Whether you're a family of thrill-seekers looking for outdoor fall excitement or simply want a fun hands-on museum experience to entertain your little ones when the weather turns cool, we've got fall fun sure to please every member of the family along with useful tips on snacks, strollers and planning a full day of adventure. We've spent more than 10 years discovering the best in events and attractions and share with you here our top staff picks for fun attractions. Check back often to see what is new! For other fun ideas, be sure to check out our other publication, The Charlottesville Welcome Book. Please call ahead to confirm as hours and activities vary seasonally.
(White Post) 0-1 hour drive; varies by ride
Get up, up and away in a beautiful balloon! Enjoy a tranquil ride on the wind in a hot air balloon for a wonderful sensation. Imagine the bird's eye view you'll get of our gorgeous Virginia countryside as you try to identify landmarks below. Hot air balloon rides can be scheduled with Bear Balloon Corporation, Bonaire Charters and Monticello Country Ballooning.
Bear Balloon Corporation: (434) 971-1757
Bonaire-Charters: (434) 981-5260
Monticello Country Ballooning: (434) 996-9008
Gypsy Hill Park
(Staunton) 0-1 hour drive
The pride of Gypsy Hill Park is the Gypsy Express! This delightful mini-train has been operating for over fifty years, and the joy that passengers of all ages take in riding it has never diminished over time. Winding over the track, into a tunnel and across a creek, it is a fun way to enjoy the park. In 2003, a car was added that allows access to those with disabilities, so now everyone can enjoy it. The park also features great amenities such as a shaded playground, horseshoe pits, tennis courts, volleyball nets, baseball fields and pavilions dotted around the grounds with outdoor cooking facilities. Don't miss the duck pond! Picnic area available. Playground on site.
staunton.va.us (540) 332-3945
Edgar Allan Poe Museum
(Richmond) 0-1 hour drive
Housed in part in the oldest surviving building in Richmond, the Old Stone House circa 1737, the Edgar Allan Poe Museum offers a glimpse into early nineteenth century Richmond, where the city's best loved literary son lived and worked on The Southern Literary Messenger. The Museum houses a nice collection of pictures, first editions and artifacts. The Poe Museum is in the heart of Richmond's Historic Shockoe Bottom district. While you're in the neighborhood, continue along Main Street to the Farmer's Market at 17th Street, in continuous use since 1779. Time Traveler's Passport Destination. poemuseum.org (888) 213-2763
Monticello Visitors Center
(Charlottesville) 0-1 hour drive
If you haven't been to Monticello lately, you're in for a treat when you visit the Thomas Jefferson Visitor Center and Smith Education Center. The new facilities serve as the gateway to Thomas Jefferson's home, and with a Welcome Pavilion, cafe, a lovely new museum shop and copious classroom space, they are bound to whet your appetite for historical knowledge! Building the new center, which consists of five pavilions around a central courtyard, took more than two years and was the largest capital project in the Thomas Jefferson Foundation's history. The the center has innovative exhibitions, an introductory film and a hands-on discovery space. And of course, copious information on Mr. Jefferson's historic estate is available at the Welcome Pavilion, where visitors can also pick up their reserved tickets or purchase same-day tickets. Staff members will be glad to provide directions, tell you about all the tour options and offer itineraries. The three classrooms in the Carl and Hunter Smith Education Center will serve as venues for Monticello's curriculum-based school group tours plus workshops and programs for all age groups. monticello.org (434) 984-9822
Virginia Discovery Museum
(Charlottesville) 0-1 hour drive
Conveniently located on Charlottesville's Historic Downtown Mall, the Virginia Discovery Museum is a testament to imagination. Thousands of children have made collages, watched bees come and go from their mysterious pollen sources, pretended to surf, learned a lot from larger-than-life anatomy displays, built zoetropes, "lived" in an historic log cabin (still their most popular exhibit hands-down), and listened to the sounds of the rainforest. This charming museum is especially popular with the five and under set, but even if your children are edging towards the double digits, they will still enjoy playing with the old-fashioned wooden bowling game, trying to write like Thomas Jefferson, observing Daisy and Jasmine, the resident guinea pigs, and making art in the well-equipped studio. Watch their calendar for fun special events, drop-in workshops and summer camps. In 2010 the Big Gallery exhibit is "The Tibetan Way" where museum-goers can learn explore the unique culture and traditions created by the mostly indigenous people that learned to thrive in this harsh land. Visit a nomad's tent, learn about the many uses for yak, try your hand at blanket weaving, or trade goods in the market. Don't miss a ride on the antique carousel just outside the front door and be sure to get a treat at any one of the great ice cream shops nearby. vadm.org (434) 977-1025
(Williamsburg) 2-3 hour drive
Let's face it, chances are, if you grew up in Virginia, there are pictures of you here as a kid of you in a Colonial three-cornered hat. If it's been that long since you've been here, it's time to make the pilgrimage again! Your trip to Colonial Williamsburg should start at the Visitors Center which, thanks to a new footbridge, is only a short walk from the historic district. Stop inside to purchase tickets and to pick up a map. The piece de resistance of the Colonial Williamsburg restorations is the Governor's Palace, with hand-tooled leather wall coverings, marble floors, exquisite furnishings and rich history. Leave time to enjoy the beautiful back garden and holly maze, then stroll down towards the Duke of Gloucester Street. Time Traveler's Passport Destination. Food at attraction. history.org 1-800-447-8679
(Richmond) 1-2 hour drive
Maymont is a full day of adventures, from the Victorian mansion of the Dooley family to their gardens which include a zoo, James River Nature Center and the Children's Farm. Maymont House provides an insightful glimpse at 1880s living, both the opulent lifestyle of the owners, who lived upstairs, and the skills and challenges of the servants as well. The 12,000 square foot historic home is meticulously decorated. A favorite room with guests on the tour is the Swan Room with its carved wooden bed shaped like a swan - a classic example of the high style of the Gilded Age. Be sure to stroll the grounds to experience the gardens and, of course, stop to see the animals too. The Robins Nature Center is packed with James River exhibits and quite engaging for all ages. Since Maymont is so big, a stroller for little ones is a must, or better yet, purchase tram tickets and ride from one area of the park to the next and enjoy the tour. Time Traveler's Passport Destination. Food at attraction. maymont.org (804) 358-7166
(Charlottesville area) 0-1 hour drive
When the leaves are starting to turn, it's time to grab your baskets for a favorite autumn tradition! Our local Charlottesville area orchards are known for growing tasty crisp apples and for hosting fine festivals, too! Farm and Orchard Events
Blue Ridge Parkway
(Various park entrances) 0-1 hour drive
From the Shenandoah National Park to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway offers so many exquisite vistas that it's hard to decide where to pull off to take in the beauty that is "America's Favorite Drive." This rural parkway, the country's first and longest, is home to numerous recreation areas, with visitor centers, campgrounds and picnic areas. Hiking trails closest to Charlottesville are Crabtree Falls, Mountain Farm Trail/Humpback Rocks and the St. Mary's Wilderness Area. For those who don't like to "rough it" there are a number of lodges, restaurants and other modern facilities. The parkway was designed to be driven at a leisurely pace for a good (and scenic) reason! Whether you stop at an overlook to take in the breathtaking views along the Appalachian Mountain chain or just encounter some of the many wild animals along the way, this is communing with nature at its finest. Picnic area available. blueridgeparkway.org (828) 298-0398
Traveling Further Afield?
Plan your visit to nearby cities and states with the following publications who each feature extensive guides and calendars that will make your stay both easy and fun!
District of Columbia
Maryland Family Magazine
Crystal Coast Parent
Eastern Carolina Parent
Fredericksburg Parent and Family
Richmond Parents Monthly