Sharing the Good: Things To Do Now

Need some new things to do? Here are some fun-but-safe ideas.

Animal Carfari 
Metro Richmond Zoo joins Virginia Safari Park as a destination for guided tours by car. 

Even though many attractions are closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there are some here in Virginia that you and your family can still go enjoy.

While the Metro Richmond Zoo has closed its doors to regular foot traffic, visitors can still experience its attractions by car if they book a one-hour narrated tour that leads through most parts of the zoo. For the best experience, visitors are encouraged to bring at least one charged smartphone to connect to their car’s sound system via Bluetooth or AUX cord, and then connect to the tour audio, which streams on YouTube. During the narrated tour, visitors will see and learn about the giraffe, cheetah, kangaroos, monkeys, chimps, orangutans, penguins, and many other of the zoo’s popular inhabitants. Tickets cost $60 per car and must be purchased in advance to reserve a time slot, because availability is limited. No motorcycles or commercial vehicles are allowed, and vehicles can be no larger than a full-size SUV.

As a permanent drive-through destination, the Virginia Safari Park in Natural Bridge, with its 1,200 exotic animals over 180 acres, has remained open through the crisis and even seen an uptick in visitor numbers, despite the closing of the popular village walk and its gift shops. “You’re in your own car here, so you’re definitely always more than 6 feet apart. You’re only going to interact with the people you came here with,” says park director Sarah Fridel. Tickets are $22.95 for teenagers and adults, with discounts for seniors and young children. 

Screenshot from the Richmond Falcon Cam.

You Otter See This!
Live cameras have replaced visits at many zoos, parks, and other public places. 

To help relieve the stress, boredom, and loneliness that come with staying at home, localities, parks, and zoos across the Commonwealth are live-streaming for people to enjoy from the comfort of their own homes. Take a virtual visit to some of your favorite places, including an aquarium, zoo, beach, and mountains.

In Richmond, the Falcon Cam, hosted by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, follows the breeding season of a peregrine falcon pair that nests atop the Riverfront Plaza building downtown. 

Also streaming from Richmond, Maymont, a 100-acre Victorian estate and public park, has two cameras: Otter Cam allows you to watch the park’s otters, and the Farm Cam gives you a good view, if you’re lucky, at some of the hundreds of animals that live at Maymont Farm. 

If you’re a train watcher, Ashland’s Virtual Railfan YouTube channel has plenty of action on its live stream.

Williamsburg’s Capitol Cam shows a broad scope from the Capitol looking west on Duke of Gloucester Street in Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area. Note that condensation occasionally may obscure the view through this antique glass pane.

Wishing for a day at the beach? Virginia Beach’s Live Beach Webcam offers a good view of the coastline. 

In the Shenandoah Valley, the National Park Services has not just one, but several live cams with real-time views. Try Big MeadowsMountain Viewsor even the Air Quality Cam.

The Wintergreen Resort Mountain Cam provides a panorama view of the ridge line throughout the year

Across the state, the city of Alexandria has set up a half-dozen cameras where you can keep track of what’s happening at the Marina.

At last, the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., has several cameras set up that will let you join the fun by watching the cheetah cubs, naked mole rats, lions, elephants, and the pandas. Before you “go,” remember that wildlife may not appear when you tune in. Like domestic cats, their wild counterparts appear only when it suits them.

Photo by Rob Garland Photographers.

Independent theaters are offering virtual screening rooms for first-run films.

It seems hard to imagine now, but there was a time when families believed that a big bucket of popcorn and watching a movie with an audience in the dark would always be better than streaming at home. But the coronavirus has turned everything upside down, forcing local independent theaters to reimagine their businesses by launching virtual screening rooms on their websites. 

In an ironic twist of events, streaming at homes has become the surprising new way to support your local theater. 

Take the historic Paramount Theater in the heart of Charlottesville, which has been dark since March 11. “During this time, our vibrant performing arts center has been dark, but our spirit continues to burn bright for our community,” says Chris Eure, the Paramount’s executive director. The theater has partnered with Magnolia Pictures to bring paid movie streaming options to its audience. Currently available are Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band and The Whistlers, directed by Daniel Roher and starring Martin Scorcese and Bob Dylan. To watch the film, visit Stream the Magic of The Paramount, click on the button “Buy Online Streaming Code Now.” Immediately after payment ($12 for three days), you can watch the film using the link provided on your receipt. 

The Paramount isn’t the only independent theater that offers the streaming of new content. “While our theater is dark, we’re bringing a curated selection of digital art film programming directly to you at home,” says Tench Phillips of the Naro Expanded Cinema in Norfolk. The theater rolls out a new list of films available for streaming in its weekly newsletter, also offering a popcorn sidewalk sale Fridays from 4 to 8 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. to help you get in the movie mood.

In Richmond, the historic Byrd Theatre has a weekly rotation of films in its virtual screening room, ranging from kids’ movies to the latest independent films. Tickets range from $12 to $18, with much of the proceeds going directly to the nonprofit theater. 

The Angelika Film Center, a state-of-the-art boutique cinema in Falls Church, regularly updates film selections on its blog. Among the latest editions, released today, is Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy, an intimate, candid perspective into the curious world of cookbook author and British ex-pat Diana Kennedy. 

Harrisonburg’s Court Square Theater, once the home of The Rockingham Motor Company, releases new films every week in the virtual streaming room of the Arts Council of the Valley platform.

The Grandin Theatre in Roanoke currently has five films on its streaming list, including the independent drama Driveways and the German thriller Balloon, about an East German family’s escape to the West with a homemade hot-air balloon. 

Cidery Hunt
Shenandoah cidery opens their orchard to family-friendly activities. 

Like many businesses, Old Hill Cider in Timberville has stepped up their online retail game during the shutdown. In a unique addtion, they have also opened their orchard to a family-friendly scavenger hunt. This is how it works: After placing an order for pick-up from the cidery, customers receive a scavenger hunt list packed with items to look for from a car window, and use it while driving through the orchard.

Sarah Showalter, co-owner of Showalter’s Orchard since 1965, says the idea for the hunt was born to maintain her family’s tradition of hosting visitors and customers on their land. “We have a long-standing history of welcoming people to our farm and adapting over 55 years to make that happen in a safe, welcoming, service-oriented environment,” she says. 

When businesses statewide shut down to curb the COVID-19 pandemic, the Showalters shifted to curbside pickup for Old Hill Cidery, learning e-commerce on the go, organizing contactless deliveries,and  even restructuring their parking area. “It felt a lot like a ‘sink or swim’ situation,” Showalter says.

When the apple trees surrounding the tasting room and market began to bloom, Showalter wanted to share the stunning views. The family pushed out a row of trees that were ready to be replaced, creating a driving loop. Visitors who arrive at the tasting room for pick up are directed to drive along the hilltop that showcases the views of the Shenandoah Valley. “You can even see a section of the Blue Ridge through a gap in the Massanutten Mountain range,” Showalter says. From there, folks head into a roadway through the apple trees to exit. 

“It is a pleasure to families to make several loops through looking for things on the list, like a tractor or a strategically placed apple-picking tub,” Showalter says. “It’s a simple idea that’s safe, fun, family-friendly, and helpful to our small business by encouraging our customers to make a trip out to the countryside to get their hard cider, sparkling cider, and apple cider donuts.”

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