Norfolk is the region's cultural heart and in addition to several outstanding museums, is the principal home for several major performing arts companies. Norfolk also plays host to numerous yearly festivals and parades, mostly at Town Point Park in downtown.
As with most of Virginia (the Northern Virginia/Washington D.C. metro area being the notable exception), Norfolk is most often associated with the larger American South. However, due to the large presence of the military in the region, which has brought people to Hampton Roads from across all regions of the country, some traditions and cultural aspects have changed more than in other southern regions. One of the most notable differences is the relative lack of presence of the Southern accent. While it is not uncommon to hear someone speak with a Southern accent, especially older persons or persons from other southern regions, it is heard less frequently in Hampton Roads than some other parts of the South due, in large part to the transient military and maritime population.
Norfolk was historically part of the slave-holding South, and was later segregated along racial lines until the 1960s. This has led to racial tensions within the highly diversified city that have been slow to heal. Nevertheless, racial tensions have been slowly subsiding overtime as younger generations who have no first-hand recollection of segregation have reached adulthood and started families of their own.
The Chrysler Museum of Art, located in the Ghent District, is the region's foremost art museum and is considered by The New York Times to be the finest in the entire state. Of particular note is the extensive glass collection and American neoclassical marble sculptures. Nauticus, located on the downtown waterfront, is a maritime-themed museum featuring hands-on exhibits, high definition films, and educational programs designed to increase awareness of the importance of the world's waterways. It is also noted for being the home to the battleship USS Wisconsin, the last battleship to be completed in the United States, and which briefly served in World War II, and later in the Korean and Gulf wars. The Hermitage Foundation Museum, located in an early 20th-century Arts and Crafts Style home, on a 12-acre (49,000 m2) estate fronting the Lafayette River, features an eclectic collection of Asian and Western art including Chinese bronze and ceramics, Persian rugs, and ivory carvings. The General Douglas MacArthur Memorial, located in the former Norfolk city hall rotunda in downtown, contains the tombs of the late General and his wife, along with personal belongings (including his famous corncob pipe), and a short film that chronicles the life of the famous American army general.
Norfolk has a variety of performing groups with regular performances. The Virginia Opera, the Official Opera Company of the Commonwealth of Virginia, was founded in 1974. Its current artistic director is Peter Mark. Though performances are statewide, the company's principal venue is the Harrison Opera House in the Ghent District. The Virginia Stage Company, founded in 1968, is one of the country's leading regional theaters and produces a full season of plays in the Wells Theatre downtown. The Company shares facilities with the Governor's School for the Arts. The Virginia Symphony Orchestra, founded in 1920, and directed by JoAnn Falletta, has been a regular staple on the regional fine arts scene. Most performances take place at Chrysler Hall in downtown. The orchestra also provides musicians for many other performing arts organizations in the area. Large scale concerts are held at either Norfolk Scope or the Ted Constant Convocation Center while The Norva provides a venue for smaller groups. Norfolk has a number of historic facilities including the Attucks Theatre, Naro Expanded Cinema, The Tidewater Community College's Jeanne and George Roper Performing Arts Center (formerly Loew's State Theater), and the Riverview Theatre.
Many clubs, representing a wide range of musical interests, line the lower Granby Street area. These include the Club Seven and the Granby Theater, which formerly hosted plays but now is a restaurant and club. Not far away, the Waterside Festival Marketplace has also continued to be successful as a nightclub and bar venue. There is also The Push Comedy Theater, which is located on Granby Street in the Norfolk Arts District, and specializes in Improv and Sketch comedy shows.
Norfolk's daily newspaper is The Virginian-Pilot. Other papers include the New Journal and Guide, Inside Business, Old Dominion University's Mace and Crown, Norfolk State University's The Spartan Echo, and Virginia Wesleyan College's Marlin Chronicle. Hampton Roads Magazine serves as a bi-monthly regional magazine for Norfolk and the Hampton Roads area. Hampton Roads Times serves as an online magazine for all the Hampton Roads cities and counties. Norfolk is served by a variety of radio stations on the AM and FM dials with towers located all over the Hampton Roads area.
Norfolk is also served by several television stations. Major network television affiliates include:
Norfolk residents also are able to receive independent stations such as WSKY broadcasting on channel 4 from the Outer Banks of North Carolina and WGBS-LD broadcasting on channel 11 from Hampton. Norfolk is served by Cox Cable which provides LNC 5, a local 24-hour cable news television network. DirecTV and Dish Network are also very popular as an alternative to cable television in Norfolk.
Town Point Park in downtown plays host to a wide variety of annual events from early spring through late fall. Harborfest, the region's largest annual festival which celebrated its 30th year in 2006, is held during the first weekend of June and celebrates the region's proximity and attachment to the water. The Parade of Sail (numerous tall sailing ships from around the world form in line and sail past downtown before docking at the marina), music concerts, regional food, and a large fireworks display highlight this 3-day festival. Bayoo Boogaloo and Cajun Food Festival, a celebration of the Cajun people and culture, had small beginnings. This 3-day festival during the 3rd week of June has become one of the largest in the region and, in addition to serving up Cajun cuisine, also features Cajun music. Norfolk's Fourth of July celebration of American independence, contains a spectacular fireworks display and a special Navy reenlistment ceremony. The Norfolk Jazz Festival, though smaller by comparison to some of the big city jazz festivals, still manages to attract the country's top jazz performers. It is held in August. The Town Pointe Virginia Wine Festival has become a showcase for Virginia-produced wines that has enjoyed increasing success over the years. Virginia's burgeoning wine industry has become increasingly noted both within the United States and on an international level and the festival has grown with the industry. Wines can be sampled and then purchased by the bottle and/or case directly from the winery kiosks. This event takes place during the 3rd weekend of October. The St. Patrick's Day annual parade in the city's Ocean View neighborhood, celebrates Ocean View's rich Irish heritage.
Norfolk has a variety of parks and open spaces through its city parks systems. The city maintains three beaches on its north shore in the Ocean View area. Five additional parks contain picnic facilities and playgrounds for children. The city also has some community pools open to city citizens. The Norfolk Botanical Garden, opened in 1939, is a 155-acre (0.6 km2) botanical garden and arboretum located near the Norfolk International Airport and is open year round. The Virginia Zoological Park, opened in 1900, is a 65-acre (260,000 m2) zoo with hundreds of animals on display including the critically endangered Siberian tiger and threatened white rhino among others. The City is also known for its "Mermaids on Parade," which is a public art program launched in 2002 to place mermaid statues all over the City. Tourists can take a walking tour of downtown and locate 17 mermaids while others can be found further afield.
From 1970 to 1976, Norfolk served as home court (along with Hampton, Richmond and Roanoke) for the Virginia Squires regional professional basketball franchise of the now-defunct American Basketball Association (ABA). From 1970 to 1971, the Squires played their Norfolk home games at the Old Dominion University Fieldhouse. In November 1971, the Virginia Squires played their Norfolk home games at the new Norfolk Scope arena, until the team and the ABA league folded in May 1976.
In 1971, Norfolk built the region's first entertainment and sports complex, featuring Chrysler Hall and the 13,800-seat Norfolk Scope indoor arena, located in the northern section of downtown. Norfolk Scope has served as a venue of major events including the American Basketball Association's All-Star Game in 1974, and the first and second NCAA Women's Division I Basketball Championships (also known as the Women's Final Four) in 1982 and 1983.
Currently, Norfolk serves as home to two professional franchises, the Norfolk Tides of the International League and the Norfolk Admirals of the American Hockey League. On the collegiate level, the Old Dominion Monarchs and the Norfolk State University Spartans provide many sports including football (coming to Old Dominion in 2009), basketball, and baseball. Virginia Wesleyan College also provides sports at the NCAA Division III level. The Virginia Wesleyan College men's basketball team won the 2006 National Championship in NCAA Division III Athletics.