So, you have 48-hours to check out the great city of Norfolk. The city has been around since 1682, so how do you choose what to do? There is so much to offer a family in the Mermaid City, but here’s my list of attractions, restaurants, and special spots that aren’t to be missed. I love it here; after these two days, anyone visiting would too.
10am: Do the Zoo! The Virginia Zoo offers something for everyone in the family, no matter the age. It is home to more than 500 furry, feathered, and scaly friends, as well as countless interesting plants. Little guys and gals can enjoy a train ride through part of the Zoo, and young and old alike will love the beautiful exhibits. The adventure is educational, lovely, and awe-inspiring. Our family loves a Zoo visit, and we see something new each time. You’ll want to spend ample amount of time here. There are food vendors, a petting area called the Zoo Farm, and a butterfly garden. As you enter, you can check the feeding schedule and see if your kids really do eat like monkeys.
image | VirginiaZoo.org
While the lion area is stunning, our family’s favorite is Asia-Trail of the Tiger. The orangutans always remind us how close different species are to us, the tapirs help us learn that episodes of Go, Diego Go! had the size of these animals WAY OFF (that little cartoon kid had no idea how big these actually are), and the red pandas are fun to find. You never know where they may be; make sure to look up! Sometimes they’re hanging out on a limb above your head. The black bear habitat is like watching our own boys interact as siblings. Our boys like to do voiceovers here. The Harris rugrats also enjoy the North America exhibit because they get to gross me out with the snakes and creepy crawlers. The Zoo is such a wonderful place to make your family memories.
1pm: As you leave the Zoo, take a quick trip a little north to one of my favorite little shops: The Village Mermaid. You can find all kinds of treasurers there. A consignment shop, you’ll run into antiques, hard to find collectibles, and lots of mermaid / fish / beach décor. I can’t pass this shop without stopping in to browse.
2pm: Enjoy a late lunch and ice cream cone at Doumar’s, a Norfolk tradition. Offering burgers, BBQ, hot dogs and more, it is an old-style diner that is less than 2 miles away from the Zoo. You won’t want to leave without having an ice cream cone. Cones are made in-house on the original four iron waffle machine built in 1904. If you’re lucky, you’ll be in there as they are making the cones on the machine. Although there are tables, we enjoy sitting at the counter; it just seems more authentic.
3pm: No visit to Norfolk would be complete if you don’t take home a special souvenir. Make your next stop The Mermaid Factory. Here, you can paint your own official Norfolk Mermaid and grab a few more mermaid-inspired items. You can drop in or make reservations ahead of time. They’ll even box your new gal up for safe travels. We live in Norfolk and still love to go and make new mermaids whenever we can. If painting isn’t your best talent, they offer pre-painted works of art, mermaid themed goods, and great ideas for the adventurous artist.
5pm: After you’ve finished your artwork, walk toward Colley Avenue for some local shopping. You’ll love grabbing something sweet for later at The Bonbonnier (don’t miss the truffles), something special at Bridget’s or A Dodson’s, and one should always stop in at Kitsch to see what goods Virginians have created. Our kids love these shops because they can’t find anything like these special treasurers anywhere else.
7pm: Enjoy a lovely dinner at No Frill Grill. With many options on the menu, you should be able to find the perfect meal for everyone in your group. It is also within walking distance from all of the shopping you’ve just finished. The nachos are plentiful here, the French dip is super tasty, and the crème brulee is legit. Our oldest son almost always gets the chili. His parents always have beers there.
9pm: If your family is a group of night owls, be sure to check the schedule of movies at The Naro. First opened in 1936, this is an old-style theater that shows classics, hard-to-find movies, and blockbusters. This theater is one of the many things that make Norfolk great.
9am: Start your day off with a lovely bite to eat at our very own Bakehouse at Chelsea. All items are made in a wood-burning stove, and stick to local as much as possible in the ingredients. If you’re a fan of European-style pastries, you’re gonna love this place! Some of our favorites? Chocolate croissants, ham and gruyere croissants, pecan coffee cakes, and local fruit turnovers. You can get a cup of Eastern Shore coffee there, too.
special thanks to the sponsor of this article, The Virginia Zoo
10am: Get to the Chrysler Museum of Art for your free art experience. This wonderful part of our city is near downtown and yes, admission is FREE. You could spend hours upon hours here, but if you’re in a hurry, the museum has a nice ‘what to see in an hour’ guide here.. Depending on what your kids are learning about in school, there is probably a section just for them. We spent countless hours in the Ancient art section while our oldest was learning about Egypt. I personally enjoy the photography section, but am also a huge fan of the sculptures. While you’re there, walk across the street and check out the Chrysler Glass Studio. Sign up for a class with the family, or watch an artist work on a piece with real live fire.
12pm: Now, I’m going to give you two cool options for lunch. You can either plan ahead and book a lunch cruise out of Town Point Park with the Spirit of Norfolk or stay a little longer at the museum and enjoy food trucks and local brew at O’Connor Brewing Company.
image | Spirit of Norfolk
For the cruise option, this is a buffet-style lunch and cruise in the Elizabeth River. You’ll see key points of Norfolk and Portsmouth. It is a great way to get a water view of the city. Our kids were fascinated by the naval ships and the disco dance inside. It may sound a bit cheesy, but we had an absolute blast on our trip.
If you like craft beers, head to O’Connor Brewing and try a sampling of their finest. Yes, even kids are welcome here. There is a small kids’ area inside, and they have corn hole, shuffle board, and giant Jenga set up to keep you occupied. Check the website to see what food trucks are there each day. If you happen to head there on a day that the food trucks aren’t around, no worries! You can grab some grub at the Handsome Biscuit nearby. Any way you choose, you’re gonna have a great time.
2pm: Norfolk is home to some great nautical history. Learn more while visiting Nauticus and even go aboard the Battleship Wisconsin. Nauticus offers demonstrations, activities, movies, exhibits, workshops and more. This is a great way to learn about our maritime past! You’ll find something interesting for the marine animal lover as well as the ship building hopeful. Our youngest son loves this place so much, he could probably give you a guided tour. Our oldest is most fascinated by the conservation areas, the hurricane safety video (he’s weird), and the shark petting tank. The seahorses are my favorite.
5pm: Round out your trip by driving away from the city hubbub while heading to the bay beach. Dinner at Jessy’s Tienda y Taqueria is a must. The guacamole is not to be missed, and a plate of authentic tacos is always a good choice. I also like the margaritas, and my husband loves the Micheladas. Before you leave, make sure you check out the luchador masks in the shop. Try one on: it is a great photo opportunity.
End your day at the bay beach just enjoying life at Sarah Constant Beach Park
About the sponsor of this article: The Virginia Zoo, located in Norfolk, Virginia is home to more than 500 animals representing over 100 different species. Founded in 1901 and residing on 53 landscaped acres in Lafayette, the Virginia Zoo has demonstrated a commitment to education and conservation for more than a century. The Virginia Zoo is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Visit VirginiaZoo.org or call (757) 441-2374 for more information.