The Family That Travels Together...Loves Virginia
Kids are major stakeholders in summer vacation, and there’s no better place to get their buy-in than Virginia. A state that caters to every conceivable interest and personality, this is heaven on earth for everyone from water babies to science nerds to adrenaline junkies.
The list goes on, but we’ve gotten it down to six archetypes—and come up with awesome adventures for each. The best part? You can mix and match to make everyone in the family happy, so there will be no shortage of content for those inevitable “What I did—and loved—this summer” essays.
For the Hamilton-obsessed
The Battle of Yorktown, 1781 ...
If you’ve got a #Hamilfan at home, you can hear those lyrics in your head right now as clearly as you can hear your own kid’s voice. In fact, you can probably hear them in your kid's voice. The obsession has struck at least one member of every household we know, especially as the national tour hits more and more cities. So odds are, someone under your roof really wants to see Yorktown, among other Hamil-famous sights. And this is the summer to indulge that curiosity: America’s Historic Triangle (Williamsburg-Jamestown-Yorktown) is celebrating its 400th birthday, with all kinds of commemorative events over the summer.
In Yorktown specifically, head for the Revolutionary War battlefield, part of the National Park Service’s Colonial National Historical Park. Check out the Yorktown Victory Monument, tip your hat to GW for securing our independence, then visit the nearby American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, where characters in period costume will welcome you to a Continental Army encampment, and possibly recruit you to the resident cannon crew. The galleries will also provide a refresher course—complete with artifacts, dioramas and short films—on Hamilton and the 1781 Siege of Yorktown.
Meanwhile, in neighboring Colonial Williamsburg, you’ll hear from Hamilton bestie Marquis De Lafayette—or at least his horseback-riding re-enactor. In fact, those who are super-obsessed can follow an entire Hamilton-and-Lafayette local trail.
Elsewhere in the state, you’ll want to visit the historic homes of three other key players in Hamilton (and, you know, American history): Thomas Jefferson, whose recently renovated Monticello now comes with a Hamilton interactive map; George Washington, whose Mount Vernon earns a mention in the Stay Alive portion of the musical; and James Madison, co-author of the Federalist Papers (the essays mentioned in Act I's Non-Stop) and nearly lifelong resident of Montpelier—that is, excluding those years in Congress, the White House and Jefferson's cabinet. (Pro tip: Pack hiking shoes for Madison's estate—it's home to more than eight miles of lush, vista-blessed trails.)
For fans of The Voice
Want some serious parenting points? Take any musically-inclined munchkins for a trip down the Crooked Road: Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail, which winds through 300 miles of pastoral landscapes, over the Appalachian Mountains, and right by the old coal mines. A celebration of local culture, the path pays homage to the myriad local musical traditions—bluegrass, gospel, and old-time mountain music (a truly American sound that’s seriously fiddle-forward).
A particularly popular spot is the Carter Family Fold on the site of the ancestral home of the so-called first family of country music, whose earliest recordings date to the 1920s—and whose progeny included June Carter Cash. Johnny Cash gave his final concert here—and you can still catch shows every weekend. If you're going to be in the area on June 2, don't miss Appalachia Rising—a beloved annual extravaganza, this year's starring the Grammy-winning Marty Stuart, among other local legends.
Then there’s the beloved Friday Night Jamboree at the Floyd Country Store, where “Granny’s rules”—no smoking, no drinking, no cursing—are strictly enforced, so the family-friendliness levels are off the charts. So’s all the bluegrass folk-dancing fun, which you may think you’ll observe from the sidelines. But to borrow from another genre, the rhythm is gonna get you. And if the urge to play does, too, pick up some sheet music at the new—and totally atmospheric—County Sales record store, reportedly the world's largest selection of old-time and bluegrass music.
You’ll find plenty of refueling stops along the trail, but here’s one not to miss: The Galax Smokehouse in (where else?) Galax. Fun fact: This Blue Ridge-gateway town is also the birthplace of Dori Freeman, whose eponymous debut was deemed one of Rolling Stone's Most Anticipated Country Albums of 2016.
For water babies
Calling all Little Mermaids, Aquamen—and water babies in between: Virginia’s home to more than three thousand miles of coastline, from bay-hugging inlets to tidal estuaries to prime Atlantic beachfront.
One of the most crowd-pleasing stretches is Virginia Beach, where the Atlantic meets the Chesapeake Bay. Fuel up on heaping platters of ocean-to-fork delights between rounds of water sports (stand-up paddling is a local favorite), or just good, old-fashioned swim sessions. And once your skin starts to prune, hit the boardwalk for biking, rollerblading—or just Insta-posting.
At the other end of the spectrum—on the edge of the historic district of quaint Cape Charles—sits a quiet, shallow cove that’s perfect for small children. And for something in between, check out Buckroe Beach in Hampton, where the kayaking is particularly lovely, and so is going for a swing or a slide in the beach-adjacent playground.
And for something completely different, visit a river beach—specifically, the one voted Virginia's best beach last year by USA Today: Colonial Beach, a peninsular town bounded by the Potomac and Monroe Bay. Beyond the wide, sandy shores, there’s a lovely boardwalk, an iconic municipal pier and—this being Virginia—history galore, not least, George Washington's birthplace.
For the next Triple Crown jockeys
Little wonder that one of the world’s most recognized racing thoroughbreds—Secretariat—was born in Virginia. Indeed, the centuries-old local equestrian tradition remains strong across the state. Whatever kind of event you’d want to see—dressage, polo, Steeplechase—there are multiple calendars full (but the Virginia Horse Center Foundation’s is a good starting point).
And when you want to take to the trails yourselves, you’ll have almost too much choice: The state is latticed with them. There’s Shenandoah River State Park with its 15 miles of riding paths. Or Marriott Ranch—a working cattle ranch that offers hands-on cowboy/girl experiences. And the Equestrian Center at the Salamander Resort & Spa, where you’ll find a sprawling stable and comprehensive trail network, as well as lessons for every level.
Or—combo-interest FTW!—there’s the Horses and Hounds experience at the aforementioned Mt. Vernon, where your Hamilfan will love the history, and your horse fan will explore tradition of fox hunting. (And any animal rights activists in the family will be pleased that no foxes are actually targeted.)
For the next X-Games champ
Your daredevils in training won’t know where to look first in this adrenaline junkie’s paradise, but we’d suggest starting with a classic: Busch Gardens Williamsburg, where the world’s only remaining double interlocking loop roller coaster—the Loch Ness Monster—just turned 40, and remains a crowd favorite. For its part, the Alpengeist is one of the fastest and tallest coasters in the world (to say nothing of the six inversions). Then there’s Apollo’s Chariot, which drops a whopping 210 feet. But it’s not just coaster that bring the kids to the yard: A brand new ride—Finnegan’s Flyer—is an extreme swing that reaches a height of 80 feet and speed of 45 miles per hour.
And north of Richmond, just off I-95, you'll find another new—entirely different—dose of adrenaline: the limited-engagement Monster Jam Thunder Alley at Kings Dominion. From July 20-September 2, the theme park will house not just its famous coasters and thrill rides: It'll also be the playground of five Monster Jam superstar trucks, two of which will take you over more obstacles than you can experience on any other ride truck track. And if you can't believe what you've just experienced, go get a hands-on, behind-the-scenes look at the mechanics of Monster Jam trucks at the first-of-its kind Monster Jam Garage.
Outdoorsy types can take to the treetops for canopy tours and zip lines (see the Adventure Park at Sandy River or the Canyon Rim Zipline at Breaks Interstate Park)—or the rivers for various levels of white-water rafting, among other pursuits. The Shenandoah is a perennial favorite, where you can raft, kayak, canoe and tube.
If mountain biking is more your kids' thing, you'll find plenty of it in the Blue Ridge Mountains, with several easy trails lacing Roanoke's Carvins Cove Natural Natural Reserve, Explore Park and Murray Run Greenway, to name a few.
For your little science superstar
You'll find all manner of exhibits, classes, camps for those astronauts/engineers/environmentalists in the making. One of the best places to look is the renowned Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center in Virginia Beach. While everyone else in the family is hanging on the boardwalk or the sand, your budding marine biologist can enroll in specialty day camps of two to four days, depending on age and interest (ages 6-15 are welcome). The entire lineup looks amazing, arguably the best is Marine Explorers, in which your 12- to 15-year-old will hear directly from aquarium staffers about their current research; take an intro to SCUBA class; go kayaking in search of dolphins; and trawl for invertebrates aboard the aquarium's Ocean Explorer research vessel.
Have the next tech giant in the making? Northern Virginia’s Children’s Science Center is the ultimate interactive STEM experience for littles of all ages. The lab or “garage” hosts camps and other specialized programming—one of the coolest being "Alien Invaders" (a workshop highlighting the difference between native, non-native, and invasive species).
Aeronautical enthusiasts will want to cool their jets elsewhere in Northern Virginia: the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, an annex of the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum, where an open hangar displays all manner of air and spacecraft. Be sure to hit the restoration area, where you can view repairs in real time.
And super-enthusiasts should add on a trip to NASA's Wallops Flight Facility northeast of Norfolk, where the Visitor Center alone is cool, but this summer will also bring two opportunities to catch rocket launches from the water's edge (June 20 and August 12; check the website for exact times as the dates approach). Actually, early August is a doubly-good time to be in the area: On August 9, the Astronomy & Night Sky Summer Series (co-hosted by Wallops) will host a Perseid Meteor shower viewing event in the nearby Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge.