Norfolk, Virginia has one of the largest military populations of anywhere in the U.S. It may not have the reputation of San Diego or Hawaii, but it’s only 20 minutes from beautiful beaches, and there’s a lot to love about this small city – whether you’re moving alone or with your family.
If you’ve just received orders to Norfolk, here are top places not to miss:
1. Chrysler Hall
This is the go-to concert venue for anyone within a hundred miles of Norfolk. Everyone from Yo-Yo Ma to Broadway casts to ballet companies to country singers have graced the stage. With a capacity of 2,500, you can buy seats in a variety of price points and catch whoever happens to be coming through town.
2. Norfolk Botanical Gardens
This 750-acre garden is a sight to behold, with a Japanese garden, rose garden, butterfly garden and more. Its holiday lights event sells out every year. They also host unique classes like soapmaking, floral design, T’ai Chi, origami, homemade tea and essential oils.
3. Mermaid Winery and Benchtop Brewery
There is no shortage of craft beers and amazing wines in Norfolk. These are two highly recommended venues for an unforgettable night out – and a great place to get that next hostess gift. Look for special events like chocolate pairings and others.
4. Naro Theater
You really can’t live in Norfolk (or visit) without seeing a movie at the Naro. This art-house theater shows a mix of independent films and oldies, plus “Rocky Horror” live. It’s a Norfolk landmark, and it’s a throwback to the way movies used to be.
5. Wells Theatre
This historic old theatre hosts the talented Virginia Stage Company, and it’s also breathtakingly beautiful. Built in 1912, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time with its Beaux-Arts neoclassical décor.
6. Mermaid Factory
This is a great place to host a birthday party, bridal shower or the first stop of a bachelorette party. Mermaids are the symbol of Norfolk, and you’ll find them everywhere. Come to this art studio to paint and decorate your own custom mermaid statue. It’s for kids and adults.
7. Admirals Hockey
The Admirals are a professional ECHL “AA” ice hockey team that plays in the Scope Area, right near downtown Norfolk. Because tickets aren’t as expensive as top-tier hockey games, they make for a great date night or a night for the entire family.
Nauticus is a maritime-themed science center and museum located on the downtown waterfront in Norfolk, Virginia. There are deals for locals, and you can visit the Battleship Wisconsin, go on dinner cruises, host events here, and learn about naval history.
9. Virginia Zoo
This 53-acre zoo has been open since 1900, and it’s amazing. You’ll need to book a whole day, or at least 3-4 hours, to really get a glimpse of what this zoo has to offer. You’ll see lions, tigers, zebras, giraffes, monkeys and more. Ride the small train for a quick tour of the entire zoo. There is also a butterfly garden, a children’s garden, a tropical garden and an events space.
10. Children’s Museum of Virginia
This is the largest children’s museum in the state of Virginia, and the best I’ve ever seen. It has a a planetarium and two floors of interactive, hands-on exhibits that change regularly. It’s a kid’s paradise. There is an art studio, a “grocery store,” a massive train room, a miniature library and bank, a bubble exhibit, a science exhibit and more.
And, of course, you can’t forget about the incredible Norfolk restaurant scene. Some local favorites are Freemason Abbey, No Frills Grill, Luna Maya, Press 626 Wine Bar, Doumar’s Barbeque, and The Public House, and Café Europa. A hidden gem is Jessy’s Tacqueria near East Beach – it’s actual, authentic Mexican food.
Feature photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Christopher B. Stoltz, U.S. Navy