This complex area straddles the waterway known as Hampton Roads, a large bay that empties into the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean. It is the largest metropolitan area in the state in terms of population, and offers an interesting mix of urban, suburban, waterfront and inland environments. The cities of Norfolk, Chesapeake, and Portsmouth are to the south of the waterway, with the large and rapidly growing Virginia Beach located a few miles to the east along the Atlantic Shore. Hampton and Newport News lie to the north across a long bridge-tunnel connection. The natural harbor makes for one of the best ports on the East Coast, and shipping and shipbuilding activity are paramount, along with fishing and seaport-related commerce.
Additionally the area has a substantial Navy and Marine presence and a sizeable portion of the economy is connected to these activities. Virginia Beach has grown rapidly and is an interesting mix of touristy beachfront and modern commercial and family residential areas, with the large Oceana Naval Air Station thrown into the mix for good measure. Of the three major cities, “VaBeach” is by far the most prosperous and fun, but has suffered from the strains of growth and some might find the tourist impact excessive. Farther north on the James Peninsula lies the excellent historic and upscale residential and commercial area of Williamsburg, perhaps the top choice among all parts of the area.
The greater area has an assortment of museums particularly related to its maritime history, as well as a good set of performing arts activities. For an area this size, there are relatively few sports teams and no major-league teams, a complaint among some locals and particularly those who have migrated from larger East Coast cities. Other downsides include areas of overdone growth, traffic problems especially at bridges and tunnels and along heavily traveled Virginia Beach corridors, and often-unattractive naval and port areas and gritty neighborhoods nearby. Cost of living is moderate for an East Coast area of this size, but has been on the rise as the area becomes a more popular destination. The marine climate is pleasant and there is plenty to do.
The city of Norfolk is almost surrounded by water, with the Chesapeake Bay immediately to the north, Hampton Roads and the James River to the west, and the Atlantic Ocean 18 miles east. Numerous rivers and waterways traverse the area. The land is low and level throughout the city. The climate is generally marine and the geographic location avoids the worst of northern and southern storm tracks. Cool Atlantic breezes frequently temper the long, warm summers. Extreme temperatures are infrequent. Winters are usually mild and may pass with no measurable snowfall.