Virginia Beach and the surrounding area are home to a lot of transplants thanks to our large military population, so you’ll likely hear a wide variety of terms and pronunciations, but the lifelong locals have a few quirks that are worth picking up if you don’t want to be known as “the new guy.”
A Beach by any other name
All the beaches on the Atlantic are in Virginia Beach, but no beach is called “Virginia Beach.” The tourist area of Virginia Beach from Rudee’s Inlet to 38th Street is called “The Oceanfront” or “Resort.” Most locals don’t frequent this area, especially between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
39th Street and up is the “North End” – an area that is totally residential and home to mostly locals who refer to themselves as “northenders.”
Croatan is to the south of the resort area and is where most of the surfers flock. This is a supremely local beach that requires winding through a neighborhood to gain access. Even further south is Sandbridge, which has a northern beach that goes by that name and a southern area which is called “Little Island.”
Chick’s Beach in northeast Virginia Beach is on the Chesapeake Bay. Again, pretty much only locals wind their way through the neighborhood and know where to find parking and beach access. An easier way to enjoy the bay’s calmer beach is to park at First Landing State Park and use the state park’s access. Further north from there is Oceanview, a Norfolk beach misnomer that sits along the Chesapeake Bay as well.
Thanks to all that water, this region is full of bridges, tunnels and bridge-tunnels. They are almost exclusively referred to by nicknames or acronyms, so here’s a quick cheat sheet:
HRBT = Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel
M&M = Monitor Merrimac Bridge Tunnel
CBT or CBBT = The Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel
JRB = James River Bridge
There’s also the Midtown and Downtown Tunnels, High Rise Bridge and the Berkley Bridge. There are many other bridges, but those are the big ones to know.
There is only one downtown
If someone says they’re going downtown, they are only ever going to downtown Norfolk. Granby Street is the anchor of downtown where most of the restaurants and shops are. Other cities may claim to have a “downtown,” but the true, real downtown belongs to Norfolk.
Pronunciations are far from phonetic
There are two local pronunciations of Norfolk: NAH-fock is how the old timers say it and Nor-fick is the new generation. Nobody says the -folk like the acoustic music genre. Similarly, Suffolk is pronounced “Suff-ick.” Other cities of note: Gloucester is pronounced GLOSS-ter, Portsmouth is “Ports-muth,” and Corolla in the Outer Banks (where lots of locals go to get away) is actually pronounced CorAlla (dead give away if you pronounce it like the Toyota).
Stop the pop
If you’d like to really throw a waiter off his game, just ask for a “pop.” Down here we generally refer to soft drinks as Coke. You might say “soda” or sometimes “soft drink” but never, ever pop.
BBQ is a food, not an event
If you’d like to have people over for food you cooked outside on a grill, that is called a “cook out.” If you’d like pulled, smoked pork with a delightful vinegar based sauce and a side of coleslaw, that is barbecue.
As a big military and Navy area, it’s important to know the names and locations of the bases. You can’t just say “the base”– there is at least one base in every city of Hampton Roads. You’ve got to be more specific, so do a bit of research. Additionally, it helps to know that Sailors are either E’s or O’s – enlisteds or officers – followed by a number that indicates rank. There’s a big difference between O’s and E’s, so try not to get them mixed up when you’re in military company.
Some more helpful Navy vocabulary: CO is your commanding officer (your boss), XO is your executive officer (your boss’s boss). Duty is the time when you’re working. Rank is your level within the Navy. Rate is the kind of job you do and is a two or three letter acronym such as MP for military police. Gates are the entries into bases – they are guarded and can cause lots of traffic backups when shifts start (which is why we have traffic at 5 am).
Although there may be a lot of new terminology to memorize and pronunciations to master, the good news is that the people in Hampton Roads are extremely nice but also very used to people who are “not from around here,” so they’re likely to cut you some slack while you learn.