“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”– Marcus Garvey
A few years ago we flew to Norfolk to begin a week-long trip exploring the western coast of Virginia. We began this trip by staying with a a friend who was stationed in Norfolk while employed with the U.S. Navy. For the previous several years he had been deployed to Bahrain and surrounding countries. Now, while in Norfolk, he was training Navy Seals prior to their deployment, because of this we were able to visit the Navy Base as well as see several of the ships that were still in service with the military- a neat experience that would not otherwise be accessible to us. In addition to exploring Norfolk, we visited several surrounding areas including Virginia Beach, Colonial Williamsburg, Arlington, and ended the trip in one of my favorite cities, Washington D.C. (view my post here!) since he had never been before!
Norfolk and Virginia Beach
As soon as we landed I knew where we had to go first: Doumar’s Barbeque (most importantly they serve Ice Cream). As seen on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives and the Rachel Ray Show, this curb service restaurant, in operation since 1904, was at the top of the list. There are a few really interesting points about this restaurant: it has curbside service which is so fun, it is ridiculously cheap, and the original owner, Abe Doumar, invented the first ice cream cone maker in the world, which is still used today!
While sitting in the comfort of your own car, blasting punk rock from your teenage years, you can enjoy cheeseburgers and pork sandwiches for $2.90. Yes, you can get a sandwich for less than three dollars. Of utmost importance, when you visit Doumar’s, be sure to go while they are making the waffle cones fresh (Monday-Saturday between 10am and 11:30am); you can smell the sweet aroma across the parking lot- it was unbelievable. These warm crispy waffle cones with creamy ice cream is what every cone wishes they could be. Abe Doumar got the idea for the cone machine at the 1904 World’s Fair and invented the machine soon after. His son, Albert Doumar, can still be seen creating waffle cones on the original machine that started it all. After this meal, you will definitely want to plan for a nap!
As with all of my trips, a walkabout Downtown was a must. Along the waterfront, Downtown Norfolk is full of shops, restaurants and bars, as well as museums, street art, walking and biking trails, and occasional block parties. Another option is to grab a snack, sit along the water, and relax while you watch the boats go by. One night we were able to meet up with friends from High School, one of whom is also with the Navy, for dinner and drinks. It is always so fun mixing friends from various points in your life. Nearby you can also visit Nauticus, a maritime museum, and visit the Battleship Wisconsin that was one of the largest and last battleships ever built by the U.S. Navy! The day we visited we also got to witness (from afar) a navy graduation ceremony aboard the ship. Exploring the Naval Ship with an Officer was extra special, he was able to show us the ins and outs of the ship and share stories from his deployments.
The next day we drove 25 minutes to spend the day in Virginia Beach. It was cold and rainy the entire day but we were able to take a short walk along the beach, take a snap of the Neptune Statue, and enjoy the grey ocean view. Since we visited in the off-season the boardwalk was pretty bleak, but you can tell that in the Summer this area would be bustling; it reminds me of other beach towns like Daytona Beach or Myrtle Beach (think beachside arcades, restaurants, and kitchy souvenir stores). While in Virginia Beach we visited the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Center, which was a great way to escape the chilly rain. This aquarium had a lot of diverse animals and exhibits including sea turtles and seals, a nature trail, and several touch tanks that made the trip to Virginia Beach totally worth it! We were able to play with sting rays and touch anemones which are too cool! One of the neatest parts of this particular center, is the giant fish and shark aquarium that has a tunnel that you can walk through and see the tank completely surround you. During season you can also take various boat tours which look awesome and play in the adventure park that has treetop trails and a zipline!
Other Options that would have been nice to visit, but time did not permit on this trip:
- Virginia Zoo
- Norfolk Botanical Garden
- Chrysler Museum of Art
- Multiple other military museums and ships
With the rainy weather during our stay in Norfolk we spent much of our time watching movies, playing games and indoor sports. Oh! We also went to the Navy shooting range- that was the first time I shot a gun, so that was pretty intimidating. Aside from Norfolk and Virginia Beach, while in this part of Virginia, we knew we wanted to spend time at a couple historical sites.
One day we took a day trip to Colonial Williamsburg, which is about an hour from Norfolk and is the largest living history museum. Do you like history? What about learning about Colonial America? Then this is the place for you. While in the village you are surrounded by actors portraying members of the colony, there are over forty sites where you can observe trades of the time (i.e. blacksmiths, farmers, seamstresses), children activities, four historic taverns, and museums. At night you can go on haunted tours and participate in an escape room. The taverns, each with their own history, even have colonial-inspired menus. This place is so surreal. We walked on the same cobblestone paths as our founding fathers, sat in George Washington’s church pew, and drank ciders where Ben Franklin did over 250 years ago (well I am not 100% certain this is true, but go with me)! Overall this is a day to remember, you can easily spend an entire day, or more, at this interactive historical site.
After spending a couple days exploring Norfolk, Virginia Beach, and Colonial Williamsburg we were ready to make our way to Washington D.C. D.C. remains one of my favorite cities and each time I have visited I have done something new- there is still so much more the city has to offer that I have not yet done! Since our friend had never been to D.C., we jumped at the occasion to visit again! Along this route from Norfolk you pass sites that are not to be missed: Mount Vernon and Arlington National Cemetery.
Two hours and 15 minutes from Norfolk, and thirty minutes from D.C., Mount Vernon was home, and now resting place, to George and Martha Washington. The plantation is quite expansive. The standard tour allows guests access to the first and second floors of the home, as well as access to gardens, the tombs of George and Martha, the slave memorial, a working farm, animals, and more. In the Museum and Education Center you can watch videos of Washington’s life and rise to presidency, as well as visit fully-functioning reconstructions of his gristmill and whiskey distillery. I really enjoyed our visit to Mount Vernon, the history was interesting, but my two favorite parts were watching a blacksmith create farm tools, and resting in the rocking chairs on the back porch that overlooks the Potomac River after hours exploring the grounds. Again, that surreal feeling!
Another stop along our route to D.C. was Arlington National Cemetery (13 minute drive to downtown D.C.). The Welcome Center opens daily at 8:00 a.m. and closes at 5:00 (7:00 p.m. in the Summer months). The sheer number of headstones is astonishing: presidents, explorers, scientists, war veterans, and prominent figures can be found here. Be sure to visit the following points of interest:
- Memorial Amphitheater
- US Marine Corps War Memorial
- John F. Kennedy grave site
- The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
- Changing of the Guard
The Changing of the Guard Ceremony is very fascinating. If you have never heard of this ritual, take a read. The guard is changed every hour on the hour October 1 to March 31 in an elaborate ritual. From April 1 through September 30, there are more than double the opportunities to view the change because another change is added on the half hour and the cemetery closing time moves from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. A military guard was first posted at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on March 25, 1926, then at midnight on July 2, 1937, the first 24-hour guard was posted. The tomb has been guarded continuously, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, since then, even through snow storms and hurricanes! The Society of the Guard has strict rules for dress and behavior of the guards, while on and off duty, and the job is held with high respect.
After our visit at the cemetery we spent a couple days in D.C. exploring the monuments and museums. As we began our way back to sunny South Florida we found ourselves stuck at the airport. As for me, I love airports, I can sit for hours people watching, sipping tea, and reading some nonsense book where someone flies off the handle and goes on a murderous streak. This particular delay resulted in us volunteering to move our flight which came with vouchers for our next flight- that’s a win-win!
What is your favorite historical site to visit? One of mine is when we recently visited Philadelphia where we were able to sit in the same room where the Declaration of Independence was signed- how wild is that!?
Looking forward to hearing about your favorite historical sites!