Charlottesville is home to the University of Virginia, making it a hip college town with a surprising number of dining options. Perhaps that is influenced by the large number of wineries that stretch across the surrounding area. Yet while the vibe may trend towards teens and older, there is plenty of things to do near Charlottesville VA with kids.
In fact, this area is steeped in history, with the drafter of the Declaration of Independence, the father of the Constitution, and the only person to have served as both Secretary of State and Secretary of War at the same time, all hailing from nearby towns.
If you are looking for what to do in Charlottesville, I’d recommend blending a mix of historic attractions and outdoor activities to keep kids happy. Also check out these recommendations on the best places to stay in Charlottesville.
What to do in Charlottesville with Kids
- Stroll through the downtown pedestrian mall. The pedestrian mall’s brick street is lined with a variety of shops and restaurants, which cater to the college crowd and visitors alike. Younger kids might enjoy a stop in the Virginia Discovery Museum, while older kids will enjoy popping into the shops (mine loved the store for cat lover’s) or eating at one of the many restaurants with sidewalk seating.
- Visit Monticello. Thomas Jefferson’s home at Monticello is a must-see attraction in Charlottesville, especially for families that like to include a bit of history or education into their trips. While the hour-long tour might be a bit confining for younger kids, they do offer a family-friendly tour and there is plenty of space to stretch your legs and explore the grounds before or after the tours. If you are visiting Monticello, be sure to read my detailed post on tips for visiting Monticello with kids.
- Lunch at the Michie Tavern. Cap off a visit to Monticello with a mid-day feast at the nearby Michie Tavern. Kids can then appreciate this additional step back in time with classic (yet delicious) 18th century food and a tour of the history tavern and shops.
- Sunset with a view. The best sunset viewing in Charlottesville has got to be at Carter Mountain Orchard. Located just down the road from Monticello and minutes from the Michie Tavern, you will wind up and around the mountain and just at the crest, find the country store and bakery. From here, you can see sweeping views of Charlottesville in the valley below. On Thursday evenings in the summer, Carter Mountain offers a free music series, featuring local artists. Locals and visitors are welcome to spread out their picnic blankets and enjoy the music and view. Adults can stop into the Prince Michel Wine Shop at Carter Mountain to pick up a bottle of local wine to enjoy with their picnic. No picnic? No problem. Carter Mountain also offers a Mountain Grill with light snacks and the country store. I highly recommend the peach cider and peach cider donuts!
- Visit Ash Lawn-Highland, James Monroe’s homestead. James Monroe, fifth President of the United States, the author of the famous Monroe Doctrine (which basically decreed that the U.S. would stay out of Europe if they would stay out of the West), the negotiator behind the Louisiana Purchase, and the only man to have held the position of Secretary of State and Secretary of War at the same time, made his home near Charlottesville at Ash Lawn-Highland.
When Monroe was 35 years old, he purchased the land where Ash Lawn-Highland stands today to be near his close friend, Thomas Jefferson. The original home, Highland, was where he lived for 24 years with his wife and children. The larger yellow house in front, Ash Lawn, was added later and Monroe never lived there. The tour takes you through the original house, lets you explore the exhibits in the parlor of the new house, and provides you free reign to explore the gardens, kitchens, and slave quarters on your own. Similar to Jefferson, Monroe spoke out against slavery, calling it, a “still remaining evil,” yet never freed his 49 slaves. If you have two days or more in Charlottesville, Ash Lawn-Highland is a good historic attraction to add to your itinerary.
- Kayaking on the James River. A bit further out of town, in the nearby town of Scottsville, Virginia, you can take a break from history with some time outside. James River Reeling and Rafting offers kayaking, river tubing, fishing, canoeing, rafting and camping along the scenic James River. The river runs the quickest in the spring, but our late summer visit still provided us with a leisurely float down the river. They drop you off upstream and then pick you up a few hours later, depending on how far you want to kayak (or tube, etc.) We managed a few miles in under two hours, taking our time to enjoy the scenic views.
We only had two days to explore Charlottesville attractions, but these were some of our favorites. I’d love to go back again with the whole family to also visit some wineries and sample some of the cuisine downtown — Hannah can’t wait to go back for the Ramen and Donuts restaurant in the Downtown Mall. She can’t believe that combination of goodness.
For more suggestions on what to do in Charlottesville VA with kids, visit the Visit Charlottesville tourism site.
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Note: Our visit was hosted by Visit Charlottesville, including our stay at the Graduate Hotel, visits to local attractions and some meals. All opinions are my own.