Getting outside is pretty much the only way to survive parenthood with active kids. Hiking, kayaking, swimming and exploring new places is the best way to get all of that energy out, and satisfy your kids curiosity throughout the year.
Good thing Virginia’s Historic Sites offer all of these things when you need to get away for the day during the school year or while on school breaks with the kids.
And don’t worry parents, these will be just as fun for you as they are for the kids.
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Colonial America Education on the East Coast
Every school kid learns about Colonial America and the Revolutionary War at some point during their elementary, middle and/or high school education.
For those living on the East Coast, close enough to battlefields and colonial sites, you are pretty much guaranteed at least one field trip to a historic site anywhere from Gettysburg and Valley Forge to Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown.
Bringing American History to Life
My husband and I, both raised in Pennsylvania, have been to more Civil War battlefields and colonial sites than we can count. Heck, one of my best friends lived on Elfreth’s Alley, one of the longest, continuously inhabited streets in the country, and an excellent example of a colonial street.
Our kids, living just outside of Washington, D.C., explore history everyday as they wander the streets that early Americans called home.
Day-Trip Adventures in Virginia’s Historic Triangle
For parents looking for day trips that can bring their child’s education to life, you can’t go wrong with a drive down to Jamestown, Yorktown and Williamsburg. Most people decide to make a weekend getaway from D.C., but you can do each of these trips in one day if you can’t afford more time away from home.
Jamestown History Tour
Grab a combo ticket and plan on spending a full day exploring the Jamestown Settlement and Historic Jamestowne. It’s easy to do Historic Jamestowne/ Jamestown Rediscover in the morning, have lunch at the Dale House Cafe on site and then head over to the Jamestown Settlement.
Keep in mind that this is a very full day. You will arrive mid-morning, spend about two hours at each site with an hour break for lunch, and maybe a late afternoon snack before driving home.
Historic Jamestowne is where the original settlement was located. This is the best place to start to lay the foundation for what you will see in the Jamestown Settlement.
You can see archaeological digs in progress, walk through the old church, wander through the bones of the homes built here, explore part of James Fort and a museum filled with items archeologists have found on the grounds.
There are several guided tours available throughout the day. Check with the ticket desk to see which tours are happening when. If you have a particular interest, check the website ahead of time to plan your trip accordingly.
The Jamestown Settlement is a living history museum that brings the original settlement to life. Just down the road from Historic Jamestowne, you can wander through time in the indoor museum before stepping outside.
Kids love the outdoor area, which has a Powhatan village, fort and replicas of the three ships that brought the first settlers to Jamestown. Reenactors are available to demonstrate cooking techniques, how to prepare animal hides to be made into clothing, blacksmith at work and learn the about the life of a carpenter.
You are able to climb aboard the ships, which if your kids are like mine should be your first stop.
Start all the way at the end of the trail through Jamestown and work your way backwards. At first I balked at this, because you are supposed to go through museums a certain way (right?), but it actually made more sense.
We stepped of a replica of the ship that brought over the first settlers, met the Native Americans in the Powhatan Village and then went into the Fort where the white settlers lived.
Ending at the indoor museum probably isn’t a good idea though. By the time you are done outside, your kids will be drained. Hit the exhibits first before you head outside.
More things to do in Jamestown VA
Two Cheap Day Trips to Surry, VA
If you have already “been there, done that” in Jamestown, hop on the free Jamestown-Scotland Ferry to Surry to explore Chippokes Plantation State Park and the Hog Island Wildlife Management Area. Each of these could be their own day trip
Chippokes Plantation State Park
One of the most surprising things we found in Surry was the Chippokes Plantation State Park. It is the oldest continuously operated plantation in the nation, but the park is so much more than just a farm.
You will find multiple trails, including an easy trail down to the beach near the visitor’s center. We walked the shore looking for shells and saw birds fly overhead on the hunt for fish.
Guests are able to visit the old plantation mansion, learning about the history of the land and the enslaved people who lived here. The gardens are lovely, and there are outside placards for parents and kids to read together that describe the history and the buildings you walk through during your self-guided tour.
For anyone looking for animals, head over to the Chippokes Farm and Forestry Museum to meet the donkeys, pigs and cows. Check the farm website for programs throughout the year that will bring colonial life alive for kids and adults of all ages.
Hog Island Wildlife Management Area
If you love birds, then the Hog Island Wildlife Management Area is the place for you. Bring binoculars for the whole family, and a long camera lens if you have one, to see bald eagles, osprey, herons and more shorebirds flying across the water and high above the trees.
There are a few viewing platforms throughout the park to look into the wetlands, spying more birds who call this part of Surry home.
How to get to Hog Island
It can be a bit tricky to get to Hog Island if you don’t know the protocol before you get there (we sure didn’t!). You will be passing through the Dominion Energy entrance. Visitors will need to step out of the car, register their driver’s license and have a pass to get onto Hog Island Wildlife Management Area.
This only takes a few minutes, but it can be confusing if you type Hog Island into your GPS and are suddenly faced with a security checkpoint.
Everyone is super nice, so don’t stress too much. Our kids could stay in the car, only the adults had to step out to register.
More Things to do in Surry Virginia
One Day in the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown
One of the Historic Triangle’s newest attractions (or at least major renovations) is the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown. Part history museum and part living history experience, this museum in Yorktown explains the Siege of Yorktown, but also brings to life the colonial experience for kids who have only read about it in books.
You could easily spend a half day or more wandering the interactive exhibits, hologram-like retellings, films depicting different parts of the Revolutionary War and artifacts that played a key role in early America.
The outdoor living history museum is filled with historic interpreters who are ready to answer every question your kids have about muskets, cannons, what soldiers ate and how a surgeon might take a leg off in the late 1700s. Sounds gruesome, but trust me, my boys were enthralled by it all.
There is also a colonial farm you can wander through. Talk to the farmer, say hi to the chickens who really couldn’t care less that you are there, and learn about the hardships and triumphs of living in colonial America.
If you have time to spare, either walk down the hill into Historic Yorktown, or drive over to the Yorktown Battlefield to see where the action happened that the kids just learned about in the museum.
Colonial Parkway to Historic Yorktown
One of my favorite drives in Williamsburg is along the Colonial Parkway that connects Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown. There are multiple pull offs for hikes and beach wanders. Sunsets are particularly amazing here if you can time your trip right.
Stops along Colonial Parkway
If you take the Colonial parkway to Historic Yorktown, stop at beaches along the way, many with historical markers that tell you more about what happened in the area throughout American history. We saw interpretive signs telling tales of things that happened as early as the 1600s when colonists had first settled the area, all the way through the Civil War.
Activity Options in Yorktown
If you spent the morning wandering along the Colonial Parkway, stop in Yorktown for lunch and an afternoon on the beach, exploring the Yorktown Battlefield, American Revolution Museum at Yorktown or Historic Main Street in Yorktown.
Some of these you can knock out together in one afternoon. Just don’t try to see and do it all in one day!
Kids across the country have grown up listening to and watching Hamilton: The Musical hundreds of times, devouring history in a way no parent ever expected. With these songs, came a newfound interest in colonial America and the Revolutionary War. At least in my house it did.
Take a tour of Colonial NHP – Yorktown Battlefield, where American colonists and the French fought the British to the point of surrender. Start at the visitors center, hop on a park ranger led tour, and then drive to the different battle sites and homes throughout the park.
Suddenly, those history books the kids are reading in school don’t seem so boring when they are walking where that history happened.
It’s easy to spend a full day in the park, so pack a picnic lunch, water and a lot of snacks. Don’t forget your walking shoes too. There is a lot of land to cover, and you want the kids to sleep in the car on the way home.
Yorktown Beach Day on the York River
Nothing beats a quiet day on the beach, playing in the sand, splashing in the water and grabbing fresh seafood for lunch. Head down to Yorktown Beach to check out the views colonists enjoyed and the British learned to despise as General Washington’s troops defeated them.
If you want to throw some history into the mix, walk up the hill to Main Street to tour the historic homes, including the Customs House and Nelson House. Both buildings, along with several others, survived the Revolutionary War and the Civil War that marched through Virginia (although the homes definitely have had restoration done on them).
Loop down to the Yorktown Victory Monument, which was completed in 1884, more than 100 years after the Continental Congress had it commissioned in 1781.
Once you are finished on Main Street, walk back to the beach, strolling along the Riverwalk until you reach the Watermen’s Museum. Here you will learn about coastal life in America, from pre-colonial to modern times, and the history of the Chesapeake Bay ‘watermen’.
Reward the kids with ice cream or a late lunch at the Water Street Grille, where parents can indulge in seafood before driving home after an education-filled day in Yorktown, VA.
Jamestown on the River
You may be thinking that Jamestown is all about history, but that history happened because of the James River. As a strategic spot to defend and also develop as colonists arrived, Jamestown was the first permanent, lasting English settlement in America.
Start your day with a tour of the Jamestown Settlement, making sure you linger over the indoor galleries and exhibits. Outside, you will find interpreters talking about life in early Jamestown and the relationship with the Powahatan tribe.
Watch blacksmith making nails and everyday objects while he banters with the carpenter just across the way. Both of these gentlemen love a good pun, so make sure you stick around to chat with them.
Kayaking on the James River
After your morning at the Jamestown Settlement, you have two choices– head to the James City County Marina or Chippokes Plantation State Park. Both offer kayak rentals and the opportunity to get out on the James River.
Just keep in mind that the James River current can be swift. If you don’t feel strong enough, head over to the creeks to paddle around.
If you are looking for a guided tour, check out Baycountry Kayaking. This family-owned company will take you out on the Powhatan Creek, one mile upstream from the Jamestown Settlement.
Click HERE for more details.
Not many people think about Jamestown without thinking about Colonial Williamsburg. There are two different day trips to Williamsburg, VA that you can plan. One is virtually free for the whole family, while the other will require tickets.
Colonial Williamsburg for free
Not many people realize that they can walk through Colonial Williamsburg without a ticket. Stroll down the Duke of Gloucester Street, popping into shops and seeing General Lafayette wander by on horseback.
Colonial Williamsburg isn’t just a living history museum, it is a town. No fences surround the town with a ticket gate at the front. You can tour almost any exterior you like. What you can’t do is go inside the buildings that are part of Colonial Williamsburg without a ticket.
Note: You will find private residences inside the boundaries (please respect signage and don’t wander through their yards)
Deep Dive Into Colonial Williamsburg
If you want to get a true sense of life in Colonial Williamsburg, you will want to get a ticket. This will give you access to the Governor’s Palace, Capital Building and many more buildings and demonstrations you can’t get to without one.
You and your children will have more interactions with historic interpreters, and honestly, the maze in the Governor’s Palace garden is an epic reward for kids who have walked through American History all day long.
Tickets to Colonial Williamsburg
If you are just in town for a day, get the day pass. If you plan on being in town for more than a day, look into the many combo passes available.
Colonial Williamsburg Restaurants
Colonial Williamsburg is a long day trip for most families, but 100 percent worth it. Because you only need tickets to enter certain buildings, you are free to head out for lunch in Merchants Square.
We love the Cheese Shop, with their custom sandwiches. It’s also easy to build a make-your-own picnic basket with fresh breads, cheeses and meats.
The most important stop you need to make is to reward your kids with ice cream from Kilwins. This homemade ice cream shop also makes their own waffle cones, which you can smell from down the street.
Parents who need coffee should step into Aromas for a drip coffee or signature espresso beverage just down the street.
Read our Williamsburg Restaurant guide for more options.
Busch Gardens Williamsburg
Ok, so Busch Gardens is a theme park, but don’t we all deserve a little downtime every now and then. It’s so close to Colonial Williamsburg that you can pretend your kids learned something. If nothing else, they will learn patience while waiting in line for a ride.
While Busch Gardens Tampa Bay is more focused on Africa and animals, Busch Gardens Williamsburg is all about that old European life. Each section is named after a different country in Europe, including France, Italy, Ireland, Germany, Scotland and England.
So, you can say you are researching European history while you chow down on a turkey leg and scream as the roller coaster you just climbed into takes you for a literal loop.
Plan a Trip to Jamestown, VA
If you want to spend a bit more time, or try out all of these day trips in one go, start planning your next weekend getaway or school break to the Virginia’s Historic Triangle.
- Williamsburg Lodge, Autograph Collection:
- Williamsburg Inn:
- A Williamsburg White House:
- DoubleTree by Hilton Williamsburg:
- Kingsmill Resort:
If you want to stay in Jamestown, VA, a vacation rental is your best bet. You can also book hotel rooms Newport News or day trip up from Virginia Beach or Norfolk.
- In the Heart of Colonial Williamsburg!: (Sleeps 6)
- Historic Williamsburg’s only downtown lodging: (Sleeps 6)
- A Heart Beat from Colonial Williamsburg & William & Mary: (Sleeps 12)
- Quaint Historic Home walking distance to Historic Williamsburg: (Sleeps 12)
- 4 BR House, Close to William & Mary, Williamsburg, Busch Gardens, Bike Trails: (Sleeps 8)
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