During colonial times, Norfolk (pop. 242,803; pronounced “NAW-fik”) was the largest city in Virginia and one of the busiest ports in North America. It’s still much connected with the water, which you can experience firsthand at Nauticus (757/664-1000, daily summer, Tues.-Sun. fall-spring, $16 and up adults), where the engaging displays inside are dwarfed by the massive hulk of the battleship USS Wisconsin moored alongside. Away from the waterfront, Norfolk has a couple more worthwhile destinations, including the lovely Chrysler Museum of Art (1 Memorial Place, 757/664-6200, Tues.-Sun., free), on the north side of downtown off Duke Street. The personal art collection of Walter Chrysler, the self-educated engineer who created one of the “Big Three” car companies and built New York’s Chrysler Building, is displayed inside a commodious Italianate building. Norfolk, a staunch Navy town, also holds the final resting place of controversial U.S. Army general Douglas MacArthur, preserved alongside his personal papers and his 1950 Chrysler Imperial limousine at the MacArthur Memorial (757/441-2965, Tues.-Sun., free), inside Norfolk’s old City Hall building at Bank and Plume Streets downtown.
Even if you’re just racing through, bound for the beach, Norfolk has one place where you really ought to stop and eat: Doumar’s Barbecue (1919 Monticello Ave., 757/627-4163), a half mile north of downtown. Besides being a real old-fashioned drive-in, this place stakes a claim to having invented the ice cream waffle cone, since the owner’s uncle, Abe Doumar, sold the first ones at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. Doumar’s still sells great handmade cones, barbecue sandwiches, and a deliciously thirst-quenching limeade. Pass by at your peril.
From Norfolk, you can take US-17 south on the perimeter of the aptly named Great Dismal Swamp or follow the faster Hwy-168, which turns into US-158 and takes you past a feast of roadside fruit stands, barbecue shacks, and junk shops, straight down to Kitty Hawk and the Outer Banks of North Carolina.