Newport News in Virginia is a great place to come if you want to know more about the history of the United States, as this part of the country is simply steeped in traditional buildings, historical gems, and powerhouse museums and galleries.
To that end, you can enjoy exploring a model of a Civil War ship, as well as enjoying a range of former plantations and houses that served as the locations for some of the most important periods of the Civil War in America.
Once you have enjoyed learning about the history here, you can also explore the great outdoors, as Newport News has a range of zoos, preserves, and parks, as well as one of the largest municipal parks in the entire country.
When it comes to the arts, there is also plenty to enjoy here, and you can check out art galleries, museums, and theaters here, as well as catching a show in one of the most beautiful restored auditoriums in the great state of Virginia.
1. Downing-Gross Cultural Arts Center
The Downing-Gross Cultural Arts Center is the location of the beautiful Ella Fitzgerald Theater which has a capacity of over 270 spectators and was built in honor of this legendary singer.
Many visitors may not realize that Ella Fitzgerald was actually born in Newport News in 1917, and so this is a fitting tribute to one of the stars of the city.
You can now catch a range of shows here so check the local listings when you are in town to see what is on.
2. Virginia Living Museum
The Virginia Living Museum is often said to be the jewel in the crown of the state, and is the place to come if you love nature and all things related to wildlife.
The museum is a showcase of local flora and fauna and you will find diverse species like bald eagles, red wolves, and sea turtles here.
The exhibits here run from areas of swampland to coves and inlets, and there is also an observatory on site as well as a planetarium where you can learn all about the night sky.
Other attractions here include self-guided tours of the nature gardens as well as a boardwalk and a greenhouse.
3. The Mariners’ Museum/USS Monitor Center
The Mariners’’ Museum in Newport News is also America’s National Maritime Museum and is an ideal spot to stop by if you want to know more about all things seafaring related in the United States.
You can learn all about the legendary ‘Battle of the Ironclads’ here and you can enjoy visiting a full-scale model of the USS Monitor.
There are over 35,000 maritime pieces in the collections on show here and these include models of ships, paintings, and even antique vessels.
There is also a cafe on site if you want to grab a bite to eat before you leave.
4. Endview Plantation
Endview Plantation dates from 1769 and has been restored over the years so that it looks much as it would have done in the days of old.
The plantation was the former home of Dr. Humphrey Harwood Curtis and was the place where he ran his medical practice for years, before the home was also turned into a hospital in Confederate times.
Nowadays the house is a museum and you can enjoy guided tours here that take you around and fill you in on all the historical and cultural significance of the area.
5. Virginia War Museum
To learn all about American military history, head to the Virginia War Museum which is filled with amazing historical antiques.
The collections here will take you back to 1775 before whisking you up until the present day, and you will find galleries filled with vintage items such as weapons, vehicles, and uniforms.
Some of the signature features here include a piece of the wall from the Dachau Concentration Camp in Germany as well as a section of the Berlin Wall.
There are also galleries dedicated to the role of women in wartime as well as collections of antique posters and other art related memorabilia.
6. Ferguson Center for the Arts
If you are an art lover then the Ferguson Center for the Arts, which is part of the Christopher Newport University, is somewhere that you don’t want to miss.
The center is known for having some of the best artwork from all over the world, and there are also performances held here regularly in the onsite theatre, such as musical concerts and dance recitals.
Over one million visitors flock here every year, so know that this is one of the best places to take in some culture if you are in Virginia.
7. The Newsome House Museum & Cultural Center
The Newsome House Museum & Cultural Center is the former home of J. Thomas Newsome and dates from 1899. Newsome was a prominent member of the Newport News community and worked as an attorney and journalist in the area and is credited with paving the way for African-Americans in Virginia after the Civil War.
The home was known as a meeting spot for the African-American community in Newport News and you can now tour the property to learn more about this amazing period of history as well as the cultural significance of this period residence.
8. U.S. Army Transportation Museum
For anyone looking for a quirky museum experience, the U.S. Army Transportation Museum could be just the ticket.
The museum showcases all forms of transportation such as horse drawn carriages in the days of old up to armored vehicles like tanks in the present day.
There are also models of vehicle terrain as well as antique equipment on display and the museum has galleries both in and out of doors.
You can even find such eclectic exhibits as helicopters, trains, and boats here.
9. Peninsula SPCA and Petting Zoo
The Peninsula SPCA and Petting Zoo is a great day out of you love animals or you are traveling with children who are sure to enjoy getting hands on with the eclectic wildlife found here.
The petting zoo is home to resident Alpacas, tortoises, peacocks, chicken, goats, and sheep, and there is even a Black Leopard here who is named Shadow.
You can feed the barnyard animals here as well as take pictures with them, and then move over to the exotic sanctuary area of the zoo to check out some of the more obscure animals that live here.
10. Lee Hall
Lee Hall dates from 1859 and used to belong to the prominent local resident and planter Richard D. Lee.
The home is built in the Victorian style and has been lovingly restored so that visitors get an authentic view of what life would have looked like in the 1800s in Virginia.
You can see a range of amazing exhibits here such as period antiques and learn all about the cultural significance of this house, which also served as the Confederate headquarters of Genera Magruder and General Johnston.
You can take a guided tour of the house and grounds with one of the local docents to learn more about this delightful historical relic.
11. Peninsula Community Theater
The Peninsula Community Theater started life in the 1950s as the Newport News Little Theater, and has been going strong in the local community ever since.
The theater is built in the art deco style and is a movie auditorium that has been converted into a stage theater.
To that end, you can expect a whole range of shows here such as Broadway musicals, comedy nights, murder mysteries, and even special productions for children.
12. Fort Monroe
Fort Monroe was built in 1834 and has the claim to fame of being the largest stone fort to have ever been erected in the United States.
The fort was built in order to provide defense along the coastline of Chesapeake Bay and it operated as such for hundreds of years before it was decommissioned.
Nowadays it is a National Monument in the United States and you can tour the fort and learn more about its history.
13. Historic Jamestowne
Historic Jamestowne marks the spot of the first English settlement in North America and is also serviced by the Colonial National Historical Park.
There is a visitor center here that has a range of galleries that will tell you the story of the permanent settlement, and there is also a theater experience that goes along with this.
You can then take a tour of the amazing Archaearium which will tell you all about the archaeology of the area and help you find out more about the geology and history of Historic Jamestowne.
14. James A. Fields House
The James A. Field House is the former home of a prominent teacher and lawyer from Newport News and served as his law office for many years, as well as operating as the first hospital in the area for the African-American community.
The house has been painstakingly restored and is now a museum that will give you a glimpse of how life would have been in the 1900s in Newport News, and you can take a guided tour here with a friendly docent who will answer any questions that you have about the historical and cultural significance of the residence.
15. Peninsula Fine Arts Center
Anyone who loves art should come to the Peninsula Fine Arts Center where you will find a huge and diverse range of art work on display.
There are both static and rotating exhibits here, but one of the best aspects of the center is that you can also create your own artwork if you want to.
There is a Hand On For Kids gallery here where younger guests can work away on their own masterpiece, and you can also buy a range of the artwork on show to take home as a souvenir.