For many visitors to Virginia’s historic triangle, Yorktown gets relegated to a rushed afternoon of Revolutionary War stops and memorabilia.
That’s a rookie mistake.
Not only is this slightly sleepy seaside getaway steeped in the history of America’s very beginnings, it boasts spectacular seafood, some unexpected dining gems, live music and one of the most accessible waterfronts the area has to offer.
Minus the crowds.
Consider these tips for experiencing what Yorktown has to offer beyond the battlefield.
With a waterfront fitness trail, bird life and art galleries tucked down various side streets, the destination’s walkability comes with plenty of atmosphere built into the vacation equation.
In fact, if you choose your accommodation option strategically, it’s entirely possible to enjoy two or three days of relaxed exploration without having to drive until you depart.
For my husband and me, that location was the York River Inn. A mid-range bed and breakfast with a view of the water, it offers reasonable walking access to nearly everything Yorktown has to offer.
Perhaps the niftiest perk of Yorktown’s waterfront is the multiple stretches of sandy beach you can enjoy simply by stepping off the walking trail with a picnic blanket.
I noticed locals and visitors alike selecting spots of their own for picnicking, reading, boat watching and more.
If journals and sketchbooks make their way onto your packing list on a regular basis, making time for a few sessions of quiet reflection on the beach is something you’ll want to make a priority.
While the town is a tiny one, there is some fun diversity in the types of dining establishments available.
Carrot Tree for example, is a nifty little lunch cafe near the waterfront parking area offering hummus plates, homemade sides, healthy wraps sized large enough to share, and a fun baked goods selection.
Priced affordably for the average vacationer, it’s a great spot to take a break after a waterfront trail walk.
I’m a fan of their spinach-orzo pasta salad and the must-try carrot cake, but their giant homemade cookies also offer a huge value.
Priced at a buck and a half, they can easily be shared while you sit on the beach enjoying the salt air.
Nearby is Umi Sushi, where they’ll assemble your chosen roll right in front of you. Appetizers and individual rolls start around $6.
Be advised, seating is extremely limited here.
A good seating alternative, after you pick up some sushi along with one of their Japanese wines, is right on your hotel balcony overlooking the water.
Moving on from lighter lunch options, locals in the know head to the Yorktown Pub for a satisfying dinner and high-quality seafood.
If an old school, blue-collar beach vibe with hearty fare is your scene, this is definitely a spot you want to set aside some time for on your itinerary.
If you arrive extra hungry, I found value in both their fried oyster sandwich and battle burger entrees.
If you want something a little lighter, try their grilled cheese sandwich paired with chili or clam chowder.
The Water Street Grille offers a nice selection of wood-fire pizza, along with outdoor waterfront seating overlooking the town’s bridge. You can people watch as the locals walk by with their dogs, and listen to live outdoor music on weekend evenings.
Arguably the most interesting place to stop for a bite is Mobjack Bay Coffee Roasters. Housed in the heart of Yorktown’s historical area in a period building that was once a coffee and tea house back in America’s early days, this place is as much a destination as it is a place to grab some java and a snack.
With historically inspired blends and beverages, coffee beans roasted on site and baked goods that will make a grown woman weep, it’s definitely worth your tourist time.
If sugary treats aren’t your thing, the small breakfast sandwiches have more than enough protein to get you through a morning of heavy walking. On a personal note, their 18th century sipping java rocked my world.
With a size large ringing in at less than 5 bucks, it’s doable for the average traveler.
Once you’re caffeinated and ready to go, Mobjack can assist with historical walking tours.
Starting at the coffee shop’s outdoor seating area, a duo of history and education experts offers a number of topics related to Yorktown’s history.
Enjoy all the period buildings and notable spots in the old part of town as you sip and stroll with a knowledgeable, enthusiastic pair of guides.
Customized options here include ordering a boxed lunch to have available after your tour, adding an extra goody bag to a private tour, and booking a private dinner arranged for an intimate group upon request.
If traditional ghost tours are your thing or you’re searching for a Halloween element for your visit, you can also book an experience with Yorktown Ghost Walks, which directs you through some of the common stops along the traditional walking tour and puts a paranormal spin on Yorktown’s rich past.
A more scaled-back history experience is available via Yorktown’s free park-and-ride trolley, which provides helpful information between popular stops throughout the town.
For a traditional-style schooner experience that will take you out on the water overlooking the spot where America finally won her independence, walk down to the waterfront and book a sailing slot on the Alliance.
Named for the French and American alliance that helped tip the siege scales, it’s an interactive experience with crew members who let willing guests participate in the raising of the sails.
This is definitely a quiet, relaxing activity that harkens back to our nation’s beginning. Local dolphins frequently make an appearance as well.
Tickets start at $41 per adult, with adult beverages and snacks available for purchase on board.
If military ships stir your interest, keep your eyes peeled toward the Coleman Bridge, a major focal point in town.
With a double swing design, it opens regularly to allow vessels from the naval weapons station just up the river.
Museum buffs have two options. The American Revolution Museum at Yorktown offers living history elements, interpretive exhibits, artifacts and multiple video experiences.
The Watermen’s Museum is easy to reach on foot while exploring Yorktown’s waterfront trail, and of note to those interested in the area’s rich seafood heritage.
It features artifacts from underwater archaeological projects and information about the long-time area fishing professionals referred to in this historic region as watermen.
Adult entry tickets are priced at $5.
Adult entry tickets are $5.
As you make your way to and from Yorktown, a fun add-on for your trip is taking time to tour the artisanal distilleries just up the road in Williamsburg. Distilling in this area has been around since the start of our country, so experiencing one is a great way to build excitement for the destination or extend the enthusiasm after your visit. Two in particular are worth a stop. Copper Fox produces hand-crafted whiskey matured with toasted fruit wood and traditional floor-malted barley, all in a location that’s as much of an experience as the spirits themselves. A hidden speakeasy lounge with leather furniture and live weekly jazz concerts brings a bit of glam. Add in the board game collection and the outdoor seating area with bathtub fire pit, and you’ve got an establishment clearly committed to providing a quality whiskey experience that’s unpretentious and accessible to all. Their classic four-pour tasting flights are $10, and cocktails made with in-house whiskeys are available as well. Their blond Mary made with yellow tomato juice and rye is absolutely spectacular.
Eight Shires offers a more boutique experience with spirits produced using ingredients, methods and recipes tied to America’s beginnings. A small outdoor tasting garden and intimate indoor bar, along with free tours and a period distilling exhibit make this a nifty stop on either end of your waterfront visit to Yorktown. The $5 pours, free tasting samples of the clear spirits and mid-range custom cocktails inspired by the likes of Paul Revere, George Washington and Ethan Allen add fun and value. My favorite pick was their spiced rum, but their bourbon is also a hit with the locals.
If you are squeezing in both stops on one end of the trip and need a quick lunch stop before hitting the highway or the airport, Casa Pearl offers a bit of retro whimsy with great grub. Housed in a remodeled old gas station with industrial décor, the restaurant features locally sourced seafood along with homemade lemonade and other well-priced goodies. Save room for their $6 fried oyster tacos and hush puppies.
With extreme walkability, abundant free parking and boatloads of authenticity built into the infrastructure, Yorktown, Virginia, is a sure bet for travelers looking for a bespoke experience that won’t break the bank. The free outdoor music, relaxed atmosphere and enthusiastic locals are extra frosting on the travel cake.
Tagline Info: Lifestyle and travel expert @MyschaTheriault blends thrift and luxury to live well for less around the world.
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