Sharing a crab feast, learning how to shuck oysters, picking wild strawberries and tasting locally made wine are just a taste of what visiting groups can arrange when meeting in Coastal Virginia.
The region is popular for serving up some of the best seafood in the country, but it’s also home to an impressive array of craft breweries, wineries and distilleries that offer tours and tastings.
From unique culinary tours and teambuilding activities to the best spots to grab a brew, here’s what to eat and drink right now in Coastal Virginia.
During an outing with Taste Virginia Tours, which works with groups in Norfolk, Virginia Beach and Williamsburg, attendees can sample some of the best local food and drink and learn a little about the host destination along the way.
According to Jennifer Lopez, convention services manager at VisitNorfolk, Taste Virginia Tours will customize outings within a planner’s budget.
“VisitNorfolk has done everything from working with them on a AAA luncheon at Hilton The Main where they customized a menu, to doing a Norfolk history trolley tour that stopped by different restaurants and breweries to give groups a taste of Norfolk,” she said.
In Hampton, Crabtown Cruises operates waterborne tours during the spring, summer and fall.
“Groups can have an unforgettable evening as they are served steamer pots full of fresh seafood from Graham & Rollins, Inc. while sailing through Hampton Roads Harbor,” said Elizabeth Severs, media relations manager for the Hampton CVB.
Groups interested in wine tasting will find several opportunities to do so in Coastal Virginia, including at Norfolk’s Mermaid Winery.
According to Lopez, the winery has received high marks from groups who’ve visited.
Mermaid Winery, Norfolk
“They will do a full wine tasting and accompany it with appetizers,” she said. “There is a private room for small groups, but during the warmers months, it is also nice to have them sit outside on the patio.”
At the Williamsburg Winery, groups can enjoy tastings as well as informative tours encompassing the winery’s fields, cellars and winemaking process.
Jill Pongonis, media relations manager for Visit Williamsburg, noted larger groups can also book the on-site Wessex Hall, which she said is “a magnificent backdrop for lunches, receptions
Beer Is In
Group outings to breweries are on the rise, and Coastal Virginia is no exception. Craft breweries are popular destinations in Coastal Virginia for tours, tastings and receptions.
Hampton-based Oozlefinch Craft Brewery delivers on all of this and more. According to the Hampton CVB’s Severs, it has an indoor meeting room with ample seating as well as lawn space where groups can play yard games.
Hampton’s neighbor, Newport News, opened its first craft brewery in summer 2016 within walking distance of Newport News Marriott at City Center.
Tradition Brewing Co. features a 4,200-square-foot tasting room, a 1,450-square-foot mezzanine for private parties, and a 620-square-foot conference room adjacent to a 6,700-square-foot brewing space.
With all that space, it’s no wonder it’s becoming a sought-after off-site venue for groups convening in Newport News.
“Planners hold icebreakers and welcome receptions there the night before a meeting starts and have used the conference room for a fun ‘Beer 101’ educational event,” said Cheryl Morales, marketing manager with Newport News Tourism.
Tradition Brewing Co. also works with planners on various themed events and activities including craft beer galas, oyster shucking, and “beer and board games” experiences.
Over in Virginia Beach, the already mentioned Taste Virginia Tours facilitates outings during which attendees can explore local brewpubs and learn about pairing beer with food.
According to Erin Goldmeier, director of public relations for the Virginia Beach CVB, local group-friendly breweries include Farmhouse Brewing Co., which operates in an old farmhouse, and Pleasure House Brewing.
The list of tempting group-friendly eateries in Coastal Virginia is long and features—of course—some incredible locally caught seafood.
Planners can choose from old standby area restaurants such as Norfolk-based Omar’s Carriage House, which accommodates groups of up to 45 people, and popular newcomers such as Stripers Waterside, which opened in Norfolk in late 2017.
“Stripers has beautiful waterfront views on the Elizabeth River that we have found popular with groups,” said VisitNorfolk’s Lopez. “Besides the view, groups have loved the fresh seafood and service provided to them.”
A favorite group-friendly restaurant in Hampton is Mango Mangeaux, A Simply Panache Bistro, which has a large indoor private dining room and a rooftop dining space.
During meetings in Virginia Beach, groups can grab an authentic Chesapeake Bay blue crab feast at various local restaurants and book an oyster tasting event at Rockafeller’s Restaurant, according to the Virginia Beach CVB’s Goldmeier.
Hands-on culinary activities can also be arranged throughout the area, including in Virginia Beach, where groups can pick strawberries in season at Henley Farms and book either a teambuilding event or private cooking party at New Earth Farm.
Williamsburg-based Waypoint Seafood & Grill restaurant, which has a private dining room, also facilitates a team-bonding cooking challenge.
“It is amazing to see how teams come together, work on strengths, showcase creativity and communication, and at the end of the challenge partake in a group dinner together,” said Visit Williamsburg’s Pongonis.
Also located in Williamsburg is 8 Shires Coloniale Distillery, a micro craft distillery where groups can sip the same spirits that Captain John Smith did in 1607.
According to Pongonis, groups can take a private tour and sample rum.
“Or step it up with a craft cocktail order of Wicked Maiden, a precursor to the pina colada, or the rum drink Grog, which dates back to 1740 and was also a preventative for scurvy,” she said.
Ironclad Distillery, Newport News, VA
Group tours are also available at the recently opened Newport News-based Ironclad Distillery, which specializes in bourbon and whiskey.
The distillery is near the site of Battle of Hampton Roads, a famous Civil War naval battle between two ironclad ships.
“The label on each bottle of bourbon features blueprints provided by the Mariners’ Museum of either the USS Monitor or the CSS Virginia,” said Rebecca Cutchins, media relations manager for Newport News Tourism.
Great Food and a Welcoming Atmosphere in Coastal Virginia
Kyle Fowlkes // Executive Chef
Embassy Suites by Hilton Hampton Hotel Convention Center, Hampton Roads Convention Center and Cyprus Grille Restaurant
How would you define the current culinary scene in Coastal Virginia?
Surrounded by water, Coastal Virginia is always going to be heavily influenced by seafood. And some restaurants find ways to serve comfort food that isn’t Southern, such as ramen, tacos and pizza.
Also, since the average consumer is more knowledgeable about food than ever before due to the numerous food shows on TV, the industry as a whole has had to really embrace what the consumer is interested in. Locally grown, organic and sustainable items are high on that list.
Overall, our local restaurants hang their hats on great food and a welcoming atmosphere.
What is the role of food and beverage during a meeting?
When talking with meeting planners about their food options, often what comes up is how their attendees look forward to refreshment breaks and main meals.
Attendees know they are in for a treat when their event is held at the Hampton Roads Convention Center and that often positively affects attendance. We pride ourselves on serving the best banquet food the area has to offer.
Any recipe that we produce in the a la carte restaurant, Cyprus Grille, such as crab deviled eggs, pan-seared sea scallops with acorn squash puree and passion fruit creme brulee, could all be replicated for a banquet of 1,000 people. Nothing is off-limits and I love to push the boundaries by doing things we have never done before.
How do you create a memorable food and beverage experience for groups?
Creating menus around a specific theme is always fun. We like to get creative and sometimes that means abandoning the normal menu altogether and putting in place a menu that is only available during a specific group’s stay.
Nekocon is one of those events. Thousands of people attend the Japanese animation convention each year. We completely convert the restaurant into a “Maid Cafe” and serve Asian-style tapas.
We could also create a ball game theme or a carnival/circus theme. We love to customize menus specifically for our clients’ needs in hopes of bringing their creative vision to life.
What are a few dishes you’d recommend for groups to share?
The Cyprus Grille, which is conveniently accessible for all guests who attend the convention center, is open for lunch and dinner.
Our menu features New American cuisine with a lot of Southern and Asian influences. Shrimp and grits with Cajun cream, mac and cheese egg rolls with smoked bacon marmalade, and Cinnamon Toast Crunch bread pudding with salted caramel and house spun ice cream are all great shareable items.
The Latest Hotel Developments in Coastal Virginia
The new Hyatt Place Hampton Convention Center opened in March just steps away from both the Hampton Roads Convention Center and the Hampton Coliseum. The 110-room property has 2,300 square feet of meeting space.
Element by Westin Hampton Peninsula Town Center is scheduled to open this month, with one meeting room for up to 170 people.
Holiday Inn Newport News opened last year with 183 guest rooms and more than 11,000 square feet of meeting/event space.
The downtown Norfolk Waterside Marriott started a renovation project in November 2018. The first phase includes updating all 405 guest rooms in the hotel tower, and this summer, the lobby will be completely transformed. The hotel is connected to the Waterside Convention Center, which will undergo a renovation including updates to all three ballrooms and prefunction space in late 2020.
The Cavalier, an Autograph Collection by Marriott hotel, opened in 2018. This 85-room property features 5,000 square feet of indoor/outdoor meeting and event space, including a 2,500-square-foot ballroom.
Marriott Oceanfront is scheduled to open in 2020 with 305 guest rooms and 25,000 square feet of meeting space, including an 11,000-square-foot ballroom.
Delta Hotels by Marriott Virginia Beach Bayfront Suites is scheduled to open in June 2020 with 295 suites and 13,000 square feet of meeting space.
The 323-room Williamsburg Lodge an Autograph Collection property, completed a guest room renovation in October 2018.
The 62-room Williamsburg Inn also underwent recent renovations. The project included updates to lobby, guest rooms and event spaces, including the nearly 4,000-square-foot Regency ballroom.
Coastal Virginia CVB Information
Newport News Tourism
Virginia Beach CVB