Recently named among the top 10 friendliest cities in the U.S. by Conde Nast Traveler, Norfolk is a melting pot of cultures, religions and races that welcomes the LGBTQ+ community. Norfolk is home to the Hampton Roads Pride Festival each June, a 32-year-old (and counting) festival that hosts the country’s only Pride boat parade. While we hope you can visit our city when it comes alive during the Pride Festival each year, there’s so much more to explore. Here is how to spend a weekend exploring Norfolk’s LGBTQ+-friendly neighborhoods.
After you’ve checked into your hotel and had a chance to refresh, head over to Norfolk’s Riverview neighborhood, where we recommend you dine at Blanca Food + Wine, where an intimate atmosphere awaits. As for the menu, you’ll find fine-dining, old-world fare without the need for a suit and tie, but dressing fancy is always welcome. Chef Courtney, pours her heart and soul into this restaurant and her carefully crafted elevated menu speaks to her raw talent and cultured experiences.
Post-dinner entertainment can be found at MJ’s Tavern, just a few steps away from Blanca. MJ’s is a cornerstone of the LGBTQ+ community since opening its doors back in 2012. This late-night tavern hosts DJs, themed parties and more! Looking for something more laid-back after dinner? Head to Colley Avenue where you can find hand-crafted cocktails at Thank You Thank You Bar, or enjoy conversations with your traveling companions at one of Norfolk’s craft breweries, Elation. Elation brews all different types of beer while also serving local Virginia wine for those who are gluten-free or simply love the grapes more than the hops.
Start your morning off by dressing your best for the drag queens of Norfolk. Periodically, Waterside District hosts drag brunches (and nighttime performances that take on holiday themes). These drag brunches are hosted in their upstairs venue, Harbor Club, which means sweeping views of the Elizabeth River accompany every performance.
What would a weekend away be without some shopping? Norfolk is home to malls, boutiques, antique shops and outlets. Head to Selden Market for some local fare, where you will discover a rotating lineup of the city’s up-and-coming concepts in retail, food, and more inside the historic Selden Arcade. Looking to support LGBTQ+ shops while in town? Check out Velvet Witch, Kitsch or Horticulture Design Co. where you will find LGBTQ-owned Norfolk Candle Co. While the candles smell divine it’s their names that catch your eye. These quirky and fun titles like, ‘The Cool Aunt’, ‘Chosen Family’ and ‘Hot 4 Teacher’ come from the collaboration of owner Brandon Brinley and his husband. These make for great Norfolk-specific gifts!
An Art Focused Afternoon
Stroll the sunlit streets of NEON (new energy of Norfolk) which is home to over 70 works of public art. Building-sized murals and art installations trickle the streets and pay ode to local and touring artists who have so creatively decorated every inch of this neighborhood. The creativity of the murals ranges from oversized bees on bicycles that can be spotted along Magazine Lane, to men and women in uniform elegantly painted to pay tribute to our local military heritage. Once you’ve explored the painted streets of Norfolk, head over to the Chrysler Museum of Art, a museum compiled of 30,000 objects spanning over 5,000 years! The glass art exhibit that kick-started Norfolk’s glass culture lies just inside the museum’s doors. This exhibit consists of 10,000 pieces that are undoubtedly extraordinary; an art medium that captures the dance of light and color seamlessly.
Or an Afternoon Spent Outdoors
To give you a sense of our coastal city that is deeply rooted in history with southern charm, hop on the Elizabeth River Trail (ERT), a 10.5-mile pedestrian and bikeable pathway that takes you through multiple neighborhoods and intertwines with Norfolk’s Cannonball Trail (a self-guided walking tour with over 400 years of historic features). If you opt to walk, you will notice the finer details along the way, whereas biking will help you achieve more scenic mileage. Spend as little or as much time on these activities as you would like. The beauty in them is you can spend hours at each place and still not see it all, all the more reason for a return trip!
Granby Street comes alive at night with its marquee dotted archways and ample restaurant options. Often referred to as ‘Restaurant Row’, Granby Street is full of renovated historic buildings that boast menus from around the world, from local fresh seafood to Italian trattorias. Gershwins, a swanky piano lounge, is the perfect spot for a pre-dinner cocktail during their happy hour, 4-6 pm. Visit during the week and you can catch their LGBTQ+ happy hours every Thursday.
Now, for dinner. Head towards Waterside District and try Stripers, one of Norfolk’s best seafood restaurants that offer stunning views of the Elizabeth River. They have outdoor fire pits for the chillier months, and wrap-around patio dining for the warmer weathered days.
Anyone up for an after-dinner drink? Head to Saltine for hand-crafted cocktails. Their inventive creations are simple in practice but complex in flavor, as they strive to highlight the alcohol and not disguise it. Just a few floors up from Saltine is Norfolk’s only rooftop biergarten, Grain, with over 80 beers on tap. Head to Cafe Stella downtown for a nighttime tea or coffee if booze isn’t your fancy.
Start the day off with a pastry and coffee at East Beach’s beloved coffeehouse, COVA Brewing Co. This family-owned and operated cafe has beachy vibes throughout and is only a block from the Chesapeake Bay. Once you get your caffeine fix, head to one of Norfolk’s beaches, East Beach or Ocean View, for a sunny day on the sand. Not quite beach weather? Check out Pedego Bike Rentals. You can spend the morning exploring the beautiful neighborhoods of East Beach and Ocean View, and if you take the 30-minute bike ride out to Willoughby Bay you can see the US Navy’s, Atlantic Fleet.
Lunchtime calls for some Southern BBQ. Located in Ocean View, Bar-Q has an à la carte menu, but we highly suggest filling up a platter with their moist brisket, fall-off-the-bone ribs, rich mac ‘n cheese, spicy (but not too spicy) jalapeño and cheddar links, classic cornbread and more! They have a classic Southern wraparound porch and are also just a few feet from the beach. Bar-Q is housed inside Bold Mariner, Ocean View’s only brewery. Take a six-pack home for souvenirs or overindulge on one of Bar-Q’s homemade desserts.
We hope you enjoy your mini-vacation, after all, Virginia is for Lovers.