190 miles SE of Washington, D.C.; 93 miles E of Richmond; 17 miles W of Virginia Beach

Downtown Norfolk was notorious for its sailor bars when I was growing up about 75 miles south of here. For many years, in fact, we didn't go into downtown Norfolk. That's not true now, for the city has undergone a notable renaissance. Today, the rowdy joints are out in suburban strip malls, replaced by a vibrant, modern downtown of high-rise offices, condominiums, marinas, museums, shops, nightspots, a 12,000-seat minor league baseball park, and a downtown cruise-ship terminal. The MacArthur Center, a shopping mall just a few blocks from the riverfront, now dominates downtown. More condos and office buildings are going up as I write.

Also here are Virginia's finest art museum, the state's official zoo, and a botanical garden that comes ablaze with springtime azaleas. After dark, the state's symphony, opera, and stage company add highbrow culture. And if you're a foodie, hot restaurants bring exciting tastes to downtown and the hip residential neighborhood known as Ghent. Interspersed among the modern ingredients are reminders of Norfolk's past, such as historic houses and the old City Hall, now a museum and memorial to World War II hero Gen. Douglas MacArthur.

Indeed, this rising Southern star -- dubbed by the local tourist bureau as "The New Norfolk" -- is one of the more diverse and fascinating Virginia cities in which to spend a day or two.