Military Starter Guide to Hampton Roads

Congratulations on your orders to Hampton Roads!


A Little Bit of History

The area is situated in southeastern Virginia, and is comprised of the “seven cities”: Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Portsmouth, Suffolk, Hampton, and Newport News. The name “Hampton Roads” originated a few centuries ago when the region was nothing more than an English outpost. “Hampton” pays tribute to one of the founders of the Virginia Company of London, Henry Wriothesley, the third Earl of Southampton. The term “Roads” is short for roadstead, which is a term applied to a body of water and indicates the safety of a port.

Choosing Where to Live

There are many great neighborhoods and communities in the Greater Hampton Roads area where someone can make a home, each with their own advantages and disadvantages — which vary based on an individual’s wants and needs. Commute time should be one thing that is considered. Commute times are a better reflection of distance than mileage in Hampton Roads, because tunnel congestion, bridge lifts, or motor vehicle accidents typically add significant delays. For example, it is approximately 20 miles from the Greenbrier area of Chesapeake to Naval Station Norfolk. That commute can take anywhere from 30 minutes to well over an hour based on road conditions.

According to 2011 figures, there are just over 1.7 million people living in Hampton Roads and nearly 1.5 million registered vehicles. If you factor in autos registered in other states and the tractor trailers that bring goods in and out of the local ports that equates to a significant number of people on our roads at any one given time. Tunnels, drawbridges, and traffic incidents contribute to lengthy commute times.

If you opt to live close to where you work, the commute times are not an issue. However, the further away you are, the more things you should consider. One of which is alternate routes to your destination. One of the things I used to do when reporting to a new area was to drive around until I didn’t know where I was, and then find my way back. It was a good way to explore and gain familiarity with a city, and if you become hopelessly lost, you can always turn on your GPS. If that is a bit too adventurous for your tastes, there are several apps which can help you with this as traffic situations develop.

Another factor to consider is whether or not you want to pay tolls for using either the Midtown or Downtown tunnels. In 2014, VDOT implemented tolls at the Downtown and Midtown tunnels in order to help finance the expansion of the Midtown tunnel and make improvements to the Downtown tunnel. Toll rates vary by time of day and payment method. Peak hours – defined as Monday through Friday from 5:30 – 9:00 AM and 2:30 – 7:00PM – are slightly more expensive. There are no toll booths at these tunnels, so commuters have three options if they choose to use those two tunnels: obtain an E-ZPass, register your vehicle and pay by plate and pay by plate without registering. Current toll rates can be found here. Additionally, VDOT has implemented a Toll Relief Program for Norfolk and Portsmouth residents who may be adversely impacted by the tolls. Details on this program are located here.

Having Fun While You’re in Hampton Roads

Once you’ve decided on a place to hang your cover, the next think you may be wondering is what there is to do in the area. Hampton Roads offers a lot for someone who likes the outdoors or adventure. Naturally, fishing is abundant here for both fresh and saltwater fish. Several types of bass, cobia, croaker, and catfish are in abundance, along with several other varieties. Of course, licenses are required, which can be found here.

There are many hiking trails in the area as well, the best of which I’ve found at Newport News ParkSandy Bottom Nature Park, and First Landing State Park. If you like to kayak, Hoffler Creek Wildlife Preserve and Paradise Creek Nature Park in Portsmouth have kayaks you can rent until your pack out arrives. There are many locations where you can enjoy stand-up paddleboarding as well. Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge offers many great options for outdoor activities as well.

The Virginia Beach oceanfront is one of the most popular beaches on the east coast and has many family friendly activities, like putt-putt, amusement rides and arcades. It’s also home to iFly, an indoor skydiving location that uses a vertical wind tunnel that gives the same sensation of skydiving without being more than 30 feet in the air. Hampton Roads has several other beaches besides the tourist-centric oceanfront, such as Sandbridge, Ocean View, Croatan Beach, Buckroe Beach, Huntington Park Beach, and Cape Charles.

For duffers, there are over a dozen golf courses in the area, including Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus courses located at Bay Creek. TopGolf opened a location in Virginia Beach recently offering an opportunity to hone your skills, play with family and friends, or host an event. Hampton Roads is home to the Baltimore Orioles’ Triple-A affiliate Norfolk Tides and to the Norfolk Admirals, who until recently were the NHL affiliate for the Nashville Predators. Old Dominion University and Hampton University offer great collegiate sporting events as well.

For the Foodies

If you’re a foodie, you’re in luck! Hampton Roads has a so many incredible options! It would be impossible to cover them all, but here are a few good options to start.

Still in Olde Towne Portsmouth and Pacifica in Virginia Beach Oceanfront are great intimate spots for tapas and cocktails. Order up a gourmet burger at Repeal Bourbon and Burgers or 80/20 Burger BarHumboldt Steel Corporation and Brothers Pizza are frequently mentioned when discussing the best pizza in Hampton Roads. For authentic southern food, I highly recommend Tupelo Honey Café at the Virginia Beach Town Center or Supper Southern Morsels in Ghent. For a special evening with just the two of you, Vintage Tavern in Suffolk is perfect. Being an oceanfront community and home to so many military bases, there is no shortage of excellent seafood restaurants and international cuisine.

The Culture

Hampton Roads has a vibrant art scene. The Ferguson CenterSandler Center, and the Museum of Contemporary Art are each breathtaking in their own right. The city of Norfolk has an official arts district dubbed the NEON district, a clever abbreviation for the New Energy of Norfolk. The Harrison Opera House and Chrysler Museum of Art serve as linchpins for the area. Murals adorn local businesses, and you can enjoy improv comedy at the Push Comedy Theater.

If live music gets your blood pumping, check the schedules for venues such as the Hampton ColiseumThe NorVa (voted as the number one music venue in America in a 2013 Rolling Stone readers’ poll), and Shaka’s Live. Also, check out Seven Venues for information on Broadway plays, sporting events, and other concerts. If you prefer a more “hands-on” approach to the arts, I highly encourage you to check out the Perry Glass Studio, or the Little Theater of Norfolk or Virginia Beach. And if the written word courses through your veins, be sure to check out The Muse Writers Center in Norfolk.

For the Kids — And Us Adult Kids

If your family includes little ones, you’ll find plenty of things for them to do in the area. The Children’s Museum of Portsmouth is a fantastic place to start! With interactive displays, a bubble room, planetarium and a train collection, it is far from your average museum. The Virginia Zoo is located in Norfolk and includes kangaroos, tigers, primates, and a several gardens, including a butterfly garden. If your kids love animals, be sure to visit Bluebird Gap Farms in Hampton and Hunt Club Farm in Virginia Beach.

The Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center is located near the oceanfront and contains a National Geographic 3D theater, boat rides, and is co-located with an eco-friendly zip-lining adventure park. The Virginia Air and Space Center in Hampton is the official visitor’s center of the NASA Langley Research Center and features historic aircraft, a hand-on space gallery, and an IMAX theater. Colonial WilliamsburgBusch Gardens, and Water Country USA are a short drive away. Discount tickets for most of these places can be purchased at any of the base Information, Tours, and Travel (ITT) locations.

Education and Volunteering

If your interests include continuing education, you will find there is no shortage of reputable institutions to choose from. You can choose from Old Dominion, Hampton, Christopher Newport, and Regent Universities, or one of the three community colleges in the region: Tidewater, Paul D. Camp, and Thomas Nelson. If you are seeking technical education, ECPI, Bryant & Stratton, the Culinary Institute of Virginia and the Art Institute of Virginia beach are excellent choices.

There is no shortage of volunteer opportunities in Hampton Roads. Each city has their own SPCA or Humane Society, and Norfolk is home to the PETA world headquarters. Habitat for Humanity has a strong presence in the area, as does the Hampton Roads chapter of PRIDEVolunteer Hampton Roads is a great one stop shop for volunteer opportunities in the area.

Day Tripping

If you need a weekend getaway, there are plenty of options. Washington, DC is about 200 miles away and you can wander any of the Smithsonian museums, see national landmarks, or take in a major league sporting event. Massanutten resort, Wintergreen resort, and Snowshoe Mountain are only a few hours away if you enjoy skiing, snowboarding, or other winter activities. A short drive to the south will get you to the Outer Banks of North Carolina (or “OBX” as the locals call it) and visit the beaches, learn how to hang glide at Jockey’s Ridge, or visit the Wright Brothers Memorial in Kitty Hawk.

Whether you are reporting to Hampton Roads for the first time, or returning after an assignment elsewhere, we would like to welcome you home.