Continuing our occasional series on places to explore in our part of the Chesapeake Bay area, let’s take a look at the historic old town of Hampton.
Much of modern-day Hampton was laid out after the Civil War, driven by the investments of a New York entrepreneur named James S. Darling, who arrived with a schooner load of lumber in 1866 and stayed on to build an electric railway system and a number of what are now historic homes.
Built on the waterfront of the Hampton River, in a protected waterway that flows into the James River, Hampton is a quaint, walkable town filled with great restaurants, shops and historic sites. There are Civil War Trails, the massive Fort Monroe (which includes a marker noting the landing of the first group of African slaves in 1619), the Emancipation Oak at the entrance to Hampton University, and much more.
The Historic Little England district, in and around Victoria Boulevard, features some 87 different buildings erected in the Gilded Age and at the turn of the 20th century, featuring the homes built by James S. Darling on Cedar Point and other notable structures in the Queen Anne and Colonial Revival styles. Many of these homes are open for tours.
But beyond history, Hampton is a great destination for boaters because of the fishing. Hampton is bordered by some of the most productive fishing grounds in Chesapeake Bay, including the James River to the south, and the Back River to the north, both of which empty into the Bay at Hampton. The open Atlantic is just 15 miles to the southeast and a bit further north are the fish-rich Poquoson and York rivers. The Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel, which carries I-64 across the James just east of Hampton, provides some rich underwater structure that the fish love.
Finally, Hampton is ultra-friendly to visiting boaters, with a number of marinas along the riverfront that cater to transient boaters looking for a slip to rent. We recommend a stop at the Bluewater Marina at Sunset Creek, just opposite from Jones Creek. For history buffs, this little promontory of land was once known as Blackbeard’s Point, because after that infamous old pirate was captured and killed off the Outer Banks, his head was brought to Hampton and displayed on a pike at this point.
We have a better reason for stopping here, though. The Bluewater Marina is next door to a Surf Rider restaurant (1 Marina Road, (757) 723-9366). If you’ve lived in the Tidewater area for more than a couple of weeks, you know the Surf Rider brand: wonderful down-home seafood and friendly welcoming service. Tuna bites or the spicy crab dip to start, crab cakes or the Tommy Boy fish sandwich for mains, pasta or a dozen kinds of shrimp and crab specials…it’s all excellent.
A day of exploring Hampton’s history or fishing its many creeks and inlets, followed by a dinner at the Surf Rider…that’s almost guaranteed to be one that goes into the memory books!