Norfolk, Va. should have been my hometown. I love that place. Thanks to the Navy, we have been stationed in the Hampton Roads area three different times. Somehow when I’m down there, I half expect to see my younger self tripping around Old Dominion trying to finish my degree. Or driving my little kids to St. Pius in the minivan. Or leaving Portsmouth Naval Hospital with yet another newborn.
So when I got to spend most of the summer in Norfolk with my husband this year, I was reminded of all the things there are to love about the place.
1.Virginia Beach. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Atlantic Avenue is full of tacky souvenir shops and taffy stores and frozen yogurt bars. You still wake up to the most incredible ocean sunrise in the world. You can walk that beach for miles (unlike in Honolulu). The undeveloped North End of the beach is stunningly beautiful. And being able to roller blade next to the ocean is a pleasure I adore.
2.Wild Life. From the porpoises arching along the Virginia Beach oceanfront to the sailors who are just about everywhere to the charming old ladies who are happy to chat you up at the 7-Eleven, I like pretty much everyone who lives in southeast Virginia. I don’t know why they suit me, but they do.
3. Razzo’s. I’ve got a jones for the stuffed eggplant at Razzo’s in East Ocean View. This is a tiny place in the part of town that is half bayfront mansions and half run down hotels. Something about the area has sparked this terrific little Italian restaurant. My favorite dish features layers of eggplant and artichoke and cheese covered in this thick garlic-y tomato sauce. Get it with the pasta with the breadcrumbs and … hallelujah.
3. Colonial Williamsburg. If you are stationed anywhere near Hampton Roads, your kids will be taken forcibly by bus to Jamestown and Williamsburg. Don’t attend as a volunteer. Instead, take your kids there when they are young enough to want their own musket and old enough to walk around without a stroller. If your daughter dresses up as Felicity, all the better.
4. First Landing State Park. Not only does the park have 20 miles of shaded trails on 2,888 acres, they let you bring your dog with you. We went on a couple of hikes there this summer and we were delighted with the different races and activities that were going on. We enjoyed the pleasure ethic of the group of moms, dads and babies we saw clad in their togas. We were happy to cheer on all the military guys in nothing but running shorts and sturdy shoes. Bring your own water, though.
5. Mariner’s Museum. On the other side of the tunnel, The Mariner’s Museum in Newport News is the least boring museum I know. If you like Civil War History or you are interested in underwater exploration, they have the actual turret from the USS MONITOR from the Battle of the Ironclads. The story of how it was retrieved from the bottom of the Chesapeake features an interactive movie presentation that was cool for the kids, and, uh, me.
6. Ghent. Next time my husband is stationed in Norfolk, I want to live in Ghent. It is a historic neighborhood of old houses near the downtown area with lots of military family history. Not only is it convenient to the main Naval Base and Old Dominion, but it is close to the revitalized downtown area. All the restaurants and antique places near Colley Avenue are just my style.
7. The Virginian Pilot. I miss having a hometown newspaper. The area I live in now calls The Washington Post the local paper. Every time I pick up a Virginian Pilot, I am reminded what a pleasure it is to share a life through the habit of a daily paper. It’s also where I first got my start as a writer. The military coverage on the Pilot is some of the best.
8. Thrift Store City. The best thrift store I have ever found is at Thrift Store City near Little Creek Joint Expeditionary Base. Over the years I have found great old furniture there, tons of Osh Kosh overalls, board games and housewares. They move stuff in and out all the time.When I was there this summer I picked up this tea set for $4.98. Love that!
9. The Navy. Hampton Roads is home to one of the largest populations of Navy folks in the world. Give me ships lining the pier. Give me “the sound of freedom” thundering over the oceanfront. Give me a sailor in a crispy white uniform every single time.
Editor’s note: Stationed at a duty station you l-o-v-e or missing somewhere to which you would love to return? Indulge your nostalgia and write us a post about the things you love about your favorite duty station. Click here to send us your ideas.