10 Things To Do In Charlottesville With Kids

by Jayna
Originally Published: 
things to do in charlottesville with kids

The City of Charlottesville, nestled at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in western Central Virginia, is one of the most beautiful places in the country. It’s also a great place to visit with kids. With so much green space, plenty of history and good food, it’s the ultimate family-friendly spot. Here are our recommendations for the top things to do and see in Charlottesville with kids.

Best Places to Stay in Charlottesville

Well, you’re going to need somewhere kid friendly to sleep while in Charlottesville, and lucky for you there are great options. If you’re looking to add to your hotel reward points (free hotel room for another trip w out the kiddos?), the Charlottesville Downtown is full of urban charm (and has an indoor pool!). More boutique your style? Then you’ll appreciate the eclectic decor of The Draftsman. If no hotel is kid-friendly enough for you, and you need your own house or apartment (mini kitchen? kids get their own bedroom?), Airbnb has some of our all-time favorite Charlottesville charmers — from downtown studios to cozy cottages to carriage houses.

How to Get Around Charlottesville

If you’re staying in the downtown Charlottesville area, no car necessary. This is a walking town. But if you’ve got places like Skyline Drive or Sugar Hollow on your itinerary (please say you do!?!), you’ll be needing a car. Hertz has a pickup location at the airport and also close to downtown.

Best Experiences in Charlottesville for Kids

In your former life, you probably enjoyed peaceful days strolling around town, but let’s be realistic and accept that kids need things to do. Put down their tech devices (and yours) and plan a few special experiences that are unique to Charlottesville. Everything from cuddle sessions with baby goats to nature walks with llamas to local wine tours (ok, sitter required) can be booked beforehand.

1. The Downtown Walking Mall is a cute tree-lined, brick-paved pedestrian shopping and dining area. While popping into the many varieties of fine shops might not thrill the kids, there is plenty to keep them entertained. Walking from one end to the other will have you passing an ice arena, movie theater, countless outdoor restaurants, ice cream and coffee shops, toys stores and the Freedom of Speech wall. Don’t miss picking up some amazing cupcakes at Cappellino’s, pausing to listen to one of the many talented musicians playing for tips, or Fridays After Five at the Sprint Pavilion.

2. Shenandoah National Park. No trip to the area would be complete without at least a short trip down Skyline Drive. Stop at one of the many overlooks and enjoy the view, head up to Skyland for a meal in front of the huge windows, and stop at Big Meadows to let the kids run through the (creatively named) Big Meadow. If you’re up for a fun and easy hike, try Bearfence Trail. Get a little more elevation and some great views at the top of Hawksbill Summit Trail. Or, if you’re looking for a nice grueling trip, pack up some lunch and go for the day on the White Oak Canyon/Cedar Run loop. The trail options are endless and there is always something to be found for every interest, from waterfalls to views, and from swimming holes to foggy forests.

3. Virginia Discovery Museum. Located on the downtown walking mall, the Virginia Discovery Museum is a perfect place to keep busy for an afternoon. Great for all ages, there are rotating exhibits, art stations, a music studio, and even a beehive. It may seem small from the outside, but the rooms just keep going once you’re in. After you’re done, don’t miss the Antique Carousel out front.

4. City Market. Every Saturday morning, from April to December, nearly half of Charlottesville turns out for the City Market farmers market. Vendors bring fresh cut flowers, in season fruits and vegetables, meats, cheeses and breads. Artists sell their wares next to kettle corn, fresh donuts and organic popsicles. Word on the street is that the next season will be completely revamped, but even now, it’s a must do for a hungry Saturday morning.

5. Carter Mountain Orchard. While great fun most times of the year, fall is the peak season for this orchard. October weekends bring the Apple Harvest Festival with pumpkin patches, hayrides, interactive activities and of course, apple picking. Be sure to take a look around the Country Store, grab some fresh apple donuts and try the wine. Set high on top of a mountain, getting in and out can be tedious with a crowd, but the stunning views from every direction are well worth it.

6. Sugar Hollow. An easy drive from the city, the Sugar Hollow trail starts off just past the enormous dam used in the beginning of the movie Evan Almighty. That alone is a fun sight to see, but a little bit of hiking will reward you with crystal clear mountain water in multiple swimming holes. Remind those kids that not everyone has a pool membership in the summer and march them up the trail!

7. The Lawn at UVA. Designed by Thomas Jefferson, the University of Virginia offers some of the most beautiful grounds and architecture a school can offer. Grab a coffee or some ice cream from The Corner and stroll (or chase after your kids) on the winding pathways. Soak up some afternoon sun on The Lawn while people watching, and explore one of the 10 gardens. Each season brings beautiful scenes around every corner, perfect for that elusive family photo. And, on Halloween, thousands of families trick-or-treat around the historic dorms lining The Lawn.

8. Massanutten Indoor Water Park. When the skies open up or it’s just too darn cold to be stuck outside, head over the mountain to this tropical oasis. With a play structure, multiple water slides, surf pool, kiddie area and hot pool, you’ll forget that it’s awful outside and never want to leave. As a bonus, there are a couple of reasonably priced options for food in the building, or you can bring your own.

9. Monticello. AKA, the building on the back of the nickel! Surprisingly, there is something for all ages hidden in old Thomas Jefferson’s abode. Older kids may enjoy the historical aspects of the house tour, while the younger set may get a kick out of the tiny details that you can point out to them. Most of the Monticello house tours move fairly quickly though, so it shouldn’t be hard to make it through before too much fidgeting sets in. Once outside, the grounds are great fun to explore.

There are also opportunities to learn about the lives of slaves on this 5,000-acre plantation, which could make a worthy history lesson for older children. Other local history-buff favorites are Ash Lawn-Highland, the home of James Monroe, and Montpelier, home of James Madison.

10. Mitchie Tavern. Once you’ve worked up an appetite exploring Monticello, walk down the trail to this rustic restaurant, which offers 18th-century southern fare by servers in period dress. The food at Mitchie Tavern is simple, delicious and fairly safe for the unadventurous kid. As an extra bonus, anyone under 6 eats free.

Best Things to Pack For a Trip to Charlottesville

When you’re a mom, there is no such thing as overpacking. (Especially if you have more than one kid, am I right?!) The best way to take advantage of mom-packing expertise is to pack one color coded suitcase for each family member and then organize with packing cubes. It’s the only way to cram a whole bunch of crap (in a neat way) into everyone’s luggage.

I always make sure to pack my favorite must-haves, and since Charlottesville is extremely walkable, especially in the downtown area, my main priority is shoes. I make sure to pack a good pair of walking shoes that won’t cause blisters or any kind of discomfort. Since Charlottesville is full of hiking trails, my Columbia hiking boots are another must-have (again, we’re avoiding blisters at all costs here). Stopping by the Massanutten Indoor Water Park? A reversible one-piece bathing suit — that’s both sunscreen- and oil-resistant — is a game-changer. Speaking of which, the hot summer months in Charlottesville require a purse-friendly sunscreen stick, but for colder evenings, packing a cozy, wrap-around cardigan is always a good idea. Since the City Market is a jackpot of delicious, fresh, and local produce, packing a cotton tote is the best way to bring your organic bounty back to the hotel. And for all those early mornings where the kids wake up first (it’s vacation, after all), a Yeti cup is a necessity for coffee refills before turning into a water jug. Don’t forget a few toys that can distract when needed, like really fun Hexbugs or Mystery Mosaics.

Got any Charlottesville tips? Leave them in the comments!

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