With gas prices skyrocketing, it may seem odd timing for the Newport News Convention and Visitors Bureau to unveil an audio driving tour of the city's main attractions that possibly could bill itself as the "Great American Road Trip." Despite the cost of fuel, though, it's an excellent way to pack a sightseeing extravaganza into just one quick trip. Plus, you can carpool to share expenses. So best to hit the road now before we're all traveling by bicycles ' or perhaps horses.Savvy history tourists know to begin - where else? - at the Newport News Park Visitor Center (757-886-7777 or newport-news.org). The friendly staff is eager to recommend attractions, restaurants and places to shop. The center is also where you can purchase your audio CD for the driving tour ($12.95 plus tax).'The audio tour is broken into chapters, or stops. With a daunting 24 in all, it's impossible to spend significant time at any one place and still see all of the sites. The first three are all within the park - including the Visitor Center, the park itself and the battle site.'Moving on, you'll find more Civil War sites - Lee Hall Mansion and Endview Plantation (stops 4 and 5). Lee Hall, built in 1859, is a stunning and painstakingly renovated red-brick mansion that became a Confederate headquarters in 1862 due to its location on high ground. Endview Plantation, a 1769 Georgian-style home, functioned as both a Confederate and Union hospital during the war.For the sake of time, you can make quick visits at the 1880 Lee Hall Train Depot, the only surviving C&O depot in the area, and the Boxwood Inn, an elegant B&B that was built in 1896 and would make a nice romantic getaway on a separate trip.'The next three stops are within the working military base Fort Eustis, which requires having your car searched, making it an easy choice to skip over for two subsequent sites of yore - the picturesque Old Warwick Courthouses and the simple, tree-shaded Young's Mill.'Forgoing stop 12, Christopher Newport University, forge ahead to the Mariner's Museum and Peninsula Fine Arts Center - two stops in one! The 65,000-square-foot Mariner's Museum, home to the new USS Monitor Center, has more than 35,000 artifacts. The fine-arts center features revolving exhibits and a gallery loaded with works from local artists.At stop 14, take a stroll at Hilton Village, the first federal war-housing project. Moving on to Huntington Park and the Virginia War Museum, the coolest exhibits are the "Evolution of Weaponry," including an M5A1 Stuart Light Tank, and a section of the Berlin Wall.'In the park, you can kick off your shoes for a walk on the wide sandy beach along the James before heading to the next five points of interest: Stop 16, Victory Landing Park, with more great vistas of the river and a miniature Arc de Triomphe commemorating WWI; No. 17, the James A. Fields House, the home of a former slave who went on to become a member of the Virginia General Assembly; No. 18, Downing Gross, the city's performing-arts center; stop 19, the Newsome House with its fabulous wrap-around porch, now an African-American cultural center; and No. 20, the Monitor-Merrimac Overlook, which offers an outstanding view of where the famous Battle of the Ironclads occurred. Whew.With only four stops to go and daylight burning, spend at least a little bit of time at the Virginia Living Museum. It houses an aquarium, an outdoor aviary, a butterfly garden, a swamp and an outdoor trail with deer, beavers and red wolves. Be sure to stop in next door at the Peninsula SPCA Exotic Sanctuary and Petting Zoo to see the Siberian tiger. Stops 22 and 23 are shopping areas - Oyster Point and Port Warwick - but who really wants finish a day by shopping? For dinner, check out Kelly's Pub in Port Warwick for pub fare and a hearty pint of ale ... or two. And in doing so, you may opt to miss the final stop, No. 24, Christopher Newport University's Yoder Barn Theatre (757-594-8752 or fergusoncenter.cnu.edu), a dairy barn that serves as the stage to a wide variety of performances.As with several of the other stops, Yoder will have to wait. Maybe a bit of live theater might be nice during a romantic weekend getaway at the Boxwood Inn?
A Highlight of the TripFor lunch with a view of the water, diverge from the tour (between stops 14 and 15) to The Crab Shack on the James River (757-245-2722 or crabshackonthejames.com). Take Warwick Boulevard south, merge onto 17/258 South and make a quick left onto River Road to the shack. There, you can sit on the deck overlooking the James and enjoy homemade crab cakes and a beer or a wide variety of seafood dishes.