On the first full day of summer, with the ever-present threat of thunderstorms in the air, we took the chance and went to Sunsets on the River at the Hermitage Museum and Gardens in Norfolk. I’m so glad we did. No rain and a whole lot of music, food, drink, happiness and community.
The Hermitage Museum hosts Sunsets on the River every other Thursday night throughout the summer until Thursday, August 16.
The Hermitage Museum and Gardens sits on 12 acres of woodlands, wetlands and formal gardens, surrounded on three sides by the Lafayette River, just minutes from downtown Norfolk and right in between ODU and Norfolk Naval Station. When you enter the gate to the Hermitage, you feel like you’re coming into a secret garden. As you walk down the driveway through the tunnel of trees, you get a glimpse of some little brick houses that look like they popped out of a fairy tale.
Keep walking and there is the Sloane house, built by William and Florence Sloane in 1908 as a summer home on the river and expanded by the same family into a 42 room Arts and Crafts beauty by 1936.
The Sloanes were patrons of the arts. They collected art and were active in the arts community. They established the Hermitage Foundation and donated the house, the property and their art to the Foundation to create a museum and visual arts school.
The Museum is open during the day,Tuesday through Sunday, for house tours, to view the Museum’s collection and special exhibits. “Proof”, a Mark Edward Atkinson photographic retrospective is on display now.
Atkinson is a Hampton Roads photographer who has lived and worked here for over 30 years.
All of this is the setting for every other Thursday’s Sunsets on the River. The gates at the entrance to that long driveway open at 5:30. There is some parking on the grounds, next to the Sloane house, but also plenty of free parking on the street in the beautiful Lochhaven neighborhood.
Sunset on the River Tip: The Hermitage Museum is on the Elizabeth River Trail, the ten and half-mile bike trail that runs from Harbor Park to just past the Hermitage.
The Hermitage Museum has a Pace bike share rack.
There are usually two bands performing for Sunsets on the River. Here is the line-up for the rest of the summer.
It’s an eclectic group of fun, family-friendly local groups. They set up on the patio facing the Lafayette River.
The river might be the true star of the show. It’s a setting unique to Hampton Roads. You look out over the river, to the giant cranes of the port, the big ships lumbering past and then two snowy white great egrets go flying past, just skimming the water, looking for their dinner. It may be wishful thinking or a self-fulfilling prophecy, but there is always a breeze coming off the river.
Sunset on the River Tip: There is a big, beautiful magnolia tree that shades much of the front lawn. Head for that tree if it’s sunny.
It’s a great mix of people. Lots of families, but there are also old people (like me), young people on date night, tourists to Norfolk, and artists of all kinds. Friendly dogs on a leash are allowed. People bring in their own chairs, blankets, strollers and wagons. There is a place to dance, if you’re so inclined. Kids and restless adults can get up and move, run around, or fall asleep on a blanket.
Sunset on the River Tip: Admission to Sunset on the River is FREE if you are a Museum Member. This is a great deal and worth it if you’re going to come to more than one Sunset on the River with your family, and you will.
You can bring your own food and drinks to Sunsets on the River. There is also a nice mix of food trucks and a beer wagon that set up around the perimeter of the front lawn. New York Souvlaki and Pino’s Meatballs were so good last night. My neighborhood Lil’ Yeti Snoballs was a big hit with the kids.
Sunset on the River Tip: The older kids were having fun eating Lil’ Yeti Snoballs and socializing. Bring something for the younger kids to play with. Bubbles and those battery powered bubble shooters will keep the little ones happy.
The setting, the food, the drinks, the music made Sunsets on the River feel like one big picnic with a whole bunch of people you would be happy to know. I felt like I was part of a community, a community that came out on a Thursday night to a beautiful place, tolisten to some music, eat some food and just be happy together.
Click the link for more information about the Hermitage Museum and Gardens and Sunsets on the River.