The Coastal Virginia Summer Bucket List
Each summer, we feel as giddy as kids nearing the end of a school year because we can’t wait to take advantage of all the fun things to do in Coastal Virginia. More often than not, summer is gone in a flash and we’re left wishing we’d done more. To make sure this doesn’t happen to our fellow Coastal Virginians, we’ve created a bucket list to get your summer started right.
Words by Aimee Beltran, Angela Blue, Anne Leonard, My Nguyen, Chelsea Sherman and Melissa Stewart; Drawings by Barbs Watson
1. Take your photo with one (or several) Norfolk mermaids.
The city is home to more than 100 mermaids painted and decorated by local artists during the last 15 years. Spend a day traipsing around Norfolk, seeing how many you can spot and take a #selfie with each one.
2. Host a crab fest.
You can’t go wrong with a bushel of blue crabs to share amongst your friends and family, and Coastal Virginia is the right place for it! The crabs are caught fresh each morning, so be sure to call ahead and reserve the “Jimmy #1s," which is crab slang for large male crabs. Ask the friendly fishmongers steam to them for you, and they’ll even season them in an Old Bay bath! Blue crabs go hand in hand with summer brews and butter-slathered grilled corn after a long day at the beach. You will not be disappointed with Shore Drive’s Dockside Seafood Market and Marina or Welton’s Fresh Seafood Market on Laskin Road.
3. Grab a pint at a local brewery.
In the past couple years, Coastal Virginia has been brimming with quality local beer. With summer in full swing, the breweries often have live music and local food trucks. Many of the breweries offer tours and have taprooms as well. Virginia Beach is home to Beach Brewing Company, Back Bay Brewing Co. and Young Veterans Brewing Company.
Norfolk hosts Smartmouth Brewing Company and O’Connor Brewing Company. In Hampton you’ll find St. George Brewing Company, and in Williamsburg there’s Alewerks Brewing Company. If you fancy their beer enough, don’t forget your growler to tote some home…perhaps for your crab fest.
4. Go to a festival.
Craft beer, wine, barbecue, oysters, Greek fare, bacon… Coastal Virginia has festivals for everything you could possibly think of. Go to one! Socialize with people who enjoy the food you enjoy or experience something new you never thought you’d try.
5. Merrily ferry across the Elizabeth River from Norfolk to Portsmouth.
While most of us say the name “Hampton Roads” without giving a second thought to its origins, most sources believe it began with Henry Wriothesley, the Third Earl of Southampton. The “Roads” of “Hampton Roads” actually derives from the old nautical terms “road” and “roadstead,” which refer to safe water passages. “Hampton Roads” in its entirety, then, refers to the channel linking the James, Elizabeth and Nansemond rivers with the Chesapeake Bay and was first identified as such in 1755. By definition, this is also what makes Coastal Virginia rich in unique customs and charm. Combining nine cities, “Hampton Roads” embraces differences across the region as much as it celebrates our commonalities.
This summer, reflect on this special namesake with a ferry trip across the Elizabeth River. The Elizabeth River Ferry is operated by HRT and travels between the Waterside Festival Marketplace in Downtown Norfolk and North Landing and High Street in Portsmouth. In addition to being fast and economical (it costs $1.50 to ride the ferry across the river one way), the ferry offers a memorable view of the river and the cities’ respective waterfronts. If you’re traveling to the Norfolk side, pay a visit to Bean There Coffeehouse Café and ask for an iced Island Dream. If you’re traveling over to Portsmouth, make sure you stop by the Bier Garden for a brew and a side of spatzle. Substitute the gravy for Havarti cheese—trust us.
6. Plan a day trip to Tangier Island.
You’ve been saying how you’ve always wanted to check out this mysterious Eastern Shore island, so make plans to actually do it. Eat a soft shell crab sandwich, rent a golf cart and visit the museum. Whether you fall in love with the quaintness of the island or not, it’s best to visit while you still can.
7. Swing dance.
Summer invokes a certain nostalgia of days gone by, so pick a Sunday evening to head down to Ocean View for some big band music and reminisce over the tunes—even if you weren’t around in the ‘40s. Bring a blanket and some snacks and get your dancing shoes on under the gazebo at Big Bands on the Bay.
8. When at the Virginia Beach boardwalk, do as the tourists do.
If you are a Coastal Virginia native or have lived in the area for even a few years, it’s easy to forget that Virginia Beach is home to the world’s longest pleasure beach and an award-winning boardwalk. The 3-mile stretch parallel to the boardwalk is a literal mecca of brightly-colored beach kitsch and tantalizing, tasty fun. So, the next time you find yourself at the Virginia Beach boardwalk, do as the tourists do. Rent a surrey and cruise down to 31st Street and Catch up with King Neptune, or leisurely stroll your way through the boardwalk’s best offerings. In addition to the beckoning waters of the Atlantic Ocean, you can revel in street musicians and magicians courtesy of Beach Street USA, precariously tall soft serve cones from the Kohr Bros, old-school skee ball machines at Flipper McCoy’s and those infamous orange crushes from Waterman’s (Read More about the crush here.)
9. Cruise the Colonial Parkway.
Crack that sun roof and head to the Colonial Parkway. This 23-mile stretch of scenic splendor starts at the York River at Yorktown and winds its way to the James River at Jamestown. The roadway connects Virginia’s Historic Triangle—Jamestown, Williamsburg and Yorktown—and was built specifically to honor the area’s natural beauty and culture. Sounds like a perfect way to hit the road and enjoy a lazy day joy ride.
10. Stay at a bed and breakfast.
Virginia is home to hundreds of adorable B&Bs, and you’re missing out if you don’t take the opportunity to stay at one. There are tons in mid and northern Virginia, but you don’t even have to go that far to find one. There are several in Coastal Virginia, including the Freemason Inn in Norfolk, Meadowbrook Farm in Suffolk and Irish Isle Bed and Breakfast in Chesapeake. Experience the enjoyment of relaxing at a home away from home, rekindle the flame with your spouse or just indulge in a quiet weekend to yourself.
11. Bike the Capital Trail.
Pedal the past and present on the Virginia Capital Trail, a paved pedestrian and bicycle thoroughfare along the tree canopied, Route 5 scenic byway. This summer, you can begin at Colonial Williamsburg and bike a total of eight miles in James City County, finishing at Chickahominy River State Park. It will be great practice for when the entire trail is complete and enthusiastic cyclers can continue all the way to Richmond, a total of 55 miles.
12. Pick your berries, and eat ‘em, too.
Summer never quite tastes right unless there are fresh, straight from the vine, gushing sweet berries from Pungo. From the start of the summer on Memorial Day weekend, Pungo kicks off the warmer weather with their 31st annual Pungo Strawberry Festival celebrating all things strawberry. A handful of farms offer the “U-Pick” option to gallivant up and down the aisles of berry heaven to pick to your heart’s content. Bring your own basket, and make sure it’s big! Don’t forget to show up earlier than later during the season as the fields tend to get picked over quickly. Look no further; there’s jam, tart and popsicle making in your future! Pungo farms Cullipher Farm Market and Brookdale Farm are currently open for the season.
13. Have a picturesque picnic.
Pack a basket of your favorite fare and find a picnic table in one of the naturally wooded areas at the 550-acre Mariners’ Museum Park in Newport News. Setting up your feast at one of the overlooks allows fantastic glimpses of Lake Maury. Then, you can walk off that lunch on the park’s 5-mile Noland Trail. Cross the Lion’s Bridge dam for amazing views of the James River and a look at the four stone lion sculptures by artist Anna Hyatt Huntington.
14. Go skydiving.
We know that this has long been a bucket list item of yours, and it’s time to finally face your fears and mark it off. Skydive Suffolk and Virginia Skydiving Center in Virginia Beach both offer tandem and AFF (Accelerated Freefall) jumps. Prepare to see Coastal Virginia from a view like never before as you experience the thrill of your life!
15. Cozy up with one of the most Handsome studs in town.
Coastal Virginia has no lack for delectably distinct eateries. From fresh-caught seafood to authentic ethnic cuisine, or elevated pub grub at its finest, we are blessed with countless options to satisfy our culinary cravings. Since this bucket list was created with a “carpe diem” mentality, we’ll get straight to the most indulgent and alluring of these—Handsome Biscuit. Only a year old, this quirky spot on Colonial Avenue has quickly gained a kind of cult following serving fresh-made sweet potato biscuits. And with menu items like the Dill Na Na (a potato onion frittata with arugula and dill mayo); Bleu Blazer (fried chicken with spicy picked red cabbage and blue cheese dressing); and A.C. Slawter (pulled pork BBQ, apple coleslaw and Lupo hot sauce), it doesn’t take more than taste buds to figure out why. Our favorite of all of these is the Stevie—fried chicken with pickles, whole grain mustard and honey. Um. Yeah. Handsome Biscuit is only open Tuesday–Sunday, 8 a.m.–2 p.m., so if you miss the last call, hop over to Field Guide on Granby Street, owners David Hausmann’s and John Porter’s other equally eclectic establishment.
16. Do a crazy run that’ll mess up your clothes.
You know, a mud run, or one of those runs where they spray you with neon dye. It’s a fun way to get in a good workout and just relax and let it all go. Life can get so stressful, and sometimes it’s easy to forget what it’s like to just let loose and have a blast without worrying about messing up our outfits or letting our hair get crazy. These runs leave no room for worrying about your looks, so it’s a great way to release that unnecessary tension and have some fun.
17. Get a massage.
Do it! If you get a Groupon (and there are always massage Groupons), you can usually get a deal for a one-hour massage for about $30–$40. It’s absolutely worth it. Get the tension out and just lie there and relax (maybe even fall asleep!). You deserve it; end of story.
18. Get a little nutty in Williamsburg.
A trip to Colonial Williamsburg ensures that your day will be filled with history and images harkening to a simpler time in our nation’s past. Continue the sentiment with a visit to The Peanut Shop of Williamsburg in Merchant’s Square. Virginia peanuts have long been an element of the Commonwealth’s foodways and heritage, sought after for their crunchy, large kernels and discernible flavor. The traditional lightly-salted, roasted peanuts can be found in abundance at the shop, but more creative flavors such as Honey Roasted Caramel Apple Spiced, Hot Wasabi Spiced and Savory Dill Pickle should not be overlooked either. Luckily, The Peanut Shop offers samples of all of their flavors, so you’re sure to find just the right one. Pro tip: pay the shop a visit on Saturday mornings between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. and receive a 10 percent discount off of your purchase.
19. Trek on down to Old Beach. The reddest tomatoes are just a snapshot into summer’s thriving produce that pour into the farmer’s markets, and Coastal Virginia’s Old Beach Market is a local favorite. You can find everything from gourmet dog biscuits to unique jam and soap as well as fresh flowers and a slice of pie…or two. Grab a breakfast burrito, ingredients for dinner, or just come to enjoy the live music that often lingers in the mornings at the market. Old Beach Market is located in the Croc’s 19th Street Bistro’s parking lot. After Memorial Day until Labor Day, their schedule is every Saturday, 8 a.m. to noon.
20. Catch a sunrise at the Oceanfront.
Nobody really loves waking up early, especially during summer. But there’s something truly special about sitting on the cold sand waiting for the sun to pop up over the watery horizon. Grab a couple coffees and bring your sweetie along for a romantic early morning date, or just go by yourself for some genuine reflection. Don’t forget to bring a bucket so that you can gather intact seashells afterward.
21. Take in an outdoor concert.
June 6 kicks off the annual summer concert series Music By the Bay at Hampton’s Fort Monroe. These free performances take place at the gazebo at Continental Park and allow the public to experience Chesapeake Bay breezes while listening to bands like the Hampton Roads Philharmonic Orchestra and the Virginia Symphony Orchestra.
22. Get out of your comfort zone by taking a class at the beach.
Paddleboarding, wakeboarding, water skiing, kitesurfing… the possibilities are endless, and it’s all available down at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront. We’re so lucky to live near enough to a beach to be able to go there whenever we want, and so many of us don’t take advantage of that opportunity nearly enough. So commit to learning a new skill on the water and get yourself out there enjoying the sights and sounds of summer.
23. Take a break from the ho-hum city life.
Coastal Virginia is home to First Landing State Park, which is where the Jamestown colonists first landed, hence the name in honor of this monumental time in history. While the park offers camping, fishing and other amenities, the 19 miles of biking and walking trails truly take center stage. Between the main entrance on Shore Drive and the south entrance on 64th street at the oceanfront, the park spans over 2,888 acres of plush greenery. Bring the kids, your furry friends and your running shoes, and you’ll be equipped for a tranquil stroll chock full of towering trees and lagoons. The park’s hours are from 8 a.m. until dusk for $4 per vehicle on the weekdays and $5 during the weekend.
24. Reclaim another man’s trash as treasure on top of Mount Trashmore.
What other place in the world can boast a park stretching 165 acres and reaching 60 feet high, composed entirely of compacted layers of solid waste and clean soil? A true environmental feat, Mount Trashmore Park is one of the region’s most unique features and proudest possessions. With picnic shelters, playground areas, volleyball courts, a walking trail and even a Skate Park, Mount Trashmore Park is an ideal place for families to convene. Never fear if you’re stuck at the office all day and can’t get here until later in the evening—Mount Trashmore’s appeal only grows as the sky dims. Find a spot atop the hilly mound, and watch the sun set from the best seat in Virginia Beach. If you happen upon Mount Trashmore on a breezy day, you can share the company of kite-flying friends, making the moment all the more magical.
25. Think beyond the Atlantic Ocean.
We all love living close to the Virginia Beach Oceanfront, but it’s time to expand your water view and schedule a bit of fun in the sun at one of the area’s other, just-as-beautiful beaches. Check out Ocean View Beach in Norfolk, Buckroe Beach in Hampton or Yorktown Beach in Yorktown. Offering less crowds and more space to spread out, these spots are popular with locals looking to spend some time in the sand.
Don’t leave your furry friend behind as you’re having all this summer fun in Coastal Virginia! Here are five must-dos for you and your pet pal!
Summer Bucket List for Pets
1. Walk your dog on the Virginia Beach boardwalk.
Virginia Beach is one of the top 10 US boardwalks, according to National Geographic. And the city recently loosened the leash on their dog laws . . . pun intended! During the summer season, dogs are allowed on the boardwalk from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. This is the perfect time to get in a morning walk before the day heats up! They must don a leash and please scoop the poop!
2. Make your dog a frozen treat at home.
The temps are warming up and there’s nothing better to help cool down than eating a sweet treat! Make your dog a frozen treat at home using just a few natural ingredients that you probably already have in your fridge! Frozen Luau Dog Treats by Irresistible Pets is one of our favorites! They are easy to make and perfect for a backyard summer luau!
3. Watch an outdoor movie with your dog.
What’s better than cuddling up under the stars with your pup on a breezy summer evening? You’ll have to check schedules, but most places like Red Mill Commons Shopping Center, Hilltop Shopping Center, Edinburgh Commons, Mount Trashmore Park and Town Center at Pembroke all have free outdoor movies for families during the summer season. These are usually dog-friendly, but always double check ahead of time!
4. Find your inner zen with doggie yoga and meditation at the Chinese Pagoda.
The Pagoda and Oriental Garden is located in Downtown Norfolk off of Tazewell Street. This is the perfect place to visit early in the morning for some peace and quiet. It’s great for yoga or meditation with your dog. You will feel like you’re in a Zen garden in China but with the Elizabeth River in the background! There are beautiful water fountains and Koi fish which make for superb photo ops!
5. Romp around the dog park.
There are city-run dog parks in just about every city in Coastal Virginia. Dog parks are the perfect place to let your four-legged friend run around on a summer afternoon. Most parks require that your dog be licensed, and some require an annual fee. You can find a listing of local dog parks on the Hampton Roads Dog Blog.