Clean the Bay Day this year will actually take place over six days, May 31-June 5, and will be a registration-based, flexible, virtual event in which participants can do litter clean-ups anytime and as often as they wish during that six-day period. Individual and virtual teams are encouraged to use #CleanTheBayYourWay to share their efforts on social media.
Other ideas for going green this summer:
Be an Oyster Hero
Look for volunteer opportunities through organizations like the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science to help restore essential oyster beds.
Be a Good Neighbor
Organize a neighborhood or nearby park clean-up through your civic league or state and city park programs and initiatives like Chesapeake’s Adopt-a-Park program.
Be a Friendly Fertilizer
We all love a green lawn, but we also want to be kind to our waterways. Check out the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Green & Clean lawn care companies.
H Is for Heights
As in explore new ones.
Summer is a time for adventure. For trying new things. And maybe for tackling that nagging case of acrophobia. Whether you start 10 or 10,000 feet in the air, embrace the freedom of defying gravity. Birds flying high, they know how you feel.
If you’ve always wanted the thrill, but you’re not quite ready to jump out of a perfectly good airplane, indoor skydiving might be the ticket. Check out iFly in Virginia Beach. Take to the trees at one of the area’s adventure parks such as The Adventure Park at Virginia Aquarium or Go Ape Zipline & Adventure Park in Williamsburg. Bounce to the beat at Jump Trampoline Park in Virginia Beach or hit a roller coaster at Busch Gardens Williamsburg.
A day on the Eastern Shore could mean exploring the shops in Cape Charles, palling around with the ponies in Chincoteague or cozying up to comfort food at Exmore Diner. But how about seeing it from 5,300 feet? Virginia Hang Gliding in Painter will send you peacefully soaring from a light-sport plane where you’ll get breathtaking views of Coastal Virginia. Or cruise the Virginia Beach Oceanfront from the skies with Pirate Parasail.
Space tourism isn’t an option for most of us quite yet. But, skydiving, that mainstay of Bucket Lists everywhere, certainly is. Skydive Suffolk has been giving brave souls the stomach-dropping rush of a lifetime for more than 50 years. Your first tandem jump starts from a dizzying 13,500 feet. Nearly a minute of free falling will take you to speeds up to 120 mph before your parachute opens and you float to earth. Kissing the ground is optional.
I Is for Ice Cream
As in we all scream for it.
No summer would be nearly as cool without at least one decadent dollop of delicious ice cream piled high in a cup, on a cone or sandwiched between two freshly made cookies. And while the little ones may head straight for the classic chocolate with rainbow sprinkles, grownup palates will be pleased by the plethora of frozen delights now being crafted by local ice cream artisans.
Get the full scoop at locally owned spots like Lolly’s Creamery, which recently released what they have called their most decadent flavor of all time—sweet vanilla cream cheese ice cream with homemade brownie chunks, pieces of their signature pretzel crunch and a salted caramel swirl. Old-timey ice cream parlor charm meets high-tech at Gerald’s Ice Cream, also in Virginia Beach, where classic, seasonal and creative flavors are flash frozen using liquid nitrogen and include vegan choices.
Traditionalists can get their homemade ice cream fix at Bean’s Ice Cream in Poquoson, which also happens to cater to ice cream lovers with allergy restrictions, or Short Lane Ice Cream in Gloucester, a family-owned business where all the classics are represented along with changing flavors like honey lavender or avocado.
J is for July 4
As in America’s birthday.
Truth is we’re not sure which, if any, of our beloved big fireworks displays around the region—from Town Point Park in Norfolk to Colonial Williamsburg in our nation’s first capital city—will be happening this year. But we do know there are modified plans in the works for a variety of more socially distanced but no less patriotic celebrations this July 4. And, after the last year and a half, we could all use a moment to honor our common purpose. So, break out that red, white, and blue and let those sparklers sparkle, fellow citizens.
K is for Kicks
As in sand soccer.
While many large-scale festivals may still be in timeout due to the pandemic, the competition is still scheduled to kick off for the 2021 North American Sand Soccer Championships at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront, June 11-13. Participate by simply rounding up 10 friends to join your team, designing matching shirts and getting your sand socks in gear. While you’re there, you can take in all the action courtesy of some of the world’s elite beach soccer players.
L is for Lighthouse
As in make a beeline for a beacon.
Lighthouses are synonymous with any coastal community including ours. But when was the last time you actually visited one nearby and learned about its history? Make a day of it and get your steps in at Cape Henry Lighthouse in Virginia Beach, Old Point Comfort Lighthouse in Hampton, the Cape Charles or Assateague Lighthouses on the Eastern Shore, or head to the Outer Banks and visit one of their iconic lighthouses in Cape Hatteras, Bodie Island, Currituck Beach or Ocracoke.
M is for Museum
As in see history on display.
It’s no secret Coastal Virginia is rich in history going back to the First Landing of English settlers on our shores at what is now Cape Henry and long before when Native American tribes from the Nansemond to the Pamunkey lived off these lands. Cool off from a hot day this summer and visit a local history museum to learn more.
Fort Monroe & Casemate Museum
Historic Triangle Museums
Williamsburg, Jamestown, Yorktown
MacArthur Memorial Museum
Mariner’s Museum & Park
Military Aviation Museum
Nauticus & The Battleship Wisconsin
N Is for New
As in try something new.
Fill in the blank: I’ve always wanted to learn to _____________. Surf? Sail? Paddleboard? How about all three? Summer is only here for a few months, and you only live once. Take advantage of these long hot days to try your sea legs at a new skill.
Take a guided sunset paddleboard tour through the waters of Linkhorn Bay courtesy of Chesapean Outdoors in Virginia Beach
Do you really live in a coastal town if you’ve never tried surfing? Wave Riding Vehicles’ surf camps and lessons will get you started.
Learn to sail with the whole family, kids included, while in residence at the Tides Inn’s Premier Sailing School in Irvington.
O Is for Outdoorsy
As in camping and glamping.
From Cherrystone Family Camping Resort on the Eastern Shore the new Machicomoco State Park in Gloucester, summer is the perfect time to camp it up with family and friends, complete with burgers and dogs over the fire for the basics or kebabs and kielbasa for the flavor cravers.
If glamping is more your style, how about a yurt? What’s a yurt, you might ask? A yurt is basically a round shelter with a cone-shaped pointy top. A luxury tent of sorts—usually with actual beds. And you can rent one—beachfront, no less—at First Landing State Park in Virginia Beach and Kiptopeke State Park in Cape Charles.
P Is for Putt
As in go for the golf.
Experienced golfers have their favorite private and public courses around the region including the greens that give them the most grief, er, we mean joy. If you are looking to up your game this summer, check out the Adult Academy through Virginia Beach Golf Management or the Virginia Golf Academy at Kingsmill in Williamsburg.
If your version of golf is the kind that involves miniature windmills or cold beers and spicy chicken wings delivered to you while you drive balls into a net, yeah, there’s that too. Take the kids to that classic Virginia Beach Oceanfront landmark, Jungle Golf, or your crew to the popular party spot, Topgolf.
Q Is for Quirky
As in Atlas Obscura-worthy.
The website AtlasObscura.com has garnered a cultish following for its time-sucking catalogue of stories about the wondrous and weird around the world—from creepy destinations to peculiar foods. But before you procrastinate that work project by reading the latest entry on an abandoned theme park in Indonesia or a vampire café in Belarus, discover a few in our own backyard.
That’s right, there have been many local places with an aura of curiosity and mystery featured by Atlas Obscura including that much-ogled collection of 43 giant U.S. president’s heads in Williamsburg, once an official attraction and now located on private property. Here are some others you can actually marvel over in person this summer.
Eastern State Hospital (Williamsburg)
Let’s just say mental health treatment has come a long way since the establishment of America’s first public mental health facility in 1773, originally known as The Public Hospital for Persons of Insane and Disordered Minds. Visit the original site in Colonial Williamsburg.
Edgar Cayce A.R.E. Library (Virginia Beach)
Famed clairvoyant’s Edgar Cayce’s Virginia Beach-based Association for Research and Enlightenment (A.R.E.) will celebrate its 90th anniversary this summer with a series of special events at its historic home in the North End, which includes the world’s largest metaphysical library.
Kiptopeke’s Concrete Fleet (Cape Charles)
Just north of Cape Charles in the waters off Kiptopeke State Park sit nine of the very few concrete ships ever made in the U.S., remnants of a fleet contracted by the U.S. Maritime Commission during World War II, elegantly and eerily decaying. Perfect for curious kayakers.
Rosewell Plantation Ruins (Gloucester)
According to legend (key word: legend), Thomas Jefferson may have written an early draft of the Declaration of Independence here. Completed in 1737 and destroyed by fire in 1916, all that’s left of the home built by the powerful Page family is its exposed brick frame.
Yellow Fever Park (Norfolk)
Blink and you might miss this tiny triangular park along Hampton Boulevard in Ghent commemorating the victims of a yellow fever epidemic—many of whom are buried beneath its grass. The specter of a pandemic that ravaged our area 165 years ago seems all too real in 2021.
R Is for Road Trip
As in pack up and roll out.
“There was nowhere to go but everywhere,” wrote Jack Kerouac, “so just keep on rolling under the stars.” The Blue Ridge Mountains are calling. A dreamy drive through Virginia wine country. A backroad antiquing adventure along Route 460. A top-down, tunes-up cruise to your favorite fishing spot on the Outer Banks. Whatever your destination, and maybe even better if you don’t have one, gas up and get out there.
The Virginia is for Lovers website lists these Virginia Scenic Byways and lesser-known routes to explore around our state.
- Mount Rogers Scenic Byway
- Nelson Scenic Loop
- Appalachian Waters Scenic Byway
- Big Walker Mountain Scenic Byway
- Back of the Dragon
- Virginia’s Northern Neck
- The Wilderness Road: Heritage Migration Route
S Is for Style
As in fabulous fashion.
If ever there was a year of the sweatpant, it was 2020 (and early 2021, let’s face it). Working from home. Wandering the aisles of the grocery stores in mask and flour-crusted PJs and mismatched Crocs. Enough already.
Summer is here, and it’s high time to up your style quotient. Buy the dress. Get the suit. Splurge on those wildly impractical heels. And, for crying out loud, wear them somewhere. Anywhere.
Here are a few 2021 trends for fashionistas, according to the bible, aka Vogue magazine.
Head to a local boutique like Bahama Shop in Virginia Beach or The Shoe Attic in Williamsburg for some hot summer looks. Because you’re worth it.
T Is for Tattoo
As in Virginia International.
Nope, not that kind of tattoo. The Celtic kind featuring pipes and drums, drill teams, performers and spectacle and patriotism galore. Exciting news in that the ever-popular Virginia International Tattoo, originally scheduled for April at its usual venue at Norfolk Scope, will take place June 3-6 at Old Dominion University’s Kornblau Field at S.B. Ballard Stadium.
The announcement was made by the Virginia Arts Festival, which produces the event, as a safer, open-air alternative and a great opportunity to take advantage of the university’s newly rebuilt stadium. The theme will be a Salute to the Greatest Generation honoring WWII service members. There will be plenty of showstopping pageantry for the fans in the stands, this year including wheel gymnasts.
U is for Universe
As in stargazing.
Break out the blanket and the telescope and behold the wonder of billions of suns and the occasional planet visible from our own tiny blue-green orb in the sky. Darkness is the key to quality stargazing, and that can be challenging to find in Coastal Virginia’s more populated areas.
But it is worth the effort. Head out to Pungo, the Eastern Shore or one of the more rural parts of cities like Chesapeake or counties like Surry for a less light-polluted viewing opp.
According to National Geographic, here are a few celestial phenomena you may be able to catch a glimpse of this summer depending on your location.
Blood Moon Total Lunar Eclipse
August 11 & 12
Perseid Meteor Shower Peaks
V is for Veggies
As in grow your own.
Let’s talk tomatoes. A Southern Sunday meal or midday snack in the summer isn’t quite complete if a freshly sliced tomato, still warm from the garden, isn’t part of it. Grocery store imposters can never compete with the homegrown bliss of a perfectly ripe Purple Cherokee.
Whatever you grow in your backyard garden or patio container this summer—from simple potted basil plant to row upon row of squash, beans, corn, cucumbers and beyond, relish all that freshness and get the whole family involved. Kids love to get their hands in the dirt and learning how food grows is key to leading a veggie-lovers life.
Plant yourself at one of these locally owned garden shops in VB—or wherever you are in Coastal Virginia—for all your seeds and supplies:
- Anderson’s Garden Center
- Jack Frost Landscapes & Garden Center
- London Bridge Greenhouses & Nursery
- McDonald Garden Center
W Is for Words
As in summer reads.
There’s nothing like diving into a good book or two or three in the summer. At the beach, at the pool, in the hammock. Pick one up at your favorite bookshop or head to your local library, most of which have reopened for in-person service. To get you started on book ideas, here are some recent “Featured Reads,” fiction titles selected by Newport News Public Library, along with an excerpt from publishers’ descriptions:
Spellbreaker by Charlie N. Holmberg
Orphaned Elsie Camden learned as a girl that there were two kinds of wizards in the world: those who pay for the power to cast spells and those, like her, born with the ability to break them. But as an unlicensed magic user, her gift is a crime. (47North, 2020)
An Unnatural Life by Erin K. Wagner
The cybernetic organism known as 812-3 is in prison, convicted of murdering a human worker but he claims that he did not do it. With the evidence stacked against him, his lawyer, Aiya Ritsehrer, must determine grounds for an appeal and uncover the true facts of the case. (Tor.com Publishing, 2020)
Louisiana Lucky by Julie Pennell
Lexi, Callie and Hanna Breaux grew up in small-town Louisiana and have always struggled to make ends meet. For years, they’ve been fantasizing about winning the lottery. When they hit it big—$204 million big—all their dreams come true. Or so they think. (Emily Bestler Books/Atria, 2020)
Piece of My Heart by Mary Higgins Clark and Alafair Burke
Television producer Laurie Moran and her fiancée, Alex Buckley, the former host of her investigative television show, are just days away from their mid-summer wedding, when things take a dark turn. Alex’s seven-year-old nephew, Johnny, vanishes from the beach. (Simon & Schuster, 2020)
Daylight by David Baldacci
For years, Atlee Pine was tormented by uncertainty after her twin sister, Mercy, was abducted at the age of 6 and never seen again. Now, she finally gets a promising breakthrough: the identity of her sister’s kidnapper. With time running out, Atlee and her assistant race to his last known location. (Grand Central Publishing, 2020)
X Is for Exhibit
As in explore art outdoors.
There are many exciting ongoing fine arts exhibits at museums and galleries around Coastal Virginia and we encourage you to explore them all (see our March-April issue of Coastal Virginia Magazine for a seasonal arts guide). But, did you know our region is also home to a plethora of outdoor public art, most of which can be experienced for free?
Newport News has a particularly robust public art program through its Newport News Public Art Foundation, its latest sculpture installation being a marble marvel called Man and Crocodile by Italian artist Girolamo Ciulla and located in Newport News Park. Or spend some time pondering and posing for Instagram pics in front of all of the colorful murals in Virginia Beach’s ViBe District or Norfolk’s NEON District.
Y Is for “Yardsailing”
As in hunting for deals.
Nothing says summer more than sifting through other people’s old junk, right? Sure, it’s a little creepy and voyeuristic, but we can’t resist a good treasure hunt at yard, garage and estate sales. Who knows, you could find a long-lost Rembrandt or a copy of Prince’s The Black Album. Check local online listings or get on the email list for a company like Williamsburg Estate Services. But first these “yardsailing” tips…
Be An Early Bird
Estate and yard sale aficionados know all the best loot comes to those who don’t wait until the getting is no longer good.
Haggle Like a Pro
The sticker price is never the sticker price at a yard sale. Just be nice about it. After all, holding a yard sale is no picnic.
Try Before You Buy
We get it, that Rock ’Em Sock ’Em Robots game conjures up images of your childhood, but do the robots still punch?
Z Is for Zoology
As in all things animals.
Spoiler alert: Shameless animal puns ahead. There’s a reason that humans are innately attracted to creatures large and small from the time we are wee little mammals ourselves. Tap into your animal instincts and connect with your furry, feathered and scaly friends this summer.
See What’s New at the Zoo
One’s head and shoulders above the rest, even at just a few months old. The others are otterly adorable. The Virginia Zoo recently welcomed at least three new animal residents including Tiana the Masai giraffe, born in January, and Alana and Puba, two small-clawed otters transferred to the Zoo as part of its Species Survival Plan. Pay them a visit along with more than 700 of their animal companions.
Swim into the Aquarium
Actually, you should probably leave the swimming to the fish at the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center. In addition to the 800,000 gallons of water and habitats featuring fish, sharks, rays, turtles, amphibians and more, the Aquarium’s soon-to-open $25 million renovation and expansion of its South Building will feature a Jelly Gallery (as in jellyfish), the Undersea Super Powers Gallery with a giant octopus aquarium, otter pool, new cafe, toddler play area and more.
Go Big with Giganotosaurus
Kids love dinosaurs. And by kids, we mean grownups too. The whole fam will go positively prehistoric for the Virginia Living Museum’s latest exhibit, Jurassic Giants of the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous Periods, roaring into Newport News May 29-Sept. 6. It stars Giganotosaurus, the largest animatronic dinosaur the museum has ever featured. Also don’t miss the permanent Dinosaur Discovery Trail along with more than 250 species of live animals.
Let These Guys Get Your Goat
Unless you’ve been living in a barn, by now you know that goat yoga is a thing. It’s yoga. But with goats. But what about painting with goats? Story time with goats? Landscaping with goats? Sure, why not? As long as the kids are enjoying themselves (see what we did there?). Bring on the cuddles and cuteness. Find out why goats Are the G.O.A.T. Check out family-owned Freedom Farm in Chesapeake and their Fun with Goats events.
Make a Friend at the Petting Farm
While some COVID-related restrictions may still be in place to keep both animals and humans safe, nothing can make a toddler squeal with delight like a fluffy bunny they can actually pet behind the ears. Pack up the little ones and head to Hunt Club Farm in Virginia Beach or Bluebird Gap Farm in Hampton, where getting up close and personal with ponies, pigs and more is a rite of passage for all people of all ages.