A NOTE TO OUR READERS:
Experience America's Waterfront" is from the June 2007 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.
I've done everything from kayaking in the Atlantic Ocean to standing on the flight deck of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier in Virginia. Still, I never really understood the glory of Hampton Roads until I walked along the water's edge in Norfolk one summer morning. All around, I could see what makes it so special. This is America's waterfront.
It's the smell of salt air rising off the Chesapeake Bay and the snap of sails billowing on the masts of a tall ship. It's the way a sailor hugs his family when he's finally home from sea. It's the fragile boats of Jamestown settlers, the thunder of the Monitor and the Merrimack, and the rattle of liberty ships sailing bravely for far-off shores.
For four centuries, these waters have set the stage for the pageant of a nation. English mariners named Hampton Roads for the safe harbor at the confluence of three rivers--the James, Elizabeth, and Nansemond--that flow into the Chesapeake Bay. Norfolk, home to the world's largest Navy base, sits in the heart of the region that holds nine other cities from Williamsburg to Virginia Beach.
Left: Fireworks often illuminate waterfront celebrations.