An Overview of Virginia & Interesting Factoids
Way back in 1607, English settlers numbering a mere 100 arrived in what we now call Virginia. They founded a fort known as Jamestown on the southern shore.
Today, the State of Virginia encompasses 42,775 square miles and has a population of 8,642,274 per the U.S. Census Bureau, pretty evenly divided between males and females. A total of 90.3% have a high school education, and 39.5% have a bachelor’s degree or more.
Virginia has a number of official animals:
- The state dog is the American Foxhound
- The native Virginia Big-Eared bat is the state bat
- The Cardinal is the state bird
- The Tiger Swallowtail holds the title of the state insect
- The state snake is the Eastern Garter snake
When it comes to plants, since 1918 the Flowering Dogwood has been the official flower when it beat the Virginia Creeper by a single vote. State songs include “Our Great Virginia,” “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny,” and “Sweet Virginia Breeze.”
The most influential Native Americans were the Powhatan Confederacy, which controlled most of the Tidewater region where they were farmers. The famous Pocahontas was a Powhatan.
Virginia’s Rich History
Virginia’s history is America’s history. Did you know the state was named after Queen Elizabeth I? It proudly boasts the first permanent English colony, formed in 1607 and named Jamestown. It became one of the original 13 states in 1788.
Its place in American history was assured when it became home to founding fathers, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, George Mason, and Patrick Henry. No less than four United States’ first presidents came from Virginia. The capital, Richmond, was also the capital of the Confederacy.
Virginia’s history is still alive, and many spots have become destinations for both residents and tourists. Here are some fun, historical places you can visit once you live there:
- Mount Vernon, just south of the city of Alexandria, was the home of President George Washington. However, he spent little time there, busy as he was with the American Revolution and participating in the French and Indian War. Daily tours are available.
- While Edgar Allan Poe never lived in the “Old Stone House,” it commemorates his time in Richmond. Filled with Poe memorabilia, it also is the oldest building in Richmond.
- First Landing State Park was where the initial settlers of what was then the Virginia Colony landed in April 1607. Historical markers point out essential details while there are plenty of trails and abundant wildlife.
- Fans of the Carter Family will enjoy the A.P. Carter Museum. This tribute to the musical Carter Family has clothes, photos, books, and other items donated by June Carter and Johnny Cash.
- Monticello is famous as President Thomas Jefferson’s plantation home. An innovator and inventor, Jefferson designed his house, taking cues from the Italian Renaissance. Furniture takes up unnecessary space, he thought, and you can see that in his placement of beds, tables, and other items.
- Patrick Henry famously declared, “Give me liberty, or give me death!” inside St. John’s Church. Since his speech in 1775, it’s become an enduring symbol of patriotism.
- Bridge enthusiasts will enjoy Humpback Bridge in Covington. It’s the oldest surviving bridge in Virginia, dating back to 1957, and has a unique curved shape.
- The British came, and then they surrendered. A mix of French and American forces led by George Washington prevailed in 1781. The Yorktown Victory Center sits on his historic site and provides outdoor exhibits, films, and other information marking the path to the country’s freedom from British rule.
- Architectural fans will love Bacon’s Castle in Surry. Constructed in 1665, the mansion’s style is Jacobian, and it’s the only example left in America. Named for Rebel Leader Nathaniel Bacon, guided tours can be had from March through November.
- A small wooden house stands as a tribute to Booker T. Washington in Hardy. He was born and raised here, and where he formed his thoughts on emancipation.
- Jamestown is a place of much mystery, as well as the first Virginia settlement. A knight’s gravestone was found embedded into the floor of a church, and bones have been found that were laid out in a formal English style. Mysteries aside, Jamestown today offers historical reenactments, Powhatan village recreations, English ships, as well as a colonial fort. Take a trip back in time!
- Civil War enthusiasts will want to visit the Appomattox Courthouse. This is where General Lee surrendered to end the Civil War, and General Grant graciously accepted. You can visit this building as well as others in this National Historical Park.
Of course, there are many other historical sites in Virginia, but this list should give you a great start. But what’s it like to live in Virginia today? I’m glad you asked.
Living in Virginia
If you’ve lived all of your life in Houston, you are missing the joys of having four discernable seasons. Summers in Houston are hot and humid. Winters in Houston are humid, cold, and rainy. There’s no real Spring or Fall. Texas is a big state, so getting anywhere, such as the Texas Hill Country, takes hours. Houston has no beach, no mountains, and no winter sports.
That’s enough of what Houston doesn’t have. Let’s talk about what Virginia does have that makes moving the state so appealing.
Yep, you get four instead of two. We’ll do a deeper dive into Virginia weather later, but just know that winters are cold, spring is filled with blooming beauty, summers are hot, but there are plenty of beaches, lakes, and rivers, and fall is filled with color.
You’re at the Heart of the East Coast
So much is so close! You’ll never lack for day trips. If you’ve ever wanted to visit Washington D.C., you’re 1:40 away from things like the Lincoln Memorial, the Smithsonian, and the Capitol, among other treats. Want to visit New York City? It makes a great weekend trip about five hours away.
You Love the Mountains and the Beach
Virginia is filled with mountains. McAfee’s Knob along the Appalachian Trail offers panoramic views. Visit Shenandoah National Park, Morning Star to see the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains or Hawksbill Mountain, the highest peak in the park.
If you’re more of a beach bunny, Virginia has plenty of beautiful beaches just a short drive away. You can even see wild ponies at Assateague Island Seashore!
These are just a few of the many things that make moving to Virginia appealing.
The Cost of Living
The overall cost of living in Houston is slightly less than in Virginia, but it depends on where you live. We’re using the capital, Richmond, as a baseline.
The cost to rent a place is pretty comparable. You’ll spend an average of $1,459 for an apartment in Richmond, and $1,381 average for the same apartment in Houston. Of course, prices in both places depend on the neighborhood.
Renting a three-bedroom home is less in Richmond: $1,492 vs. $1,518 in Houston. If you want a four-bedroom house, the gap is even larger: $1,787 in Richmond vs. $1,949 in Houston. Just keep in mind that the rental market is tight, with only a 2.5% vacancy rate.
The median home cost in Houston is $220,000, and in Richmond, it’s $282,800. The housing market in Richmond is more competitive than in Houston, with an average of six to seven offers. This means you might want to take advantage of the cheaper rental rates while you find your perfect home at the ideal price.
Moving from Houston to Virginia will save you 48% on transportation.
The Economy in Virginia
You’ll be happy to know that Virginia has an unemployment rate of 5.1%, which is lower than the country’s average 6.0%, and job growth is expected to be 34.9%. The median income exceeds the U.S. average at $64,792 vs. $53,482.
Most people in Virginia work in:
- Healthcare and social assistance
- Professional, scientific, and technical services
- Hotel and food service
The Educational System
If you’re looking for a good education, Virginia is the place to be. Compared with Houston, Richmond:
- Spends 32.5% more per student
- Has a lower (38%) student-to-teacher ratio
- Has 8.5% more people who have graduated high school
Virginia’s school systems are superior in every way to Houston’s. The U.S. Department of Education’s National Assessment of Education Progress names it among the top 10 states, and students outperform the average in almost every subject area and grade level.
Virginia also has a statewide system that supports and holds accountable all public schools, and has a Standards of Learning with quality standards.
Virginia is also home to notable universities that include:
- George Mason University, which has four programs among the top 100 in the world, including business, computer science, engineering, and nursing
- The University of Virginia is considered one of the best universities in the country and has highly-ranked graduate programs in business, education, engineering, applied science, law, and medicine. Fun fact: UVA has one of the 25 remaining original copies of the Declaration of Independence in its library.
- William & Mary is the second oldest college in the country, founded in 1693 by King William III and Queen Mary II of England. It has more than 30 undergraduate and 10 graduate programs. It’s home to the renowned Marshall-Whythe School of Law, which was the nation’s first law school, as well as the Mason School of Business.
- Virginia Tech is a former military technical institute. It has graduated two Rhodes Scholars, four Marshall Scholars, 38 Goldwater Scholars, and 131 Fulbright Scholars. It also counts among its alums three Nobel laureates. That’s just a partial list of what Virginia Tech students have accomplished.
- The University of Richmond is a private college that ranks as one of the country’s most innovative schools. It was founded in 1830 and is one of the best liberal arts colleges and one of the best value schools in the United States.
Education is essential, but keeping healthy is, too. Let’s explore the healthcare system in Virginia.
Virginia’s Healthcare System
A federal government report recently ranked Virginia among the top 10 states for healthcare quality. The state came out strong in effective treatment measures and ranked first in acute care measurements, while placing seventh in the nation for chronic care.
U.S. News recently released their latest rankings for the best hospitals in Virginia, and they include:
#1 – Inova Fairfax Hospital in Falls Church for specialty and children’s specialty, including a number of cancer surgeries and cardiology and heart surgery.
#2 – University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville, which ranks highly in several pediatric and adult specialties covering 14 conditions and procedures that include treatments for cancer, cardiology, diabetes, and endocrinology.
#3 – Sentara Norfolk General Hospital in Norfolk is a real performer in cardiology and heart surgery, as well as gastroenterology and GI surgery.
#3 – Tied at number three is VCU Medical Center in Richmond. It holds a national ranking for one adult specialties, and three pediatric specialties. These include cancer, cardiology, gastroenterology, and GI surgery. It also scores well in geriatrics and orthopedics.
Overall, healthcare in Virginia ranks 12th, so you can be confident you’re getting great care.
The Military in Virginia
Virginia has two state military components–the Virginia Defense Force and the Virginia National Guard, according to the state’s Department of Military Affairs. The state has 27 military bases, and every military branch has at least one. These include:
- Langley Air Force Base, Hampton
- Fort Belvoir Army Base, Fairfax
- Fort Eustis Army Base, Newport News
- Finance Center Coast Guard Base, Chesapeake
- Marine Corps Air Facility, Quantico – this is where the President flies from
- NAB Little Creek Navy Base, Norfolk
Virginia Beach, per its economic development department, is known to have the largest number of military personnel aside from the Pentagon. There are almost 90,000 active-duty military members. There are also 52,240 civilian employees and another 279,000 connected to the military. This, of course, has an enormous impact on the economy; in 2019-2020, this was nearly $16 billion, with an annual payroll of $13 billion.
Virginia is for Foodies
Virginia isn’t just for lovers. The Food Network sings the praises of Virginia’s iconic foods that go back to its founding days. Yum! Let’s take a look, and then you can taste when you arrive. Bet you can’t wait!
- Pimento cheese. Okay, so you might remember this from your childhood, but it’s definitely gotten an upgrade with the addition of things like roasted red pepper and shallots. The cheese itself is a Southern classic that is often served with pickles and Ritz crackers. You can find this at Pasture in Richmond.
- Fried Pies are another Southern staple that can be found across Virginia. You can find an Apple Bourbon Sorghum Caramel Fry Pie with a warm thyme custard at The Shack in Staunton.
- Oysters. Virginia is the leading East Coast oyster producer. The Merrior restaurant in Topping harvests these babies daily.
- Peanut pie. Those big peanuts you see? They come from Virginia, where they’ve been grown since the 1840s. Located in the heart of peanut country in Sussex county, the Virginia Diner puts a whopping half-pound of peanuts in their gooey pie.
- Macaroni and cheese. It’s a fact: in the 1790s, Thomas Jefferson got a pasta machine in Europe and liked serving macaroni to his guests. The Virginia Restaurant in Jefferson was established in 1819 and carries on the tradition. Their Stumble Down Mac N’ Chees is a favorite of students at the University of Virginia, which is nearby.
- Brunswick stew is a Southern icon that several Southern States–Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia–claim to be its birthplace. However, the Grey Goose in Hampton sells up to 10 gallons of this chicken stew during the colder months.
- Last but not least, Peanut Soup. The restaurant 1776 Log House in Wytheville is located in a log cabin built in 1776. Their peanut soup recipe is adapted from one served at the Hostel Roanoke in the 1880s.
Iconic dishes aside, there are over 15,000 establishments for eating and drinking in the state, so finding something delicious is easy. Virginia is also home to 300 wineries, with trails and tours.
Getting to work, school, or any of the fun things to do in Virginia likely requires some driving. And like anywhere, driving in the larger cities, particularly when driving near Washington DC, traffic can be a bear. Rush hours are incredibly stressful. And a study by Insurify puts Virginia on the list of the most dangerous states for drivers.
Fortunately, several public transportation systems provide buses so commuters can stay off the highways and byways. The Department of Rail and Public Transportation offers a transportation navigator so you can connect with local transit.
Virginia has both beaches and mountains, so the weather varies depending on where you are, but it is officially labeled a humid, subtropical region. Summers are humid near the coast, and dryer in the mountains, with temperatures that average 10 degrees cooler.
It’s a state of microclimates, including Tidewater, Piedmont, Northern Virginia, Western Mountain, and Southwestern Mountain. This means you can enjoy skiing or snowboarding and then leave the mountains and play a round of golf.
In Richmond, the average temperature in January is 47 degrees. Spring finds temperatures in the 70s, Summer in the 80s, and Fall back in the 70s.
When it comes to natural disasters, like most states, Virginia has its share of severe storms, floods, wildfires, extreme heat, landslides, and tropical storms. And hold onto your hat–Virginia actually has earthquakes! Per Virginia Tech, there have been over 160 since 1977, although only 16% were felt.
Plenty for the Beach Bunnies
While Virginia has only 112 miles of coastline, it’s packed with great beaches along the Atlantic Ocean and the Chesapeake Bay. Here are a few Virginia Travels recommends:
Sandbridge in Virginia Beach
Choose this beach if you want some quiet time. It’s popular with locals but is rarely visited by tourists. It’s located south of the Virginia Beach main drag. There are no hotels, but there are beach rentals and condos. There are lifeguards along certain parts and food stands in Little Island Park.
Virginia Beach in Virginia Beach
This is the beach most people think of when they think of beaches in Virginia. It gets 19 million visitors annually, so the beach is often packed. It’s family-friendly with restaurants, theme parks, and a boardwalk. For those looking for souvenirs, a variety of food, and lots of things to do, it’s perfect. For those who want some alone time, you’re better off skipping it.
First Landing State Park on Chesapeake Bay
Known for its history, camping, and gorgeous beaches, it’s also the home of rainbow sheen swamps. Don’t worry–the sheen doesn’t come from an oil spill. It comes from the natural oils released by vegetation as it decays. You can explore the park or visit the beach where the first English settlers landed in North America. This park is also home to some great hiking trails.
Croatan Beach in Virginia Beach
Surf’s up! This beach south of Rudee Inlet and just north of Camp Pendleton has been the host of the East Coast Surfing Championships since 1982. There are two dedicated surfing areas and plenty of lifeguards. Whether you already surf or want to learn to surf at a surf camp, it’s the place for you.
Buckroe Beach in Hampton
This is one of Virginia’s oldest parks and recreation areas, founded in 1619. It was used as a fishing camp up until the Civil War. This is one of Virginia’s most family-friendly beaches, and you can rent kayaks, umbrellas, and lounge chairs. You’ll also find ice cream, plenty of food, and a pavilion that holds regular performances.
Things to Do in Virginia
History, of course, is everywhere in Virginia, but that’s not all there is to do. Let’s look at some of the top-rated attractions that will help you explore all f the wonderful things your new state has to offer.
Shenandoah National Park and Skyline Drive
If hiking or driving in the mountains is your jam, you’ll love this park in the center of the state. Skyline Drive runs along the crest of the Blue Mountains and has points to stop and take in the views that include the old Cave Cemetery below Dark Hollow Falls as well as President Hoover’s summer house.
October fall colors make this the most popular time for hikers. Luray Caverns, just a short drive away, has a plethora of stalactites and stalagmites for those spelunkers among us.
It’s like an alien landscape with all of its calcite formations. Highlights include Titania’s Veil, Double Column, interior lakes, and a spectacular one-of-a-kind musical instrument named the Stalapipe Organ. This organ creates music using stalactites.
There’s also a museum exploring the history of the Shenandoah Valley. It’s composed of a seven-acre village from the 19th century with authentic and reproduction artifacts as well as buildings. In addition, there’s a Car & Carriage Caravan Museum & Toy Town Junction with a toy collection and train set from the 1940s.
Stand in the footsteps of Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson and have a meal in the same place George Washington ate. For recreating the American Revolutionary period, Williamsburg can’t be beaten. Many original 18th-century buildings are still standing, while others have been reproduced.
Interpreters in costume show what life was like for different strata of society, including gentry, farmers, and enslaved people. Re-enactments are one of the popular attractions that bring history to life. It’s an excellent place for a family visit. Aside from the above, there are two decorative and folk art museums along with many colonial gardens.
Arlington National Cemetery
This is the place to see the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, carved of white marble and containing the remains of soldiers from World War I, World War II, the Korean Conflict, and the Vietnam War. It’s faithfully attended by an honor guard 24/7/365.
The cemetery is home to some famous graves. It’s also the home of the Women in Military Service Memorial, the Iwo Jima Memorial, and the Seabees Memorial. Also on the grounds, which encompasses 600 acres, is the Arlington House. It was built by George Washington but is most famous as the home of Robert E. Lee until the Civil War.
Unusual Attractions in Virginia
For those looking for things out of the ordinary, Atlas Obscura has some attractions for you! Let’s take a look at a few.
- President Heads in Williamsburg. There are 42 20-foot busts of U.S. presidents in a field.
- Dinosaurland in White Post. This park has over 50 poorly-proportioned homemade statues of not just dinosaurs, but King Kong and Jaws. It also has an extensive gift shop.
- Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond. A gorgeous cemetery above the James River makes this a popular site for photographers. Presidents James Monroe, John Tyler, and Confederate President Jefferson Davis are buried here.
You can also see the mausoleum of W.W. Pool, vampire. In 1929, legend has it that a man-like creature with jagged teeth covered in blood with falling-off flesh was seen going into this mausoleum. Of course, this has been debunked, but it’s still a favorite with visitors.
- The Pinball Museum in Roanoke has over 50 classic pinball machines. It’s located in downtown Roanoke. Every exhibit can be played, including the Screwball, dating back to 1948.
History imbues most Virginia attractions, but there are plenty of other attractions, museums among them, that are worth a visit once you get settled.
- The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
- The National Museum of the Marine Corps
- Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of the University of Virginia
- Taubman Museum of Art
- Virginia Aquarium and Museum Science Center
There are also interactive museums for kids, including Explore More Discover Museum in Harrisonburg and The Science Museum of Virginia in Richmond.
The festivals in Virginia run almost year round and run the gamut from state and county fairs to Summer and Fall festivals to film festivals. Here are some of the most popular according to Trip 101.
- Virginia International Tattoo in Norfolk is a celebration of music and the military, with 1,000 performers from eight countries. It takes place from April to May of each year.
- Norfolk Harborfest happens for three days each June. It’s perfect for the whole family, with rides, games, fireworks, and tasty food.
- Virginia Highlands Festival has taken place in July in Abingdon for almost 80 years. It aims to preserve the culture and heritage of Southwest Virginia. It showcases local art.
- Norfolk NATO Festival has been going on since 1953, when NATO central command established a base there. It’s a military showcase for NATO member states and is an opportunity for cultural exchange. It takes place from April to May.
- Old Fiddlers Convention in Galax happens in August each year. It’s a weekend of fun, fiddles, competition, and family-oriented activities. You can even camp on-site.
- Hot Air Balloon Rally in Lexington is your opportunity to take a hot air balloon ride or watch the balloons take to the skies. It’s a fun time for a good cause–all proceeds go to charity.
- Chautauqua Festival in Wytheville is all about art of all kinds, from music to crafts to painting. It takes place from July to August.
- Ella Fitzgerald Music Festival in Newport News happens every year in April to honor the “First Lady of Music,” who just happened to have been born in Newport News. Fans can enjoy various artists performing Fitzgerald’s tunes.
- American Music Festival takes over the Virginia Beach Oceanfront each Labor Day weekend. It features local bands as well as big names.
There’s no lack of festivals in Virginia. These are just a few. Others include the Richmond Folk Festival, the Neptune Festival, the Shenandoah Valley Music Festival, and FloydFest, held in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
As you can see, there’s plenty to do in Virginia! Let’s explore some exciting and fun things to do with the whole family or group of friends.
- Kings Dominion and Soak City is a 400-acre theme park just 20 miles north of Richmond. It has more than 60 rides that including 12 famed roller coasters. The largest enclosed dark tube slide in the world is a feature of Soak City. It’s 20 acres of water fun.
- Busch Gardens© and Water Country USA has an international flair, with foods, landmarks, and entertainment that puts you in a different European village. Water Country USA has water slides, a free-floating river, and Surfer’s Bay with waves you can surf!
- Great Wolf Lodge is an indoor water park that can be used year-round and is a great family getaway. It also features rope courses, a 3D movie theater, an arcade, and a bowling alley.
- Massanutten WaterPark is another indoor water park with a multi-story interactive fortress. This fortress features water slides, waterfalls, cannons, and a large surf simulator. It’s open from Memorial Day until Labor Day.
Is Virginia A Good Place to Live?
Virginia residents have an excellent quality of life. U.S. News & World Report ranks it among the top 10 states to live in the country. The things that are most important to people were measured, including health care, education, the economy, infrastructure, and opportunity. The equation includes fiscal stability, crime and corrections, and the natural environment.
Virginia ranked #7 overall, and among the highest category ranking was for opportunity, looking at affordability, economic opportunity, and equality. World Population Review also has a high opinion of Virginia, ranking it seventh in quality of life, with one of the top economies in the nation. CNBC even named it the best state for business.
Is Virginia a Good Place to Retire?
If you’re exploring retirement options, you should take a look at Virginia, Kiplinger’s seventh best state to retire. While the overall cost of living is high, seniors have a high household income, 11.3% more than the national average.
Healthcare costs are lower than the national average, and retirees can expect to pay 3.4% less than the average in the U.S. Also, Virginia doesn’t tax Social Security and provides a nice income tax credit, and has low crime rates.
Some of the best places to retire in the state include Virginia Beach, Arlington, Alexandria, and Winchester.
Virginia is a Great Choice
Virginia has a low crime rate, a fabulous healthcare system, a prosperous economy, and you’ll never lack things to do. Stir into the recipe a heaping spoonful of history, and you can see why many find Virginia one of the very best places to live.