Where in the Heck is Franklin, VA? A Guide to Hampton Roads’ Smallest City

Beyond the “smell of money” (as the locals often refer to the Paper Mill), there’s plenty to do in Franklin, a small City with about 8,000 in population nestled between the Blackwater River and Southampton County.

The often forgotten rural corner of Hampton Roads provides for a nice change of pace from the city life of our region’s urban centers. Whether you’re looking to get away for a day, find new good eats, or discover something new Franklin has something for you.

Main Street / Historic Downtown Franklin

One of Franklin’s best features is its Historic Downtown District. Built in a time when urban planning made sense, Franklin’s downtown has a traditional grid layout like many older cities on the East Coast so it’s really easy to get around. The only Virginia Main Street in Hampton Roads, Downtown Franklin is also a recognized National Main Street and follows the Main Street Four Point Approach TM.

Beyond the historic value and variety of “Small Town USA” architecture, Downtown Franklin is lined with specialty retail shops and local southern dining (the latter of which we will be exploring further into this article).

With plenty of (FREE) public parking available the downtown spans about ten square blocks and is easily walkable. If you’re looking for a different experience than your run-of-the-mill shopping centers and big name box stores (which Franklin also has plenty of) then Main Street is where you want to be.

Barrett’s Landing / Blackwater River

On the south end of Main Street you will find Franklin’s Civil War Trail, with historic markers for the Battle of Franklin, leading to Barrett’s Landing Park. The park, one of many throughout “Tree City USA,” sits on the Blackwater River off of South Main Street. A public boat landing makes for a great launch point for fishing or kayaking expeditions to spend a nice Saturday away from “the world.”

The park, open during the day, is also a hotspot for Pokémon GO with multiple PokéStops and Pokémon Gyms and is frequented by gamers of all ages.

Every Thursday night beginning in May, hundreds gather in the park for Franklin’s summer concert series known as “We Be Jammin,” open to the public and with free admission.

Visitor’s Center / Farmer’s Market

The Downtown Franklin Visitor’s Center is located in a restored Train Depot which sits on the railroad that has served the independent city since its establishment as a township in the 1800s. Franklin was originally an important transit town for both rail and barges coming up the Blackwater River. The Visitor’s Center has some really cool things if you are into history, and the staff is extremely friendly and helpful.

Across the tracks is the Farmer’s Market where you can find fresh produce from local farmers along with fresh seafood from the Albemarle Sound. Nothing beats fresh food right from the person who harvested or caught it. The best times to check out the Market on Main are Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings.

Fred’s Restaurant

A visit to Franklin is not complete without going to Fred’s at least once. Fred’s Restaurant is a traditional bar and restaurant with delicious classic southern food. With breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus and a full service bar (with happy hour drink and appetizer specials), Fred’s makes you feel right at home. The charming and welcoming personalities of Fred’s friendly staff is second to none.

For breakfast, the Eggs Frederick puts an Eggs Benedict to shame. On weekends the Breakfast Buffet will fill your stomach for days. Breakfast is served all day and even includes vegetarian friendly selections. The staff is always accommodating and eager to please.

Although Fred himself passed on, his son David continues to run the family owned and operated iconic landmark of Franklin. You can also pick up a famous “Where in the Hell is Franklin VA” T-shirt, only at Fred’s.

Franklin Seafood & Steakhouse

Across from Fred’s in the historic Parker Drug Store building is the newly opened Franklin Seafood & Steakhouse. Looking for fine dining after a day of outdoors activities or shopping? Franklin Seafood & Steakhouse provides for a unique experience with fine dining you would expect to find in a big city such as New York City or Philadelphia.

With a wide selection of flavors including southern, Italian, seafood, and cajun, there’s something for everyone at Franklin Seafood & Steakhouse.

Joe’s Pizza & Pasta Palace

Just on the other side of the Blackwater River, across the city line is Joe’s Pizza & Pasta Palace. Perhaps one of the best kept secrets of Hampton Roads when it comes to fine dining experiences at local prices, Joe’s offers an authentic Sicilian cuisine including pizza, stromboli, subs, pasta, and great wine or beer to wash down the best Italian eats you can find outside of Italy.

One of the best things about Joe’s is that you’ll find Joe himself behind the counter running the kitchen while simultaneously interacting with his guests and ensuring their experience is the best (somehow he’s managed to figure out the ages old mystery of being in many places at once).

If you enjoy authentic Italian or if you’re a pizza lover like me make sure you check out Joe’s. You’ll definitely want to go back again.

Don Pancho’s Cantina

Looking to spice things up? Don Pancho’s, located on Franklin’s main shopping center strip, Armory Drive, offers authentic Mexican food. With a recently opened outdoor patio and live music, Don Pancho’s is your classic Mexican restaurant with flare.

Aside from the classic combinations, fajitas, and pollo, the burrito selection is unlike any other. My personal favorite is the Burrito San Diego, which was actually created by the owner of Don Pancho’s, Frank Padilla. The Burrito San Diego is a monster of a burrito so if you dare to try it, don’t be ashamed to ask for a to go box after becoming full off of half of it! And because it can often be a deal breaker when it comes to Mexican restaurants I’ll go ahead and let you rest assured — both the queso sauce and salsa are both on point.

“¡Tequila!” A full stocked bar makes Don P’s the perfect gathering spot for a celebration or a night out. With Dos Equis on tap and the perfect ingredients for a good margarita you can be guaranteed a good, fun night…just don’t forget your DD because Franklin is lacking when it comes to Uber service.

Three Guys Italian Restaurant

Further down Armory Drive you’ll find Three Guys. I could not write this article and include Joe’s without including Three Guys. It’s truly difficult to compare Three Guys and Joe’s. While their menus are quite similar, Three Guys has a unique taste and flavor that cannot be found anywhere else.

Three Guys offers fine Italian dining with a warm atmosphere and friendly, professional staff. Being a family owned and operated establishment shows through with the way customers are treated like guests in one’s home.

Rumor’s Bar & Lounge / Franklin Bowling Center

While Bowling Alleys may have gone out of style in the bigger cities, the Franklin Bowling Center is the place to be for millennials on the weekends. Beyond the fun of Bowling in itself, the Franklin Bowling Center offers pool tables and an arcade complete with an air hockey table.

Part of the establishment’s draw for the younger crowd is its recently renovated bar, Rumor’s, with Friday night karaoke a regular hit. A full menu includes burgers, pizza, subs, and more.

Cypress Cove Country Club

Last but not least is Cypress Cove Country Club. Located just on the other side of Hunterdale (another part of Franklin that was once its own independent Town), the County Club offers tennis courts, a driving range, a full 18-hole golf course, and a restaurant and bar with the finest dining you will find in the area.

For over 90 years the Country Club has welcomed both guests and members and provides a great escape to tradition.   Cypress Cove is also a great location for weddings, parties, meetings, or banquets.


Don’t forget to visit our Office located in Franklin!