September 28, 2022

Hampton, Virginia | Chesapeake Bay Magazine

Fast facts

  • Located at the southern tip of the Virginia Peninsula at the mouth of Hampton Roads
  • The Old Point Comfort lighthouse is the oldest still in use in the bay.
  • Hampton is the oldest continuous English-speaking settlement in the United States.
  • Mercury 7 astronauts trained at NASA’s Langley Research Center.

What makes it unique

The Hampton River leads directly to the city gates, so arriving by boat is a breeze. Hampton has several excellent marinas and one of the friendliest yacht clubs around. It’s also easy to stroll through the historic downtown area, home to one-of-a-kind restaurants and quirky shops, an excellent air and space museum, and a beautiful 1920s carousel (temporarily closed for repair but available for a special appointment visit). Across the US 60 bridge, you’ll find the beautiful Hampton University Museum. Further afield is Old Point Comfort, the first place English settlers set foot after sailing in 1607. Fort Monroe National Monument is a one-of-a-kind National Historic Site, with the historic fort as well as restaurants, a brasserie and nearby beaches. area.

Located above Fort Monroe, Buckroe Beach and Park overlooks the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean beyond.

Getting There

On a boat

Hampton sits at the entrance to Hampton Roads, which is one of the main reasons it has played such an important role in our country’s history, first as a stopover for early English settlers who s worried about the attacks of the Spaniards, then as a strategic point of support. for the Union during the Civil War. That means it’s easy to get to, especially by boat.

If you keep your boat on the Elizabeth River or the James, you’ve probably crossed the Hampton River dozens of times. If you keep your boat in the bay, from Poquoson to Deltaville, you will find that the Hampton River is easily accessible on a cruise. If you’re coming from southern Maryland, you’ll need to plan to stop a night or two along the way.

Once you reach Hampton Roads, one of the best natural harbors in the world, pass under the watchful shadow of Fort Monroe to find the entrance to the Hampton River, where the Hampton Roads Tunnel plunges underwater. From Hampton Roads, the channel is well marked; just be aware of the shoal that is just off the entrance and follow the markers. Moving up the river, you’ll find the Bluewater Yachting Center along the junction with Sunset Creek, followed by the Hampton Yacht Club, both on the port side, while beautiful Hampton University sits along the starboard side. With the US 60 bridge in front of you, you will find Customs House Marina, then Hampton Public Piers to port and a small anchorage to starboard.

By car

If you’re coming from anywhere north from Richmond to Baltimore, you’ll exit I-95 (or I-295) at I-64 to Newport News and then Hampton. Take exit 265C/Rip Rap Rd., then take N. Armistead Ave. to Settlers Landing Rd. and follow it east to the harbor.

Marina Basics

Bluewater Yachting Center is located just inside the Hampton River, for easy access.

Bluewater Yachting Center is a mile upstream at the intersection of Sunset Creek. This charming marina has friendly and efficient staff, plenty of boat repair and boat sales services, and great amenities including floating docks, ship’s shop and spare parts, swimming pool and outlet of the popular Surfrider Restaurant group. The marina also runs a water taxi into town. Just upstream are the docks of the Hampton Yacht Club. They offer transient docks available in space for reciprocal members of Yachting Club of America clubs and hold a well-known annual series of races and regattas.

What Customs House Marina lacks in size and amenities is its location, right next to the carousel and the Virginia Air & Space Science Center. It can accommodate vessels from 20 to 50 feet and the slides are easy up and down, but watch out for the current – it’s not particularly strong, but can surprise the unwary slightly.

The same goes for the city’s marina, The Docks at Downtown Hampton (formerly known as Hampton Public Piers). Located just before the US 60 bridge, it was the first marina in the state to receive Virginia Clean Marina certification. It has beautiful floating docks along the bulkhead, with showers and toilets located just up the ramp. The docks connect under the bridge to Mill Point Park, a good place to walk your dog and launch a kayak. You are right next to Bull Island Brewery and a short walk to historic Hampton.

Stay down to earth

Magnolia House Inn is a longtime favorite for romantics.

The Landing at Hampton Marina, part of Hilton’s Tapestry Collection, is located directly on the waterfront, steps from the Carousel and the Virginia Air & Space Center. It’s recently renovated, and the rooftop pool can get lively or rowdy on the weekends, depending on how you feel about the DJs.

The Magnolia House Inn is a circa 1885 Victorian B&B with three period rooms, located about half a mile from the downtown docks. If you check in and you’re feeling romantic, you’re in luck: there’s a wedding chapel on site.

Explore by water

The Docks At Downtown Hampton is the city-run marina at the heart of it all.

If you want to launch your boat directly on the Hampton River, head to the Sunset Creek boat launch, just upstream from Bluewater Yachting. To the north of the town is the Back River, which has two ramps: Gosnold’s Hope Park ramps are on the southwest branch, and the Fox Hill boat ramp is at Dandy Point, near Grandview Nature Reserve. From here you will need to exit Back River and turn south to enter Hampton Roads and then Hampton River, approximately 10-15 miles.

Launch a kayak or other paddle boat from Mill Point Park, just under the US 60 bridge, or a little further upstream at the River Street Park Canoe and Kayak Launch. The Hampton River, with its tiny tributaries, is perfectly beautiful and protected water for paddling.

The Miss Hampton II ended its long run last year when the boat was sold to a company in Lewes, Del. But there’s a sleek new boat in town, the Hampton Queen, which will offer two-hour narrated cruises starting in the summer of 2022, down the Hampton River and into Hampton Roads to see Fort Monroe and its twin fort, Fort Wool.

Three miles northeast of town, Buckroe Beach and Park has a lovely swimming beach on the bay, with jet ski rentals available at Great White Water Sports. Or pay the entrance fee to Paradise Ocean Club, a resort-style Bayfront bar with private cabanas, hard drinks, and live music.

Land exploration

Hampton’s famous carousel dates back to 1920.
The sky’s the limit at the Virginia Air & Space Science Center.

Enjoy the fascinating architecture of the Old Town, especially Queens Way from Mill Point Park, adjoining the river to the former Episcopal Church of St. John’s. Here, along this quiet, centuries-old street, you’ll find the heart of old Hampton. Stroll through St. John’s Gardens, especially its old cemetery. The parish of St. John’s was established in 1610 (although the location here dates only to 1728) and is the oldest English-speaking parish in continuous use in the United States.

The Virginia Air & Space Science Center is a must. The all-glass building is striking whether you look outside or vice versa. Inside you’ll find early aircraft, from a replica Wright Flyer to the F-10c Starfighter, spacecraft including the Apollo 12 Command Module and an IMAX theater. Also here you will find the NASA Langley Research Center Visitor Center. If you have kids, check out the new interactive Space Explorer gallery.

Between the Air & Space Center and the downtown marinas is the Hampton Carousel, a beautifully detailed carousel built in 1920. The carousel is temporarily closed for repairs, but don’t worry: it’s part of the Hampton Museum. Hampton history, which is always a must. -see for its permanent exhibit documenting the arrival of the first enslaved Africans, who were captured from a Spanish slave ship and brought to Point Comfort in 1619 aboard the English privateer White Lion.

Stroll (or drive) over the US 60 bridge and into the beautiful, sprawling grounds of Hampton University, founded after the Civil War as a school for area former slaves. Visit the Emancipation Oak, which provided shade for those early lessons in 1861, and tour the Hampton University Museum. Founded in 1868, it is the oldest museum in Virginia and contains an extraordinary collection of works by African American artists.

Whether you take your boat, canoe, or car, don’t miss Fort Monroe, the largest stone fort ever built in the United States and a key defensive site for the bay for centuries. See where young Robert E. Lee helped plan the construction of the fort, where Confederate President Jefferson Davis was briefly imprisoned after the war, and learn about the enslaved men who sought refuge and won freedom at “Freedom’s Fortress.” But that’s not the whole story. Just outside the monument itself, you can hit the beach, enjoy a good beer at Oozlefinch Beers and Blending, and eat The Deadrise at Old Point Comfort Marina. The restaurant offers free docks for diners and the marina offers boat rentals that can accommodate boats up to 50′. It is currently undergoing a major renovation, with plans for new docks and a new hotel to come.

creeping bass

Marker 20 is a Hampton staple, with a large covered patio and live bands on the weekends. Virginia is well known for its excellent craft brewing. Beer lovers can take the pub crawl from Bull Island Brewing Company through the public docks to The Vanguard Brewpub and Distillery, located in the former Armory circa 1936, then wheel it to the Phoebus Quarter for 1865 Brewing Company and Sly Clyde Ciderworks.

To eat

The dog-friendly patio at Brown Chicken Brown Cow.
Enjoy oven-baked pizza at Venture.

Seafood joints

Deadrise at Old Point Comfort is top notch for its fresh local fish and produce, not to mention the marina setting. Local Wicomico River oysters and steamed seafood platters are on the menu at their sister restaurant, Fuller’s Raw Bar, located in trendy Phoebus. (If you’re in the mood for Mexican, El Diablo Loco Cantina is there, too.) Surf Rider is a family-friendly Virginia staple, with a few locations in the area, including one in Bluewater. You can’t go wrong with their beach menu of seafood po’boys and fish sandwiches, fried seafood baskets and tacos.

Other dishes

Stop for a Reuben sandwich at Goody’s Deli & Pub, an absolute Hampton mainstay, and stay for a pool party. The Venture Kitchen & Bar has great brick-oven pizzas and an ever-changing small plate menu (literally, they change it every week, depending on the chef’s creative whims and what’s fresh). Brown Chicken Brown Cow has a big name, but they also have great burgers, cold beer, and a dog-friendly patio. The Gray Goose isn’t all about vodka, it’s about savory Southern cuisine with dishes like Chilli Cheese Dip and Country Ham Biscuits.