101 GuidescityTravel

norfolk city guide

by Stephanie

Image above: illustration by Julia Rothman

Today’s city guide comes to us from Ashley Grove, a graphic designer currently based in Chiang Rai, Thailand, where she’s working for a fair-trade organization. Formerly residing in Norfolk, Virginia, Ashley spent her time cooking, sewing and searching for the most delicious, obscure and fascinating places to blog about. Today she shares with us her many finds in the great city of Norfolk. Thanks, Ashley, for this spectacular guide! — Stephanie

CLICK HERE for the full guide after the jump!

Known mostly for its large navy population, Norfolk was said to have been the first New York City if the yellow fever epidemic of 1855 hadn’t killed more than 2,000 people. You could probably consider it one of those small big cities. It’s got your lively downtown/Freemason area, your hipster Ghent area, your laid-back beach Oceanview area and your family friendly areas all mixed together. It’s part of a larger area called Hampton Roads, which consists of seven cities (Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Norfolk, Suffolk, Newport News, Portsmouth and Hampton) with a population of more than 1.8 million people. With so many outlets right at your fingertips, Norfolk makes for a great area to live.

To Do

The Norva — A great venue where you’ll find music from punk rock to rap, dance parties and the locals’ favorites. The Norva looks old-school with its wooden floors and brick walls, but the sound system is state-of-the-art.

The Attucks Theater — The theater, named after Crispus Attucks, an African American who was the first American patriot to lose his life in the Boston Massacre, is a beautiful venue to catch a glimpse of the Virginia Arts Festival or the Attucks Jazz Club.

5 Points Community Farm Market — Home to Norfolk’s only fresh farm market, 5 Points carries lots of locally grown produce and has a fresh-fish stand, organic cupcake shop, an earth-friendly general store, a café and more.

Stockley Gardens Art Festival — Twice a year, Stockley Gardens, which is in the Ghent district of Norfolk, turns into a crafter’s mecca. With more than 150 artists, the festival brings 25,000 people to the area to see awesome paintings, sculptures, jewelry, photography and so much more.

Little Theater of Norfolk — LTN has been Norfolk’s community theater since 1926. Catch a show in the recently renovated theater —new floors and comfy seats — featuring five new shows per year.

Generic Theater — In the basement of a bigger, more well-known Chrysler Hall, the Generic Theater presents off-beat productions that you’ll be hard-pressed to find anywhere else in the area — with cheap tickets to boot!

Chrysler Museum — Founded in 1939 as the Norfolk Museum of Arts and Sciences, the Chrysler has transformed into a beautiful example of America’s great fine arts. And best of all, it’s free!

Town Point Park — Here you’ll find an eight-acre, newly-renovated park alongside the Elizabeth River. During the summer, you can enjoy tons of festivals — from the famous HarborFest in June to the bi-annual Wine Festival and the Bayou Boogaloo Cajun Festival.

The Naro — A charming movie theater nestled smack-dab in the middle of Ghent. Known mostly for playing independent films and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, whenever possible.

Wells Theater — A staple in Norfolk’s theater life since 1913, the Wells Theater has served as a vaudeville venue and a soft-porn theater. Now it’s home to the Virginia Stage Company and a must-see stop for an evening show.

To Shop

Provisions — This trendy boutique offers a distinct mix of men and women’s clothes. The clothes you find here, you definitely won’t find anywhere else.

Army Surplus Store — I know it sounds (and looks) a little sketchy, but you’ll find the best and cheapest selection of Converse shoes here! Stay long enough, and you’ll also find just about anything else known to man.

Decorum — A furniture store with great contemporary designs (and prices). It’s been locally owned and operated for more than 30 years, and once you’re in the store, you know why.

Bibliophile — It’s hard to miss the ever-changing (maybe daily) selection of books in the window. You’ll find everything from Tarzan to Nazi war-criminal books here at very reasonable prices!

Texture — Found under Fairgrounds (see coffee shops below), this accessory store features tons of local artists and has a great selection of gifts for anyone. Plus, you get to smell the delicious coffee brewing from above!

Serendip — This is one of those home stores you could stand in front of for hours admiring its gorgeous storefronts. They have a great selection of just about everything for the home. Serendip also offers personal interior-design consultations. The store is so picture perfect, you won’t want to take anything home.

Thrift Store USA — This isn’t your average thrift store. It has a huge collection of clothing, including a good vintage section. It also carries tons of furniture at great prices, and I can always find awesome fabric here.

Prince Books — A local favorite for almost 30 years, Prince Books has a huge selection of books and a love of the local book clubs.

Commonwealth — This is more than a street fashion and counter-culture boutique. They also hold art exhibits and other in-store events to showcase local artists’ work and talents.

Local Heroes Comics — Ghent’s only comic book and graphic novel store. They have a great lounge area, so anyone can stop in and enjoy the huge selection.

d’Art Center — d’Art center is an interactive artists’ community. You can go and watch artists at work, browse and shop and even participate in activities and classes that the center has to offer.

Firefly Antiques — This store definitely has a great selection of unusual items, but the best part about this particular antique store is its great collection of vintage clothes in the back of the store. It’s a must-stop if you’re in to the retro look.

To Eat

Pasha Mezze — This family-owned Turkish restaurant offers all sorts of vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free foods, along with your normal fare. The atmosphere is comfy and romantic with deep, dark colors, huge curtains and lots of pillows.

Coffee shops — Fairground’s is Ghent’s infamous cozy, locals-only sort of coffee shop. Bean There Café is downtown’s big-city style café with dark teal walls, exposed brick and ceilings. Borjo Coffeehouse is Old Dominion University’s coffee shop that has it all: a juice bar, freshly baked pastries, lunch and dinner, plus wine and beer! An ODU student favorite. No matter what your taste and style, there’s a local coffee shop that has you covered.

Tortilla West — This Tex-Mex café in West Ghent is sure to please every appetite with its huge menu, great beer list and 75-cent taco nights on Monday and Tuesday.

Yorgo’s Bageldashery — So much more than your average bagel shop, Yorgo’s offers a variety of vegan and vegetarian-friendly sandwiches, snacks and desserts, with specialty drinks to boot.

Cogan’s — Some are surprised to find out that this once used to be a happening venue for punk bands (you can still see band stickers on the walls). Now you come here to drink delicious beer and eat even-more delicious pizza.

Green Onion — With its pea-green walls and dark furniture, this restaurant has an intimate yet fun atmosphere. You can enjoy a friendly Sunday brunch or a date with someone new. Whatever you do, definitely try the Pommes Frites.

No Frill — A staple in most Norfolkians’ lives is No Frill. The always-lively restaurant has your traditional American fare but kicked up a notch. Be prepared for a bit of a wait on the weekends, but it’s totally worth it.

The Boot — Considered a “Virginia” restaurant, The Boot prides itself on embracing the local and regional character and showcasing that through its menu, music and artwork.

Taphouse Grill — One of those hole-in-the-wall places with terrific food (a great vegan and vegetarian place) and an even better beer selection. It has live music every weekend and a great patio for enjoying those amazing East Coast summer nights.

Press 626 — This restaurant opened in the middle of the recession with the idea of offering local foods at a money-conscious price. The pub and wine house-style restaurant offers a wide variety of lunch and dinner options, plus a delicious brunch menu on Sundays — the Poinsettia is a must-have! Stop by for their Meatless Mondays, Ladies Night or one of their many weekly specials.

Razzo — A quaint and romantic restaurant in the Oceanview area of Norfolk. Razzo has taken all your favorite Italian classics and added their own flair to each. It has a very reasonably priced menu with built-to-share sized portions.

*Doumar’s Cones & Barbecue: Hi guys, this is Grace. I had to add Doumar’s because it is one of my favorite places to eat when I’m home in the summer visiting family. Though it’s no Pierce’s in terms of BBQ, the Limeades are second to none and getting to sit in your car and listen to music while you eat some darn good food is heaven.*

To Stay

Freemason Inn Bed and Breakfast — Right in the middle of the historic Freemason district of downtown Norfolk, this bed and breakfast was built in 1897 and has been restored with Jacuzzis and fireplaces in every room.

The Page House Inn — You’ll feel like you’ve taken a step back in time at this bed and breakfast mansion in the heart of Norfolk’s Ghent district. It’s just minutes from the Chrysler Museum (see above) and Ghent’s other favorites.

Tazewell Hotel and Suites — This hotel is definitely for the swanky crowd, as it’s located in downtown Norfolk on Granby Street, which is the nightlife mecca of the city. The hotel was originally built in 1906 but went through a massive renovation in 2000. A great place to stay if you want to be in the middle of all the action.

Suggested For You


  • Thanks so much for this guide, while guides to places like Austin or Portland are fun you can literally stumble into design-minded places there, this is fantastically more useful.
    I was stuck in Norfolk for 4 days last winter during a “storm” (i’m from Buffalo :) when I was supposed to have flown in and out same-day. I had no idea where to go and asking the car rental and hotel people was not productive. I am glad to confirm I had stumbled onto a few place on my own, but now I’m armed and prepared to go back. Thank-you!

  • This makes me so happy to see that others appreciate Norfolk as much as I do. It is a wonderful little city with so much to offer. After living in other cities like Baltimore, Dayton, OH, and Pensacola FL, I can definitely say that I love living in Norfolk. Thanks so much for the post!

  • How cool to see my city represented! I’m a native of Norfolk so I’m definitely familiar with most of these places but look forward to visiting ones that I have never been to. Great post!

  • Wonderful guide to my old hometown. Thrift Store City was the source of my fave *real* Navy Peacoat. And, apparently my Grandma was a real hipster in her day …. as she introduced me to many of these joints in the 80’s.

  • Don’t forget Norfolk’s hidden gem: Hermitage Museum and Gardens! (thfm.org). It’s twelve acres of gardens surrounding an awesome Arts and Crafts mansion/museum.

  • I have to back Joanna up: The Hermitage is breathtaking, and if I’d had enough cash, I would’ve gotten married there.

    Also, Bardo offers great tapas, and is on the same block as Decorum and a great bike shop, Conte’s.

    So happy to see Hampton Roads represented (I’m sure you’re happy, too, Grace!). There are fabulous places to eat and shop in all of the seven cities, but I’m particularly partial to Sisters Unique for home goods in Newport News and The Blue Talon and Cheese Shoppe in Williamsburg for yummy food.

  • I’m a born-and-raised Norfolk girl who recently returned to the city for a bit, and I was so happy to find that Norfolk has really been undergoing a renaissance of late. A few things I’d love to add to this guide:

    The Hermitage is a beautiful historic home and museum with an amazing story. It was built by wealthy New Yorkers in the the early 1900s as a five-room waterfront summer home, but by the 1930s, the owners had expanded it to a 42-room home and museum to house the wife’s extensive collections. In the past few years the museum has really become a cultural center for its neighborhood and the city. In the summers, they show old movies outside on the lawn and also host super fun outdoor concerts throughout the year with beer and wine.

    We just celebrated the opening of the Kerouac Cafe, a beautiful new coffee shop in the long-neglected heart of the city on 35th street. The cafe is open until midnight and aims to be a gathering place for artists and writers.

    The Birch is a newly-opened craft beer bar in the West Ghent neighborhood. The interior is beautiful and they have 21 beers on tap plus grilled cheese and bar snacks.

    Quenna’s Raw and Vegan, in the Oceanview neighborhood, is one of the best vegetarian restaurants I’ve ever been to. They are always slammed, so be sure to call ahead with your order, even if you’re eating in!

    The Ten Top in Ghent is another can’t-miss place for food. They have a small eat-in area, but if you want to partake in their beer and wine selection, you’ve got to take it home. Everything is delicious and homemade and wonderful. Order anything on the menu.

    Taste Unlimited is a gourmet food and sandwich shop with six locations in the seven cities, including one in Larchmont. Their sandwiches are drool-worthy — get a side of house dressing for dipping (or drinking — it’s that good!).

  • So glad to see a guide for Norfolk! I live in Virginia Beach, just 2 blocks from the city line. I was floored to read Thrift Store USA. It is not in the nicest part of the city, but very much worth it! Clean, newer construction with a bounty of stuff at prices so cheap its almost criminal. Hm, that sounded like a commercial.

    Oh don’t forget about the Norfolk Botanical Gardens!

  • Sitting here at my desk IN NORFOLK eating lunch and saw this great liitle surprise post. Adding my two cents: I heartily concur with the rec for The No Frill Grill. Amazing food!

    • teresa

      i’m always torn on no frill- i’ve been to the one in norfolk and the one in vb (where my parents go all the time) and i’m not in love with it. is the norfolk one way better than the vb one now?


  • Grace, I’ve never been to the VB one. We seem to go to the Norfolk one ALL THE TIME because it is “almost” down the street from the Navy base and everyone in the office seem to select it for “their day” office gatherings.

  • Hooray for Norfolk! I’m not a fan of No Frill. The menu never changes. That said, it has a slew of die-hard regulars and it’s always packed on the weekends.

    I live in The Netherlands now, but Yorgo’s is my first stop off the plain. Best bagels in the world.

    • stephanie

      oh no! doumars! i didn’t even notice that missed the list- i’ll add it in manually using my editorial veto/add rights ;)


  • I spent the first 37 years of my life in Hampton just across the water, so this post brings back so many good memories. Thanks so much! ( now I am seriously homesick )

    • drool…..

      sorry, that sandwich and their crinkle fries make me weak in the knees. delicious. seriously one of the best parts of going to college at william and mary. that and the crazy religious snow cone place that mixed soft serve with snow cones.


  • awww a norfolk guide! grace- you still have to do a VB guide, gotta represent! :)

    no frill is definitely hit or miss, but whenever i come home from NYC i immediately want to go there. the crabcake sandwich is SO good.

    and taste unlimited! my mom’s house is right near the one on shore drive, and the house dressing on the sandwiches is to die for.

    i’ll have to hit up some of these other new places when i go home again!

  • oh man, i did forget a few crucial spots!! especially doumars, ten top and taste!! i left in late december, so i haven’t had the privilege to experience the birch or keurouac cafe yet :)

  • this is so fun! we moved here in october & have been exploring lots of these great places (now we have a few new ones to add to the list!). boot & green onion are favorites of ours and I’ll echo the rec for taste, especially exciting now there’s one in larchmont!

    for the to do list, the american rover (http://www.americanrover.com/) is a sailboat that leaves from downtown norfolk — on the way to the chesapeake, an entertaining guide gives you a great history/tour; on the way back they have musical entertainment. there’s a bar & it wasn’t crowded when we went. highly recommend!

    also, if you’re feeling adventurous, stove (http://www.stoverestaurant.com/) just through the tunnel in portsmouth is absolutely amazing — if you like boot, you’ll love stove!

  • Having lived in Virginia Beach my whole life it was pretty exciting to see a local guide featured! Surprisingly there are a few spots and things I haven’t even heard of which I now will have to try out.

    Thrift Store USA is hands down my favorite thrift store in the area. Plus it is neat and clean.

    Razzo’s is also a great restaurant although small I think it only has about 6 booths and 6 tables. The roasted fennel appetizer is to die for. Plus my husband took me there the night he proposed!

  • I spent 6 weeks in Norfolk working at the beautiful Wells Theatre with the Virginia Stage Company. I have such fond memories of this quaint little city. I was very tickled to see it on the site today! There was a coffee shop that I went to every morning that was very close to the theatre and I can’t remember the name of it for the life of me!!…

  • How could you forget Doumar’s? So amazing! I would break veg for those little BBQs! Ah and the limeades!
    And the Hermitage! I went to the Governor’s School for the Arts in Norfolk and every summer we would have a show there. It was always my favorite one, because we could run around the building and the grounds!

  • I was born and raised in the Hampton Roads area and now living in Gloucester (about an hour away from Norfolk) and I have never been to more than half of these places. I know what I will be doing for the next few weekends. Thank you!

  • Sissy, terrific job! I have been to a few of these places with you and Adrienne. Next time I’m in Norfolk we will have to visit the rest of them! I also enjoyed touring Historic Norfolk and the U.S.S. Wisconsin. Love, Dad!

  • Stephanie, I have to agree with you on Dog N Burger! It’s one of my favorite places for lunch and it’s so so close to my apartment.

    Another Ghent favorite is the Donut Dinette. It has a few veg options and lots of greasy diner fare, but it’s the fresh donuts and giant, plate-sized pancakes that make me love it so much!

  • This guide provides a great base of information for exploring Norfolk!

    And, there is a local Food Tour(www.norfolkwalkabouts.com) that includes sampling cuisine and visiting landmarks in Downtown Norfolk and the uptown neighborhood of Ghent.

  • No Frill Grill is AMAZING!!!!!!! It is quite easily my favorite restaurant. It’s the one thing I miss since I’ve moved to Raleigh. My two cents: the one in Norfolk is worlds better than the one in Virginia Beach.

  • So excited to see a guide to my adopted hometown. We’ve lived in Virginia for 6 years, moved to Ghent last year and love it. So many of the places you listed are my favorites, and a few new ones I need to check out.

  • The Attucks Theatre is also home to the Discovery Music Series – a seriously awesome indie/blues series. Some of the best indie bands around had gigs in that series – The Avett Brothers, Grace Potter, Amos Lee, The Weepies! Norfolk is much cooler than it gets credited for.

  • Ashley did an excellent job. Not only has she put Norfolk, VA on the map (in all literal contexts), she captured a myriad of staples of the city-old and new. There’s always room for more places to eat, see, and/or shop-another time. Thank you Ashley-great work! Btw, the mermaid addition in the illustration is the icing on the cake..and will inevitably, make the city’s econ. developers, very, very happy! :)

  • Doumar’s was also featured in Food Network’s Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives. They still make their waffle cones from scratch. How could anyone forget Baker’s Crust, Rajput, and Machismo?! So delicious!

  • How did I miss this?? I live in Virginia Beach, so am thrilled to see a Norfolk Guide! Love Thrift Store USA and the Chrysler.

  • I am printing this post right now and popping it into my Norfolk folder … for graduation weekend at ODU. I wish I had had this about three Parents’ Weekends ago! Thank you so much.

  • Very nice post, however, you should include Crackers on Granby Street and Empire on Granby also but in the downtown area. The Boot is one of our favorite places on Earth but it’s tied up there with Cracker and Empire. They are the same owners just different locations. Also, local food and AMAZING flavors!

  • Thanks for the post. This is a great list of things to do. I am a huge music junkie. I am glad you posted about The Nova. I really like visiting different states and listening to the local sounds. Usually the venues are some old building and I really like to see the architecture and learn the history behind the buildings.

  • Adding to to Luna Maya bandwagon. Its absolutely amazing. I’m born and raise Virginia Beach gal and even though we have some fantastic places of our own, Luna Maya is the ONLY place I celebrate birthday’s, friends engagements, really anything that is a special occasion. Tamales Luna Maya is the best thing on the menu, I promise you will not regret it!

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