As soon as I open the car door, it hits me. A delightfully humid whiff of briny ocean air. The man in front of me’s unloading his car and I see a boogie board and black mesh bag filled with neon-colored shovels and buckets. It becomes obvious to me: people come to Hampton, Virginia for a little dose of the beach.
Hampton’s Chesapeake Bay waters attract those looking for a calmer experience than they’d find at nearby Virginia Beach. The bay’s gently lapping waves makes it a fantastic place for kids looking to gain a little ocean confidence… or adults who want to float without fear of being toppled by a wave. But, it’s not all calm and serenity… Hampton’s home to a beach club that elevates the experience with a happening scene. So, there’s a beach experience for everyone to be found.
Many visitors opt to sail their boats into town, making the marina and numerous inlets packed with glossy white sailboats and speedboats. But, behind the gloss, a rich crabbing industry still booms here today. The Chesapeake Bay’s blue crabs are a vital part of the local fishing industry, and Hampton is still affectionately called “Crabtown” by locals.
The East Coast’s favorite crustaceans can be found featured on menus all over town, but don’t be disappointed when you can’t find a place with steamed crabs… picking crabs isn’t part of the local culture here. (You can still find a mean crab cake, though!)
The bottom line… Hampton’s quiet charm makes it a good weekend choice for those looking to escape the crowds and experience a little bit of Virginia’s beach scene at their own pace. I’d say it’s best suited for families, but couples or groups of friends looking to get away will also enjoy the city’s burgeoning foodie scene.
Here are my top recommendations for a weekend in Hampton!
WHAT TO DO
For a laid-back beach scene, try… Buckroe Beach
When I pulled up to Buckroe Beach, it was so quintessentially beachy that I forgot that we were on the Chesapeake Bay! The wide, white sand beach is dotted with brightly colored umbrellas, people sunbathing, children splashing… it’s clearly a popular place but there’s plenty of room to spread out. The best part? It’s absolutely free to visit! Another highlight is walking out on Buckroe Pier (just $1 for sightseeing adults), watching fisherman try to catch crabs and flounder.
For a hopping beach scene, try… The Paradise Ocean Club
The year-old Paradise Ocean Club elevates a beach visit to a hip resort-like experience. A $10/ person daily fee gets you access to the pool and private beach with lounge chairs, umbrellas… and cabana boys eager to bring you a drink from the bustling tiki bar. Live music from popular local acts energizes the scene and goes strong all weekend.
For an indoor kid-friendly activity, try… The Virginia Air and Space Center
Growing up, I — like countless other kids — wanted to be an astronaut. I was fascinated by thoughts of space and flight. The Virginia Air and Space Center is designed to inspire and educate these childhood dreams, and the museum’s full of aeronautical treasures and space artifacts from the actual Apollo 12 Command Module to an F-16 Fighting Falcon to a 3 billion year-old piece of a moon rock.
For an indoor adult-friendly activity, try… St. George Brewing Company
The craft beer trend is nothing new in Hampton. The St. George Brewing Company has been cranking out tasty brews since 1998 and today their diverse offering of beers can be found along the East Coast from Maryland to North Carolina. Of special note, St. George’s “Black Forest Ale,” an English Bitter- style, is brewed exclusively for Busch Gardens in Williamsburg. Sample it at their tasting room, which offers free tastings of 7 beers on tap Monday through Saturday.
WHERE TO STAY
Typically, I favor independently-owned inns or hotels, but the Crowne Plaza Hampton-Marina has the best of both worlds. A classy nautical theme feels at home with its location on the marina, but has all of the conveniences that come with a bigger chain, including a nice pool and free Wi-Fi. Plus, the location couldn’t be better. It’s situated just 1 block from the popular Queen Street downtown area.
Each room features a large floor-to-ceiling triangle-pointed window, adding both square footage and uniqueness. My room faced the harbor, so I enjoyed sitting and watching the boats shuffle in and out.
WHERE TO EAT & DRINK
For a dose of Southern Charm, try… The Grey Goose
Part bakery, part coffee shop, part restaurant, this cozy lunch-only spot features down home comfort food like sweet tea and chocolate chess pie. For a sample of the menu’s best items, try the “Londoner.” You’ll get a cup of creamy Hampton Blue Crab soup, a freshly baked buttermilk biscuit filled with salty Virginia ham, a fruit salad and one of their homemade desserts for just $9.50.
For the best crab cakes in town, try… The Surf Rider
The crab cakes at the waterfront Surf Rider are known as the best in the area. As a Marylander who loves a good crab cake, I was wary. But these crab cakes are good. Like, really good. Crispy on the outside, pull-apart tender on the inside, the Surf Rider’s cakes are filled with chunks of lump crab meat, delicate seasoning… and very little filler. The two crab cake meal was just $24. DEAL!
For the latest and greatest, try… Venture Kitchen & Bar
Opening in May 2013, Venture Kitchen & Bar is quickly becoming one of Hampton’s most popular restaurants. Featuring inventive pizzas (I had the white pizza with cheese, garlic, caramelized onions and roasted cauliflower), an impressive list of cocktails and some seriously delicious handmade tater tots, Venture’s hip vibe will make any urbanite feel at home.
For a lively bar scene, try… Taphouse
Taphouse is well-regarded as having the best beer list in Hampton. An impressive ever-changing roster features both local and internationally-known brews on tap, as well as over 100 bottles. Not too shabby! Head upstairs for some live music (available most weekend nights), or stay downstairs… closer to the chalkboard beer list so you can plan your next choice!