By Amy Suski
Charlottesville will always have a special place in my heart because my husband and I started dating there when we were both students at the University of Virginia (UVA). At just over a 2-hour drive from Washington, D.C., Charlottesville is also a perfect weekend getaway destination-- with or without the kids. Before we had kids, we'd stay at one of the lovely Inns or B&Bs, visit a nearby vineyard such as Barboursville, browse the bookstores and antique shops, and enjoy a cozy dinner at the C&O Restaurant. Once we started bringing the kids, the itinerary changed, but the visits are just as much fun.
When traveling with the kids, we like to stay at the Boar's Head Inn, the official hotel of UVA. The extensive grounds of this charming resort offer extensive paths, a fishing pond (gear can be borrowed from the concierge), biking, tennis courts, a playground, and an outdoor pool. Inside the huge Sports Center families can flex their muscles on the rock-climbing wall, in the fitness center, or on world-class squash courts. The Inn's staff can also help arrange a spectacular balloon ride, golfing at Birdwood, a spa visit, and more.
For a quick and casual meal, The Sports Club Cafe alongside the pool offers a good menu for kids including burgers and smoothies. In the afternoon, my daughter also took full advantage of complimentary tea time. Although the sweets are fancy, there is no need for dressing up for this casual tea. We dropped in after the pool and found an adorable child's table and chair that welcomes the tiniest of tea-totalers. In warm weather, the terrace off the Bistro 1834 was the perfect location for a family dinner. The kids liked being outside, the adults enjoyed the cocktail list, and the view of the pond under the stars was lovely. The Old Mill Room offers more formal dinners, but we were happy with the Bistro in the evenings and visiting the Old Mill Room for breakfast.
Around town, there are even more fun things for families to do. One of our favorites is a visit to the Carter Mountain Orchard for pick-your-own fruit, fresh-baked treats, ice cream, and lunch on the deck with one of the best mountain-views around.
Another must-do is a visit to Thomas Jefferson's one-of-a-kind mountaintop home, Monticello. Timed-entry tickets can be purchased online (which I recommend) and include a guided house tour and day pass to the grounds. If you have toddlers, it might be better to delay your house visit until they are school-aged, but once they are old enough to stand still for a bit, the guided house tour is approximately 35 minutes long and well worth it. On special days throughout the year Monticello also offers family friendly tours for children ages 5-11. If you can make it to a family tour, great; but if not, most kids will appreciate the regular tour too. The guides always have something new and interesting to share and are especially good at engaging children in the group. After the house tour the kids can stretch their legs by roaming the cellar, visiting the slave quarters, and walking through the extensive gardens. During warmer months, the Mountaintop Hands-on Activity Center may have crafts and other activities set up outside. We enjoyed trying our hand at calligraphy and posing each other in front of a camera obscura.
Once your visit to the house is complete, I recommend skipping the return bus ride and walking back to the visitor's center. A relatively short downhill path will take you by the family cemetery where you can point out Jefferson's grave. Once back at the visitor center, The Griffin Discovery Room offers fun hands-on-activities including: deciphering a coded message, weaving, writing with Jefferson's polygraph, pumping a blacksmith's bellows, cooking over a kitchen hearth, dressing up in period clothing, and building with architectural blocks.
If all this exploring makes you hungry, along the same road as Monticello and Carter Mountain, you'll also find the historic Michie Tavern (ca. 1784), offering a hearty fixed-price tavern buffet including southern fried chicken, pork bbq, and baked chicken. But even if you're not ravenous, its worth a stop to take a self-guided tour and visit to the old-timey shops. Kids will enjoy an 18th-century Treasure Hunt, picking out a sweet in the general store, and browsing the old-fashioned toys.
Charlottesville's pedestrian-friendly historic downtown mall is also a big attraction for families. Depending on the season you may be treated to an outdoor concert, art show, or farmer's market. In addition to strolling the brick walkway with an ice-cream cone, there are dozens of unique eateries, galleries, and shops to visit, an indoor ice rink, 2 movie theaters, and the kid-favorite Alakazamtoys. For young children, the Virginia Discovery Museum offers hands-on discovery activities including a miniature bakery, post office, log cabin, and pirate ship. Families can also hop on a free trolley for a self-guided tour linking the downtown with the campus. From the trolley, we like to hop off at "the Corner" -- a small area of restaurants, bars, and bookstores across the street from the main UVA campus.
Of course, for us no visit to Charlottesville would be complete without a visit to UVA's campus. Along with Monticello, the picture-perfect campus has been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. On any given day seemingly carefree students are lounging on the lawn in groups, reading, talking about the latest big game, playing frisbee or just taking a nap-- all of which will give your kids ample reason to think college would be a pretty neat place to go. If you time it right you can even take your kids to one of the many popular Cavalier (a.k.a. "Wahoo" or "Hoos") sporting events. If you're just stopping by campus for a stroll, make sure to duck into the "secret" gardens hidden behind serpentine walls and look for plaques outside the lawn residences of notable alums such as Edgar Allen Poe. Currently, the Rotunda is undergoing a restoration and is expected to reopen in the fall of 2016.
For more information and help planning your trip, visit www.visitcharlottesville.org and Trip Advisor's Charlottesville Guide.
The opinions expressed are entirely my own and do not reflect those of the businesses and organizations mentioned. We did not receive any special discounts or benefits on this trip. All rights are reserved by KidTrips © 2014.
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