Most families come to the Williamsburg-Yorktown area to check out Colonial Williamsburg. It’s an attraction that is well worth at least a full day’s visit, if not two.
But if the living history museum is your only plan for the area, you’re missing out: There are enough family friendly things to do on a Williamsburg vacation to fill a long weekend — if not a full week — to the brim.
Here are eight family friendly activities in Williamsburg, Va. that you should consider for your next visit.
1. Swim at Yorktown Beach
Yorktown’s long, narrow beach on broad York River is always busy but never packed. The water is calm and safe for small kids to wade in, and there are enticing rock structures to scramble and explore.
It’s easy to make this activity into a day-long affair. Beach facilities include outdoor showers and changing rooms. There are also a handful of casual dining options nearby for sitting down to eat, or you can grab sandwiches, salads or baked goods at Carrot Tree Kitchens for a picnic in the sand.
2. Seek Out Scrumptious Southern Cuisine and Seafood
There are plenty of incredible dining opportunities in and around historic Williamsburg. The Old Chickahominy House on Jamestown Road, for instance, is half antiques shop, half restaurant. It’s the place to stop in for old-school southern staples like Brunswick stew or chicken and dumplings. The establishment also offers a rotating roster of homemade pies — you’ll want to bring enough people along to order one of each flavor.
If your family is a fan of fresh, delectable seafood, reserve a table at Berret’s Seafood Restaurant. Be sure to order the she-crab soup — although pretty much everything on the menu is outstanding. For seafood-lovers visiting Yorktown, the Yorktown Pub may not look like much from the outside, but you can get local seafood raw, steamed or fried at reasonable prices, and kids’ menu items come with a side of veggies (always a plus!).
For a fun weekend activity, bustling Merchants Square sits between Colonial Williamsburg and the College of William & Mary. On Saturday mornings, a farmers market features vendors selling local, seasonal produce, baked goods such as biscuits and pies, excellent coffee and specialties like boiled peanuts, which make great souvenirs.
3. Relax at a World-Class Resort
Family friendly resorts provide an opportunity to mix some R&R into your Williamsburg vacation. The Historic Powhatan Resort, for example, offers roomy one- to four-bedroom suites with living and dining areas, as well as full kitchens. There’s a small grocery store and coffee bar on-site, along with an indoor pool and hot tub, manicured mini-golf, a playground and myriad indoor and outdoor games. It’s ideal for families looking for both privacy and room to relax.
The Greensprings Vacation Resort offers two-bedroom suites that include a kitchen, living area and patio. The resort has both outdoor and indoor pools — including a children’s pool — as well as hot tubs, a sauna, playground mini-golf, basketball courts and a grass tennis court. There are also stores nearby, where you can stock your kitchen for your stay.
4. Go On a Ghost Tour
Williamsburg offers its fair share of ghost tours and many receive (g)rave reviews. In general, tours starting before 9:00 p.m. are suitable for families. There will be equal measures of hoke and history mixed into the ghost stories, so expect a dose of educational material with your eerie excursion. If you have small children, Colonial Williamsburg offers a 45-minute Ghost Walk Junior, which starts at 6:00 p.m.
Tours beginning at 10:00 p.m. or later are usually reserved for older kids and adults on the thrill-seeking circuit. Colonial Williamsburg also periodically offers its Ghosts Among Us tour, the only haunted tour that goes inside some of the buildings. This event is recommended for kids in middle school or older.
Ghost tours provide history and lots of color, bringing the old homes and taverns of Williamsburg to life, and they’re usually accessible to families on a budget.
5. Go to a Water Park
If you visit in the summer months, take time to cool off at Water Country USA. The park offers waterslides and play areas for every level of thrill-seeker, from timid tots to unstoppable teens. For those looking for a more relaxed adventure, there’s also a long lazy river and a large wave pool.
Get to the park when it opens to grab a locker with a prime location. Then, claim a few chairs by the wave pool, which is a perfect spot for meeting up, eating lunch and taking a time-out during the day.
If the weather fails to cooperate, you can always splash indoors at the Great Wolf Lodge in town, voted one of the Best Indoor Water Parks in the country by USA TODAY.
6. Visit Yorktown’s State-of-the-Art Museum
The fantastic America Revolution Museum at Yorktown recently completed a huge, multi-million-dollar expansion. A semi-circled movie theater puts you in the middle of the decisive Battle of Yorktown. (Disclaimer: the experience is exciting and well executed, but might be loud for kids ages five and under.) A host of traditional, digital and interactive exhibits walk you through the war, highlighting experiences of real loyalists and patriots. An outdoor living history exhibit, too, explores a colonial army camp and traditional Virginia farm.
It might seem redundant to Colonial Williamsburg, but Yorktown’s unique interpretation of country life provides an interesting counterpoint to Colonial Williamsburg’s representation of town life.
7. Visit an Archeological Site
Historians and archeologists have learned more about the original Jamestown settlement in the last decade and a half than they’ve gleaned in the previous several hundred years.
The site of the original walled village is under ongoing excavation and is overseen by the National Park Service and Preservation Virginia. It’s worth taking a tour — either from a park ranger or a Passionist Volunteer (PV) — who can explain the work going on, what they’ve found and recent revelations about early settlers. (As it turns out, earlier historians got quite a bit wrong — so what you remember from elementary school may be outdated.) For kids, the Junior Ranger program is a special way to experience this historical site.
At the tail end of your visit, be sure to leave time for the Ed Shed, where kids can examine fossils, sort through debris to find remnants of Jamestown and make 3D-printed copies of artifacts found on-site.
8. Make Candles the Modern Way
Yankee Candle has an entire shopping “village” just a few minutes’ drive from town, which is a fun place to spend a couple hours during your Colonial Williamsburg vacation.
At the store’s Wax Works, you can fill a jar with your own custom mix of scented wax, make a wax model of your hand, custom dip one of dozens of small candles or make a photo candle.
While waiting for your candle creations to firm up, be sure to sample some fudge, fill a jar with candy or stop by the wonderful Village Christmas Store, where it snows hourly and Santa visits at 11:00 a.m. year-round. There is also a room dedicated to whimsical holiday villages, which includes a plethora of ornaments for sale.
Williamsburg offers an unforgettable vacation experience for the whole family — and it’s about so much more than charming costumes and churning butter. For more Williamsburg vacation ideas, visit Diamond Resorts today to begin planning your getaway.