Daytripping Hampton VA

Sure, there’s history at Hampton VA — in fact, more than 400 years of recorded history, which makes Hampton an interesting place to visit. But there are plenty of other good reasons to visit Hampton as well, including the Virginia Air and Space Center and a harbor cruise that will take you to see the great ships at Norfolk Naval Base as well as to Fort Wool.  If beaches are your idea of fun, there are also some lovely beaches to check out, ranging from catered beach club cabanas to more natural settings.

Looking over the harbor to the Virginia Air and Space Center.

White-man’s history in the area began in 1607 with the start of the European invasion, when three ships landed on Point Comfort (now known as Fort Monroe), desperately needing supplies after a lengthy trip across the Atlantic. Those ships — the Godspeed, Discovery, and Susan Constant — eventually went on to colonize Jamestown.

With a rich colonial and Civil War history, Hampton is a great place to explore America’s heritage — both the good and the bad. Slavery made landfall on Point Comfort in 1619 as well.

A recreated Kecoughtan building, at the Hampton History Museum.

A great place to learn about all this history is the Hampton History Museum, which steps you through the founding of what was to become Hampton and the first Africans to reach America’s shores and the establishment of slavery in North America and its antebellum past. The museum then traces the city’s role in and recovery from the Civil War as well as documents the rise of Langley Air Force Base and talks about the amazing African-American women whose story was the basis of the recent movie, “Hidden Figures.”

Fort Monroe

Hampton traces its history to the city’s Old Point Comfort, the home of Fort Monroe for almost 400 years, which was named by the 1607 voyagers, led by Captain Christopher Newport, who first established Jamestown as an English colonial settlement.

Old Point Comfort Light is a lighthouse located on the grounds of Fort Monroe in the Virginia portion of the Chesapeake Bay. It is the second oldest light in the bay and the 

oldest still in use. Strategically situated at the mouths of the James, Nansemond, and 

Elizabeth Rivers, Old Point Comfort Lighthouse marks the entrance to historic Hampton Roads

Hampton itself was established on the site of a Native American community of Kecoughtan when English colonists seized the land, just north of Point Comfort. The colonists began building their own small town, establishing a small Anglican church (known now as St. John’s Episcopal Church), on July 9, 1610.

A discussion of the beginning of slavery in North America at the Hampton History Museum.

Slavery arrived in America as if by accident. In the latter part of August 1619, an English ship flying a Dutch flag, the White Lion, appeared off shore from Point Comfort. Its cargo included 20 plus Africans captured from the slave ship Sao Joao Bautista. These were the first Africans to come ashore on English-occupied land in what would become the United States. Although these first Bantu men from Angola were considered indentured servants, their arrival marked the beginning of slavery in North America. They eventually completed their indenture, gained their freedom, and became wealthy business owners and plantation owners in their own right.

During the Civil War, Union Forces occupied Fort Monroe, built on Point Comfort. Individuals trying to escape slavery found their way to Fort Monroe, seeking safety with the Union troops. Declared to be war contraband, the freedom seekers were allowed to stay. Eventually this led to Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Declaration, which is documented within the Casemate Museum of Fort Monroe.

If you get a chance, pay a visit to both Emancipation Oak and the Hampton University Art Museum.

The Emancipation Oak is designated one of the 10 Great Trees of the World 
 by the National Geographic Society and is part of the National Historic 
Landmark district of Hampton University. The tree is a southern live oak (Quercus virginiana).

From the ruins of Hampton left by evacuating Confederates in 1861, “Contraband” slaves (under Union protection) built the Grand Contraband Camp, the first self-contained African American community in the United States. (Many street names today in Hampton retain their names from the Grand Contraband Camp.) The large number of individuals who sought the refuge of Fort Monroe and the Grand Contraband Camp led to educational efforts which eventually included establishment of Hampton University.

Founded in 1868, the Museum is the oldest African American museum in the U.S.
and one of the oldest museums in the state of Virginia.

After the end of the Civil War, historic Hampton University was established opposite from the town on the Hampton River, providing an education for many newly freed former enslaved individuals and for area Native Americans. Emancipation Oak was an important place, as classes were offered to African Americans under the tree as early as 1861.

The historic Buckroe Beach Carousel, near the Virginia Air and Space Center, offers kids
another fun activity. Also known as Philadelphia Toboggan Company Number Fifty and the 
Hampton Carousel, is operated by the Hampton History Museum. It was installed at Buckroe Beach in 1920.

As fascinating as this history is, there’s more to Hampton than its history. There are beaches.

In fact, there are miles of beaches, just at Fort Monroe. Surrounded by water on all sides, Fort Monroe’s beaches offer some of the best locations in Hampton to observe both sunrises and sunsets. No lifeguards, but there’s lots of space and reasonably easy parking.

From the beaches at Fort Monroe, you can watch the ships from the Norfolk Naval Station go in and out of the harbor.

If you’re looking for lifeguarded beaches, then head to Buckroe Beach. (Lifeguards are provided by the City of Hampton seven days a week from Memorial Day to Labor Day between 10 a..m and 6 p.m.) Concessions and bathrooms make this the most comfortable beach and the lack of rambunctious surf makes this ideal for the little ones. Paddle board and kayak rentals increase the fun!

And if beach luxury is your way to enjoy the beach, then head to the Paradise Ocean Club, which offers private beach access. Luxuriate in your own private cabana, play a game of beach volleyball, or swim in the pool.

Know Before You Go

Buckroe Beach Carousel is located at 602 Settlers Landing Rd, Hampton, VA 23669; closed between January and March, hours are Tuesday – Sunday 11 a.m. – 8 p.m. April – November 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., November 7 – December 31. Website:

Buckroe Beach is located at 100 First Street South, Hampton, VA; its hours are sunrise to sunset; lifeguards on site Memorial Day weekend – Labor Day weekend, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Website:

Emancipation Oak is located at on the Hampton University Campus at 100 E Queen St; Hampton, Virginia 23663. Website:

Hampton History Museum is located at 120 Old Hampton Ln, Hampton, VA 23669; its hours are Monday – Saturday: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., Sunday: 1 – 5 p.m., closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Days. Website:

Hampton University Museum is located at 14 Frissell Ave, Hampton, VA 23669; its hours are Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday, noon – 4 p.m.; closed Sundays and major holidays.

Old Point Comfort Lighthouse is located at 69 Fenwick Rd, Fort Monroe, VA 23651; it is not open for tours. Website:

Paradise Ocean Club is located at 490 Fenwick Rd, Fort Monroe, VA 23651; its summer hours are Sunday – Thursday 11 a.m. – 9 p.m., Friday 11 a.m. – 10:30 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m. – 10 p.m. Website:

Accessible only by boat, Fort Wool is now slowly deterioriating,
but it once served as the site of a Presidential Summer House.

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Accommodations during our stay in Hampton, VA were provided by Embassy Suites by Hilton Hampton Roads Hotel, Spa, and Convention Center.