Editor's note: There are a lot of hidden, and not-so-secret, gems around Hampton Roads. New and old restaurants, adventures on the water and favorite shopping spots — we’re here to find the must-see sights you can enjoy in just 12 hours in each area. Our “12 hours” series will highlight a different Hampton Roads community on the third Sunday of the month.
YORK -- Overlooking the York River from a hill, historic Yorktown’s small radius packs plenty of punch. There’s no shortage of ways to tap into the rich history of this colonial American landmark, whether it’s sailing with pirates or exploring historic streets via unconventional means.
It’s time to spend 12 hours in Yorktown.
While giving a tour one day at Yorktown Battlefield, Doug Cummings asked his group if anyone knew who led the troops to capture the British Redoubt No. 9 and No. 10. A young girl raised her hand. It was Alexander Hamilton.
Yorktown Battlefield has seen a spurred interest in the former Treasury secretary since the Broadway musical “Hamilton” premiered in 2015 and became part of the zeitgeist. But by no means do you need to be a fan of the music to appreciate grandeur of the battlefield that, along with Historic Jamestowne and the Colonial Parkway, forms the National Park Service’s Colonial National Historical Park.
The Siege of Yorktown was a defining moment in the American Revolutionary War. In 1781, American and French troops defeated the British Army in the last major land battle of the war.
There’s a number of ways to tackle the battlefield. Start at the visitor’s center, where Washington’s campaign tent is on display and where an interactive map can be found to provide some background about the area. From there, one-hour guided tours can be taken in the area behind the center where cannons dating back to the 18th century are located.
Yorktown Battlefield can be tackled in two self-guided tours. The battlefield tour is a 7-mile drive covering the British defense lines, Moore House — where the surrender was negotiated — and Surrender Field, where the British army laid down its arms. The allied encampment tour is a 9-mile journey that will take guests through the American and French encampments. Both tours take about 45 minutes.
The battlefield rightfully takes an insular approach to the Revolution. For a wider scope, head across the historic area to the American Revolution Museum.
American Revolution Museum
After reopening last year with an expanded scope — and a $50 million transformation — the American Revolution Museum captures the war for independence beyond the geographic boundary of Yorktown.
The museum is stocked with artifacts and digital interactives to send guests back to the days of the Revolution.
Guiding visitors is a recurring group of about 20 actor-interpreters, including a free black man and the wife of an American soldier.
Elsewhere in the museum, guests can revisit 18th-century Yorktown with the short film “The Siege of Yorktown” in a theater featuring a 71-foot-long screen, shaking seats and deafening gunfire.
Galleries begin with examining the British Empire and take guests through the Revolution, before ending with a look at the national identity of the American people.
Outside, visitors can examine what a typical farm lifestyle would have been like in the 1700s and explore a re-creation of the Continental Army encampment, which will open in the spring.
It’s a morning that should work up an appetite.
You’ll likely hear it before you see it. The sound of motorcycles revving up outside Yorktown Pub can be heard around the surrounding area. Dozens are often lining up at the entrance of the restaurant. Inside, the drivers are lining up against the bar, grabbing draft beers or chatting up the restaurant staff. It seems there are no strangers in Yorktown Pub.
Start the meal with an order of crab bites or hush puppies while looking at the many initials etched into the walls. Make sure to check out the daily specials and blackboards to see where Yorktown Pub is getting its seafood.
Choose a hearty half-pound burger covered in onions and horseradish cheddar and served with crinkle-cut fries. Looking for something lighter? The sweet and savory salad combines the best of both flavors with Gorgonzola cheese, roasted tomatoes and candied pecans. A few bites, and you’ll see why so many want to leave their marks on the walls.
Just a short walk from the pirate ship and the battlefields, it only takes a little bit of courage to hop aboard a Segway and cruise around historic Yorktown. The locally owned Patriot Tours and Provisions runs tours multiple times a day, including a one-hour breeze tour and a two-hour historical tour.
Fit for those 14 and older, owners Jill and Randy Pryor said the tours are popular for all ages. A seated Segway is also available to those unable to stand.
Accompanied by a guide, each tour hits two main spots. The first is a scenic ride along the York River, and the second is a ride through historic Yorktown. Both tours stop in front of the Yorktown Victory Monument, Nelson House, 18th-century Cole Digges House and along the riverfront.
During the historical tour, Segway riders receive more in-depth information, which the Pryors said works best for history buffs. The couple said the breeze tour is perfect for those who just want to take a fun cruise around the main sites while receiving quick-hit facts along the way.
The Segways reach up to 8 miles per hour and are easy to cruise around on, even for those who doubt their balancing skills. There is no minimum or maximum per tour, but a guide is paired with every six riders.
Here, there be pirates.
Yorktown Sailing Charters offers a “School of Piracy” beginning Memorial Day weekend. The hour-and-a-half cruise offers participants a chance to raise the sails and help steer the schooner, which also fires a cannon to ward off any potential enemies.
For those looking for more relaxed adventures, Yorktown Sailing Charters offers plenty of other options. Beginning in April, it regularly will offer sightseeing cruises, sunset departures and private charters.
The business has two schooners. The 24-passenger Serenity was built in 1986 in North Carolina as a cargo vessel. Refurbishments began in 2000 to transform her into a more passenger-friendly ship. The other schooner, the Alliance, fits 49 people. It was built in 1996 in Florida and worked as a charter vessel before being purchased by Yorktown Sailing Charters in 2005.
Once you return, it’ll be time to walk out those sea legs with a little shopping.
Shopping in York Village
Yorktown is full of local businesses, but for a small but mighty shopping experience, visit the York Village shopping center. It has multiple antique, thrift and furniture stores, as well as a used bookstore and clothing store among many other options.
Blue Crab Books: This used bookstore doubles as a homemade glass design shop. The store’s used-book options are in nearly every genre.
Cozy Cottage: This vintage and antique shop is filled with small and large items, including tables, chairs, clocks and household antiques. Cozy Cottage seems like an endless place to find a special take-home from Yorktown.
Once in a Blue Moon: Inside Once in a Blue Moon, shoppers can find almost anything. The beautifully decorated thrift and furniture store sells unique pieces at affordable prices, such as a table-top globe, vintage pots and pans, full kitchen sets and modern furniture pieces.
York Village also includes Best of Everything (antiques/vintage items), Alley Cat and Furniture (used furniture and household items), Hot Ink Inc. (clothes), L&H Woodcraft Furniture and York Uniforms (clothes).
Once you’ve finished shopping locally, try eating locally.
Vinny’s Pizza and Pasta
It’s easy to get overwhelmed at Vinny’s. The wait staff is rushing. Groups are crowded against the doorway, waiting for tables. Cars are lining up outside, picking up to-go orders. The hustle is only dwarfed by the restaurant’s selections.
Just about every Italian staple is offered at Vinny’s, which has three locations on the Peninsula. You’ll need time to look over the menu, so go ahead and order some garlic knots to start. Within the pasta section, focus attention on choices like gnocchi, baked ziti or something with the decadent vodka sauce.
Vinny’s has plenty of pizza, with specialty pies like eggplant parmesan, a buffalo chicken that will make your nose run and a stuffed pizza, which has pepperoni, ham, salami, sausage and mozzarella. If that’s not enough, the restaurant also offers cheese steaks, subs and calzones.
Black can be reached by phone at 757-247-4607. Joseph can be reached by phone at 757-374-3134.
American Revolution Museum
Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
Where: 200 Water St., Yorktown.
Cost: $9.75 adults, $5.50 children ages 6-12, free for residents of James City County, York County and Williamsburg.
More info: historyisfun.org/yorktown-victory-center or 757-253-4838.
Patriot Tour and Provisions
Hours: Patriots Tours and Provisions runs one-hour breeze tours daily at 10 a.m., 1 p.m., 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. Two-hour historical tours run daily at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.
Where: 321 Water St., Yorktown.
Cost: Breeze tours are $39 per person; historical tours are $65 per person.
More info: patriottoursva.com or 757-969-5400.
Hours: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Saturday.
Where: 4350 George Washington Memorial Highway, York County.
Cost: Pizza is about $2 to $3 a slice or $8.50 to $20 for a whole pie.
More info: vinnyspizzava.com or 757-886-0333.
Hours: Visitor center open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
Where: 1000 Colonial Parkway, Yorktown.
Cost: $7 for ages 16 and older. A pass grants seven days of entry into the battlefield, the glassblowing house and Island Loop Drive at Historic Jamestowne.
More info: nps.gov/york or 757-898-2410.
Where: 425 Water St., Yorktown.
Cost: Pirate cruise (Memorial Day-Labor Day) is $22 for kids and $37 for adults.
More info: For a full list of tours and prices, visit sailyorktown.com or 757-639-1233.
Hours: 11 a.m. to midnight Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday-Saturday.
Where: 540 Water St., Yorktown.
Cost: Seafood is market price. Burgers $9.50 to $15.95.
More info: yorktownpub.com or 757-886-9964.
Where: 7330 George Washington Memorial Highway, Yorktown.
Info: Blue Crab Books (757-234-3833), Cozy Cottage (757-886-2699), Once in a Blue Moon (757-833-3100).
About the series
There are a lot of hidden, and not-so-secret, gems around Hampton Roads. New and old restaurants, adventures on the water and favorite shopping spots — we’re here to find the must-see sights you can enjoy in just 12 hours in each area. Our “12 hours” series will highlight a different Hampton Roads community on the third Sunday of the month.