Visiting Virginia Beach and the Hampton Roads Area

For those who haven’t been to Virginia Beach, the community of over 400,000 is at the base of what is known as the Hampton Roads area. Hampton Roads accurately describes the larger community of over 7 distinct cities of which a larger metropolitain area of 1.6 million individuals live, work and reside, making it the second largest metropolis in the area, next to the larger convergence of the District of Columbia, Baltimore and Northern Virginia. Practically, you can reach Virginia Beach from southwest Virginia or through West Virginia or Ohio by accessing Interstate-81 south north of Staunton, VA or I-81 north if you’re closer to Roanoke, VA. Then you would follow it to I-64, which can only be followed east at this point. I-64 takes you all the way in to the area, and you can even take I-264 if you want to take the interstate directly into Virginia Beach (though once you cross over the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel, a 3.5 mile road, you’re pretty much already there). For those on the East Coast I-95 will run you into I-64 in Richmond, Va, I-70 east to I-95 south for those in the Midwest. I’ll touch on Virginia Beach in this article but will also discuss in some detail what one may notice while traveling around Hampton Roads in general.

It is also possible to travel directly into the Strip, or that area of Virginia Beach bordering the Atlantic Ocean, via the interstate, to the Oceanfront. The Hampton Roads area consists of smaller cities, each around 200,000 or more in population that at first appear to be more suburban in it’s look and feel than urban from the highway (unless you get off the highway and travel around into the different neighborhoods). Norfolk, a port city, offers an experience not unlike that of being in Baltimore, though all seven cities have plenty of clubs, bars, and shopping centers as well in which something for everyone can be found offering your traditional mix of department stores, specialty shops and diversions such as carousels to entertain children while parents shop.

The area outside of the working neighborhoods, further commercialized by hundreds of shops, stores, and restaurants in Virginia Beach extends well past the cities expressways and can be difficult to navigate, due to the traffic congestion in Hampton Roads. After the traditional rush hour, however, one can move around quite freely, unlike the aforementioned DC-Baltimore area which tends to remain congested throughout the day well into the evening. With the lack of definable boundaries and suburbs between cities, part of which may have to do with the fact that cities in Virginia are Independent, a feature of some of the states in the Commonwealth; it is often difficult to tell exactly which city you’re in, however, or even which state, as the area borders North Carolina.

A final word on the traffic; some of the streets in this area have as many as 10 lanes (total, not in each direction, and not including turning lanes) in some areas, of which was the case in Virginia Beach pretty much anywhere not just around the more obvious areas like shopping malls and office complexes. Allow plenty of time to reach your destination during rush hours and get in the lane that will allow you to turn off easily before you reach the block you wish to turn onto. Also, the same High Occupancy Vehicle lanes you’ll find in Northern Virginia are in this region, so be conscious of the times in which you’re traveling on them (although lanes do not appear to switch directions as they do in the DC area).

For those who wish to enjoy the actual beachfront Virginia Beach has an extremely long strip of hotels, shops, and other residential properties that continues for many miles, and the Strip is the only area in which the streets are numbered. Contrary to the rest of the city, the Strip itself is a smaller, narrower road of only 3 to 4 lanes total (2 in each direction, or one with an alternating traffic lane for commercial vehicles). You can also acess the highway via the Cheseapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, the longer of the two Bridge-Tunnels in the area at 23 miles, south of the Strip as well.

Crime is relatively low in the area too, if you’re comparing it with Richmond, VA or DC and Baltimore, though the rates are higher more traditionally urban areas of Norfolk, Suffolk and Portsmouth and Newport News, which is on the western edge, closer to Williamsburg, than what you would find in Virginia Beach,Chesapeake and Hampton. Whether or not this is due to the commercial and suburban nature of areas like Hampton or Virginia Beach is unsure (as distinctions between residential and commercial development aren’t as clear), one should keep in mind, however, that areas such as Norfolk and Suffolk are enjoying a renassiance of downtown redevelopment and reconstruction, and offer an aesthetic more in line with that of DC or New York than you’ll find elsewhere in the region. This only adds to the already diverse and eclectic mix of individuals residing in the area, and it’s importance and impact should not be understated.

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