“Roads Scholar: Off the Beaten Path in Williamsburg” by Heather S. Cole
VA Homeschoolers Voice, January-February 2019
The annual Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers Conference is moving to Williamsburg this spring. For those of you bringing your family (and we hope you do!), here are some things to do in the area before or after the conference.
The Usual Suspects
If you have not yet been to Colonial Williamsburg or the historic sites of Jamestown and Yorktown, then by all means put them on your list. If you visit Jamestown or Yorktown, make sure to ask about the homeschool discount. But if you’re looking for some things a bit off the beaten path…
If the weather is good and your little ones need to burn off some extra energy, Williamsburg has two parks that locals recommend. Freedom Park is located about 10 miles from the conference hotel and is open daily until sunset. There is a playground, two miles of hiking trails and more than 20 miles of mountain biking trails in the park. Freedom Park is also home to the free Williamsburg Botanical Gardens and a Treetop Adventure Course ($28-58 per person). Veterans Park, located about six miles from the conference hotel, is open daily until 10:00 p.m. and is home to Kidsburg, a 30,000-square-foot lighted playground. It also has lighted basketball and tennis courts and Wifi.
Another option for good weather is the Yorktown Beach. Although March will probably be too cold for swimming (except for my kids!), you can take a stroll along the mile-long pedestrian Riverwalk or watch the kids play in the sand. Or visit the nearby Fishing Pier and try your hand at fishing, crabbing or spotting dolphins. No fishing license is required for fishing at the pier.
The College of William and Mary, located adjacent to Colonial Williamsburg, is also worth a visit, if for no other reason than to admire the 18th century buildings or throw a frisbee in the sunken garden in front of the historic Wren Building. Older students may be interested in taking a tour of the college, led by current students. Admissions information sessions and tours are offered twice-daily on weekdays and select weekends. See their website for details.
There are several local businesses providing boat rentals or tours, but for a free trip across the James River, checkout the Jamestown-Scotland Ferry. The car ferry runs from the end of Rte. 31 at the Jamestown Settlement, across the river and back. The ferry runs 24 hours per day, 365 days per year and you can take a car across or ride as a passenger. (But note that there is nowhere to park your car near the ferry dock.) The crossing is 15-20 minutes in each direction.
Indoor Play Areas
If the weather is crummy, the Williamsburg Indoor Sports Complex (WISC) and Bounce House/Laser Tag offer pay-to-play rock climbing, laser tag, bounce houses and other activities. WISC is open daily until 8:00 p.m., 9:00 p.m. on Friday and Saturdays. Admission is $20 per person for 90 minutes, but they offer a homeschool discount during the day on weekdays and a family discount on Sundays. Bounce House/Laser Tag admissions is $9-15 per person and they are open until 8:00 p.m., 10:00 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
If you’re willing to travel a bit further, the Newport News/Hampton area is about a 30-minute drive from Williamsburg and has several additional family-friendly options.
Got a kid interested in tanks and big guns? The U.S. Army Transportation Museum at Joint Base Langley-Eustis might be worth a visit. Admission and parking are free, although you will be required to show identification and check in at the Guard House on base in order to visit. See their website for details on what is required. The museum is open Tuesday thru Saturday from 9:00 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
What about ships or the Civil War? The Mariners’ Museum in Newport News has a huge collection of maritime-related artifacts including ship models, scrimshaw and artwork. The museum is also home to a full-scale replica of the USS Monitor, the Civil War ironclad ship, and a theater showing maritime-related films. Best of all, the museum just reduced their admission price to $1 for all. ($6 additional for the movie theater.) The museum is open daily until 5:00 p.m.
Or is your kiddo obsessed with space exploration? The Virginia Air & Space Center at the NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton has a number of interactive exhibits for aspiring scientists, as well as historic spacecraft and an IMAX theater. There is also a Ham Radio station in the museum and an exhibit especially for preschoolers. Admission starts at $19.50 for adults, $16 for children.
Thanks to the homeschoolers on Facebook who recommended their favorite Williamsburg-area activities. Click on over to The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers’ page for more suggestions or to share your own: facebook.com/groups/virginia.homeschooling/.
Heather Cole edits the Roads Scholars column and is always looking for suggestions on places to visit in Virginia (and beyond) that are off the beaten path. She homeschools her 10- and 11-year-old boys and can be reached at VoiceEditor@vahomeschoolers.org attn: Roads Scholars.
Bounce House/Laser Tag: bouncehouselasertag.com
College of William & Mary: wm.edu/about/visiting/
Colonial Williamsburg: colonialwilliamsburg.com
Freedom Park: jamescitycountyva.gov/1324/Freedom-Park
Historic Jamestown: historicjamestowne.org
Jamestown Settlement: historyisfun.org
Jamestown-Scotland Ferry: virginiadot.org/travel/ferry-jamestown.asp
Mariners’ Museum: marinersmuseum.org
U.S. Army Transportation Museum: transportation.army.mil/museum/
Veterans Park: tinyurl.com/ycd232o3
Virginia Air & Space Center: vasc.org
Williamsburg Indoor Sports Complex: thewisc.com
Yorktown Battlefield, Yorktown, VA: nps.gov/york
Yorktown Beach & Fishing Pier: visityorktown.org/163/Outdoor-Fun