Virginia family fun for the jaded and beach-weary
July 3, 2017 3:54 AM   Subscribe

I've got an upcoming Sunday to spend somewhere in central or eastern Virginia (or optionally eastern MD/DC), with preschool and school-aged kids in tow. What are some interesting things to do in that area, that also (a) won't be super crowded on a weekend, (b) wouldn't be miserable in hot weather, and (c) aren't just The Beach?

I realize DC, in particular, is activity central, but this makes it all the harder to just brute-force this question on Tripadvisor!

Ideally, it'd be great to find something to do/see that's fairly low-stress and somewhat unusual or unique-- not just another bouncy playplace or "children's museum" or living history demo unless it has a cool unusual feature or two. (We love unique grownup museums, too, but again, young kids, so those would have to have at least some kid-friendly or play component).

Location is fairly flexible, since we'll be traveling through, although avoiding shore crowds would be nice. Thanks, Metafilter!
posted by Bardolph to Travel & Transportation around Virginia (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It's not exactly a "learning experience," but you could always do Water Country in Williamsburg. Enough variety that all the kids have a chance to do something in the water. I'd HIGHLY recommend splurging the extra ~$200 to rent a "cabana." It's incredibly helpful to have somewhere to go back to that you can call your own for the day.

Here for the main site.
Here for the cabanas I was mentioning.
posted by kuanes at 4:46 AM on July 3, 2017

The Virginia Living Museum in Newport News is really cool. It covers all the ecosystems in Virginia, and also has a neat little dinosaur village. Can definitely spend 2+ hours there easily. My family hit it on a weekday at opening, and crowds were nonexistent.

We also had a good time in the Ripley's museum in Williamsburg. It's full of really weird things, some of which will probably be scary to your kids (they were to ours), but we just ran past those exhibits.

The James River park system that is in Richmond is incredible. There are several outfitters (Riverside Outfitters is fantastic) that do kayak and canoe trips (I would think your kids would do just fine in a canoe), and if you stick to the flatwater areas it is very gentle and fun. Also, there's a nice little park that generally does not have big crowds - Bear Creek Lake , they rent canoes and actually have a nice little beach area with playground. Highly recommended.

I've heard good things about the Ix Art Park in Charlottesville, but have not been.

Any of these could be busy on summer weekends, so the best tip is to stick to weekdays if possible and try to hit them at the earliest time available. Hope you have a great summer!
posted by machinecraig at 5:52 AM on July 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: How about a D.C. museum but not in D.C.? The Udvar-Hazy Center is the National Air and Space Museum's annex near Dulles airport. It is pretty amazing for adults and kids and is far enough outside of D.C. that you can avoid the worst of the summer crowds. Free entry, though parking fees are a doozy.
posted by whitewall at 6:40 AM on July 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

The International Spy Museum in DC is so much fun, for both kids and adults. There are lots of interactive exhibits, including my personal favorite, the HVAC ducts you can crawl through and spy on the people on the floor below. I went with a 12-yo who had a blast. We spent hours there, so while it may not be away from the city crowds you'll be occupied in one place for a good part of the day.
posted by Room 641-A at 7:46 AM on July 3, 2017

Best answer: Nthing the Udvar-Hazy Center. It's very cool, and always a hit with my parents when they come to visit.

I live in Northern Virginia, so I'll focus on that and the DC area since you've got a pretty wide geographic range - but maybe consider where you're spending the night or coming from? Traffic is a bear all the time, every day, and I wouldn't want to waste bonus time driving around.

If the weather is halfway decent, a morning family hike/exploration and Junior Ranger badge completion in Wolf Trap (pretty forest trails over creeks and streams), Prince William Forest Park (ditto, but there may be roaming packs of Boy Scouts because there's a campground), Great Falls (riverside trails next to big waterfalls) (All VA), Oxon Cove Farm Park (working demonstration farm with animals to see), or Kenilworth Gardens (aquatic gardens/marsh with boardwalk trails over the water and lots of wildlife, busy during the upcoming lotus festival) (MD, east of DC), followed by ice cream/lunch. There are a lot of really great national parks in the area, and those are all pretty family-friendly. Great Falls does get busy on weekends, so if you go, go early. The National Zoo is fun if you've never been and has misters in the summer to cool off, and the Circulator bus system in DC does loops of all the big monuments (and is MUCH cheaper than the tour company hop-on-hop-off buses). Again, the monuments are part of the National Parks system, so your kids could earn Junior Ranger badges at them.

Indoors, any of the Smithsonians on the Mall, in addition to Udvar-Hazy, are a good time for all ages. My personal favorites are the Museum of the American Indian and the American History museum, although smaller kids tend to prefer Natural History. The US Capitol offers free tours daily and has an excellent museum, but that may be a bit much for smaller kids. Just make sure you get off the Mall to eat, unless you're planning on eating at the American Indian cafeteria. If you're willing to pay money for your museums, the Spy Museum may or may not be your kids' cup of tea. I think it's a bit overrated for what it is, plus there's so many better free things to do.

And if you're able to go as far afield as Baltimore, you could easily kill a whole day seeing the aquarium and then wandering/getting something to eat in Inner Harbor, plus you'd be indoors in the air conditioning.
posted by bowtiesarecool at 7:48 AM on July 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm in Northern Virginia as well. Maybe a trip to Westmoreland State Park to look for shark's teeth and other fossils? (If it's not too hot.) There's a fossil beach, but it's tiny. I understand that low tide is the best time to hunt (consult a tide chart for nearby Colonial Beach). Here's a YouTube video of a guy looking for shark's teeth; he stands in the water and is using some kind of frying sieve (anything similar would work). I found a Miocene-era shark's tooth last Thursday just by looking down in the water near the shore. The trails at Westmoreland are shaded. There's a visitor center as well. You could combine it with a (free) visit to George Washington's birthplace just a few miles down the road.
posted by apartment dweller at 8:36 AM on July 3, 2017

Is there an indoor ice rink near you? When the hordes are streaming beachward, there's nothing like a trip to the rink. There will be kid-sized skates for rent, and you and they will love the chill.
"Remember, kids: falling down is fun!"
posted by BostonTerrier at 3:37 PM on July 3, 2017

The Yorktown battlefields were one of my favorite places to visit as a kid (I grew up near them). They are on the water so you get nice views, but there's lots of forts, hills, forests, and creeks to explore and lots of trails.

There's also Colonial Williamsburg and Busch Gardens, which is an amazing European themed amusement park if you want something that will really wear the kiddos out.
posted by ananci at 6:05 PM on July 3, 2017

You might find some suggestions on the KidFriendly DC site.
posted by gudrun at 6:40 PM on July 3, 2017

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