I have written a lot about Portsmouth.
I lived in Portsmouth, right on the James River, with a beautiful view of the Monitor-Merrimac Bridge Tunnel and the twinkling lights of Newport News, for a year before we built a house in northern Suffolk. I consider Portsmouth my downtown. I drive straight down High Street and can be in Olde Towne Portsmouth in ten minutes, no tunnel, and no toll.
I read the papers like everyone else, and I know that Portsmouth has problems, just like everywhere else. Still, there is so much right, so much fun, and so much good to eat in Portsmouth.
My disclaimer: I have only lived here three years. I am semi-retired, and have time for exploring Portsmouth, but it’s not my full time job. I volunteer, I write, I paint, I practice yoga, I have four grandchildren and a silver-haired guy I live with. I’m sure I’ve missed some hidden gems. I limited myself to 50 reasons I love Portsmouth, but 50 was easy. Feel free to tell us your favorite things about Portsmouth. Why you love the city, what you like to do, and what I missed.
In no particular order –
This is the reason I went to Portsmouth the first time and a big reason I keep coming back. Membership is a bargain if you have children in your life. Besides all the interactive exhibits that are always there, like the Bubble Room, there are programs and special exhibits all the time. The current interactive traveling exhibit is “Amusement Park Science,” beginning on May 21 and running throughout the summer. You and your kids can explore the physics behind your favorite rides.
The Market is open every Saturday during the season, in a historic setting at the corner of High St. and Court St. Fresh produce, crafts, baked goods, flowers, meat, seafood, and alpaca socks.
The Coffee Shoppe, right across the street from the Children’s Museum, is always our first stop on Saturday morning. The whole neighborhood congregates outside and in for coffee and conversation. It’s a good, old-fashioned, independent coffee shop with good food and coffee.
What other Farmers Market has a historic figure ringing the bell to signal it’s open? Eric Price recreates Colonel Crawford, who founded Portsmouth in 1752. He is at the Farmers Market most Saturdays, happy to talk you to about Portsmouth and Colonial times.
The Portsmouth Master Gardeners are at the Olde Towne Farmers Market every week to answer any questions you have about your garden, flowers, trees, or lawn. They have helped me find the native plants that thrive here in the Tidewater and identify plants that I never saw in cold, cold Michigan. They have classes, lectures and volunteer all over Portsmouth to make it beautiful.
This is a gem of a museum and gift shop. Located in the beautiful 1846 Courthouse with a lovely courtyard, the Portsmouth Art & Cultural Center has changing exhibits throughout the year. Now through July 31 is Portrait as Narrative, featuring current and past Hampton Roads artists in many different mediums and styles.
7. Free parking on weekends, easy parking during the week.
There is no charge for parking on Saturday and Sunday, in any of the Portsmouth’s parking garages, or in any metered spot. It’s easy to find a parking spot the rest of the week.
The Bier Garden is next door to the Portsmouth Art & Cultural Center. I lived in Germany for a year as a student and this place brings back many fond memories of bratwurst and beer. I love to eat outside, and The Bier Garden has a really nice patio.
The Museum is closed for renovations right now, but will open sometime this year. It’s another gem of a museum that is located right on the water at High Street Landing and offers the history of Portsmouth. The Lightship Portsmouth is a real Lightship, built in 1915, brought to Portsmouth, dry-docked and restored. You can explore throughout the ship and see the tiny quarters where the crew lived and worked.
10. The Elizabeth River Ferry – High Street Landing and North Landing to Norfolk and Harbor Park
You can catch the ferry at High Street Landing, where High Street meets the Elizabeth River, right across the harbor from the Naval Shipyard Museum, or from the North Landing, right next door to the Renaissance Hotel.
It’s a perfect way to go to Norfolk on a hot summer day.
757 Crave on the Harbor is within easy walking distance of the North Landing of the Ferry. Crave has the best view of downtown Norfolk and the Elizabeth River with food and drinks thrown in. You have to walk down a dock and up the stairs, but you eat with the sailboats floating by below you. There is live music at night.
Sydney Meers has been doing his extraordinary cooking for a long time. He has been at Stove for the past ten years or so. I love the shrimp and grits. This little place is west of Olde Towne in Port Norfolk.
I discovered Port Norfolk when I made my first trip to Stove. This is a charming little neighborhood. They have an active neighborhood association and some gorgeous old homes. I am partial to anyplace that has a Detroit Street (see my bio below). Nice place for a walk, before or after dinner.
14. Pizza Box
The Pizza Box is right next door to Stove on Detroit Street. My daughter has a father-in-law from New Jersey who is very picky about his pizza. This pizza made him happy. I drive by at least 5 pizza places to get to Pizza Box. So many pizza choices. Pizza perfection.
15. HomeTown Diner
We had been looking for a good breakfast place that didn’t charge $10 for pancakes. In Detroit, there are a million of them; they’re called Coney Islands. Around here, not so much. We spotted this good old-fashioned diner across the street from Bon Secours Maryview Medical Center on High Street, west of town. It has great home cooking (including desserts), excellent prices, and friendly service. It’s always busy. Come to find out, the owners are from Detroit.
16. Corner Café
Tucked in a corner at Rodman and Western Branch Blvd., this is another good breakfast place that also serves lunch and dinner until 7:00. The Corner Café is in a charming little building with a shaded patio within walking distance of Maryview Hospital.
Continuing on my food train of thought and still heading west on High Street, we also love JoJacks Espresso Bar & Café. JoJacks does breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They always have three nice dinner specials that include salad and dessert. I love that you can call in your order and pick it up at their drive-up window
18. Vietnam 81
This place is off the beaten path and tucked into a sad looking strip mall, but it’s worth the trip. Pho is a favorite here, but I am a huge fan of the Bun. Bun is the rice vermicelli-style Vietnamese noodle dish that is mixed with fresh veggies and herbs and topped with grilled meats or tofu. Bun dishes are cool and hot at the same time. Vietnam 81 makes them fresh and healthy.
Despite the cheesy spelling, OldeTowne Portsmouth is charming. Within walking distance of so many excellent restaurants, museums, entertainment, the water, and the giant Naval Hospital, Olde Towne has a great mix of people and historic homes that are treasured. There are also some beautiful churches and other historic buildings.
Still has “worldly eclectic tapas” and “classic cocktails.” I can also vouch for their excellent desserts. This place is tucked downstairs in an old building on Court Street in Olde Towne, very European feeling. The food is delicious. It’s worth the search.
HomeGrown is also right on Court Street. HomeGrown’s name says it all. The owner/chef walks across the street to the Farmers Market every Saturday and buys his food for the week. The food at the Farmers Market determines the menu for the week.
22. Gosport Tavern
You will have to walk just a few blocks west down High Street to get to Gosport Tavern, but it’s worth it. This is a really popular neighborhood place with good food and drinks. They do Bar Trivia and have a really nice selection of beers.
Mannino’s on High St. has the kind of food your Italian nonna makes, if you had an Italian nonna. My grandmother was Polish. I wish there was a Polish restaurant in Portsmouth, but until that day, I head to Mannino’s for some delicious Italian food.
I have a soft spot for Roger Brown’s. Probably because Roger played as part of the “fearsome foursome” for my poor, hometown team, the Detroit Lions. Roger Brown’s probably has the biggest patio on High Street. The people are friendly and the food is good. You can talk football with Roger himself.
On the first Friday of every month, starting in the spring, you can eat dinner at one of the many great restaurants in Olde Towne and then take a walk over to the Courtyard of the Portsmouth Art & Cultural Center for a free concert. The Courtyard reminds me of the courtyards in Charleston. This Courtyard has the added bonus of outdoor sculpture, which change each year.
After the first Friday of the month, head back to Portsmouth for First Saturdays. The city closes down the first floor of the Middle Street Parking Garage and vendors set up in the garage and on the street. I have found some big bargains on some Pinterest-worthy stuff. Then take a short walk over to the beautiful old Portsmouth Public Library on Court Street. Walk around the side of the building and downstairs to the basement for their Book Sale. You might find some treasures there too.
The outdoor sculpture in the Courtyard of the Portsmouth Art & Cultural Center–and most of the other public art around Portsmouth–is coordinated and/or donated by this grassroots arts organization of people who love art in Portsmouth. You will find sculptures and murals all over the city of Portsmouth thanks to their efforts.
I have previously confessed about my love of art fairs.
Portsmouth shuts down High Street for two really nice art fairs each year. The Gosport Art Festival is in the spring and the Seawall Art Festival is in the late summer. Remember, if you live on the Norfolk side of the river, you can take the Ferry from Waterside, get off at High Street Landing and the art fairs will be right there.
The wonderful volunteers of Portsmouth Community Concert work hard to present world-class talent at five concerts each year. This is another Portsmouth bargain that I have written about for AltDaily.
Top talent from near and far, PCCI offers concerts and dance that is diverse and will delight all ages.
Although I am technically a senior citizen, I admit that I haven’t visited the Beazley Senior Center yet. I have friends who love it. They go every day to play cards, take classes and exercise. It’s close to the Naval Hospital and Olde Towne.
I am not a church person, but I must have a little of the spirit in me because I love gospel music. I discovered Gospelrama the first year we moved here, and I have been going back ever since. Gospelrama is two days of Gospel Music, outside in August, at the North Landing of the Ferry. The stage is built above the water. Families sit on the steps of the landing or bring lawn chairs and celebrate the spirit.
We found the Visitors Information Center the first day of Gospelrama, back in 2013. This nice, clean building, with nice, clean bathrooms (no PortaPotty for me) is right at North Landing, where you can get off the Ferry. The people who staff it are friendly and will give you all kinds of information about restaurants and events. They open a little booth at the foot of High Street at the High Street Landing of the Ferry during weekends and other busy times.
It seems to be a “thing” around here to have good cafes in garden centers. Green Bean Café is a sweet little restaurant, tucked into a corner of Bowman’s Garden Center, which is tucked into a corner of Olde Towne. The restaurant is open for lunch and brunch. It’s a delicious meal and there are beautiful plants all around.
34. Anderson – Wright Rooms and Garden
Anderson–Wright is another beautiful place in Olde Towne. This gorgeous old store, with a hidden garden courtyard, is on High Street. The store is so pretty, couples get married there.
35. Kitchen Koop
I love this little independent kitchen shop on High Street. It’s filled with everything you need for your kitchen but you didn’t know you needed it. I find something every time I go there and I end up using that “thing” every day.
Leave your calorie counter at home when you go to this place. They are famous for their burgers and fries, but you can get some yummy pulled pork and fish hoagie too. They are tucked into a sideways strip mall on High Street. Keep an eye out for their signs.
Way Back Yonder is tucked around the corner on Washington St, just off High Street and close to my other favorite stores. There are beautiful antiques and a very knowledgeable owner. I especially love the antique lighting.
This movie theater is fantastic. The owner plays first run movies in a stunning 1945 Art Deco style movie theater. You can wine and dine in a theater that is on the National Register of Historic places with the most up to date technology for sound and screen.
This small, one-story brick building is one of five museums owned by the City of Portsmouth. The building served as the library for the black community of Portsmouth from 1945 to 1963, when the Main Library was finally integrated. This little 900 square foot building, founded by some of Portsmouth leading black citizens, is perfect for sharing some history with your kids.
A new Pelican’s SnoBalls just opened up, west of Olde Towne, on Airline Blvd. but right on the way downtown for me. There is nothing like a giant rainbow snoball to share on a hot summer day.
Norfolk County Feed & Seed is also on Airline Blvd. “We’re your local, modern-day General Store. If we don’t carry it, we will find it for you.” This place has been in business since 1947. The owners have helped us many times with questions about planting in Virginia. It’s like a little bit of the country right in the city.
The Portsmouth Hen Keepers are some dedicated folks who wanted to have fresh eggs straight from the backyard, went to the city, and got the laws changed to allow residents to keep a couple of chickens. Sharon Jackson was one of the first people I met when I moved to Portsmouth. She is still educating people on how to take care of chickens in your backyard. She is one of a kind.
We were lucky to find these 142 acres on Hoffler Creek right when we moved here. We could walk to it from our house on the James River. It’s a little piece of wilderness right in Portsmouth. You can rent kayaks or just hike. They offer programs and guided walks and kayak tours. As the Bard said, “I like this place and could willingly waste my time in it.”
44. City Park
I love the City Park too. This is the city’s big park on the Western Branch of the Elizabeth River. Great playgrounds for the kids, a golf course, tennis courts, boat ramp, and picnic shelters.
The Portsmouth Pavilion used to be known as the nTelos Wireless Pavilion. Looks like the name is up for grabs again. In the meantime, the Pavilion is putting on some great shows at night. Alabama Shakes is coming in September and The Isley Brothers in July. They also do Family Movies on the lawn – free admission and free parking.
46. The Seawall and the Portsmouth View of the July 4th Fireworks
Parts of the path along the Seawall are closed right now. The Seawall is in tough shape and needs to be fixed. Please, city of Portsmouth, get going and fix your Seawall. We love strolling down the walkway and watching all the boats and ships go past. The Seawall is also the best spot to watch the 4th of July Fireworks. Another great spot is along Crawford Parkway by the Naval Hospital.
47. The affordable, on the waterfront, housing and the affordable, historic housing in Portsmouth
We rented in Portsmouth for a year and decided to build a house in northern Suffolk. We ended up there because four adorable grandchildren live way out in Isle of Wight. If it weren’t for the pull of the grandchild, I would probably be living in Olde Towne. I have friends who live there and rarely use their car. You can get a place right on the Elizabeth River with spectacular views, or buy one of those charming old homes in Olde Towne.
48. The first responders of Portsmouth
You can probably guess that I am a straight-laced citizen. My dad was an officer for the Detroit Police Department, my Uncle was a detective and another Uncle was a Fire Chief. I have great respect for the men and women who work in the Police Department and the Fire Department of Portsmouth. I love that the firemen and firewomen were out on the street corners toasting marshmallows for the kids during the Winter Wonderland celebration. I love that there are police officers walking the beat or on the street directing traffic during big events.
49. That person is who writes the tweets for @portsvaevents and Portsmouth, Virginia FB Page
Someone, a mystery person or persons, tweets and posts in a great way for the City of Portsmouth. I have tried to discover who this person is, but it remains a mystery. If you want to find out what is going on in Portsmouth, you need to follow @portsvaevents, “the place to find out what’s fun and happening in Portsmouth. Virginia.”
She (or he) not only posts all the fun things happening in Portsmouth, this person also throws in some inspiration along the way. Today’s thought was, “In the end, people will judge you anyway, so don’t live your life impressing others – live your life impressing yourself.”
50. The People of Portsmouth – all of them
Last but not least, I love the people of Portsmouth. There are so many people I’ve met who love their city, despite the politics. They are working hard to make good things happen and spread the word about Portsmouth.
Betty Morgan Sanborn lived all over the country while her husband served in the Navy, but came back home to Portsmouth a few years ago: “Nothing feels quite like home.” Betty is a professional photographer who loved the wildly popular site, “Humans of New York,” and decided to start “The People of Portsmouth.”
She takes beautiful photos of people, stays away from politics and religion, and asks two simple questions, “Why do you love Portsmouth and what can you do for Portsmouth?”
Shawn Cotton and Larry Jones are people who love Portsmouth. Their Facebook page, “I Love Portsmouth” is a closed group, but they welcome new members. Shawn formed the group as a reaction to all the negative press about Portsmouth and some very negative pages on Facebook. She says, “I truly love my beloved city and want it to prosper.” Guideline #3 for their group is, “Show Love & Respect for our City.” Guideline #5 is good too: “Offer solutions to the problem. Don’t be part of the problem.” These are just a few of the people who love Portsmouth.
I know, I know. You are thinking I missed your favorite store, restaurant, museum, park or great group of people. I’ve only lived here three years and I was limited to 50, so join the conversation, tell us what we missed, but keep it positive people. As Betty Sanborn says, “ The city is hurting and we want to do something about it.”