Charlottesville, Virginia, is for the outdoor adventurers, the history buffs, the academics and the nature lovers. It has been named by National Geographic as one of the happiest cities in America. Nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the central part of the state, Charlottesville is a beautiful and fun place to visit, with a number of activities that families are sure to enjoy. Here are 10 to check out.
No trip to Charlottesville is complete without a visit to UVA. Designed by Thomas Jefferson in 1819, the campus, which has been named a UNESCO world heritage site, a national historic landmark and the most beautiful campus in America (Best College Reviews), is dripping with historical significance. Start at the Lawn, home to the Rotunda (once the university library) and housing for the university’s 50 most accomplished fourth-year students. Older kids will enjoy taking a tour led by witty and affable UVA guides; younger children will love running amid the Lawn’s open space and exploring the meandering pathways and gardens adjacent to the student quarters.
TIP: Head over to “The Corner” just behind the University to grab lunch, coffee or ice cream (Arch’s frozen yogurt is our favorite!) after your visit.
Albermarle County has 70 miles of hiking trails that can be used for walking, running, hiking, mountain biking and even horseback riding (select trails). Get your family out and active by finding a trail suited to your gang’s ability level. After all, this is “God’s country,” and you’ll want to explore it.
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The Downtown Mall is a Charlottesville fixture. This charming tree-lined, brick-paved pedestrian area offers toy stores, candy shops, two movie theaters, an ice arena, countless outdoor restaurants, street performances and much more. The hands-on Virginia Discovery Museum in this area has rotating exhibits, art stations, and a music studio.
If you visit on a Saturday, you can browse the weekly Charlottesville City Market, a community farmer’s market that is a big draw for families. Grilled bagel sandwiches, Mexican tacos, gourmet cheese, fresh beignets, homemade Pop-Tarts, mountain kombucha … there is sure to be something to satisfy everyone.
If your squad is hankering for down-home Southern cooking, look no farther than Wayside Fried Chicken. A Charlottesville favorite, Wayside is known to have some of the best fried chicken in the south (according to Southern Living) and has served the city’s residents for 50-plus years. Another family-friendly choice is Fry’s Spring Station, a former gas station-turned-restaurant. The Station serves everything from Virginia fried oysters to skillet mac and cheese, and offers pizzas with names like “Piggie Smalls” and “The Dude Abides.” As you’ve probably already guessed, it is fun, quirky and sure to delight the family. A bonus: On Tuesday nights, kids eat in for only $3 per meal.
If you find yourself in town on Sunday, head to the family-owned and operated King Family Vineyards in Crozet, a 15-minute drive from Charlottesville. With beautiful surroundings, plenty of open space for kids to run around, free polo matches to watch, places to picnic and plenty of wine (duh!), it makes for a great weekend activity in the Shenandoah Valley.
TIP: Polo matches run from Memorial Day until mid-October, weather permitting.
Kids will go crazy over the number of wonderful recreation areas Charlottesville offers. With more than two dozen parks and playgrounds, nature trails, and multiple pools and spray grounds, Charlottesville is a terrific place for outdoor play. McIntire Park, the city’s largest, has two playgrounds, a wading pool, a nine-hole golf course, athletic fields and a skate park. It also boasts a great sledding hill in the winter. Onesty Family Aquatic Center in Meade Park is perfect for warm summer days with its lazy river, pool with water slide and separate toddler water play area.
Less than 5 miles from downtown Charlottesville, you’ll find Monticello, the beautiful historic estate of Thomas Jefferson. Visiting the estate is a great opportunity to immerse yourself in a U.S. history lesson about our third president, an author of the Declaration of Independence and the architect and founder of the University of Virginia. Most of the house tours move fairly quickly, making it easy for young ones to tag along. Once you’re outside, the grounds and gardens are perfect for an afternoon of exploration.
Visiting the Charlottesville-Albermarle SPCA is a wonderful, free activity to do with children. The facility is large, clean, and well-managed. Children can spend hours visiting the animals and learning how to interact with creatures.
A mere hour from Charlottesville is the scenic Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park. With beautiful foliage, endless trails, swimming holes, stunning overlooks, stargazing, waterfalls and wildlife, visiting the park and spending a day or two soaking in its beauty and tranquility is a memorable family experience.
Head on over to Carter Mountain Orchard from mid-April through November. The orchard offers beautiful views of the Virginia countryside and, depending on the month, everything from ripe peaches, nectarines and apples to pumpkins, gourds and Indian corn. In the spring, the orchard sells its signature fresh peach cider donuts and cider slushies. In the fall, it’s fresh-pressed apple cider and homemade apple cider donuts. Is your mouth watering yet?
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