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Retiring in Virginia Beach and Norfolk, Virginia: Life by the Sea

Virginia Beach and Norfolk are the major cities in one of Virginia’s most beautiful and bountiful regions. Rich in history, natural beauty, and culture, the Hampton Roads region, as it’s often called, is a prime destination for tourists, transplants, and retirees – especially military retirees.

fishing pier at Virginia Beach Oceanfront

A fishing pier beckons at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront.

One thing to know if you are thinking of retiring in the Virginia Beach and Norfolk area: The region goes by different names – on which no one can agree. You might hear the area called Hampton Roads, Coastal Virginia, or Tidewater. The Census Bureau officially calls the region “Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA-NC.”

Then there are two distinct subregions to Hampton Roads. South Hampton Roads, or the Southside, comprises the cities of Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Chesapeake, Portsmouth, and Suffolk. The Peninsula is mainly composed of the cities of Hampton, Newport News, and Williamsburg.

We’ll discuss those regions and cities more below as we consider the pros and cons of retiring in the Virginia Beach, Norfolk, and Hampton Roads area.

Retiring in Virginia Beach, Va.

The Cape Henry lighthouses watch over the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean in Virginia Beach.

The Cape Henry lighthouses watch over the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean in Virginia Beach.

Virginia Beach has been ranked as one of the best places to retire in Virginia and the nation. It’s affordable and has a low crime rate, as well as numerous quality health-care facilities.

But Virginia Beach’s main selling point for retirees is that it’s the perfect medley of urban and suburban and even rural. You’ll enjoy miles of free beach access from the Chesapeake Bay to the Atlantic Ocean, as well as scenic nature trails and a national wildlife refuge.

As for where to live, you can settle down near the quiet northern beaches; along the tourist-friendly Oceanfront; or in the bustling Town Center, which boasts luxury condos and apartments along with shopping and restaurants. You’ll also find a growing number of Virginia Beach retirement communities, including many close to the ocean or bay.

Virginia Beach provides plenty of entertainment options for retirees and their grandkids alike. Besides the beaches, you and your visitors can enjoy festivals, the Sandler Center for the Performing Arts, and numerous golf courses.  If you want to spend your retirement fishing and sailing, you’ll be in luck in Virginia Beach and Hampton Roads as well. Take your pick of rivers, the bay and the ocean for canoeing, kayaking, and sportfishing.

Weatherwise, Virginia Beach and the rest of Hampton Roads experience four distinct seasons, though generally without extremes. The region might see one or two measurable snowfalls each year. Hurricanes occasionally threaten, but they generally don’t cause significant damage except for street flooding and some toppled trees.

Retiring in Norfolk and South Hampton Roads

Condos overlook the Battleship Wisconsin in downtown Norfolk.

Condos overlook the Battleship Wisconsin in downtown Norfolk.

Norfolk is the urban hub of Hampton Roads with the largest downtown area and compact, walkable neighborhoods. The city is known for graceful waterfront communities along the Elizabeth and Lafayette rivers and the Chesapeake Bay. No matter your choice among Norfolk retirement communities, you’ll be close to water. 

For retirees who might want to drive less, Norfolk’s light rail, The Tide, connects downtown with Eastern Virginia Medical School and Ghent, a historic and bohemian neighborhood of sidewalk cafes and trendy shops.

Norfolk also is the cultural center of Hampton Roads and the preferred spot for those who enjoy a metropolitan environment. Art institutions in Norfolk include the Chrysler Museum of Art, Chrysler Hall (which hosts the Virginia Symphony and touring Broadway shows), and the Virginia Opera. Gardeners will love the Norfolk Botanical Garden

Most significantly, Norfolk is home to Naval Station Norfolk, the largest naval complex in the world. Not surprisingly then, Norfolk and the rest of Hampton Roads are home to a lot of military retireesmore than 50,000, in fact, from all branches of the military. If you served in the armed forces, you’ll be more than welcome here.

Other cities you might consider for retirement in South Hampton Roads are Chesapeake, which is largely suburban; Suffolk, which is more rural; and Portsmouth, which has a historic Olde Towne and is home to Naval Medical Center Portsmouth.

Retiring in Williamsburg and on the Virginia Peninsula

Colonial Williamsburg building

Colonial Williamsburg is a major draw for tourists and retirees in Williamsburg.

Like Virginia Beach, Williamsburg has been ranked one of America’s best retirement destinations. More than 20% of the city’s population is over age 50, and retirement communities in Williamsburg and nearby cities are abundant. 

Williamsburg is the heart of the Historic Triangle, an area rich in history and culture. You’ll be able to entertain the grandkids and visiting family at Colonial Williamsburg, Yorktown Battlefield, or Historic Jamestowne. If your grandkids aren’t into history, of course, there’s always the Busch Gardens Williamsburg theme park nearby. 

Adjacent to Williamsburg’s historic area is The College of William and Mary, the second-oldest college in the country. The college is another draw for retirees, particularly alumni, and it sponsors the Christopher Wren Association for lifelong learning.

The Virginia Peninsula has its own military institutions, with a joint Army and Air Force base. Of interest to military retirees will be the Hampton VA Medical Center. Besides Hampton, with its charming waterfront downtown, the other major Peninsula city is Newport News, home of Christopher Newport University and its impressive Ferguson Center for the Arts.

Cons of Retiring in Hampton Roads

Unfortunately, the positives of Hampton Roads come with caveats. The biggest issue, as any seaside resident knows, is the threat of flooding and rising sea levels. While living on the water is lovely a majority of the time, when there’s a storm or especially high tide, you’ll feel it. Homes and streets can experience flooding.

As this article suggests, another downside of life in Hampton Roads can be sprawl. The region’s 1.7 million people are spread out over 16 cities and counties. The drive from the Virginia Beach Oceanfront to Colonial Williamsburg is 60 miles and requires crossing the notoriously backed-up Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel. So, do your research and pick a neighborhood with the amenities you’ll want nearby.

Fortunately, you’ll have a diversity of choices in Hampton Roads, whether in Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Williamsburg or another city. Beaches, urban centers, suburbs, historic districts, farms – they’re all here waiting to become your retirement home. Or, if you think you might be interested in retiring elsewhere in the Old Dominion, check out our guides on reasons to retire in Virginia and retiring in the Washington, D.C. area.

What do you think? If you’ve retired in the Hampton Roads area, we’d love to hear from you. Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

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  • Mark Edelen

    About :

    Welcome to the Retirement Living Blog. I direct and edit the blog for the best senior-housing and senior-living insight and advice, while also conducting search-engine optimization for the site as a whole. Follow me on Twitter @MarkEdelen.


    1. We are interested in living in a golf community in the Norfolk area. Nothing too expensive. Any suggestions?

    2. Leanta A Brock says:

      Would like information on senior apartment living. I am retired and would like to settle in the Virginia/Chesapeake area.

    3. Geraldine M. Brunell says:

      How do you conduct personal co silting appointments. I need advice on retirement living. At present I am in. Vermont and preparing to move within the year

      • Hello, Geraldine.

        Are you asking about personal consulting? does not offer personal consulting, though communities listed on could answer specific questions. Are you looking to retire in the Virginia Beach area?

        Also, our Senior Housing Guide might be able to answer some of your questions. See

        – Mark,

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