48 Hours in Norfolk

by Matthew Wexler

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday June 29, 2018

Norfolk, Virginia
Norfolk, Virginia  (Source:Getty Images/ epantha)

It took me a full two days to learn how to pronounce the name of this should-be-discovered Virginia coastal town ("Nor-fok," "Naw-fok"... the nuances go on and on), but it was worth the effort to be able to speak of its charm and offerings. With 144 miles of shoreline, Norfolk dates back more than 400 years and has had its share of comebacks, beginning with a majority of its destruction during the Revolutionary War. But resilience reigns supreme and over the centuries Norfolk has reinvented itself time and again.

Norfolk's first navy yard was established in 1801 and just over a century later in 1917 the U.S. Naval Operating Base and Training Station opened, welcoming 1,400 sailors. The city also has deep roots in the African American community. Its public schools were desegregated in 1959 and Virginia-Pilot editor Lenoir Chambers was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for her emotionally resonant editorials against its resistance.

Norfolk's LGBTQ presence is small but mighty. The city is in the midst of celebrating its 30th annual Hampton Roads PrideFest. Much more than a social event, the nonprofit organization has awarded $60,000 in scholarships since its inception. It also boasts the only Pride Boat Parade in the country!

6 Norfolk Essentials

American Rover
American Rover  

1. Water World
A trip to Norfolk isn't complete until you've spent some time on the water. Various harbor cruise options are available, including the American Rover three-masted topsail schooner. The coastal winds guide gently guide the vessel past attractions that include the Portsmouth Marine Terminal, NOAA Headquarters, the Battleship Wisconsin, and more.

2. Stay and Play
Norfolk welcomes The Main, a new upscale property by Hilton. The hotel's central location is ideally situated for getting around town, but be sure to allow some time for rest and relaxation to enjoy the property's perks and amenities. Book a room on the Empyrean Level to enjoy views of the Elizabeth River, lounge access, and 24/7 concierge service.

The Main also boasts Norfolk's only rooftop beer garden, Grain, featuring a rotating roster of local beers and live music. Those craving the daily catch should head to Saltine, which features dramatic, rustic décor with distressed millwork, handcrafted cocktails, and interactive touches like a tableside ceviche and poke cart.

Norfolk features dozens of public murals throughout the city.
Norfolk features dozens of public murals throughout the city.  (Source: Matthew Wexler)

3. Drama!
Virginia Stage Company embarks on its 40th anniversary season this fall, with works that celebrate American classics both old and new. The company, which dates back to 1978, performs in the historic Wells Theatre, built by vaudeville impresarios Jake and Otto Wells in 1913.

The venue has seen its share of drama, from a production of "Ben-Hur" complete with horses on treadmills to its conversion to an x-rated movie house and brothel. The Beaux-Arts building is registered as a national historic landmark and a gorgeous, intimate setting for VSC's upcoming season. Highlights include "The Santaland Diaries" (December 6-16, 2018), "Fun Home" (January 23 - February 10, 2019), and Tony Morrison's "The Bluest Eye" (March 6-24, 2018).

4. Dine and Drink
While Norfolk has plenty of options for a quick bite or casual beer, there are a few hidden upscale gems that elevate the city's culinary and mixology scene.

Chartreuse Bistro -- Chef Christopher Corrie and his wife Karine Varga own and operate this quaint and beautifully curated storefront restaurant, offering an ever-changing menu that features local, organic ingredients, housemade pasta, and fresh seafood.

Saint Germain -- Located on bustling Grandby Street, Saint Germain has plenty of cured nibbles with a large selection of pates, terrines, sausages, and salumi, but it's their modern mixology menu that stands out among Norfolk's otherwise beer-centric drinking culture (and modestly priced compared to its big-city counterparts). Standouts include the Peanut Plantation, made with peanut-infused Plantation rum, pineapple shrub, and cinnamon simple syrup; and Burnt & Winey, a refreshing combination of gin, burnt lemon, Chardonnay, and lavender tea.

5. Fragile but Fabulous
The Chrysler Museum of Art boasts a vast collection that includes European and American painting and sculpture, photography, and decorative arts, but its more than 10,000 glass objects are among the most comprehensive collections in the world. From Tiffany to English cameo glass, the collection's breadth is staggering, but the museum also offers opportunities for interactive experiences. Free demonstrations are held Tuesdays through Sundays, and those who want to get hands-on can take a class in glassblowing, flameworking, stained glass, and more.

6. Can't-Miss Festivals
Be sure to check out these upcoming events:

Comonwealth Coastal Classic (September 15) - Bring your appetite for this inaugural culinary blow-out held at the waterfront, featuring some of the city's most acclaimed chefs including Fabio Capparelli and Roderick Lawson. In addition to good eats, it's a one-stop opportunity to sample Virginia's yet-to-be-discovered wines, craft beers, and ciders.

The NEON Festival (October 18-19) - The fourth annual NEON Festival highlights Norfolk's arts district with live events, mural tours, musical performances, and more.

Matthew Wexler is EDGE's Senior Editor, Features & Branded Content. More of his writing can be found at www.wexlerwrites.com. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @wexlerwrites.