Thursday, March 24, 2011

I'm Lovin' It!

"Virginia is for Lovers" linked to a CNN article on its Facebook page highlighting 15 places kids should see by age 15. Big news for Virginia, because two locations are mentioned along with Washington, D.C., which is just in our backyard.

I've been to 7 of the hot spots, thanks to a trip out West when I was a teenager and a recent trek out to San Francisco with my husband.

Monticello and Williamsburg are included as must-see visits, and I gotta say, I have a certain amount of expertise in these areas. As a grad of "Mr. Jefferson's University," I've had more than one trip to his home at Monticello. And I grew up in a family of Williamsburg freaks. Of course, you have to see Monticello and Williamsburg themselves, but there's so much more to see than just that. So here's a look at what the natives do:


Bobby and I visited Monticello recently after the U2 concert in Charlottesville. So much fun! The visitors' center up there is relatively new and a welcome addition. What's more, the cafe inside is really pretty good. On the way to Monticello, you might see signs for Michie Tavern. My mom loves the place, but I say keep on going. The tavern promises and authentic colonial experience, but from what I can remember, you're really only paying for plain old fried chicken on a pewter plate. Go for the gourmet fare further up the hill at the visitors' center.

On your way back down the mountain, stop at Jefferson Vineyards. Winemaking was an interest of Jefferson's, and the vineyards today grow in the same location as the originals. I'm a big fan of the Vin Blanc.

Speaking of wineries, if you have extra time, head out Rt 29 to Barboursville Vineyards. This winery is one of the best in the state. We have a bottle of its prize-winning Octagon, waiting for a super special occasion. There are ruins of the original home nearby, and an acclaimed restaurant on site.

If you resisted Michie Tavern and the cafe at Monticello and still find yourself hungry, head to UVA and hang out on the Corner. You can try a legendary Gusburger at The White Spot (it's the fried egg that makes it special). We were always fans of littlejohns and Take It Away (try the house dressing). Other friends would argue that you have to trek out to Crozet and have a slice at Crozet Pizza. Also a great recommendation, and that brings me to the final suggestion for your C'ville road trip:

If you're traveling in the summer, check out Chiles Peach Orchard, not far from Crozet. If it's fall, go to Carter Mountain Orchard. Picking peaches or apples couldn't be easier, and the kids had a blast. The shop is stocked full of baked goods, and at Chiles you can order a peach milkshake.

Obviously, some of these activities are geared more toward adults. And Monticello tours might be tough for younger kids, although the older ones will probably find Jefferson's gadgets and other inventions fascinating. But taking the kids down to the University or out for pizza and peach picking is a great way to spend a weekend afternoon.


I can't count how often I've been to Colonial Williamsburg. We even had Thanksgiving dinner in a tavern there one year (lots of fun, but not an all-you-can-eat affair). I grew up going there, and we love taking our kids there today.

For a full day, you can always go to Busch Gardens or Great Wolf Lodge. Busch Gardens offers a preschool pass to Virginia residents, with free admission for kids 5 and under. You do have to go online to register. We've never been to the Lodge, but hear great things about it from friends, so I feel safe recommending it.

If you don't want to spend major cash at the amusement parks, try some of these other options:

I can't say enough good things about Jamestown. A few years ago, Bobby and I spent our anniversary in Williamsburg and decided to check out Jamestown for something different. The visitors' center is incredible - we spent HOURS wandering through exhibits that start with pre-historic Virginia. I took the girls this past fall, and although I was worried about their attention span, they loved it. There are short film strips and some interactive displays along the way, and if that gets too tough for them, there are replicas of Powhatan villages where they can play Native American games and grind their own corn. A short trip down the path, you'll find the colonial fort with costumed interpreters, and beyond that, they can board three replica ships docked nearby. We've brought our own picnic and enjoyed lunch out front while looking at flags for every state in the nation. Really, if you head down to Williamsburg, a trip to Jamestown is a must-see.

After you have your fill of history, check out Prime Outlets on Rt 60. They've expanded in recent years and feature shops for all interests. You can find our family here right before school starts, taking advantage of Tax Free deals (first weekend in August)! Also on Rt 60 is the Yankee Candle flagship store. I love going here to find my favorite, rare scents. There's also a Christmas village, a performing clock tower, and kids' shop. Last time we were there, Bug created her own candle.

If you're hungry, you may decide you want to eat in the Colonial area. That's fine, but I warn you that I think the taverns have gone downhill in recent years. I'd recommend The Cheese Shop in Merchant's Square (gourmet sandwiches), Christiana Campbell's Tavern for dinner, and a new favorite, Food For Thought, on Rt 60 (yummy crab cakes). For dessert, go to the Peanut Shop and buy a tin of Chocolate Covered Peanut Brittle. It's addictive.

Honestly, we haven't paid for admission to Williamsburg exhibits in years. I think Jamestown is much more informative. However, there are a few Williamsburg things we don't ever miss: Soap from the gift shop, gingerbread cakes from the bakery, root beer and ginger ale! And if we're feeling festive, we'll do the Sunday brunch at the Williamsburg Lodge. It's pricey, but well worth it.

Last time, we ended our trip with a visit to Williamsburg Winery. Note: Although not impossible, this is best done without kids!

So, my friends that are from Williamsburg or Charlottesville, or attended W&M or UVA, what are your suggestions?

For the rest of you out there, hit the road and let me know how it goes!

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