Seaside in Virginia
Maritime history, a massive stone fortress and miles of scenic waterfront lure RVers to four cities on the fringes of the Old Dominion State
Midway between New York and Florida, a full spectrum of sights and activities keeps RVers engaged as they roll through the waterfront towns of Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Hampton and Newport News. From aquariums, sandy beaches and a seaside boardwalk to maritime museums and a moat-encircled stone fortress, Virginia’s southeastern boundary shines every season of the year.
The commonwealth’s biggest city, Virginia Beach draws visitors to miles of sandy Atlantic coastline. If you like to walk, skate or pedal, the recently renovated boardwalk is your kind of place. Fringed by hotels, eclectic shops and trendy restaurants, it’s the perfect paved venue for pedestrians and has a parallel path for cyclists and skaters. Don’t miss the Virginia Legends Walk honoring famous state natives from Thomas Jefferson to Ella Fitzgerald.
While strolling or rolling on the boardwalk, you can grab a bite to eat and gaze up at the 34-foot-tall bronze rendering of King Neptune petting a sea turtle. Come summer, BeachStreet USA hosts all styles of live performances on boardwalk stages, from musicians to magicians and jugglers.
Reserve a chunk of your visit to experience the underwater world at the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center, a mile inland from the beach. Harbor seals greet you at the entrance, followed by a captivating array of ocean and marsh critters ranging from lobsters to jellyfish and crocodiles. Together, they occupy a whopping 800,000 gallons of aquarium space. The luminous giant shark tank is a must-see. You can even sign up for a training session with the seals or sea turtles.
From December through mid-March, the aquarium’s guided boat trips take visitors to see migrating humpback and fin whales. Year-round, the six-story IMAX theater shows eye-popping 3D movies, and the outdoor Adventure Park lets you navigate the top of the forest on supervised zip lines designed for all ages and ability levels.
Another round of seaside amusements awaits in neighboring Norfolk, Virginia’s second largest city.
Begin with a stop at Nauticus, a maritime-science center that introduces visitors to such natural wonders as barreling tsunamis and horseshoe crabs scuttling around tidepools. Through true-to-life simulators, you can navigate a tugboat, pilot a submersible vehicle or keep track of the comings and goings of cargo ships. Dive into close encounters with white-spotted bamboo sharks and coral catsharks, collect undersea specimens with a robotic arm, or even operate a remote camera to explore the USS Monitor Civil War vessel at the National Marine Sanctuary wreck site. Interactive opportunities and giant 3D theater presentations bring applied science into the realm of fun, games and terrific entertainment.
Nauticus shares the second floor of its expansive facility with the Hampton Roads Naval Museum, one of 10 museums operated by the U.S. Navy. The museum is dedicated to preserving and interpreting more than two centuries of naval history on Virginia’s southeastern coast, from the Revolutionary and Civil wars to the present day, as exemplified by a model of the USS America aircraft carrier. The museum’s collection of model ships also includes replicas of the USS Norfolk submarine and the USS Winslow torpedo boat.
A Nauticus admission ticket includes a walk aboard the USS Wisconsin, anchored just outside. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the battleship measures 887 feet in length, weighs more than 40,000 tons and participated in three wars.
Fort Monroe, the largest stone fortress ever constructed in the United States, stands on 63 acres at the tip of the Virginia Peninsula in historic Hampton. Completed in 1834 and now a national monument, the stalwart fort has a back story that includes legendary figures from Captain John Smith to Abraham Lincoln and Robert E. Lee, the last of whom resided here as a young engineer during his pre-Civil War military service. After the war, Confederate President Jefferson Davis was held prisoner at the fort.
Originally designed as a strategic point for coastal defense of Chesapeake Bay, Fort Monroe gained notoriety during the Civil War as Freedom’s Fortress after the Union Army’s Major General Benjamin Butler declared it a safe haven for thousands of slaves seeking independence.
A casemate is defined as a room within the walls of a fort, and Fort Monroe’s Casemate Museum occupies many such rooms, all recreating scenes from the fortress’ lively history. Each casemate is skillfully reconstructed, from Jefferson Davis’ postwar prison cell to a canon-firing station and an officer’s homey piano parlor. The Casemate Museum is well worth visiting at a leisurely, thoughtful pace.
For those in search of blue skies, green trees and sea breezes, Fort Monroe’s surroundings feature 8 miles of Chesapeake Bay waterfront with 3 miles of sandy beach, a fishing pier built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1818, and a delightful array of birds, blossoms and trees.
Also located on the Hampton waterfront, the Virginia Air and Space Center is the official visitor hub for NASA’s Langley Research Center and Langley Air Force Base. The Apollo 12 command module, a Mercury capsule, a moon rock and a meteorite from Mars are just a few of the artifacts on display. At the center you can see what it’s like to be an International Space Station crewmember, step inside a WWII bomber and embark on a simulated flight to Mars. More than 30 authentic aircraft, from an F-4E Phantom II with a sharky grin to a red-and-white Pitts Special aerobatic biplane, are suspended from the center’s lofty ceiling, looking as if they are flying through the sky.
On the eastern side of the Virginia Peninsula, Newport News is home to the Mariners’ Museum and Park where 500 years of seafaring history are summarized under one roof. Details about old-time sailors’ shipboard lifestyles and a full-size reproduction of the ironclad USS Monitor are among the museum’s offerings. There’s a refractive lens from the Cape Charles Lighthouse, a rare hand-carved miniature-ship collection and 150 seafaring vessels from 43 countries, including a Micronesian outrigger, a Native American dugout canoe, a graceful gondola from Venice and a tattered getaway boat constructed hastily by Cuban refugees.
At the adjacent 550-acre wooded park, you can rent a paddleboat that looks like a sea dragon or a pirate ship for a self-propelled spin around Lake Maury. Walk the 5-mile Noland Trail that traces the lake’s shoreline and take in sweeping views of the James River from the Lions Bridge, named for its four stone sculptures. The fresh air, bright flowers and trail network at the privately maintained public-access park are refreshing complements to a self-paced tour.
Also in Newport News, the Virginia Living Museum provides remarkable encounters with loggerhead turtles, sea stars, otters and flying squirrels. Animals living in Virginia’s mountains, swamps, plains, bays and seas are all represented at this museum-zoo-planetarium-theater-and-garden hybrid. You can browse through conservation-oriented gardens devoted to butterflies and native plants, then stroll down a series of boardwalks for close views of nesting shorebirds, elegant bald eagles and endangered red wolves. Visit with owls and tree frogs in the darkness gallery, hear songbirds in the Appalachian zone and head for the underground gallery to see pack rats (the furry kind) and blind cave fish.
An RV trip to Virginia’s southeastern shoreline will wow your senses, feed your soul, expand your mind, exercise your body, challenge your memory and delight your heart, no matter what time of year you visit.
Where to Camp on the Virginia Coast
RVers can find plenty of places to stay in the southeastern corner of Virginia. Here’s a sample, including a pair of Good Sam Parks and a popular municipal campground.
Newport News Park, one of the largest city parks east of the Mississippi River, maintains 188 spacious RV campsites with water and electric hookups in a tranquil forested setting. The 7,711-acre park has ample opportunities for hiking, biking, boating and fishing.
757-926-1400 | www.nnparks.com
Holiday Trav-L-Park of Virginia Beach features more than 700 campsites in wooded surroundings, including full-hookup sites with Wi-Fi and cable, all within 2 miles of the lively boardwalk and oceanfront attractions.
757-425-0249 | www.campingvb.com
North Landing Beach RV Resort and Cottages offers 150 RV sites with 30- and 50-amp hookups and free Wi-Fi. Amenities include an outdoor pool and sport courts, a riverfront beach, and kayak and canoe rentals.
888-283-2725 | www.northlandingbeach.com
Virginia Beach KOA has a full range of RV sites accommodating rigs up to 45 feet in length plus family-friendly seasonal perks including two swimming pools, a waterslide and convenient beach shuttles.
800-562-4150 | www.koavirginiabeach.com
For More Information
Hampton Convention and Visitors Bureau | 800-487-8778 | www.visithampton.com
Newport News Visitor Center | 888-493-7386 | www.newport-news.org
Norfolk Convention and Visitors Bureau | 800-368-3097 | www.visitnorfolktoday.com
Virginia Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau | 757-385-4700 | www.visitvirginiabeach.com
Virginia Tourism | 800-847-4882 | www.virginia.org