Wanderlust is defined as a strong desire to travel, but here in Virginia, we call that feeling WanderLove. And while travel is a little bit different due to COVID-19, you can still explore Virginia’s endless beauty with an epic road trip! To help you plan your next vacation out on the open road, we’ll be sharing a few of the most scenic and adventure-filled routes through the Commonwealth, including the best outdoor adventures, important sites, restaurants, and lodging options to add to your itinerary.
On this road trip, we’re taking you through the Historic Triangle and Virginia’s Salty Southern Route, traveling to notable destinations like Colonial Williamsburg and Yorktown before venturing into Southern Virginia to slow down and enjoy the flavors that the region has become world-famous for.
COLONIAL PARKWAY: FROM WILLIAMSBURG TO YORKTOWN
10 miles, approximately 21 minutes from Williamsburg to Jamestown; 13 miles, approximately 23 minutes from Williamsburg to Yorktown
Use Williamsburg as your home base, branching out following the Colonial Parkway to Jamestown and then Yorktown. This is one of Virginia’s most beautiful coastal routes, so you won’t regret taking the time for a leisurely drive through the area to hit up these iconic history spots.
While in Jamestown, visit both Historic Jamestowne (the original site built by early Colonial settlers) and the Jamestown Settlement (the museum that recreates the cultures and traditions of the early Colonial settlers and the indigenous peoples of the area).
In Historic Jamestown, you can see the remains of the original site where Pocahontas, John Smith, and John Rolfe walked, all of which have been painstakingly unearthed by archaeologists as they strive to learn more about the early 17th century way of life. Drive the park’s five-mile loop to get a feel for the landscape that made this area a prime choice for the Colonial settlers. Stop into the Glasshouse of 1608 to see live glass-blowing demonstrations and learn about how early settlers practiced this technique in Jamestown.
Photo Credit: Michael Lavin
The Jamestown Settlement is a must for visitors of any age, diving deeper into the history of the early Colonial settlers and the Powhatan people that inhabited the shores of Virginia in the 1600s. The exhibits here use the knowledge gained from the archaeologists working at Historic Jamestowne, adding context and story to the artifacts discovered there. In addition to Virginia history, the museum examines the lives of the Colonial settlers while they were still in England, tracing the stories that led them on their journeys to the New World. Part of this aspect includes recreations of the original three ships that brought the Colonists over, the Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery. Climb aboard the ships and hear from costumed interpreters about their arduous trip over the Atlantic.
photo credit: Wayne Reynolds, @life_in_the_757
From Jamestown, you also have the option to jump on the Jamestown-Scotland Ferry, which will take you across the James River towards Surry, a destination that you’ll have the option of exploring later in your itinerary.
Follow the Colonial Parkway back to Williamsburg. Make sure you’re wearing good walking shoes, as the next stop on the itinerary is Colonial Williamsburg. The largest living history museum in the world, Colonial Williamsburg has over 300 acres, and every inch is packed full of American and Virginia history. From demonstrations of 18th-century trades like blacksmithing and brickmaker to art exhibits in restored historic buildings, you’ll feel immersed in the lifestyle of the 1700s. Walk through the pristine gardens and take a break in one of the half-dozen historic taverns to get lunch or enjoy a “pint” like an authentic Virginia Colonist. Watch reenactors perform military exercises as they march in costume through the grounds. And if you’re looking for a place to spend the night, the historic grounds have multiple lodging options available, including the five-star Williamsburg Inn and the newly renovated Williamsburg Lodge, part of the Marriott Autograph Collection.
Photo Credit: Mark Atkinson
The second leg of this road trip along the Colonial Parkway takes you from Williamsburg to Yorktown. Known for the Battle of Yorktown that would be the final major confrontation between the British and the Colonists during the American Revolution, this historic town has several important sites worth a visit during your trip.
Photo Credit: Skylar Arias Adventures, @skylar_arias_adventures
First, spend some time perusing the exhibits at the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, which tells the story of how American was founded. Be sure to catch the 16-minute film, “The Siege at Yorktown”, which includes immersive special effects like the smell of cannons and smoke that make you feel like you’re part of the action. After touring the museum, head outside to the outdoor living-history area and watch reenactors tell the stories of the soldiers, doctors, and Colonists that lived during the American Revolution, including a soldier that demonstrates how to fire the muskets typically used during battle.
Next, Yorktown Battlefield gives you the chance to stand where the soldiers faced off. After watching the short film at the American Revolution Museum, you’ll be able to picture this pivotal battle clearly in your mind. Wrap up your historic Yorktown tour with the Yorktown Victory Monument, which honors the soldiers who fought for American Independence.
Photo Credit: Fred DeSousa
Venture over to Yorktown Beach to stroll along the sand and take in the view of the York River. Head out on the water for an unforgettable cruise with Alliance Yorktown Sailboat Charters. After returning to dry land, explore the shops and restaurants in Yorktown’s Riverwalk Landing, located right beside Yorktown Beach.
Photo Credit: Traveling Newlyweds, @traveling_newlyweds
Restaurants, Breweries, Wineries, & More
Fat Canary—Refined bistro serving upscale American fare and wines, with a cheese shop and outdoor patio.
Le Yaca French Restaurant—French fine dining restaurant in Williamsburg open for weekend brunch and daily lunch and dinner.
Williamsburg Winery—Historic winery & vineyards on the same property as Wedmore Place.
Photo Credit: Ron Magee
Waypoint Seafood & Grill—Seafood restaurant in Williamsburg that celebrates all the flavors of the Chesapeake Bay.
Fat Tuna Grill & Oyster House—Williamsburg seafood restaurant; menu features a raw bar, seafood sandwiches, and fresh-catch entrees.
Alewerks Brewing Company—Popular Williamsburg craft brewery with a great lineup of year-round beers as well as seasonal favorites, like the Pumpkin Spiced Ale and Coffeehouse Coffee Stout.
Craft 31—Williamsburg restaurant known for its menu of gourmet burgers, pizza, and a raw bar, as well as an extensive craft beer selection.
Cochon on 2nd—Upscale restaurant serving hand-crafted artisan food that combines local ingredients with eclectic culinary inspiration from around the world.
Blue Talon Bistro—Restaurant in Williamsburg’s Historic Downtown that offers “serious comfort food”; open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Billsburg Brewery—Williamsburg brewery known for its traditional pilsners, lagers, and ales.
Yorktown Pub—Local seafood restaurant in Yorktown with a casual atmosphere.
Water Street Grille—Restaurant located on the Historic Yorktown Beach known for an extensive craft beer list; serves a wide variety of food, from fresh-caught seafood to sandwiches, burgers, and pastas.
Mobjack Bay Coffee Roasters & Cafe—Coffee shop and cafe in the historic Yorktown village that roasts their own coffee in-house.
Hotels, Resorts, & Other Lodging
Kingsmill Resort—Williamsburg resort with a luxury spa, multiple on-site restaurants, an outdoor water park open seasonally, three golf courses, and a marina.
Image courtesy of Kingsmill Resort
Williamsburg Inn—Luxury Colonial Williamsburg property with a wide range of guest services and amenities, including several on-site fine dining restaurants; pet-friendly rooms available.
Williamsburg Lodge—Newly renovated lodge in Colonial Williamsburg with an on-site restaurant, a full-service spa, a golf course, and a pool open seasonally; pet-friendly rooms available.
Wedmore Place—Picturesque inn with 28 opulent rooms and suites on the same property as The Williamsburg Winery; most rooms have wood-burning fireplaces and include a complimentary continental breakfast at the on-site restaurant, Cafe Provencal.
Great Wolf Lodge—Family-friendly resort with a 67,000 square foot indoor water park; several on-site dining options.
Photo Credit: Joseph Leute
The Hornsby House Inn—Historic five-room inn on Main Street in Yorktown.
York River Inn Bed & Breakfast—Yorktown bed & breakfast that overlooks the York River; three unique rooms to choose from.
ROUTE 17: FROM YORKTOWN TO SMITHFIELD
31 miles, approximately 50 minutes
Photo Credit: Sanjeev Havanur, @sanjeevjhavanur
Leave Yorktown, following Route 17 southeast towards Newport News and the Virginia Living Museum. Walk through the open-air animal exhibits that include many species native to Virginia, including the Bald Eagle, Northern River Otters, Red Foxes, Wild Turkeys, and Bobcats, then check out some of the many other exhibits that cover everything from the incredible history of dinosaurs to current nature conservation techniques and the study of astronomy. If you’re traveling with kids, this museum is a perfect opportunity to blend vacation with education, teaching them about science, history, and nature all within a fun and interactive environment.
Photo Credit: The Vacation Channel, @vacationchannels
Make a quick trip to The Mariners’ Museum Park, a museum that explores maritime history and heritage. While the museum is currently closed due to COVID-19, you can still take advantage of the Mariners’ Park and the Noland Trail, a 550-acre park, and a five-mile hiking trail that surrounds the Mariners’ Lake. Pack a picnic lunch for your outing and dine near the Lions Bridge, which overlooks the tranquil waters of the James River.
Continue along Route 17, crossing the James River and traveling to Smithfield. Spend a few hours at Windsor Castle Park, a 208-acre public riverside park in the heart of Downtown Smithfield that features a woodland trail system, mountain biking path, dog park, kayak and canoe launch into the James River, and the park’s namesake, the historic Windsor Castle manor house. The estate, originally named Windsor Castle Farm, dates back to 1637 when the lands were part of a parcel bought by Arthur Smith, the founder of the town of Smithfield; today, the park is an important part of Smithfield’s Historic Downtown Walking Tour.
Photo Credit: Elly Condit
In addition to history, don’t miss out on getting a true taste of Smithfield by sampling the local pork and peanut products. Part of the Salty Southern Route, Smithfield has become well-known for its hams, and if you’d like to purchase some delicious souvenirs to take home, head to Darden’s Country Store, an old-fashioned country store and smokehouse. You’ll likely find Virginia peanuts in every shop and grocery store within a 30-mile radius of Smithfield, but a few places to pick up these salty treats (as well as other local flavors) include Taste of Smithfield, Smithfield Station, and Smithfield Gourmet Bakery & Cafe. Look for Hubs Virginia Peanuts, a local brand and one of the top peanut producers in all of Virginia. If you want an immersive peanut experience, tack on a trip to the city of Franklin and The Hubs Vine, a market that offers Hubs peanuts as well as a variety of local foods and products, a wine bar, and fun games like life-size battleships, shuffleboard, and cornhole.
Photo Credit: Elly Condit
Travel northwest of Smithfield for a quick detour to Chippokes State Park in Surry County (also a part of the Salty Southern Route). Just across the James River from Historic Jamestown, Chippokes was established in 1619 and is one of the oldest continuously farmed plantations in the country. The park offers a glimpse into what life was like 400 years ago for early Colonists, but there are also modern outdoor recreational activities to be found within the park, such as 12 miles of biking, hiking, and horseback riding trails, fishing access along the river, and a campground and cabins for overnight experiences.
PHOTO CREDIT: PATRICIA BERNSHAUSEN
Restaurants, Breweries, Wineries, & More
Fin Seafood—Newport News seafood restaurant with fresh cuisine made from an array of local, organic, and sustainable ingredients.
Second Street Restaurant—Upscale yet casual restaurant serving American fare; locations in Williamsburg and Newport News.
Tradition Brewing Company—Authentic brewpub and craft brewery in Newport News creating flagship beers like the Tradition Craft Lager and Tradition West Coast IPA as well as seasonal favorites like the Persnickety Witch Pumpkin Ale and Oktoberfest Marzen.
Ironclad Distillery Co.—Newport News distillery that is known for its world-class bourbon and whiskey.
Wharf Hill Brewing Company—Craft brewery, bar, and restaurant in Smithfield with a selection of ten rotating craft beers on tap.
Summerwind Vineyard—Family-owned and -operated vineyard in Smithfield that is open Friday-Sunday.
Taste of Smithfield Restaurant—Smithfield restaurant serving authentic, fresh Southern food paired with a wide selection of local craft beers; retail shop connected to the restaurant carries local Virginia products like peanuts and Genuine Smithfield Ham.
Q Daddy’s Pitmaster BBQ—BBQ restaurant in Smithfield owned by a second-generation Pitmaster; outdoor picnic tables available.
Dock of the Bay—Seafood restaurant with locations in Carrollton, outside of Smithfield, and in Portsmouth; currently open for limited dine-in and carry-out.
Vintage Tavern—Suffolk restaurant offering seasonal, Southern fare; limited indoor and outdoor seating available.
Hotels, Resorts, & Other Lodging
The Smithfield Inn—Historic bed & breakfast, restaurant, and tavern in Smithfield.
Smithfield Station—Smithfield waterfront inn with views of the Pagan River and fireplaces in every room; Jacuzzi tubs available in select suites. On-site dining, The Restaurant at Smithfield Station, known for the fresh seafood and dishes made with Smithfield Ham.
The Lodge at Kiln Creek—Boutique hotel outside of Newport News with balconied rooms.
ROUTE 17: FROM SMITHFIELD TO NORFOLK
27 miles, approximately 47 minutes
Photo Credit: Corey Pittman, @mainfocusmedia
Depart Smithfield and take Route 17 towards Norfolk. If you’ve got a bit of extra time, add in a short detour to Suffolk. This charming small town in Southern Virginia is known for the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, the largest intact section of a diverse and thriving ecosystem that once covered over a million acres spread over southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina. A haven for a wide range of wildlife and rare plants, Great Dismal Swamp also has outdoor recreation opportunities, including hiking and biking trails, nature photography, and kayaking or canoeing on Lake Drummond, a 3,100-acre lake near the center of the swamp. Large, haunting cypress trees rise out of the still waters, creating an unforgettable backdrop for your paddling trip. For a more extreme option in outdoor recreation, consider booking a skydiving adventure with Skydive Suffolk and see Coastal Virginia from an unparalleled viewpoint.
Photo Credit: Trevor Frost, @tbfrost
Back on Route 17, continue to Norfolk; learn about the area’s rich naval history at Nauticus, a maritime science museum with interactive exhibits, live-action shows, and documentary films. But the biggest exhibit (both in terms of size and popularity) is the Battleship Wisconsin, one of the largest battleships ever built by the U.S. Navy. Take a self-guided tour of the massive ship’s deck, or purchase an additional guided tour with your museum ticket to hear about the ship’s important contributions to American Naval victories during World War II.
Photo Credit: Fred DeSousa
Depending on what you’re interested in, Norfolk has a little something for everyone; the Norfolk Botanical Garden provide a serene break from the bustle of the city and is a must-see for any budding horticulturists; for visitors with kids, the Virginia Zoo is home to over 700 animals from around the world and offers another opportunity for combining education and entertainment; shopping enthusiasts and foodies should explore Norfolk’s pedestrian-friendly Granby Street.
Image courtesy of Virginia Zoo
In addition to walking the streets of Norfolk, you can fit in more outdoor recreation within the city limits by hiking or biking the Elizabeth River Trail. This 10.5-mile paved trail curves along Norfolk’s waterfront, allowing for a leisurely and picturesque urban outing that takes you through Norfolk State University, Downtown Norfolk, Harbor Park, and other notable districts of the city.
While Norfolk is the last stop on this WanderLove adventure, there are several other cities and towns close by that merit a visit, including Portsmouth, Chesapeake, and Virginia Beach. Consider extending your trip a few days to squeeze in some extra fun in these nearby coastal destinations.
Restaurants, Breweries, Wineries, & More
Commune—Farm to table restaurant with locations in Norfolk and Virginia Beach that utilize seasonal ingredients that are sourced as local as possible, with some of the produce grown in their own garden; menu changes frequently to reflect the season’s current flavors.
AW Shucks Raw Bar & Grill—Norfolk seafood restaurant and raw bar in the Ghent neighborhood that utilizes local and seasonal ingredients.
LeGrand Kitchen—Norfolk restaurant that offers clever seasonal American fare; currently have outdoor dining, takeout, and limited indoor seating.
O’Connor Brewing Company—Norfolk craft brewery and taproom with over 20 rotating beers on tap.
Blanca Food & Wine—Restaurant in Norfolk cooking a blend of Spanish, French, and Italian food and featuring an Old World wine list.
Voila!—Gourmet International cuisine in a laid-back environment in the historic district of Norfolk.
Grain & Saltine—Two restaurants inside Norfolk’s The Main Hotel; Grain serves elevated bar food and a large array of craft brews and has a rooftop patio that offers a fantastic view of downtown Norfolk; Saltine is a fine dining concept with fresh seafood.
Todd Jurich’s Bistro—Upscale dining and casual elegance combine in this Norfolk restaurant that sources many ingredients from local farmers and producers for their American fare.
Freemason Abbey Restaurant—Norfolk restaurant in a historic building that has been a local favorite for over 30 years; serve steaks, seafood, pasta dishes, and other American fare.
Doumar’s Cones & Barbecue—Barbecue restaurant and ice cream shop known for being the first place to use an ice cream cone machine; their cones are still made fresh by hand, creating an irresistible aroma at the restaurant.
Photo Credit: Bill Crabtree Jr.
Rip Rap Brewing Co.—Family-friendly craft brewery in Norfolk with a wide range of beers, from light ales to dark stouts and porters; offering nine rotating beers on tap.
Mermaid Winery—Winery with locations in Norfolk’s Ghent neighborhood and Virginia Beach’s Chix’s Beach area; in addition to their own wines, they also serve a selection of charcuterie, cheeses, and full lunch and dinner menus at both locations.
Hotels, Resorts, & Other Lodging
Glass Light Hotel & Gallery—Boutique hotel and glass art gallery in the heart of Downtown Norfolk; part of the Marriott Autograph Collection.
The Inn at Four Eleven York—Norfolk inn and restaurant that blends modern comforts with a rustic style; four unique luxury suites.
Hilton Norfolk the Main—Views of the Elizabeth River in Downtown Norfolk; features an indoor pool and a rooftop bar and restaurant.
The Founders Inn & Spa—Located in Virginia Beach but only eight miles from the Norfolk International Airport, an upscale inn set on 26 pristine acres with an indoor swimming pool, on-site restaurant, full-service spa, and pet-friendly accommodations.
The Pinner House—Boutique bed and breakfast in Suffolk with individually-designed rooms, suites, and a Carriage House.
The Truitt House—Elegant 1909 mansion in Suffolk that has been restored into a bed and breakfast with on-site dining.
Looking for more WanderLove road trip adventures? Use these guides to help you map out your next Virginia getaway!
- The Blue Ridge Parkway
- Northern Virginia: From D.C. to Culpeper
- Richmond, Farmville, & Danville
- Shenandoah Valley: From Harrisonburg to Charlottesville
- Southwest Virginia: From Roanoke to Abingdon
- Norfolk to Virginia’s Eastern Shore
- Fredericksburg to Virginia’s Northern Neck
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