Tours in Williamsburg

Planning a trip to Williamsburg and Yorktown beyond the civil war history

You probably think of Williamsburg, Virginia is a destination for families that has two things to do: Colonial Williamsburg and Busch Gardens theme park. Those things are still there and worth doing for families (or anyone who likes roller coasters), but there are plenty of other things to do, too that make this part of Virginia a worthwhile destination for couples or girlfriends looking for a different kind of getaway. Are you planning a trip to Williamsburg? Here are six things to try on a weekend (or longer):

See Some Art

The two art museums housed under one roof just beyond the border of the colonial town are never busy and well worth an hour or two. The DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum and the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum host an eclectic group of galleries that explore topics ranging from 18th century firearms and African American quilts to elaborate dollhouses and a collection of outdoor folk is that looks at the artistry in signboards, storefront figures, weather vanes, marine carvings, and carousel animals.  Each one has hands-on rooms, too in case you have kids along.

YAR museum
YAR museum

Try local drinks

Every restaurant I tried in Williamsburg and Yorktown had local beers on tap and several had Virginia wine. But if you want to try these local creations in situ, head to the Williamsburg Winery out toward Jamestown. A $10 flight covers your choice of red, white, rose and dessert wines. The Gabriel Archer Tavern on the same property looks rustic and inviting, but is only open for lunch and my visits were both in the late afternoon. You can book a package that includes a winery tour, tasting, and lunch for $35, which sounds like a pleasant afternoon.

For beer, you can’t go wrong with either the Virginia Beer Company or Alewerks Brewing Company. Both have a selection of staples they mix with seasonal and experimental brews and both have tap rooms that are primarily places to try a wide selection of their beers and ales (Virginia has a rotating group of food trucks that visit, but neither has a kitchen).

Williamsburg Distillery is making artisanal rhum, bourbon, and gin from Indian corn. At their tasting room, a $12 flight includes 4 modern or colonial cocktails (think grog and shrubs) made with their liquor. They can also do alcohol-free mocktails for minors.

Yorktown Pub
Yorktown Pub

Eat Southern food

For a really unique experience, head to the Old Chickahominy House on Jamestown Road. Half antique store and half restaurant, you can expect to be surrounded by women of a certain age (or a bit passed it). But the chicken and dumplings, ham and biscuits, and Brunswick stew are homemade and a real treat. Save room for pie—coconut custard, buttermilk, pecan, chocolate cream or season fruit might be on offer— and if you don’t’ get there early enough they can run out.

Just about everywhere we ate had southern specialties on the menu. We enjoyed local oysters in Yorktown, raw at the laidback Yorktown Pub and fried in a po’boy at the cheerful Beach Delly next door. Second Street American Bistro has excellent crab-and-corn chowder and sandwiches and Berret’s Taphouse & Grill just off popular Merchant’s Square has even better she-crab soup.

Get Outside

Yorktown’s waterfront is a good place to head when you need a break from sightseeing. There is a small, well-kept strand of public beach and places to change. At Patriot Tours & Provisions you can rent kayaks, SUPS, Segways and bikes.  Though there are some big hills, I think biking is a pleasant way to explore the colonial streets above the waterfront and road that follows the river in either direction out of town.

There are also plenty of state parks and trails for walking and hiking.

Tours in Williamsburg
Tours in Williamsburg

Take some spa time

The Spa At Colonial Williamsburg and the spa at Kingsmill Resort both boast southern charm and hospitality along with their treatments. The former has steam rooms, spa tubs and relaxation lounges in separate men’s and women’s areas for use before and after your treatment. For something different, try the African bath and strengthening massage. The latter has a relaxing deck, river views and a spa food menu (with wine available) to complement your massage or facial. It also has couples massage rooms, reiki and reflexology to complement its offerings.

Explore history

Yes, while you’re here you should take the time to explore some of the wealth of American history that’s here. Families get a lot out of Colonial Williamsburg and its RevQuest spy game is a lot of fun for kids and tweens.

But adults can explore Jamestown Settlement and Historic Jamestowne, the first successful English colony in the New World. At Historic Jamestowne, a national park and working archeology site, the tour explain what recent excavations have told us about the settlers and how that compares to what we thought we knew. The Settlement’s outdoor living history museum has historic ships a native village and a recreated fort. It has good interpreters and a lot for kids. The museum is state of the art, and anyone can appreciate the story it tells about the Africans, English and Native Americans who came together to Jamestown.

The American Revolution at Yorktown just reopened after a multi-million renovation. Its two movie theaters, creative interactive screens, and innovative displays tell a well-curated story about the path Americans took from the Boston Massacre to victory at Yorktown. Don’t miss the 4D movie about the historic battle; it’s well done. The outdoor farm and army camp are also brand new and not too crowded, so the interpreters are happy to spend time talking with you and answering questions.

It’s hard to say, which historic site I like best; I learned quite a bit at all of them. And it probably depends on which part of U.S. history calls to you.

You’ll come away from your Williamsburg getaway relaxed, well-fed and well-informed. How many destinations can you say that about?

About Our Guest Blogger

Eileen Gunn is a journalist and the founder of FamiliesGo!, a website for parents who want to travel more with their kids and get the most out of their vacations.