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For those of you who are true locals to the area you may be questioning me right now, thinking "Norfolk... really?" And to be honest, I had my doubts about the city, too. As a Virginia native, I grew up thinking of Norfolk as a naval base only; it certainly wasn't a destination I frequented regularly, nor did I know anyone that raved about it. However, on a recent trip I was pleasantly surprised to find that not only were there some inventive dining options (I'm looking at you Supper!), but a brewery and a winery, the most charming organic coffee shop ever and more adorable antique stores than I could count! We actually had trouble fitting in all that we planned. (Image: Courtesy Visit Norfolk)

Norfolk -- The city proving that southern hospitality is alive and well

I don't know about you guys, but this time of year I get super antsy to travel. Of course, I'd love to pack up and jet off to some warm, sunny Caribbean island or spend a chic getaway in Paris. But timewise (and financially!) that's not always in the cards, so day trips or long weekend adventures have become my go-to way of satiating the wanderlust.

Over the next few weeks, we'll be showcasing a few ways to escape the city that are within a four-hour bubble and most definitely won't break the bank! As we approach Inauguration, we'll offer a few further-flung destinations in case you really want to put as much distance as possible between yourself and D.C. for a while.

Up first.... Norfolk, Virginia! Now, for those of you who are true locals to the area you may be questioning me right now, thinking "Norfolk... really?" And to be honest, I had my doubts about the city, too. As a Virginia native, I grew up thinking of Norfolk as a naval base only. I passed through the city occasionally as a child, usually on our way to the beach, and later visited friends at ODU, but it certainly wasn't a destination I frequented regularly, nor did I know anyone that raved about it. However, on a recent trip I was pleasantly surprised to find that not only were there some inventive dining options (I'm looking at you Supper!), but a brewery and a winery, the most charming organic coffee shop ever and more adorable antique stores than I could count! We actually had trouble fitting in all that we planned.

I always seek out the advice of locals whenever I am exploring a new city, and in Norfolk one of my first Uber drivers wound up being a bevy of information -- he even drove us on a tour of Norfolk (on his own time!) as he wanted to make sure we saw the best of his city.

"I was attracted to Norfolk decades ago for its diversity of people, and I don't just mean racially," said Uber driver Robert Williams, who had lived in Norfolk for 30+ years. "Culturally, there's a lot more here than meets the eye. It's a southern town and I think you'll find that translates to the welcoming, community-oriented nature of the people here."

Considering that it is an easy four-hour drive from D.C., and less than a five-hour Amtrak ride, why not give Norfolk another shot? Here's how you can make the most of your trip:

Where to Stay:

On my most recent visit to Norfolk, I stayed at the Sheraton Norfolk Waterside Hotel and it was centrally located downtown allowing many of our stops to be walking distance. Despite the Fraternity Conference that was staying at the hotel during our visit (their presence was easily noticed due to the large numbers of topless men flooding the elevators to get to the pool, which happened to be on our floor), we had excellent service; from the charcuterie board that was waiting for us in the room upon arrival to the concierge helping us map out all of our destinations and recommending one of my favorite spots of the trip (more on that later), we felt well attended to. I learned in my explorations, though that I loved the historic Ghent district, and next time would choose to stay there.

I'm personally a fan of B&Bs rather than larger hotel chains, so I asked a few of the locals where they would recommend staying and the answer was overwhelmingly The Historic Page House Inn. Located in Ghent, it is situated next to the Chrysler Museum of Art (a must visit!) and is listed on the National Historic Register. The Inn has been Norfolk's only AAA four diamond rated lodging for the last 13 years. It is on the smaller side (a plus in my book) with only three suites and four rooms all with king beds and private bathrooms. Pets are even allowed, which is always nice when traveling on shorter getaways. The Freemason Inn was also mentioned a few times and looks to be a popular site for local weddings.

Where to Eat/Drink:

If you only make it to one place in Norfolk, let it be Supper Southern Morsels! I cannot say enough good things about this local gem and honestly think it would hold its own stacked up to many D.C. restaurants. This chic spot serves Southern classics, in a space that is meant to feel less like a restaurant and more like your southern grammie's house got an upgrade -- think a backlit, white-washed, cabinet bar, off-white painted walls, green booths with floral seat cushions down the middle of the dining room and a row of tufted benches with dark wood tables. We ended up getting hit by a torrential downpour on our first afternoon in Norfolk, so we wound up enjoying a three-hour lunch at Supper, giving us more than enough time to taste through their menu. We started with two southern staples: deviled eggs with housemade hot sauce and pulverized fried chicken skins and fried green tomatoes with sun dried tomato aioli, goat cheese and pork cracklins. And of course, when we are talking southern, you cannot pass up cornbread -- at Supper you receive a mixed basket of biscuits and cornbread, served with softened butter and honey. The apps were so filling that we decided to split an entree, and went with the chicken and waffle (I mean can you get more southern??) -- the southern fried chicken breast was served on a fluffy red velvet waffle and topped with maple cream cheese glaze and candied pecans. And you must get one of the smoked drinks -- I went with the Pink Pepper Bulleit, made with pink peppercorn infused Bulleit, 5 by 5 barrel-aged vanilla bitters and agave, while my dining companion stuck with her preferred Malbec.

For breakfast, you can't get more local than Handsome Biscuit. Don't be deterred by the line out the door (filled with ODU students) as the homemade sweet potato biscuits are worth the wait alone, nevermind the deliciousness that they pile on top. You can go simple with the Shorty (an over easy egg and cheese) or step it up with the A.C. Slawter (pulled pork BBQ, apple coleslaw and Lupo hot sauce) or the Hella Fitzgerald (fried chicken with bacon, cheddar and red eye sausage gravy)And don't forget to add a side of seared greens with garlic and chili flakes.

One of the first things I always have to find in any new city is a good local coffee shop-- you know, the place I would want to hang out in on lazy Sundays if I lived there. Lucky for me, our hotel concierge had mentioned the name Fair Grounds Coffee when listing off a few local favorites, because after getting caught in te aforementioned downpour, we needed a place to go chill for a bit to 1. dry out and 2. warm our insides! From the moment I stepped in and saw the sunny yellow walls covered in flyers for local listings, I knew I had found my place. I loved that all the coffee was fair trade and organic, and it turned out Fair Grounds was Norfolk's oldest independent coffee shop.

Of course, I had to ask my new bestie Robert where he recommended eating, and being a self-described steak man, he said Byrd & Baldwin Brothers Steakhouse was the best in town. While we didn't get to try it out this time (sorry Robert!), it rates pretty highly amongst the online dining reviewer crowd, receiving 4.1 stars on Yelp, 4.5 on TripAdvisor and 4.7 on OpenTable.

What to See:

I know that often the last thing Washingtonians want to see when they visit a new city is a museum, since we have so many amazing options here, for free, but the Chrysler Museum of Art focuses on such a different style of art than anything we have that it is worth paying for a visit. With more than 100 galleries for 30,000 works from around the world, you never know what kind of exhibits they will have. When I visited, I was treated to an amazing collection of pop culture portraits by famed music photographer Herb Ritts, whose work was featured on more than 400 magazine covers including 45 Rolling Stone covers. Right now, you can find a local artist's work highlighted in Adeline's Portal, a conceptual art installation by Beth Lipman, a Chrysler Museum Glass Studio Artist in Residence, that was created live in front of an audience at the studio across the street and was inspired by Norfolk history.

And be sure to pop over to the Chrysler Museum Glass Studio, which sits adjacent to the Museum of Art, and is meant to supplement the extensive glass collection at Chrysler. Here at the studio, you can not only see artists at work in a variety of glassmaking processes (free demos are given Tuesday-Sunday at noon) from blown glass to casting, fusing, flame working and cold working, but you can also try your hand at the medium! Classes are offered for all levels from beginners to advanced

If you are traveling with any history buffs, the MacArthur Memorial is a can't-miss, as it is the final resting place of World War II hero General Douglas MacArthur and his wife; it also happens to be inside downtown Norfolk's restored 1850 City Hall. In case you need a bit of a high school history refresh, start with the 24-minute video on MacArthur in the theater before exploring the rest of the museum. You can even see the exact spot where the Japanese Instrument of Surrender was signed aboard the USS Missouri, formally ending World War II.

Factor in some time to just aimlessly wander around the Ghent District, which has become a thriving and very pedestrian-friendly shopping center of town. This is where you will find incredible antique stores (make sure you stop by Le Marche and chat with the lovely owner) and a few places to pick up unique souvenirs. If you are looking for anything more contemporary (but at a great deal) stop by Decorum Furniture, where I found the exact faux-marble and brass coffee table I had been eying for months for $300 less than any price tag I had seen in D.C.

There are also a few holiday-themed activities going on in Norfolk that are worth checking out if you visit in the next few weeks.

Dickens’ Christmas Towne
Through December 31
One of Hampton Roads’ favorite holiday traditions, Dickens’ Christmas Towne, returns to Nauticus this season for the second year.This year’s interactive holiday performance includes a line-up of musicians, carolers, an enchanted Christmas tree forest and much more. Tickets cost $5 per person. Children under two are admitted free.

Dominion Garden of Lights
Through December 31
The Dominion Garden of Lights is a holiday tradition that includes more than half-a-million twinkling lights. This extravagant display illuminates Norfolk’s Botanical Gardens on a two-mile drive through the lights and features nightly family activities. $20 per car Monday-Thursday and $25 per car Friday, Saturday and Sunday.unday.

MacArthur on Ice
Through January 16, 2017

MacArthur Center kicks off the 12th season of ice skating at the center’s 7, 200-square-foot outdoor rink. Enjoy public skating sessions, ice hockey clinics, figure skating exhibitions and more. Those new to the ice or feeling a bit rusty can sign up for private lessons or get a helping hand from skate guards on-site. Regular admission is $7 for skating and $7 for skate rental.


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