Virginia has a major reputation as a history hub, but as people of color know, society’s definition of history doesn’t always acknowledge our perspectives and our stories. So it might be a surprise to learn that the state that was once the seat of the Confederacy is also home to the longest Black experience in the United States. Across the state, from the capital in Richmond to the coastal enclaves of Norfolk, Hampton, and Virginia Beach, local entrepreneurs and innovators are redefining the lens through which Black people are able to see and experience Virginia.
Ahead, a pair of three-day itineraries to celebrate historic and contemporary Black trailblazers and the vibrant culture they’ve cultivated in today’s Virginia.
Once named Powhatan after the indigenous Algonquins of eastern Virginia, Richmond is home to a wealth of historical legacies. Today, there’s a multi-faceted community that is candid about where Richmond came from, while revolutionizing where it’s going and what it means to be Black in Virginia.
Day 1: Get Your Bearings
Get settled at The Graduate, a stylish boutique hotel situated in the city center. Pop into the lobby’s Brookfield restaurant, which is stacked with homages to hometown hero Arthur Ashe (a monument honoring the pioneering tennis star stands a couple of miles west in the Museum District), including the Arthur Ashe voule-vardier, a cocktail featuring an award-winning local bourbon.
Just two blocks north, you’ll find Broad Street, a tree-lined boulevard flanked by trendy shops, including Black-owned boutiques Chilalay and Little Nomad. Eatery Lillie Pearl offers a dreamy Southern-inspired menu from chef Michael Lindsay. After dinner, grab a nightcap at the Quirk Hotel’s Q Rooftop Bar, which boasts dynamite views of downtown Richmond.
Day 2: Jackson Ward
Back on Broad Street, get your morning started at Urban Hang Suite, a cafe with a fresh breakfast-all-day menu and a community-first vibe fostered by owner Kelli Lemon. It’s an ideal spot to kick off a day in Jackson Ward, an area once known as the Harlem of the South. The city’s vibrant historically African American neighborhood was so filled with Black entrepreneurs it was considered one of America’s Black Wall Streets.
The Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia gives a comprehensive overview of the area’s African American legacy. From there, stroll the area bordered by 2nd, Duval, Broad, and Belvedere streets to see eye-popping street murals and storied sites like the Hippodrome Theater, where icons like Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong performed, the Sixth Mt. Zion Baptist Church, built by former slave turned minister John Jasper, and the mansion of Maggie L. Walker, a trailblazing civil rights activist who was the first Black woman to head up an American bank. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, pop into Mama J’s, a James Beard-nominated local soul food institution, or a new neighborhood favorite like Soul Taco, where fusion eats like braised oxtail al pastor earn top marks from patrons.
Day 3: Carytown
Richmond’s Carytown neighborhood (about ten minutes’ drive from downtown) is worth a stop to visit the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, where Kehinde Wiley’s Rumors of War, a powerful sculptural response to Virginia’s legacy of Confederate iconography, was permanently placed in 2019. While in the bohemian district around the museum, be sure to check out buzzy Black-owned eateries like colorful juicery The Beet Box, and TIpsy Cupcakes, beloved for its...well, the name says it all.
Day 1: Norfolk
Located midway between Hampton and Virginia Beach, Norfolk is a convenient spot to lay your head for this three-day sojourn. The Main, a Hilton property nestled near downtown’s waterfront, features prime views of the nearby Elizabeth River from rooms and Grain, a lush rooftop beer garden. The hotel is around the corner from Brothers, a splurge-worthy steakhouse and jazz club opened in January by veteran NBA referee and native Norfolker Tony Brothers.
Across the street at airy shopping arcade Selden Market, you’ll find eclectic boutiques and pop-ups, including many Black-owned shops like African sundries shop Pure Lagos and candle-maker Sugar and Grace. The nearby NEON District features brilliant street art including the recently unveiled Say Their Names mural by local painter Will Payne, as well as live music, and festivals throughout the year. Take time to stop for a sweet treat at NEON’s Hummingbird Macarons and Desserts, a picturesque confectionery within walking distance of the Chrysler Museum of Art.
Day 2: Hampton
You might know Hampton thanks to its noted HBCU, Hampton University, whose alumni include Booker T. Washington and Mary Jackson of Hidden Figures fame. But perhaps less widely known is just how integral the city is to the very beginnings of African American history. Hampton is home to Fort Monroe and Old Point Comfort, a site on the Chesapeake Bay where the first enslaved Africans set foot on American soil in 1619. The fort was a haven for slaves seeking refuge during the Civil War—Harriet Tubman even treated Black soldiers there at one point in 1865. Tour the National Park Service-operated site before kicking back on the sands of Outlook Beach, a secluded spot with free admission and snap-worthy sunset views.
Hampton continued to be an important site for Black history throughout the 20th century, with the first iteration of the iconic Hampton Jazz Festival kicking off in 1968. Today’s Hampton also offers new beacons of the Black community, including restaurants like Mango Mangeaux, which fuses soul food with Creole and French flavors, and the soon-to-open 1865 Brewing Co., which will be the first black-owned brewery in the district.
Day 3: Virginia Beach
About an hour’s drive from Hampton (and 30 minutes from Norfolk) is Virginia Beach, where a famed three-mile Boardwalk stretches along the beach, ready to be explored by foot, bicycle, or buggy. Stop for a bite at Esoteric, a rustic-chic gastropub just off the boardwalk in the Vibe Creative District, where many ingredients are grown onsite. Just north of the Boardwalk, the coastline curves along First Landing State Park—nearby Seaview Beach once offered Black sunbathers refuge from the segregated sands of Virginia Beach. The area, which operated from 1945 to 1965, drew crowds with an amusement park, dance pavilions, and an umbrella-lined stretch of beach that was so popular, it was common to hear “See You at Seaview” among Black folks in the region. Today, Black culture is an integral part of Virginia Beach’s identity and community, with Black-owned restaurants, businesses, and even popular musicians holding the Something In The Water music festival contributing to the vibrant culture of the beach.
To learn more about Virginia’s complicated history through the lens of Black Virginians, check out their new video “Unapologetically Black.”
Rachel Mosely is a writer and editor based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in Cosmopolitan, Seventeen, Elle, and more.