When it comes to staying entertained, Virginia has a lot of options. But if you’re like me, at the end of a long week, coming up with new ideas can be hard. Sure, let’s go to the museum…again. Yep, the movie theater is still there. Gah. I’ve been to the park 997 times – and that’s just in the last year. Clearly, it’s easy to fall into the rut of same ol’, same ol’. So why not mix it up a little?
We’ve looked around the state and found a few things that you may not have thought of doing before. Many of them are variations of standards – nature trails, theater, parks or historical tours. But these 15 ideas add a new twist to the ordinary. Ranging from free to moderately pricey, there are attractions for every age and activity level. So grab a notebook, take some notes and get ready to spice things up…
1. Watch a rocket take off – and not just the bottle kind.
Why set off bottle rockets in the front yard when you can see a real-life rocket? (Also, bottle rockets are illegal in Virginia…consider that your PSA for the day. You’re welcome, Park Services!) Now where was I? Oh yes, rockets! NASA’s Wallop Flight Facility Visitor Center overlooks Wallop’s Island on the Eastern Shore. The center offers free admission and is a perfect place to watch scheduled launches while learning about the facility’s 70-year history in Virginia. To find out about the next launch and plan your visit, check out www.nasa.gov/centers/wallops/home.
2. Go skiing in the summer (or spring or fall).
The Snowflex Center at Libery Mountain in Lynchburg lets you hit the slopes any time of the year. With options for every skill level, from beginner to advanced, the center uses a synthetic material to recreate the feel and grip of real snow, even without Mother Nature’s cooperation. Camps are available throughout the summer, as well as tubing, skiing and snowboarding. I can’t think of a cooler way to spend a hot summer day. Learn more at www.liberty.edu/snowflex/
3. Take a leap of faith.
I don’t think there’s such a thing as “too much” when it comes to Virginia hiking. But if standing on the edge of Old Rag or Hawksbill no longer leaves you weak in the knees, try skydiving to up the thrill levels – at the very least you’ll know what it feels like to fall from an airplane. There are lots of options for you bravehearts out there with centers in Orange, Richmond, Virginia Beach, Suffolk, West Point and New Market. Most first-timers choose to take a tandem jump with a trained instructor, but training and certification for solo jumps is also available. Please note that the minimum age is 18 in Virginia. Search for a site near you and remember, we rarely regret the adventures we have, only the ones we missed.
4. Not ready for the real thing? Try it indoors first.
If you’re not ready to jump out of a plane quite yet, indoor skydiving lets you have the thrill without the anxiety. Indoor skydiving uses wind tunnels to simulate the free fall experience and allows for any skill level. iFLY in Virginia Beach, the state’s only indoor skydiving facility, opened in January 2015 and offers state-of-the-art facilities and training for anyone from ages 3 to 103. They even offer corporate outings, birthday parties and educational fieldtrips. Book a trip today at www.virginiabeach.iflyworld.com.
5. See the sites from a hot air balloon.
What better way to see the sites than from the air? Hot air balloon rides are available throughout the Blue Ridge and Shenandoah Valley areas, as well as Northern Virginia, Richmond and Charlottesville. They can be a bit pricey, so this is definitely one to save for a special time. But then again, it’s hard to put a price tag on an amazing experience.
6. Drink wine. Explore ruins. Not necessarily in that order.
Wine tasting is a great way to spend an afternoon, especially with so many stunning wineries and vineyard throughout the state. But for something a little different, try Barboursville Vineyards just outside of Charlottesville. The wines are lovely, but the grounds are an even bigger treat. After tasting some of your favorite vintages, explore the hauntingly beautiful ruins of the mansion designed by Thomas Jefferson for James Barbour in 1822. Be sure to bring your camera, because this is a site just begging for pictures.
7. Have some brunch…and watch a drag show.
Get your fill of delicious brunch and glitter – all in one sitting. This one may not be for the whole family, but it’s a classic for anyone in the Richmond area. The Godfrey’s Drag Brunch has become a staple of Richmond fun-seekers for years. Shows are available on Saturdays and Sundays, but make your reservations early. With 8 years as the “best brunch in Richmond”, this kind of fun fills up fast. Learn more at www.godfreysva.com/sunday-drag-brunch.
8. Be a part of living history at a reenactment.
You can go to museums or watch documentaries, sure. But what better way to learn about history than to see it acted out in front of you? More Civil War battles took place in Virginia than any other state and reenactments are plentiful. But, you can also find Revolutionary War reenactments, events centered on Native American culture, as well as living history museums such as Colonial Williamsburg and Jamestown in Eastern Virginia, The Frontier Culture Museum in Staunton, the Claude Moore Colonial Farm in McLean and many more. Search for the nearest event and take yourself back in time.
9. Take a road trip (on a motorcycle).
Don’t own a motorcycle? No problem. Motorcycle rentals are available throughout the state – and yes, that includes Harleys. Motorcycleroads.com lists nearly 60 rides through Virginia, specifically tested and rated for scenery, safety and motorcyclibility (yes, I did make up that word). It won’t be a free ride, of course, but it will be the ride of a lifetime and one heck of a thing to check off your bucket list. Visit www.motorcycleroads.com/Routes/Virginia_122.html to learn more.
10. Or go the traditional way and pedal your way along the scenic route.
Remember when you were a kid and you were on your bike more than you were in a car? Those were good days. So pack a picnic, pump up your tires and grab the family or some friends for a day of old school fun. For easy-to-do trails, the Virginia Creeper Trail runs 34 miles from Abingdon to White Top and as a bonus, you can opt for a shuttle ride to a point that allows you to do 17 miles downhill. That’s my kind of biking. In Northern Virginia, the Washington and Old Dominion trail takes you from Shirlington to Purcellville with 45 miles of off-the-main road trails through towns and cities you may have only ever seen in gridlock. In Southside, High Bridge Trail offers 30 miles of easy-to-ride trails through Cumberland, Nottoway and Prince Edward counties. But there are many, many more. Look for a bike trail near you and be sure to check out sites that rent bikes if you don’t already have your own.
11.Tour the city by Segway.
C’mon, you have to admit, you’ve wanted to ride one ever since Kevin James just made it look so good in “Mall Cop.” Well, my friend, it’s a dream come true. Segway tours are available in Fredericksburg, Leesburg, Richmond, Norfolk, Virginia Beach and Yorktown. Check out www.segwayguidedtours.com to find one near you and take a tour of the sites like you’ve never done before.
12. Take a ghost tour.
We’ve told you about some of our favorite haunted sites in Virginia. But reading about them is not enough. Many of these locations offer guided, nighttime ghost tours where you can walk down spooky side streets and through creepy buildings while hearing these haunted tales for yourself. TripAdvisor ranks Williamsburg, Richmond, Winchester, Lexington and Occoquan as some of the best tour locations. But look around for yourself and see what you can find. You might just be able to see your own hometown in a whole new light.
13. Hit the town in style in a horse-drawn carriage.
When you think of carriages, you might think of Central Park – but think again. Carriage rides are available in many historic towns throughout the state, including Williamsburg, Lexington, Charlottesville, Fredericksburg and many, many more. A simple search of your favorite historic town or city will most likely yield some options – and trust me, it’s worth it. The drivers are usually a wealth of information and all you have to do is sit back and enjoy the ride.
14. Go to the races.
You don’t have to be at the Kentucky Derby for a chance to wear pastel dress pants, sundresses and floppy straw hats. Virginia is nationally known for its breathtaking countryside and award-winning horses (lest we forget, Secretariat was from Virginia). Combine the two (and throw in some fancy drinks and tailgate snacks) and you have an amazing day for the whole family. Look for steeplechase events like the Virginia Gold Cup, the Montpelier Hunt Races or the Foxfield Races. Or check out Colonial Downs in New Kent for traditional track racing. We also have polo matches scattered around, as well as horse shows throughout the year at venues like the Virginia Horse Center in Lexington.
15. See Shakespeare come to life – or as close as you can get in 2015.
Central Virginia may not be the first place you think of for world-class theater. But it should be. The American Shakespeare Center started as a small group in Staunton, but has grown to be an internationally respected troupe. One of the greatest attractions at this haven-for-all-things-Shakespeare is the Blackfriars Playhouse – an exact replica of London’s Blackfriars’ Monastery Theater, which was the world’s first indoor theater, designed by the bard himself. Open since 2001, the playhouse provides authentic staging, lighting and costumes, while brilliantly talented actors deliver Will’s words to perfection. Why go to the movies when you can have Shakespeare in real-time? Learn more at www.americanshakespearecenter.com.
Tell us about some of the more exciting or unusual trips, activities and ideas you’ve experienced!