Sometimes the most unexpected stops happen on your way to somwhere else. Right? Well, that’s definitely true of Hampton, Virginia.
The easternmost city on the Virginia Peninsula and your last stop before crossing the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel into Norfolk on your way to the Atlantic ocean, Hampton, VA abounds with seafood, history and even a little NASA excitement.
Why Visit Hampton VA?
As you come down I-64, passing through Newport News, it’s easy to skip past by Hampton. But like most cities in eastern Virginia, Hampton life is based around the water.
Hampton is surrounded on three sides by the Chesapeake Bay and the busy Hampton Roads Harbor, so expect plenty of excellent seafood and fun days on the water.
The festive downtown area has a variety of restaurants and includes Mill Point Park, a popular festival site in the Hampton Roads region. Check out a few of the exciting museums, like the Virginia Air and Space Museum at the NASA Langley Research Center, along with great outdoor spaces, farms, and of course, beaches.
Hampton VA Museums and Historical Sites
Have you ever been inside a fort? Visit the Casemate Museum, housed in the United State’s largest fort. Learn about its role during the Civil War.
It’s nice and cool inside the fort’s thick walls, so the museum is the perfect excursion on a hot summer day.
This National Monument is free to visit. Check out their website for hours throughout the year.
On some weekends, Civil War Encampments take place within the fort. Stop at the different campsites, listen to soldiers’ stories, see their equipment, and ask questions. The Casemate Museum makes history come alive for both children and adults.
Fort Monroe Walking Tour
The Fort Monroe Walking Tour leads you to several locations inside and outside the National Monument’s walls. See the Old Point Lighthouse and the buildings where Robert E. Lee lived and where Jefferson Davis was held during the American Civil War.
Stand along the fort’s walls and look down into the moat across the Chesapeake Bay and deep-water Hampton Roads Harbor. Discover why the fort was built in 1834 and what it protected.
Hampton History Museum
Discover how Hampton developed over time in the ten galleries of the Hampton History Museum.
Explore 400 years of history, from its origins as the home of the Kecoughtan Native American tribe to its early African-American population to the city’s role in the United States space program.
Discover Blackbeard, the pirate’s connection to Hampton, and how Hampton burned during the Civil War.
Virginia Air and Space Science Center
Become an astronaut for a day at the Virginia Air and Space Museum. There is a days’ worth of adventure in this NASA visitor center with over 100 interactive exhibits. Test your knowledge with space challenges, see various spacecraft like the Apollo 12 Command Module, pilot your own aircraft, and take in a 3D IMAX movie.
Its newest exhibits include The Solarium at the Center: Reaching New Heights, where you can listen to the “heartbeat” of the sun and learn more about how the Earth and sun interact. In this exhibit, you’ll also be able to explore the sun’s unique features.
You can learn more about the Moon, Mars, and our own planet Earth in the Space Explorer Gallery. Find out what effect gravity has on objects throughout our solar system and learn about the aircraft that was part of the Mars Exploration Program.
Take time to explore the Stellar Playground, where you can create black holes and discover what would happen if Earth were a little closer or farther from the sun in the Planetary Bombardment exhibit.
Hampton National Cemetery
The Hampton National Cemetery is just a hop, skip, and jump from the site of the iron-clad Monitor and Merrimac battle. The 1,800-bed Fort Monroe military hospital was built in 1862.
Many of the soldiers that died at Fort Monroe are buried there. In addition, over 600 unknown soldiers, 60 POWs from Germany and Italy, and 272 Confederate soldiers are buried in separate sections.
There is a 65-foot tall Union Soldiers monument and two small granite blocks in the cemetery with the inscription “To Our Confederate Dead.”
Hampton VA Lighthouses
Old Point Comfort Lighthouse
Since 1803 this 58-foot lighthouse at Fort Monroe has been guiding ships from the Chesapeake Bay into the Elizabeth, James, and Nansemond Rivers.
Visitors can view the Chesapeake Bay’s second-oldest lighthouse and enjoy a picnic lunch as they watch the ship traffic.
The Old Point Comfort Lighthouse has a long and fascinating past. It served as a War of 1812 observation post and was under Union control during the Civil War.
Thimble Shoal Lighthouse
The 65-foot, 3-story cast-iron sparkplug lighthouse with a first floor canopy sits in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay and 3½ miles northeast of the Old Point Comfort Lighthouse.
You can see this active lighthouse’s flashing white light for 20 miles.
A private citizen purchased the lighthouse in 2005 for $65,000.
If not on the water, the best place to see this lighthouse is from Fort Monroe.
Miss Hampton II Cruises
The double-decker Miss Hampton II offers narrated cruises throughout the Hampton Roads Harbor.
During the cruise, expect to see commercial cargo ships, the Navy’s fleet at the Norfolk Naval Base, Blackbeard’s Point, and the Old Point Comfort Lighthouse.
The three-hour cruise is the top-rated tour in Hampton and one that shouldn’t be missed.
Explore More Virginia Lighthouses
Beaches in Hampton VA
Sitting along the western banks of the Chesapeake Bay, Buckroe Beach is Hampton’s most popular beach.
Along the ¾-mile sandy strip, there is a playground, picnic shelters, grills, and paths to walk and bike.
Lifeguards are on duty during the summer.
Visit on a summer Sunday and enjoy the live Groovin’ by the Bay concert series or watch a family movie on the beach each Tuesday evening.
There are jet skis, paddle boats, and kayaks for rent for those who want to get out on the water.
Dogs are not permitted on the beach in the summertime.
Sandy Bottom Nature Park
As the premier park in Hampton, you can enjoy running, walking, or biking along 12 miles of nature trails that offer water views and an abundance of wildlife. You can also climb the observation tower, take part in a nature program, or spend time on one of the two lakes.
Grab a paddle and canoe through the narrow channels or around Crystal Lake for a day of fishing and sightseeing. The park offers Jon boat, canoe, and paddleboat rentals. If you are not comfortable exploring the channels on your own, join one of the guided canoe trips.
The nature center overlooking Sandy Bottom Lake has a variety of animal and environmental exhibits.
Enjoy a meal at the picnic area or rent one of the four tent cabins or 11 campsites within the park to extend your stay.
The park is pet-friendly.
Best Hampton Parks and Farms
Bluebird Gap Farm
Are your kids “city kids” and never been close to farm animals? Do they love petting zoos, or are they just animal lovers? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, stop by Bluebird Gap Farm.
Visit Bluebird Gap Farm and see their 150 farm and wild animals. Animal food machines can be found in multiple locations around the farm, so your kids can enjoy feeding some of the animals.
As your stroll throughout the farm, take a break at various picnic areas for lunch or snacks.
Check the calendar of events to see what extraordinary things are happening on the farm when you’re in town. There is no charge to enjoy walking around or eating a picnic lunch.
Grandview Nature Preserve
In the northeast corner of Hampton, this nature preserve offers guests a chance to explore wetlands and observe migrating birds. Its Chesapeake Bay beachfront has great beachcombing and saltwater fishing opportunities.
Check in at the Buchkro Beach Park for any hiking and canoeing programs happing on the preserve.
Grandview Nature Preserve is pet-friendly from September 16 – March 31.
The Matteson Trail
The Matteson Trail is a 3-mile fitness and nature trail that encircles the 27-hole Hamptons Golf Course.
The paved loop offers a mostly shady, paved route and has markers every quarter mile.
The trail is pet-friendly, so bring your dog along to enjoy a relaxing walk.
The golfers in your family should keep their eyes peeled for stray golf balls along the trail.
Air Power Park
The Air Power Park is an outdoor park where you can get an up-close look at missiles, rockets, and jets during a self-guided tour.
Inside the museum is a Children’s Room that has books, 3D art, and much more to entertain your little pilots and astronauts.
Outside you’ll also find a playground and a floating dock along the Newmarket Creek. The dock is the perfect place to watch wildlife or to put your kayak in the water and explore.
More things to do in Hampton VA
For more things to do in Hampton, VA, check out Phoebus’ National Historic District, the Mekos Indoor Skate Park, or the American Theatre.
Take a ride on one of 48 elaborately decorated horses on this restored 1920 carousel. The carousel is a work of American folk art with horses so finely carved that you can see the veins on their legs and necks. The chariots are intricately carved and painted.
The carousel is in a pavilion next to the Virginia Air and Space Museum.
Larry King Law’s Langley Speedway
For more than 70 years, folks have raced around the 0.396-mile slightly banked oval in their Grand Stock, Legends, Late Model, and Modified race cars.
Langley has races most Saturdays from April through October.
See where some of the best, like Jimmie Johnson, Richard Petty, and Dennie Hamlin, a former track champion, raced in their early days.
Hampton’s LOVEwork sign
You can see over 200 LOVE signs throughout Virginia, so stop by the Armstrong School for the Arts at 3401 Matoaka Road to see how they represent the word love through the Fine Arts.
Get your Instagram picture taken leaning against the paintbrush or directing the symphony as you stand beside the musical note. Then add your photo to the many others at #LOVEVA or Facebook.com/VirginiaisforLovers.
Festivals in Hampton VA
Hampton Jazz Festival
The Hampton Jazz Festival has been bringing blues, pop, soul, R&B, and jazz to Hampton during the last week of June since 1968.
The festival is a major music event that features some of the world’s best jazz musicians.
Poquoson Seafood Festival
What began as a small waterfront celebration is now Poquoson’s largest annual event. The festival expects to draw 50,000 people from October 15 – 17, 2021 during its 40th anniversary.
There will be regional entertainment, food vendors with menus that highlight delicious seafood options, arts and craft vendors, and various carnival rides during the three-day event.
In the middle of the festival, you’ll find a food pavilion with seafood favorites like crab cakes, scallops, fried shrimp, shrimp on a stick, crab dip, soft shell crabs, crawfish, Mahi Mahi, and flounder. You will also find your usual festival favorites like roasted corn, chicken on a stick, sausage and peppers, and turkey legs.
More Festivals to Enjoy
- Coastal Virginia Bluegrass and Brew Festival (January)
- Downtown Hampton Block Party (Saturday nights throughout the summer)
- Blackbeard Pirate Festival (June)
- Christmas in Hampton Roads (December)
Best Restaurants in Hampton VA
County Grill and Smokehouse
This family-run group of restaurants offers award-winning smoked meats and homemade sides. Their Serial Grillers BBQ competition team competes across the country, and their various competition trophies and awards are on display throughout the restaurants.
Enjoy sitting down to a St. Louis style rib, beef brisket, grilled chicken, or a pulled pork dinner that includes two sides. The County Grill also offers a variety of combination dinners with two or three meats and two sides.
Your meal will begin with amazingly moist and delicious hot cornbread muffins straight from the oven, along with homemade honey butter to slather on them. They’re hard to stop eating, so don’t be shy. Ask for a second basket.
The BBQ has a delicious smoky taste, and you have six different sauces to experiment with. If you find one that you like, buy a bottle to take home.
When your meal comes, order a single or large (family-sized) banana pudding for dessert. As you are licking the barbeque sauce off your fingers, the bananas will be baking, the meringue browning, and your delicious banana pudding will be ready when you finish.
Besides the Mercury Boulevard location, there is also a location in Yorktown along Route 17.
Along Historic Fort Monroe’s waterfront, you’ll find an intimate fish house that offers a picturesque view of the water, sunsets, and the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel.
Be sure to try their Deadrise Seafood Platter, seafood nachos, or fish tacos while you sit outside on the deck watching the sun dip into the Hampton Roads Harbor.
Since opening the first Surf Rider in 1980, Liz Massey and Stanley Bennett have served up some of the best home-style seafood in the area.
There are several locations in the Hampton Roads area. Enjoy their delicious crabcakes, a bowl of their famous she-crab soup, and make sure you choose the broccoli for your side.
This authentic Mexican restaurant serves classic homemade dishes from fresh ingredients. Step into one of the late Alberto Ornelas Sr.’s five multi-generational, family-run restaurants that he founded in 1994.
As you sit down in the cozy dining room or on the outside patio (at some locations), you’ll quickly be served freshly cooked chips along with homemade salsa and the famous southeastern Virginia white sauce. El Azteca’s white sauce is known to be the best in the area.
Once you order, your food comes hot and quickly. Their grilled foods have an amazingly unique flavor that we have not encountered anywhere else. With their generous portions, you may even have leftovers for lunch the next day.
Come hungry and enjoy the cheesy fajita nachos, the shrimp chimichanga packed full of good-sized shrimp, or the pollo asado that comes with two large pieces of chicken.
They also have locations in Norfolk, Virginia Beach, and Ashland, Virginia.
On Mellen Street in the Phoebus section of Hampton, you’ll find the mango-themed bistro featured on ABC’s Shark Tank with its signature Mango Mango Preserves.
Stop in on Sundays for brunch, Tuesdays for their special Tuesdays for Two menu, or any other time, but whenever you do, make sure whatever you order comes with their delicious “Mango Mango” preserves.