The Jamestown colonists first set foot in the New World at Cape Henry on April 26, 1607. Although they stayed just long enough to plant a cross in the sand and give thanks for their safe passage from England, later generations did decide to live here -- lots of them, including some of my close relatives.

Today, the cities of Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Portsmouth, and Chesapeake comprise a megalopolis of nearly a million people sprawling along the southern shores of Hampton Roads, one of the world's largest natural harbors.

Norfolk and Portsmouth have been important seaports since being founded in 1682 and 1752, respectively. They were fought over often during the Civil War, including the famous battle between the first ironclads, USS Monitor and CSS Virginia (nee Merrimac), out on Hampton Roads.

Indeed, the navy still rules here, for this area has America's largest concentration of naval bases, which add enormously to its economy.

The sailors once made Norfolk a bawdy seaport, but the city has rebuilt its downtown into a vibrant center of shopping, dining, and sightseeing. Norfolk's attractions include Virginia's best art museum, a marvelous botanical garden, and the state zoo.

A brief ferry ride across the Elizabeth River takes you on an easy excursion to Portsmouth's gentrified Olde Towne, whose rich architecture may remind you of Charleston and Savannah.

A sprawling suburb for most of the year, Virginia Beach sees its population more than double during the summer, when 20 miles of uninterrupted sand and surf draw vacationers from around the globe. With a host of outdoor activities, a multitude of hotels, and close proximity to the other cities, it's no mystery why most visitors make "VaBeach" (as locals refer to the oceanfront area) their base for exploring this area.

From Virginia Beach, the 17-mile engineering marvel known as the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel will whisk you north to a different world: Virginia's rural Eastern Shore. Here you will visit Chincoteague Island, home of an ancient fishing village, and its neighbor, Assateague Island, site of a magnificent national seashore and a wildlife refuge teeming with birds and the famous wild ponies of Assateague.