A day under the bridge in Yorktown
by Lisa Hinton-Valdrighi
Tucked under the Coleman Bridge along the waterfront in York County is Riverwalk Landing, a commercial village offering fine dining, shopping, lodging and history, all with a beautiful view of the York River.
Almost hidden from sight to motorists traveling along Route 17 from Gloucester Point to Yorktown, Riverwalk Landing was established in 2005 as a waterfront destination like no other in the lower peninsula. As part of the historic triangle—Yorktown, Williamsburg and Jamestown—Riverwalk Landing is a great place to spend the day, a weekend or longer.
Riverwalk Landing links the Yorktown Battlefield Visitor’s Center to the American Revolution Museum of Yorktown with a one-mile pedestrian walkway. And along that walkway is the Watermen’s Museum, which celebrates the heritage of the Chesapeake Bay watermen.
Wyatt “Bubba” Broman was helping young boat builders fine tune their skills a few weeks ago as part of a boatbuilding camp at the museum. Broman, who grew up in nearby Mathews County, is director of the museum’s archaeology and boatbuilding camps. The museum offers a variety of children’s camps throughout the summer, including archaeology, boatbuilding, nature explorers, marine explorers, maritime trades, art and pirate camps. There’s even a mermaid tea day camp and an adult pirate’s camp. There’s a camp for everyone from kindergartners to adults.
The first floor of the two-story waterfront museum holds its galleries, dedicated to the colonial period, pirates, Yorktown during the American Revolution, the War of 1812 and the Civil War, model boats, the age of sail, Chesapeake Bay watercraft and Yorktown’s sunken fleet.
During the winter, museum volunteers like Diane Ornsby “redo the galleries to tell a different story and brighten things up,” she said. The grounds of the museum include a windmill, a boat used for demonstrations and a dry ship used as a stage for the museum’s Friday night music series. Behind the main museum is a boatbuilding shop.
Shopping and dining
Just a few steps away from the Watermen’s Museum are dozens of dining and shopping options, including Auntie M’s American Cottage and the Yorktown Onion. At Auntie M’s everything is made in America with most of the artwork and jewelry crafted by local artists. Artists at heart can try out their talents at year-round workshops.
The Yorktown Onion offers gifts and home accessories.
Riverwalk offers eight dining options from sushi on the go to elegant waterfront dining. Or visitors can pack a picnic lunch to enjoy waterside on a park bench under a shade tree. Follow that up with a heaping cone from Ben & Jerry’s ice creamery.
A large picnic area is also located beachfront at the end of Water Street and includes a grassy field with picnic tables and a covered pavilion. The picnic area is open year-round and with special permits can accommodate large groups.
The two-acre public beach is perfect for sunbathing, fishing, boating and swimming. Come on a weekday for a smaller crowd.
There’s free public parking and the beach is one of the only beaches in the Commonwealth to offer a Mobi-Mat and Mobi-Chair for visitors in wheelchairs. The Mobi-Mat also allows ideal beach accessibility for carts and strollers.
A wheelchair accessible fishing pier at the far end of the beach is open year-round. Fishing there is free and no fishing license is required. Just off the dock is the deepest water of the York River and is a great spot to view the occasional sting rays and dolphins.
Bikes, kayaks and paddleboards are available for rent.
Several times a day the schooners Alliance and Serenity float swiftly and seamlessly along the York River with their tall sails blowing in the breeze.
The Alliance offers sailing charters from the dock at Riverwalk Landing during the summer months, exploring the Chesapeake Bay tributaries on two-hour cruises three times a day.
Serenity is a 65-foot traditional schooner which offers pirate cruises and private charters.
Practice balancing before a trip to Riverwalk Landing and sign up for a Segway tour.
Patriot Tours and Provisions offers two types of tours, a historical tour which lasts two hours and covers the waterfront area, bluffs and historic village. A one-hour “breeze” tour starts at the York River and continues through the historic village.
Music and markets
Riverwalk Landing offers free entertainment throughout the summer months with its Sounds of Summer at Riverwalk concert series. It’s a Thursday night event on the waterfront from June through August. It’s free and guests are urged to bring a blanket or lawn chair.
Market Days at Riverwalk Landing is held weekly on Saturday mornings May through October, with select special markets in November and December. Held on the waterfront, the markets are open 8 a.m. to noon with extended hours during themed markets. Most markets offer seafood, fresh produce, meats, breads, handmade candles and soaps, and even gourmet dog treats.
More than a day trip
My best advice about spending a day at Riverwalk Landing in York County is don’t. Visitors need more than a day to enjoy all that the quaint waterfront village has to offer.
My daughter and I took a day trip to Riverwalk a few weeks ago. We left from Lancaster County mid-morning (much too late) and had to be home by sunset (much too early), and found we couldn’t fit everything we wanted to do there into that amount of time.
We’re not big history buffs so we opted out of a lengthy visit to the Yorktown Battlefield and American Revolution Museum in lieu of some quality time shopping, dining and lounging beachside. However, we vowed to return to visit both of those places. We made a quick stop at each as part of our trolley ride around historic Yorktown, a definite must-do for any Riverwalk visitor. The trolley gives a quick glimpse of the offerings and our driver, a retired preacher from Gloucester, was friendly and knowledgeable.
After browsing the shops and making a few purchases, we visited the Watermen’s Museum then grabbed lunch at the Water Street Grille. We ate outside on the covered patio and watched the Schooner Alliance as it sailed up river on one of its three daily cruises. We used one of the two clean and air conditioned public restrooms for a quick wardrobe change then hit the beach, where we chatted with a nice couple from Maryland. They’d stopped in Yorktown en route to Virginia Beach.
As a native Northern Necker with watermen roots, I answered their questions about the murky York River versus the clear salt water they’d seen in the Caribbean and I showed them my fearlessness when faced with a jellyfish or two. I was the only one who didn’t exit the water when a gentleman was stung nearby. I explained for an August day, the few pesky stinging nettles I’d seen were no big deal. Normally in July and August the Bay and its tributaries were speckled with the things, I said.
After sunbathing and stopping for a heaping helping of creamy butter pecan and chocolate chunk ice cream at Ben & Jerry’s, my daughter and I headed home. As we were leaving, folks were setting up for a free concert on the waterfront. The offering that night was patriotic music.
Next time, my visit to Riverwalk Landing will include a schooner cruise, maybe a Segway tour, definitely a museum stop and probably an overnight at the beachfront motel, where the pub next door offers bands on the weekends.