Hampton Virginia is charming and adorable and literally perfection. Don’t believe us? Here’s our proof …
1. Jazz music
The Hampton Jazz Festival, celebrating its 50th year in 2017, brings the biggest stars to Hampton. Past entertainers included little known names (sarcasm, duh) like Dionne Warwick, Count Basie, B.B. King, Miles Davis, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Toni Braxton, Patti LaBelle, Michael McDonald, Jennifer Hudson, and Gladys Knight (just to name a few). The Hampton Jazz Festival is always held during the last full weekend in June each year, and you need it in your life.
2. The pirate’s life
Once a year, Hampton’s waterfront comes alive with dozens of pirate re-enactors, led by Blackbeard the Pirate himself, as visitors step back in time and re-live the history and legends of early-18th century Hampton. Honored by USA Today in 2015 as one of the Top Five Pirate Festivals in North America (because, yes, there are a ton of pirate festivals in the USA … not weird at all), the Blackbeard Festival offers a variety of children’s activities, live musical entertainment, period vendors, arts and crafts, and much more! Arrrrggg! (C’mon, you knew that was coming … matey).
3. Outer space
Be just one small step away from the Apollo 12 Command Module on your visit to the Virginia Air & Space Center. The official visitor center for NASA Langley Research Center, the Virginia Air & Space Center hosts over 100 historic aeronautical and space exploration exhibits, as well as the Riverside Digital 3D IMAX Theater. So, like, lots of space stuff.
Fans of flight will also enjoy Air Power Park, an open-air exhibit of jet planes, missiles and rockets, located just a few miles from the Virginia Air & Space Center.
4. African-American heritage
Located on the campus of Hampton University, the Hampton University Museum is oldest African-American museum in the country. Among the 9,000-piece collection is Henry Ossawa Tanner’s The Banjo Lesson.
Other sites with links to African-American history are the Emancipation Oak, under which the Hampton black community learned of the official end to slavery in the nation, and Little England Chapel, Virginia’s only known African-American missionary chapel.
5. Riding retro
Channel your inner Mary Poppins for this one …. Built in 1920, the Hampton Carousel entertained riders at the Buckroe Beach Amusement Park for over 60 years. After the park closed, the carousel was dismantled, refurbished and reconstructed under an enclosed pavilion in downtown Hampton.
Now visited by both children and the young-at-heart, the carousel is one of less than 70 antique carousels, with wooden horses, still operating in the United States.
6. Unique flavors
Hip new establishments in downtown Hampton, Phoebus, and Fort Monroe are making waves.
Downtown Hampton’s Queens Way is home trendy eateries like Venture Kitchen and Conch & Bucket, as well innovative special events like Rolling of the Bulls and the Downtown Hampton Block Party.
Meanwhile, Phoebus boasts some of the finest restaurants in all of Hampton with darling farm-to-table bistro, The Point (who’s menu will make you drool), or Mango Mangeux, showcasing French, Creole, and Neo-Soul cuisine. And, y’all—this is important—they serve Chicken Fried Chicken French toast. Not joking.
The Deadrise, located at Fort Monroe National Monument, is a culinary gem, serving up fresh seafood and local delicacies like Smoked Oyster Pate, Fresh Fish Tacos, and a self-proclaimed ridiculously generous Virginia Ham & Cheese.
7. Cover art
At the Mid-Atlantic Quilt Festival, held each February at the Hampton Roads Convention Center, quilts are more than just bed coverings, they are works of art. In addition to the quilter’s marketplace and workshops, quilters can enter their most artistic creations in several categories of competition. And we know what you’re thinking … quilts? Yes, quilts! They’re amazing. But ok, ok if you have to have something more hip ….
Only a week later, the convention center hosts The Hampton Roads Tattoo Arts Festival, one of the largest and most popular tattoo festivals in Virginia. Highlights include tattoo contests, live music, on-site tattooing, and the Miss Hampton Roads Pin-Up Contest.
8. Over 400 years of history
Look, we know you can’t get tickets to Hamilton, so you’ll just have to soak up American history this way … there aren’t any rap battles, but it’s pretty darn cool.
In 1610, colonists from England settled on land in what is now Hampton, the oldest continually settled English-speaking city in the United States. Through its ten galleries, the Hampton History Museum depicts four centuries of the city’s story. Exhibits feature pirates, explorers, colonists, enslaved people, soldiers, scientists and hometown heroes.
9. Military memories
Recently designated a National Monument, Fort Monroe is the largest stone fort ever built in the United States. Home to a moat, lighthouse, and quarters where President Lincoln once stayed, the fort also boasts The Casemate Museum. Exhibits in the museum tell the stories of important events that happened at the fort, including the 1861 “contraband decision” that allowed thousands of enslaved freedom seekers to be safe from persecution under the fort’s protection. Also featured are famous former residents of the fort including Edgar Allen Poe, Robert E. Lee, and Jefferson Davis who was imprisoned at the fort.
10. Bayside fun
Paradise Ocean Club is Hampton’s gem on the Chesapeake Bay. Located at Fort Monroe National Monument, at the site of the old officer’s club, the beach club boasts live music and special events throughout the spring and summer months. It’s not unusual to see 30 boats docked at the club and over 3,000 people on any summer Sunday. Need privacy? The club offers private cabana rentals for $250 a day (go ahead, pretend you’re a celeb avoiding the paparazzi, we know you want to). Take a dip in the Olympic-size pool after spending all day on the private beach.
11. Sports destination
Hampton’s mild weather and location on the Chesapeake Bay make an ideal setting for outdoor and water sports such as
• beach volleyball
• wind surfing
• paddle boarding
Versatile indoor sporting facilities, including the Boo Williams Sportsplex, Hampton Roads Convention Center, and Hampton Coliseum, can host a wide range of sporting events, including gymnastics, basketball, wrestling, taekwondo, CrossFit, and strength sports. So many options that if you eat chicken fried chicken French toast every day you’re in Hampton, you have no excuse to get some exercise in ….
12. Craft beer
Speaking of things you may need to work off on the treadmill…the craft beer scene is booming in Hampton.
St. George Brewing Company is Coastal Virginia’s oldest micro-brewery, established in 1996. The brewery has won numerous awards and hosts weekly events, including “Taco Tuesday” and “Live Music” Friday.
The Oozlefinch Craft Brewery opened its doors at Fort Monroe National Monument on September 3, 2016, making it the new kid on the block. But not for long since Bull Island Brewing Company also opened its doors on the downtown Hampton waterfront in 2016, and The Vanguard is set to open in Hampton’s old armory building this year.
See what we mean? Hampton is total family vacation perfect. If you’re ready to start planning your vacay, Visit Hampton has you covered.
All photos courtesy of Visit Hampton