View Full Version : Virginia for vacation?

Marty Barron
04-21-2010, 11:49 AM
I am thinking about spending a week in DC and driving down to Richmond for our summer vacation. I was thinking of three nights in Richmond and 4 nights in Williamsburg. Does this allow enough time to explore both of these areas in Virginia and a day on Virginia beach? Are there any woodworking stores that I should not miss in these areas?

Thanks in advance for any help.


Lee Schierer
04-21-2010, 12:47 PM
My suggestion in DC would be to stay on the outskirts and take the subway into town. Parking is $4.75 a day at the station lots and about that much per hour down town. The system is pretty easy to figure out and use. You can pay by the ride, by the day or week. There are stops near most of the major attractions.

Kent A Bathurst
04-21-2010, 1:11 PM
More than enough time in Richmond and in Wburg, IMO. While I don't know your planned route, if I may be so bold as to make a general suggestion: (please understand I am a born-and-bred Yankee - but I understand and respect the historical significance of these events)

With Richmond you are, of course, heading to the heart of the Confederacy - the signature historical event in US domestic history, IMO. If that is a specific topic of interest to you, consider routing the drive through Gettysburg PA, then to Harpers Ferry WVA, then to Richmond. One day in Gettysburg, one in Harpers Ferry, one in Richmond - you will see, learn, and experience some of the most sobering, intense lessons of American history there are.

I cannot tell you how many times I have stood at Gettysburg, reading Lincoln's address. The battle scene is chilling. At Gettysburg, "If Lee had only....." He could have won the battle. He could have disengaged, pivoted, and marched uncontested to Washington DC. He could have forced the Union into a negotiated-as-equals settlement to the war. He could have listened to Longstreet's advice and avoided 7,000 casulaties in Pickett's Charge. "If Lee had only....." What would the USA look like today? But - Lee didn't.

Harper's Ferry is significant for many reasons - John Brown's capture of the armory (and the link to Brown's activities in "Bloody Kansas"), supressed by US Lt. Col. Robert E. Lee, and also for Gen AP Hill's forced march with 20,000+ men to reinforce Lee at Gettysburg. Lee's unconfirmed last words were "Tell Hill he must come up."

In Richmond, one thing not to miss is the gravesite of Jefferson Davis in Hollywood Cemetary. It is notable for the engravings on the FRONT of the headstone - which list his many accomplishments for the US, and on the back are his accomplishments for the CSA - sobering reminder of the divided loyalties of the people in the conflict (or, here in the South - "The War of Northern Aggression" - I love that label). Richmond also has many historical monuments to CSA figures - one of them is to AP Hill, and it is the only one where the honored person is buried beneath the monument.

Williamsburg is iconic. It is certainly worth a couple of days. Colonial America well-recreated and well-represented. Tremendously educational and entertaining. As a card-carrying cynic, I have to point out that it's creation was funded by JD Rockefeller as public penance in the aftermath of the Standard Oil breakup and Ludlow mine massacre. At least, that's how I see it.

For all you readers from the States -if you want a "cannnot be duplicated" vacation, go to Marty's home land of Newfoundland. There is scenery that is unique - some of it for stunning mountain beauty, some of it for stark almost-lunar landscapes. There is world-class trout fishing, if you are so inclined. And - the bonus - at the very-very-very northern end is L'Anse-aux-Meadows (which doesn't refer to pastures - it refers to jellyfish). Leif Ericson hung out there for a few years - 500 years before Columbus hit the new world. There is (at least, was) an excellent restaurant there - truly excellent - and when you order your Scotch on the rocks, the rocks are ice from icebergs. Beat that with a stick!! Betcha can't have just one.

David Bridgeman
04-21-2010, 1:33 PM
I drove down to Williamsburg a few years ago for a few days (3-4 is good). But, on the way back, we drove down to Norfolk, then north across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. It is pretty cool to see if you never have. There is a junky gift shop out on one of the "islands" where you can stop and look around. You are basically standing out in the middle of the mouth of the Chesapeake. I was amazed at how low the roadway was above the open water. Once over the Chesapeake, you can travel north and catch up to I-95 (if that is you preference).

jerry nazard
04-21-2010, 1:51 PM

There is a Woodcraft store here in Richmond.

To add to Kent's recommendations, the soon to be reopened Va Museum of Fine Arts would be a good visit as would the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk. The Confederate Museum on Brown's Island is a "must see" if you are in Richmond: I have been there many times and the sheer horror of that war never ceases to touch me as I look at the exhibits.

Williamsburg and Jamestown are fun, and I'll put in a second plug for the Chrysler in Norfolk.


Scott Shepherd
04-21-2010, 2:52 PM
Living in Richmond most of my life, I'm not sure I can see what there is to see here for 3 days as a vacation UNLESS you are a history buff. If you're not into all that, make it a 1 day trip and keep heading to Williamsburg/Virginia Beach. I did leave Richmond for a year and live and work not too far from Harper's Ferry. Pretty part of the state, but again, it's like going back in time. If that's your thing, it's nice. If it's not your thing, there's not much else to do, unless you white water raft.

On the other hand, there's enough stuff in DC to last you several weeks. It's incredible how much stuff is there, all sorts of things for all sorts of interests.

Pat Germain
04-21-2010, 2:57 PM
I lived in Hampton Roads Virginia for over seventeen years. Here's my take. (Yes, it is just my opinion.)

- I wouldn't bother with Richmond. If you're driving from DC, it will just delay your arrival in Williamsburg for no good reason. Richmond is crowded, gigantic and has much urban blight. (Sorry, guys. But if I was a tourist, that's the impression I would get.)

- The Williamsburg area is very nice. You can pay a lot of money to tour Jamestown Festival Park and Colonial Williamsburg. Personally, I think they're best enjoyed for free.

- It's free to drive the Colonial Parkway which goes from Jamestown, to Colonial Williamsburg to Yorktown. It's a very nice, scenic drive through forest, swamp and river views. There are numerous pullouts along the parkway with historical markers.

Colonial Williamsburg (CW)

* What CW doesn't like to advertise is you can visit for free. It's just another part of the city of Williamsburg. You can wander around and enjoy the atmosphere at no cost. There are small parking lots all around the historical area. Some of them have two hour limits. Therefore, I recommend parking, taking a look around and then deciding if you want to buy tickets to see inside the exhibits. There are ticket windows right on Duke of Gloucester Street. You don't have to go to the visitor center unless you want to park there and ride the bus back.

* Paying for CW tickets can be worthwile or a complete waste of cash. For example, if you visit the musical instrument maker, he may or may not be making anything that day. He might be willing to talk with you and answer questions. Or he might just sit in the corner and talk with his coworkers while completely ignoring you. It's simply a matter of who's working that day and how they feel. I'm serious. This is no exaggeration. I've walked into CW exhibits with my paid ticket just to see stuff sitting on shelves. Another situation is whatever you wanted to see is completely closed that day. This is why it's a good idea to look around and see what's open first.

* The restaurants at CW are small, expensive and crowded with mediocre food. And you typically must have a reservation to get in at all. So, if you want to try one of the CW taverns/restaurants, be sure to book in advance.

* There are often special events going on during the day at CW. All of them require tickets and some require a ticket plus an extra fee. Be sure to check the web site for the schedule. Arrive early for an event. Otherwise, you'll pay to stand behind of bunch of people and see nothing.

* Be careful if you buy anything at CW "Merchant's Square". The merchandise may or may not have been made by local craftsman. But it's often presented to make you believe it is exactly that. When I lived in the area, the pewter shop got busted for selling Taiwanese pewter as "locally hand crafted".

* Almost all of the buildings at CW are 20th century re-creations. They are very nice re-creations. But almost nothing is original.

* Along the streets in CW are stands that sell cookies. Those are pretty good and not too expensive. I wouldn't recommend buying any other street food there, like stew, unless you don't mind risking getting sick. (Seriously. It happens.)


* You can pay a small fee to see the original settlement area. Technically, the actual settlement is underwater. But they have a glass-making exhibit which is pretty cool. And the area is pretty.

* You can also pony up a lot more dough to visit the "Festival Park". I've never felt inclined to do so. But I have seen the three ships they re-created. They are surprisingly small, which is historically accurate. (FYI, I saw them when under construction and they were built with power tools.)


* As far as I know, all the exhibits at Yorktown, to include the battlefield, are still free. Beyond the battlefield, there's a small museum, a very small Colonial town and a tourist/shopping district right on the York River. Overall, it's a nice place to visit; especially if the weather is nice.


* The Douglas McArthur Memorial is downtown; right next to McArthur Center Mall.

* I think the Nauticus maritime museum is way overpriced. Plus you have to pay to park.

* You can tour the battleship Winsconsin (or is it Missouri?), but you can't go below decks.

Virginia Beach

* Small, hot, crowded and expensive with draconian beach rules. That's the best summary of the actual beach I can give. As I said, I lived in the area for seventeen years and I visited that beach only twice. I regretted it both times. Be aware the actual city of Virginia Beach is gigantic with maddening traffic.

* Be aware the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel which connects the Peninsula (where Williamburg is) with Norfolk/Virginia Beach is almost always jammed with traffic during the summer. You can go around, but it's a very long drive to do so.

***If you really want to have fun in the area, go to Busch Gardens, Williamsburg! It's a theme park with absolutely beautiful landscaping cut right into a large forest. That park has killer roller coasters, decent restaurants and good shows. It will cost about the same as a day at CW and you'll get a lot more bang for your bucks. I used to get season passes to Busch Gardens every years and I always enjoyed it. FYI, park admission used to include a tour of the brewery, but this is no longer the case. You can no longer tour the brewery at all.

***Right off I-64 in Newport News is the Mariner's Museum. The entry fee is minimal and it has some very interesting exhibits. There's never a crowd there so you can enjoy everything at your own, leisurely pace. The museum is surrounded by a nice park which is a good place for a picnic.

Keith Outten
04-21-2010, 3:17 PM
The new Monitor (Ironclad) exibit at Mariner's Museum is incredible....lots of high tech stuff as well as the Monitor's Turret and other artifacts.

The Yorktown Battlefield isn't what you would call impressive unless you stop and consider that it is the last battlefield of the Revolutionary War and every free breath you take is based on what happened there. Cornwallis Cave is still open to the public, just a hole in the side of a hill but it is where we put the lousy bum when we captured him. As he refused to surrender personally it says a lot about the kind of man he was.

Mike Cruz
04-21-2010, 4:18 PM
Heeeeeeeyyyyy, I'm near Harper's Ferry...there's a LOT to do around here. Let's see...you can, well, um...the grass grows pretty fast, you could watch it grow...we enjoy doing that from time to time. :D

Seriously, there is SO much to do all the way down, you might just want to pick out 5 or 6 stops along the way and stay a day in each. As for this area, Antietem Battlefield (and consequently the bloodiest battle of the Civil War) was fought within 10 to 15 minutes of my house. So, if you are into that sort of thing, you could really get into it. If you are into hiking, the Appalacian trail runs right through here, too. As for DC, unless you like seeing museum after museum, and love crowds, citiies, and impolite people, do as others have said and use the Metro system, go in for a day, see the White House, Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, Capitol, dip into a museum or two (I recommend Air and Space, although Natural History and American History are quite nice, too). If you walk fast, don't read every detail there is to be read, just take it in that you are there and you see what you see...you can do it in a day (I took a friend of mine that was visiting from Belgium and we did the whole thing...including going up into the Monument in about 5 hours in the winter). Williamsburg is fun. That could actually be more fun and take more time than DC. Also, an absolute wonder that you may not want to miss is Luray Caverns...one word...spectacular.

Enjoy your trip!

Michael O'Sullivan
04-21-2010, 4:20 PM
The other thing to remember is that it can be H-O-T down there in the middle of summer. We were in Virginia Beach a few Julys ago, and we took a day trip to CW. It was about 98 out, and felt a lot hotter. WE walked around for about 20 minutes and then threw in the towel. It was pretty though.

Scott Shepherd
04-21-2010, 4:29 PM
Pat, very funny on the reasons to skip Richmond. I still agree to skip it, but not quite for the same reasons :) Richmond, to me, is a generic city. No real "stand out" attractions. No space needle, no giant building, no theme restaurants, no major league sports, etc. It's just bland. The actual city of Richmond is a sink hole of a place. No reason to go there, and I'd be careful if you did. One side of the major road through there is decent, the other side of the road is riddled with crime. I saw a crime map not too long ago and it was literally the road that split it into good and bad areas.

Mike, no dig at Harper's Ferry, it's beautiful. Plus, you can go sit and watch the "people" at Shepherd's College ;) ;) You know what I mean :)

There's plenty to do in the state, but if Civil War doesn't interest you, then you've cut out a lot of what we offer.

Who will you be traveling with? Wife, kids (ages)? Looking for fun places, art, educational, history?

Pat Germain
04-21-2010, 4:53 PM
One side of the major road through there is decent, the other side of the road is riddled with crime. I saw a crime map not too long ago and it was literally the road that split it into good and bad areas.

That's what I meant by "urban blight". ;)

Plus, you can go sit and watch the "people" at Shepherd's College ;) ;) You know what I mean :)

One can do the same thing at The College of William & Mary, which butts right up against Colonial Williamsburg. Although, the "eyeball liberty" isn't as great in the Summer.

Pat Germain
04-21-2010, 4:59 PM
Interesting. I was just directed to book a trip to Virginia Beach for an upcoming meeting. :rolleyes:

I should add that Virginia Beach can be fun for a family if you stay at a nice hotel right on the beach. That way, you can park at the hotel, then walk out of your hotel and enjoy the beach and other areas. If you're not staying at the beach, it can be a bear fighting traffic to get to the beach, finding a place to park, looking for a place to go to to the bathroom, then fighting traffic to leave.

Late in the season, the water in that part of the Atlantic warms up pretty well. Granted, it's not as warm as the Caribbean. But it's not super-chilly like the Pacific or Northern Atlantic.

Keith Starosta
04-21-2010, 5:45 PM
If you have an extra day, plan to stop for a few hours in my town! From the standpoint of American history, you're not going to find another area in the state as thick with Civil War happenings as Fredericksburg. You've got the Fredericksburg I and II battlefields, Wilderness and Chancelorsville Battlefields, George Washington's childhood homestead, and so much more! We've only been here 9 years (transplanted Detroiter), but absolutely LOVE the history and beauty of this region.

Just a thought...

- Keith

Marty Barron
04-21-2010, 7:00 PM
Thanks for all the information you have taken the time to post. I will be travelling with my wife and thirteen year old son. I am thinking of changing my schedule to 5 days in Williamsburg ending with 2 days in Richmond. We will be flying out of Richmond and will do some day trips from Williamsburg.



Scott Shepherd
04-21-2010, 7:34 PM
That helps a lot Marty. Easy to find things for a 13 year old to do here!

You have (already mentioned) Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, I'm not sure if they are affiliated or not, but across from it is Water Country. It's a giant water park that's pretty fun. They didn't used to be affiliated, but something tells me that Busch Gardens bought it out, so your tickets might work for both.

Kings Dominion is another amusement park and they are opening a new ride this year that's pretty crazy. They have a ton of good rides and things to do there. Fun place for a 13 year old for sure. Kings Dominion is about 15 miles north of Richmond.

Science Museum in Richmond, dead in Richmond, is pretty good. Lots of hands on exhibits.

Thomas Pender
04-22-2010, 12:01 PM

I love Colonial Williamsburg, especially the cabinet maker and carpentry shops and the wheelwright stuff right near the Governor's Mansion. I do not think you can do it in less than 2 days and I really think staying at the CW hotels is agood idea.

I do not put much value on Richmond (sorry folks), but Petersburg, the final battle of the Civil War is close by and Charlottesville, which has Mr. TJ's University and Monticello (the best place to visit I know of, but not for free) plus the Michie Tavern is on the way to Monticello (for lunch only) the best food you will ever have for lunch and all you can eat - great for teenage boys and not that expensive.

There is also the Udvar Hazy Museum (Air and Space Annex with the Enola Gay, etc.) on the way to Dulles Airport on SR 28 that is almost as neat as the main museum in downtown DC, but easier to get to. (I recommend not wasting your time at the Museum of the American Indian - not that much to see and it is one ugly building) - however the Botanical Garden is across the street and great and even the Art Museums are tremendous with great cafeterias. You do need several days to do DC.

Then there is the Valley, which means you can go via SR 33 from Charlottesville (crossing underneath the Skyline Drive - very much worth a long detour and drive) or I 64 - come out by Harrisonburg or Staunton (home of the only really authentic Shakespearian Theatre in the US - Blackfriars Playhouse). The Valley has to be seen to be believed (up and down I-81), but it has some nice Caves (Endless Caverns in New Market are neat and cheap and you can have Peanut Soup at the Southern Kitchen - or the Luray Caverns - a big tourist trap), the New Market Battlefield (the charge of the VMI cadets), Natural Bridge to the south, VMI and W&L in Lexington - plus Stonewall's grave, all kinds of places and all of it close to Interstates. For example, on Saturdays there is farmers market in Harrisonburg (A heavy Mennonite presence) and a livestock auction every Saturday - very much middle America in VA. Only better time to visit is during the county fair season from Mid August to early September.

I have to admit that VA is a great state to be a tourist in.

I agree about Gettysburg - it will send chills down your back - this was the battle that preserved the country we know today.

Whatever you do, you need to come back.

Dave Anderson NH
04-22-2010, 12:06 PM
A plug for the National Museum of the Marine Corps at the Quantico exit of I95 between DCV and Richmond. It is free and open 9 to5 every day of the year except Christmas Day. It is quite spectacular and very well done.

Pat Germain
04-22-2010, 12:21 PM
Scott's suspicions are correct. Back in the 1990s, Anheiser Busch company bought Water Country USA. This is a good thing because you can buy combo tickets for Busch Gardens and Water Country.

Your son might like King's Dominion more because it has more thrill rides. But the scenery, cleanliness, shows and food at Busch Gardens spank all over King's Dominion. Also, while Busch Gardens has fewer coasters, those few coaster are first rate, world class. The "Alpengeist" is the best roller coaster I've ever ridden. And the "Lochness Monster" is a great classic and a much longer ride than most coasters.

I suspect Mrs. Bridgeman would enjoy Busch Gardens more than King's Dominion while your boy would be happy with either. FYI, King's Dominion tends to get rowdy teens wandering the park and causing trouble. This isn't a problem at Busch Gardens.

Most locals visit Busch Gardens on a Saturday which makes it the absolute most crowded day. I don't recommend visiting on a Saturday. Most tourists visit the park during the week. Although the park closes earlier during the week, the crowds are much lower and you can still do a lot more and have more fun in less time. Based on my experience, Sunday is an especially good day to visit Busch Gardens. It seems to straddle the locals and tourists for minimal crowds.

I would also avoid Water Country on a Saturday. The lines to ride the slides can be maddening.

The Colonial Williamsburg hotels are very nice and convenient. But the prices I've seen are pretty outrageous. There are many hotels and motels in the Williamsburg/York County area where you can get a much better deal. I recommend checking Trip Advisor before booking a hotel. You can see clear trends based on guest experiences.

Matt Meiser
04-22-2010, 12:48 PM
When we went we spent 2 days at Colonial Williamsburg which was plenty of time for us. During the rest of the week we went to some of the outlet malls nearby, went to Smithfied which had a number of antique shops and did some exploring of the surrounding area. To me, Richmond was just another big US city. Norfolk has some naval ships you can tour and is fairly close. There's also York and Jamestown right nearby. We went to York for a couple hours but not Jamestown.

We camped and the only recommendation I have there is be aware of where the train tracks are. The first one came through sometime late night and scared the @#$@% out of us--and every one after that!

Woodworking related, I hear that a major internet forum is hosted in the area--maybe you can get a tour? (Picturing Keith saying "Umm....so that's the server. Thanks for coming!") :)

Keith Outten
04-22-2010, 9:25 PM

Give us a shout when you firm up your travel plans. If there is any way we can get together Jackie and I would enjoy a visit while you are in our area. We live directly across the York River from Yorktown Battlefield in Gloucester County. I grew up in Hampton, the oldest continuously settled city in America est 1610 so my home town is having its 400th birthday this year.

The Virginia Air and Space Museum and the Fort Monroe Casemate Museum are both in Hampton. American history started right here in my home town mostly because Hampton Roads, which is a body of water, is the best natural harbor in North America. Eastern Virgina hosts the largest Naval Base and we build the largest and the best ships in the world. Hampton is also the birthplace of NASA and the locals here still refer to the Air Force Base in Hampton as "Langley Field". Blackbeard the Pirate was a resident here both before and after he died, but thats another story :)

Pat Germain
04-23-2010, 12:32 PM
^^ Hey, Keith. I didn't realize you were a member of the "Gloucester Mafia". :p I used to work in the bank building right next to Patrick Henry Mall. Many of my coworkers were from Gloucester. (You guys are hiding a lot of beautiful women out there!)

When I say I lived in Hampton Roads for over seventeen years, it was in Hampton. I first lived in an apartment by the (now defunct) Newmarket Mall. Then I bought a house right next to Langley AFB. I worked on the base for awhile. At NASA Langley, they're still mad about LBJ moving Apollo Mission Control to Houston!

Scott Shepherd
04-23-2010, 12:36 PM
Can you still go through the stuff at NASA there Keith? It's been 20 years since I went through it. Great stuff there. If it's still open, it's worth seeing. It's not a big player, but it's some very interesting stuff in there, or it was there.

Pat Germain
04-23-2010, 1:28 PM
The little visitor center that used to be at NASA Langley is no more. They moved everything to the Air & Space Museum in Downtown Hampton. Of course, that museum is open to everyone.

Keith Outten
04-23-2010, 6:23 PM
Yep, the Air and Space Museum has all of the old NASA stuff now. It is located in downtown Hampton.

Pat, not much has changed since you left :)

John alder
04-26-2010, 9:08 AM
I drove down to Williamsburg a few years ago for a few days (3-4 is good). But, on the way back, we drove down to Norfolk, then north across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. It is pretty cool to see if you never have. There is a junky gift shop out on one of the "islands" where you can stop and look around. You are basically standing out in the middle of the mouth of the Chesapeake. I was amazed at how low the roadway was above the open water. Once over the Chesapeake, you can travel north and catch up to I-95 (if that is you preference).

Also there is a great camp ground just as you exit the Chesapeake Bay Bridge on the left side,its big has cabins to rent if you dont have a camper,sorry I cant recall the name of it but i would highly recomend it.John