For centuries, boaters have been drawn to Norfolk, Virginia, as the unofficial center of the Tidewater region. The city has the Elizabeth River (shown at right) to its west and the Chesapeake Bay to its north, creating all kinds of options for recreational cruising. Norfolk is also home to the world’s largest naval base, the US Navy’s Naval Station Norfolk, and to a NATO Strategic Command headquarters. Forget about yacht-spotting in vacation destinations like Monaco or St. Barts; ship-spotting the impressive military vessels that operate in these waters is a delight that cannot be experienced anywhere else.
There are nearly a dozen marinas for recreational boaters in Norfolk proper, with more in nearby Portsmouth and Chesapeake, Virginia. Local knowledge for maintenance and service is quite strong, given that some of the greatest naval-thinking minds on the planet are here.
When it’s time to get off the boat and explore, Downtown Norfolk lines the waterfront and is packed with restaurants, shops, nightlife and other attractions. The Nauticus maritime discovery center has the battleship Wisconsin on-site and open for tours, along with exhibits and classes for adults and kids alike.
Just a few of the eateries in this part of the city include the Blue Moon Taphouse, with live music and rooftop seating; the Carolina Cupcakery, serving 365 flavors of the sweet stuff; and the PBR Norfolk, which is a country bar with free eight-second rides on a mechanical bull. The first Friday of every month, there’s no cover charge for military personnel, veterans, first responders and public-service members—who also get to skip the line at the door.
Boaters seeking a different kind of entertainment can check out the nearby Virginia Symphony Orchestra and Virginia Stage Co. This fall’s family-friendly offerings include a Halloween Spooktacular at the symphony, as well as the classic musical “Fiddler on the Roof” at the theater.
Some of the options for tying up in Norfolk include Little Creek Marina, which offers transient dockage year-round for boats up to 120 feet length overall. And they’ll let you stay for up to a month in the transient slip. Waterside Marina is where to see the superyachts, with dockage for boats up to 300 feet long. This marina is within walking distance of the Waterside District, including the Nauticus maritime discovery center and Harbor Park Stadium, home of the AAA baseball team the Norfolk Tides. Morningstar Little Creek Marina has slips for boats as big as 65 feet, with daily and weekly bookings for transients. There’s a restaurant on-site.
If you’re looking to get off the boat for a couple of days and relax in a hotel downtown, consider the Glass Light Hotel and Gallery. It is home to the Perry Glass Art Collection, with a rotating selection of pieces on display from local and international artists. It’s a big collection, spanning two floors and about 65 pieces. The Gallery is open to the public, with free entry for hotel guests. Also part of this hotel is the Glass Light restaurant, whose menu is packed with French-inspired New American cuisine. The restaurant serves breakfast as well as dinner, with dishes such as blue crab cavatelli, steak frites, Joyce Farms duck breast and seared tuna.