Fort Lee is probably the most familiar base to us at this point. I lived in Virginia Beach (less than two hours away) for my last two years of college, and Dave was stationed at Lee when we first met. We lived there for several months back in 2016 while Dave attended the Captain’s Career Course, and then we returned from 2019-2021. The familiarity and proximity to both our families makes this base feel more like home than others. It will be a particularly hard move for me because I’ve settled in so well here. I love my house, my church, my friends, my drop zone, and being able to see my family whenever I want. I love the colony of feral cats I have been feeding and caring for (thankfully, other people on our culdesac are taking over their care and feedings). It’s just so sad to leave — but I am so grateful for the multiple opportunities I have had to live here and build a life here.
Where to live off post: I still hold to what I said a few years ago, that living in Chester will be your best bet. Lately, Chester has become quite expensive (almost rivaling Richmond prices), but it’s worth the price in most cases. Our second time in Virginia, we lived in South Chesterfield, which was a pretty happy medium. It was a bit further out than Chester, but not unreasonable at all, and we were able to end up in an awesome community for a reasonable price. If we ever return to Lee again, I think I would be happy in either location. I’d probably still try for Chester, but South Chesterfield is solid, depending on the future housing market.
Where to eat: Trapezium Brewery in historic Petersburg was my go-to casual dinner spot for over a year. They have the best Bavarian pretzel (get it with the beer cheese!) and their Bonneville pizza puts all other pizza to shame. Not to mention they have really good wings, and they bring in King of Pops for dessert. Win/win! For a more upscale dining experience, I highly recommend Grandstaff and Stein in Richmond. Grandstaff is an old-timey speakeasy. You enter through a bookshop, give the cashier the password (which rotates every week), and then they open up a bookshelf to reveal the secret staircase to the restaurant. The restaurant is impeccably themed to fit with the roaring 20s, and the food is delicious. Every appetizer is next level, and for entrees, I usually go for the ribeye, and Dave loves the shrimp andouille pasta. Their bread pudding for dessert is the bomb.
Local activities: Busch Gardens, Water Country, Colonial Williamsburg. Dave and I are total amusement park people, so of course I am going to suggest Busch Gardens (and its sister water park, Water Country USA). We buy season passes because we go pretty much every weekend, but if you only want to go once, Waves of Honor give service members and their families one free pass a year, so you don’t have to pay. I suggest using your free passes on Howl-O-Scream, their Halloween festival. Roller coasters and haunted houses, what more could you want? Colonial Williamsburg is beautiful and educational and can easily fill up a day (or two or three) with new things to see and do.
Travel opportunities: Of course, I am going to recommend Virginia Beach since I lived there. One of my favorite hotels is the Hilton Oceanfront with an ocean view balcony room – or when the weather is colder, the Cavalier is a vintage delight. Atlantic on Pacific is the best spot around for oysters, and they have Happy Hour every day with $1 oysters on the half shell. For a lovely beach experience without all the tourists, I highly recommend Sandbridge. And of course, I would be remiss not to mention iFly Virginia Beach and Skydive Suffolk. Then outside of Virginia Beach, you have so many options. The Outer Banks is just a short drive away, Washington DC is an easy Amtrak trip, northern Virginia has plenty of outdoorsy hiking and camping opportunities, etc.
As a bonus: Tangier Island is one place you may never hear of living in VA, but it is worth a visit. Tangier is a tiny slip of an island out in the Chesapeake Bay, with a total population of less than 800. The island is only accessible by boat or plane, so not many people go out there. Dave and a few of his friends are all pilots, making it easier to get there. When we go, we spend the day dining on fresh shellfish and playing on a massive, completely deserted beach. It’s like being on a private island. It’s a very cool opportunity; just find yourself some pilot friends!