Rediscovering a Family Favorite
Hampton, Virginia, is a great place to visit year after year
“There is so much more to see than I remember,” my twin sister Jeanie said, looking around the Hampton History Museum.
I laughed. “We weren’t too detail oriented when we were here as kids.”
“No kidding,” she said.
As kids, we often had taken family trips to Hampton, Virginia, for a few days of fun. We loved this quaint and cobblestoned 400-year-old community in the center of Coastal Virginia. Now fresh out of college and just beginning our own adult lives, Jeanie and I were back in Hampton with the folks for a more relaxed visit.
We looked at a special exhibit on the three women featured in the Oscar-nominated film, Hidden Figures: Dorothy Vaughan, Katherine Johnson and Hampton-native Mary Jackson, who worked at NASA Langley. The exhibit, “When the Computer Wore a Skirt: NASA’s Human Computers,” carried us through the lives of these women who broke through not only gender barriers but racial barriers as well.
A few feet away, Mom and Dad were studying a selection of re-assembled Kecoughtan Indian clay pots. “Looks like the last time you did the dishes,” Mom teased Dad.
We chose a great little artisanal pizza place called Venture Kitchen & Bar for dinner and ordered the Hampton Hawaiian, a delicious pie with pineapple, Virginia country ham, lump crab and mozzarella. Afterward, inspired by a local’s recommendation, we drove a few miles inland to check out St. George Brewing Company, looking to kick back a bit before we turned in for the night. They had a great selection of beers including the Black Forest Ale, the Scotch Ale, and the London Porter, and we relaxed and chatted together, enjoying our time together as a family and looking forward to the adventures to come.
An early start
The next day started early at our rental on Buckroe Beach. We got up in time to sip coffee among the seagrass-covered barrier dunes as the sun rose over the Chesapeake Bay.
“What should we do first?” asked Dad.
Fort Monroe was an obvious choice, right down the beach from us. Walking the battlements, we remembered how castle-like it seemed to us as kids, complete with a moat. Decommissioned now, but classified as a National Monument, it used to guard the glistening waters of the Hampton Roads Harbor that join the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic. Now it serves tourists and more than a few private citizens who still live on the property.
For lunch, we settled on The Deadrise, a traditional fish house at the Old Point Comfort Marina at the fort. We pulled our stools up to the counter on the deck overlooking the marina lined with ketches, yawls, a few larger sloops and a selection of picturesque watercraft bobbing on the tide.
Mom and Dad shared, nibbling from each other’s Crab Stuffed Jumbo Flounder and Pan Seared Sea Scallops. Jeanie and I couldn’t get enough of the appetizers, She Crab Soup and Smoked Tuna Dip.
Using our Sea to Stars combination tickets, our last stop of the day was the Virginia Air & Space Center, which is the official visitor center for the NASA Langley Research Center. Now celebrating its 25th anniversary, it was always a favorite when we were kids. As ever, the aircraft suspended overhead kept us looking up, the hands-on exhibits were irresistible and the spacecraft from the Apollo, Gemini, Mercury and other NASA programs were awe-inspiring, when I thought about where they had been and what they had done. What an incredible end to our day.
Fun in twos
After a leisurely morning, Mom and Jeanie headed out to explore Hampton’s downtown historic district while Dad and I decided to try out some of the other breweries in Hampton. We started with brews at the Oozlefinch Craft Brewery, overlooking Mill Creek at Fort Monroe. Oozlefinch offers craft beers based on Fort Monroe’s long history. The Creekside Lager was a standout, along with Heated Shot, named for ammunition used in the nearby Civil War ironclad battle between the Monitor and Merrimac. Then we journeyed back to downtown to visit Bull Island Brewery.
Mom and Jeanie met us there. They had just finished their adventure, and we were all getting hungry.
“These places all have great menus,” said Mom. “What should we eat?”
After some discussion, we chose Taphouse. Known for an exciting array of nearly 40 Virginia libations and tasty offerings from elsewhere, their food is also delicious. After diving into sandwiches, tacos and great beer, I understood why it was so popular.
Ready for the afternoon, we headed for the historic downtown Hampton waterfront for a bracing harbor cruise aboard the Miss Hampton II. There’s just no better way to truly get the Hampton experience than aboard ship, where the salt air and sea breezes, the light chop slapping against the craft’s sides, the crying of sea birds overhead really sum up Hampton’s centuries of oceanfront tradition.
That experience is doubly enhanced via the tour’s path past looming U.S. Navy ships and a stop and walk-around at Fort Wool, an island installation from the Civil War.
We capped it all off with a sumptuous dinner at Mango Mangeaux just a few blocks from the waterfront in the Phoebus section. The décor that was a great fusion of contemporary and traditional—like Hampton itself—was fun, but the real highlight was the food: Salmon Lafayette for me, Magnolia Shrimp and Grits for Jeanie and our folks shared a Panache Platter loaded with fried crawfish, fried oyster, fried shrimp and—to continue the theme—French fries.
Later, we shared a relaxed family stroll at the waterfront, where we stood looking out across the water. The moon was rising, silvering the wavetops like a million watery, glistening nightlights. Years ago, Jeanie and I would have missed it, cavorting among the splintery old wooden wharf supports dating back who knows how many years?
Now we took the time to enjoy it with Mom and Dad.