Virginia: All Signs Point to Hampton Roads
Because we’re always so pressed for time, it’s very rare that Jave and I don’t have a set itinerary when traveling. When we’re off seeking new travel adventures, it’s very rare that we sleep in late or have a “free” day to travel slowly because we know that our time is short and all too soon, we’ll have to return to our responsibilities back at home. So we usually find ourselves trying to see and experience as much of a place as we can within a very short amount of time.
During our recent trip to Virginia , while we didn’t deviate from our crammed itinerary, our agenda wasn’t dense with a list of sites to see, restaurants to try, or tours to take. That’s partly because we were in town to take care of some family business. But our non-touristy itinerary was also due to the fact that we just wanted to get a sense of what everyday life is like in Hampton Roads, a metropolitan region in Southeastern Virginia that’s made up of Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Newport News, Chesapeake, Portsmouth, Hampton, and Suffolk. Hampton Roads also refers to one of the largest natural harbors in the world that includes the mouths of the Elizabeth and James Rivers among other smaller rivers that empty into the Chesapeake Bay.
For once, it was so refreshing to not be on the sightseeing circuit and to focus our time, energy, and attention on absorbing local life. Here, I’ve compiled a list of a few of our observations of what life is like in Hampton Roads…
There’s a strong military presence in Hampton Roads. In fact, all branches of the U.S. military are represented there, including the Coast Guard. I spent several years of my childhood as a military brat living on a base in Panama. I grew up going to air shows, standing for the national anthem before movies at the on-base theater, and traveling with my family on “hops” throughout Central and South America on windowless C30s. Although my dad ended his military service years ago, for me, it’s nostalgically comforting to be in a place where there’s a military presence.
Also, because so many people from different ethnic, religious, and socioeconomic backgrounds serve in the military, military towns tend to be bastions of diversity. Hampton Roads is no exception although I’ve been told by a former resident of Hampton that apart from the military bases, the local communities are still quite segregated.
For the Love of Trees
For as long as he’s lived in L.A. – which has been the majority of my life – my dad has always talked about his desire to live somewhere that has a lot of trees. In my younger years, I completely underrated the value of trees and open green spaces. But as an adult who’s planning on having kids within the next few years, I find myself thinking more and more about the importance of living in an environment that has more to offer than a concrete jungle and scattered palm trees. In Hampton Roads, there’s no small shortage of greenery.
One morning, Jave and I ventured off to Hoffler Creek Wildlife Preserve just outside of Portsmouth for a pre-breakfast walk amongst the trees. I couldn’t help but notice that in comparison to L.A., the air was fresher, the sky was bluer, and dare I say – the grass was greener – in Hampton Roads.
Back to the Beach
While my appreciation for green spaces is definitely on the rise, anyone who knows me well knows that my heart will always be wherever there’s a beach. Enter, Virginia Beach. While we visited the beach on an overcast Saturday, I was elated to witness the relaxed beach vibe on the Atlantic coast. A group of people were horseback riding on the shore (something I’ve never seen in L.A.), the boardwalk and the fishing pier were abuzz without being the least bit crowded, and the familiar smell of salt in the air put me at ease.
One of my favorite things about the Hampton Roads area is that even if you don’t live right on the beach, you’re never far from some form of body of water. Rivers and streams flow freely in people’s backyards, and some people even have homes sitting on manmade or natural lakes. Because Hampton Roads is such a “water world”, it’s not uncommon for people to have boats hitched to docks in their backyards.
Crowds, Noise, and Traffic
Something that Jave and I instantly noticed upon deplaning and walking through Norfolk’s airport was the lack of crowds. We’ve grown so accustomed to chaotic LAX that whenever we come across a relatively quiet airport, we greet it in amazement.
While waiting for our rental car shuttle at the airport, we struck up a conversation with a lady and her daughter who were waiting on their hotel shuttle. She told us that she’d just driven over and through the bridge and tunnel that connect Hampton and Newport News to Norfolk. She described the drive as “unnerving”.
We told her that we were so pleasantly surprised by the lack of crowds, noise, and traffic in Hampton Roads. She responded by saying that the area is far too busy for her.
“Where are you from?” we asked her out of curiosity.
“Idaho,” she replied. Now, it all made sense. While the “traffic” and “fast pace of life” (note the quotation marks and sarcasm) were a bit too much for our Idahoan acquaintance, coming from L.A., these things were a cake walk for us. In fact, Jave and I couldn’t stop marveling at the seemingly total absence of crowds, noise, and traffic in Hampton Roads. We felt that everyday life in the area, while not dead, is definitely at a much slower, easygoing pace than the hustle and bustle that we endure in L.A.
Another thing that caught us off guard about Hampton Roads was just how friendly most people were. As an Angeleno, I’m accustomed to ignoring and being ignored by others. I have to admit that we’re not the warmest, fuzziest bunch of people here in Los Angeles. So to be greeted by strangers with a smile, to have people make eye contact and say “good morning” when we passed them by, and other acts of friendliness that we encountered from complete strangers kind of caught us off guard – in a good way.
It’s Still the South
While the military presence has brought a semblance of diversity to Hampton Roads and while the beach city vibes are particularly strong in some parts of the area, there were always reminders that we were still in the South. From the twang of Southern accents to being constantly yes- and no-ma’am’ed, there were always reminders of just which region of the U.S. we were in. While in Virginia Beach, we even drove by a pickup truck with a Confederate flag waving from it – a constant reminder that there are still people out there who long for the “good ‘ole days”.
Lots of Churches & Universities
Until visiting Hampton Roads, I can honestly say that I’ve never visited a metropolitan area that has so many churches. I’m not exaggerating when I say that it seems like every other street block in each of the cities that comprise the area has a church on it. Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Catholic – it seems that all Christian denominations are represented. Personally, seeing a church on every other corner sure beats seeing nail shops and liquor stores on every other corner as is common here in Los Angeles.
There also seems to be quite a few colleges and universities in the area. It seems that every other freeway exit we passed announced the presence of a higher learning institution.
Bang for Your Buck
As some of you know, we sometimes play ‘That’s My House’ when we travel which is a fun way of exploring an area’s residential neighborhoods. Our trip to Hampton Roads was no exception. We discovered that one of the most attractive things about the area is the relatively low cost of real estate.
For example, we discovered a neighborhood in Newport News that sits on a golf course. One of the homes for sale in the area sits on Par 4 of the course. The Cape Cod styled house which is well over 2,000 sq.-feet has 4 bedrooms, 2.5 bathrooms, and some recent upgrades. Again, it sits on a golf course. The asking price – $329,000! Unbelievable. Some of you may think that’s kind of high, but coming from my community in SoCal, that price will only get you a two bedroom, two bathroom condo.
While California real estate is almost always a good investment, Hampton Roads offers buyers a bang for their buck in terms of getting a home with a bit of land. Even the asking prices of more expensive waterside homes in Hampton Roads pale in comparison to the cost of waterside homes here in Los Angeles.
Overall, our trip to Hampton Roads gave me and Jave a lot of food for thought in terms of what local life is like in the area, and we were very impressed with our visit there.