Ah, Downtown Portsmouth, one of the best spots in the seven cities.
It’s a mixture of good dining, unique activities, and if you really warm up to us, a variety of upscale housing, all set on the backdrop of the Elizabeth River. Here’s a local’s guide on fun, food and where to hang your hat at the end of the day.
Editor’s note: This post is part of a collaboration with Portsmouth Department of Economic Development.
What To Do
There’s a lot going on in Downtown Portsmouth. Don’t believe me? Come see it all for yourself. Soon you’ll be lost amongst the theaters, museums, art and music. Downtown P-Town has a little bit of it all.
The Commodore: If Downtown Portsmouth had an official mascot, it would be The Commodore. I recommend this place to people on a weekly basis and it boggles my mind that some locals have never been there (GO!!!). The Commodore is like Cinema Cafe’s cultured and well traveled older brother. The Commodore is dripping with deep character and a funky art-deco style. An upstairs balcony seating area gives you the traditional movie theater feel but the magic really happens downstairs in a large, chandelier embellished dining area. Also, the THX preview will take you straight back to your childhood. Local’s Tip: Pay with cash, get $1 off ticket prices.
The Children’s Museum: If you’ve never been to The Children’s Museum, stop everything you’re doing immediately and go. On second thought, please finish reading this article…THEN go. Whether you’re a child of 8 or 38, guaranteed fun will be had at this unique institution. I mean, when’s the last time you went to a museum with exhibits that had names like “Bubbles,” “Dr. Forces Traveling Energy Extravaganza,” and “Pets and Vets”? Tickets are moderately priced and don’t go over $11. This place appeals to the kid (in all of us). Local’s Tip: Enjoy the stars anytime by visiting The Planetarium.
Portsmouth Pavilion: What’s better than seeing one of your favorite bands? How about seeing one of your favorite bands in an intimate, outside venue on the water? With a capacity limit of 6500, it’s the perfect place to see a concert but not feel overwhelmed. Past acts have included OAR, Phish, The Avett Brothers, BB King and many other show stoppers. Some upcoming acts for the 2016 season are Jill Scott, Chris Stapleton, The Isley Brothers, Ray LaMontagne, Twenty One Pilots and Weird Al. Rest assured, there’s a musical experience for everyone. Local’s Tip: Visiting from Norfolk? Take the Ferry over.
The Virginia Sports Hall Of Fame: While I’m not the biggest sports fan in the world, I can give credit where credit is due – and The Sports Hall of Fame scores a touchdown. This place honors the sport heroes that have called Virginia home, so not only will you learn something, you’ll be beaming with pride by the end of it. Highlighting golf, racing, soccer, baseball and more – there’s a display for every sports enthusiast you know. The museum gets a new batch of inductees every year, so there are always new things to see. Local’s Tip: There’s a Towne Bank ATM on the same street, so grab some cash for the gift shop.
Some other hangouts that make Downtown Portsmouth pretty darn great:
Jewish Cultural Museum: Learn about and celebrate Jewish culture at this historic treasure from 1918.
Portsmouth Arts and Cultural Center: An epicenter of art including sculpture, portraits, photography and more. Check out their special “Winter Wonderland” exhibit around Christmas.
Trinity Church: Built in 1762 as the Parish Church of Portsmouth. Walk amongst the graves and see if you can spot a Revolutionary Patriot ghost… spooky.
Fresnel Lens: Let the light guide your way… right to the downtown waterfront and this 10 foot high, 2500lb Lighthouse beacon. Don’t touch though; it’s valued at up to $1,000,000.
Where To Eat
Now that we’ve worked up an appetite with all those activities, let’s chow down. Downtown Portsmouth boasts many dining establishments where you can grab a bite and take a break. Here are a few that you should check out sooner rather than later.
Gosport Tavern: A restaurant/bar located on High Street in Olde Towne. With a nautical theme that would make Ishmael jealous, it’s the best place to be any night of the week. Check out the different daily specials to save a little green. Super bonus: this place has brunch on both Saturdays and Sundays! Let your friends know to drop their anchors and meet you at this downtown fixture. Local’s tip: Try the “The Smithy.”
Griff’s: Are you ready for some football? Or baseball? Perhaps tennis? Whatever your sporting tastes, it looks great on the big screens at this High Street sports lounge. Pool tables, a jukebox and large bar round out this place to make it a good time for everyone in the group. It’s the perfect site to grab some wings, a cold brew and cheer on your favorite team. Local’s Tip: Check out the lounge area in the back.
Baron’s Pub: This is the cornerstone of the downtown Portsmouth scene. It’s a dive(ish) bar but in the best way possible. Baron’s has been around for a long time, which is prominently displayed by the Opsail and Harborfest posters from years past that hang on the walls. Burgers, nachos, pizzas, salads and sandwiches will all be delicious while you’re drinking from a large, frosty mug. Local’s Tip: Check out live acoustic music on certain nights.
Humboldt Steele: The only restaurant downtown to bring Lumberjacks and pizza together. I know that sounds weird but it’s so very right. The interior has a woodsy, warm theme and a selection of 40 craft beers plus pizza by the pie or slice. Pint nights, service industry nights and .99 cent slice nights are all well worth checking out. Don’t forget to put your beer on the bar’s ice strip for optimal chillness. Local’s Tip: Pay attention to the drink names. You’ll giggle.
Green Bean Cafe: Set a bit outside the traditional Downtown area of Portsmouth, this restaurant is definitely worth visiting. It’s connected to a store (think Cracker Barrel: but way more artsy, eclectic and just plain cool) so you can shop and eat. The food here is fresh and delicious with plenty of wraps, sandwiches and salads on the menu. The Green Bean is truly a Portsmouth gem. Local’s Tip: It can get a little crowded on Saturdays – so be patient.
Fill up your belly & pint glass at some of these other Downtown haunts:
The Lobscouser: Fine dining that’s been around since 1987. Seafood that will make you anything but crabby.
Still: A speakeasy type of basement bar/restaurant with tapas bites and cunning cocktails.
Longboards: A chilled out corner spot with island vibes and indoor/outdoor seating.
Roger Brown’s Sports Pub: Big screens everywhere, comfortable booth seating and a 90-foot bar. Enjoy the southern cuisine and the game.
The Bier Garden: Like being in your beloved German Grandmother’s house, except with beer. Lots of beer.
Where To Live:
You like us! You really like us! If you want to stick around after your fun and food, there are plenty of places to call yours at the end of the day. Everything from waterfront abodes to rustic pads, Downtown Portsmouth can be your home, sweet home.
The Myrtles At Olde Towne: These apartments range in price from $900-$3000(ish) and you can choose from 1 bed/1 bath to 3 bedrooms/2 baths. This place is just a few steps away from the Naval Medical Center and a very quick drive to the interstate. All apartment residences can enjoy amenities such as the dog park, two outdoor swimming pools, 24 hour emergency maintenance and clubhouse. Some apartments come with even more bells and whistles including 9 foot ceilings, a private patio or balcony, walk in showers, oversized closets and many other available perks. The additional fact that it’s a couple blocks from the water makes this a pretty sweet Downtown Portsmouth home.
Montgomery Square: These ‘luxury loft style living’ apartments range in size from 661 sq ft studios to larger 2 bedroom units. Living here will put you right in the heart of Olde Towne and a short walk to Gosport Tavern, 619 Cantina and Manninio’s Italian Restaurant. Special features include three pets per apt (plus additional fees) and short term rental options. A few details about these lofts that everyone can enjoy are stainless steel appliances, including a dishwasher, and washer/dryer inside the units. Exposed brick walls, high ceilings and hardwood floors complete the loft style feel of the 69 units that make up Montgomery Square.
Five17 King Apartments: If your dream has always been to live in a historically renovated elementary school house, well, have I got the place for you. The apartments at 517 King Street are just that and a little more. After ten years of vacancy, this beauty was renovated in 2012 (with around a $2.8 million dollar budget) and now houses 20 distinct apartments. Pick out a one or two bedroom space and enjoy the granite countertops, wall mounted flat screen TV, fitness center and security controlled access. It’s the perfect union of old-school character (HA! Get it?) and modernity.
507 Tower Dinwiddie: This residence has been around since the 1940s, but fear not; it went through a complete renovation in 2016. Vintage charm mixed with contemporary comfort will have you signing a lease in no time. This dwelling still holds the historic charm of the old hotel it once was plus how cool is that classic HOTEL sign still hangs out in front of the joint? You’ll be directly in the heart of Downtown at the corner of High St and Dinwiddie on top of restaurants and shops. Check in to this place and you won’t worry about checking out.
A few more lavish accommodations to put your mental white picket fence around:
Harbor Tower Apartments: 25-story high rise apartment building featuring panoramic views of Portsmouth and Norfolk. You’ll never have a better seat for downtown fireworks.
Sterling King Apartments: Available to rent starting in June. Layout names like “The Monarch,” “The Emperor,” and “The King,” solidify the fact that you’ll be carving out your own slice of Downtown Portsmouth royalty.
Harbor Vista Apartments: Available to rent this summer. These one & two bedroom apartments will have you living the luxury lifestyle in no time.
Oxford Place Apartments: Urban style luxury with sleek, modern amenities. Every apartment has a unique floor plan and comes with one dedicated parking spot in a covered garage. Your vehicle will thank you.
Hopefully this guide has made you think about Downtown Portsmouth a little differently. We are a vibrant community of cultured comrades. Alliteration aside, you should come and rediscover your neighbor. Unique delights await you and ensure that you won’t be down about your decision to come to this town.
About the sponsor of this article: The mission of the Portsmouth Department of Economic Development is to foster an environment that creates a superior quality of life for its corporate citizens and residents by being receptive and responsive to the diverse local community and global economy. Visit them online at PortsmouthVaEd.com or call 757-393-8804 for more information.