Summer Fun

From the Beach to the Blue Ridge, check out our superlative guide to having fun in Virginia—for kids and the young-at-heart.

Lots of places like to claim the Best Summer Vacation title. But I’m here to tell you that when it comes to kid-friendly destinations, you’re already living in it. Virginia is for fun-loving little brothers and sisters—and anyone else with a childlike sense of adventure.

Thanks to the state’s diverse geography, rich history, and comfortable climate (okay, okay, August does get a little muggy), exploring Virginia during the summer months is the ideal time to expose the youngest of travelers to a wealth of amusements and attractions. To make your itinerary planning easy, head to the Commonwealth’s most kid-tested, parent-approved sites.

For Marine Life Lovers:

Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center, Virginia Beach 

The Virginia coastline is a playground in and of itself, but if you want to bolster a child’s understanding of our ocean ecosystems, take them to the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center in Virginia Beach. Even if they’ve been before, it’s worth a fresh visit thanks to the reopening of the South building, home to jellyfish and sea otters.

Courtesy of Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center

For Budding Historians:

Colonial Williamsburg, Williamsburg 

They don’t call Virginia the “Mother of Presidents” for nothing. We produced eight presidents—the most of any other state—which means there’s a whole lot of history to discover. To make the past as accessible as possible, head to Williamsburg. In the former capital of the Virginia colony, you’ll find a city-size living history museum where the revolutionary spirit is still alive. Kids can shoulder muskets, get a tutorial on colonial livestock and gardens, learn about colonial cuisine, or hear the Jug Broke Theatre Co. play tunes from the past.

Courtesy of Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

For the Little Mountain Goat:

Humpback Rock Hike, Lyndhurst

If you can’t keep your child off the climbing wall, opt outside for a real hiking adventure. Humpback Rock in the Blue Ridge Mountains between Augusta and Nelson counties is a 700-foot climb with a major payoff—extraordinary panoramic views. But take note, it’s a steep outlook at the top, so only confident climbers, regardless of age, need apply.

For the Big Kid Who Needs to Burn Off Energy:

Amazement Square, Lynchburg 

Older children (ages 5–12) will have to be, quite literally, ripped away from Lynchburg’s Amazement Square. With four stories of fun, this interactive space has exhibits on Virginia’s historic canals, an experiential batteau boat, a painting gallery, bee display, and climbing tower complete with an indoor zipline. Let’s just say the afternoon nap will not be a problem after spending the morning here.

Photo by Vahid Abedini

For the Self-Care Guru:

Warm Springs Pools, Warm Springs 

It’s hard to escape those famous Founding Fathers when traveling in Virginia. Even at the state’s oldest public spa, Warm Springs Pools, now part of the Omni Homestead in neighboring Hot Springs, you’ll discover that they once made waves at Bath County’s natural warm springs. Kids can enjoy what was once the Ladies’ Pool for one hour soaks with their parents.

For the Aquanaut-in-Training:

Massanutten WaterPark, Massenutten

The word Massanutten might bring to mind chilly winter days and black diamonds, but come summer, the ski resort becomes a waterpark paradise with an enormous indoor pool kept at a delicious 84°F. Your tadpoles can enjoy the baby-friendly Frog Pond while older children will love the Body Slides, Pipeline, and Blue Ridge Rapids.

For the Future Speleologist:

Grand Caverns, Grottoes

If you have a child who dreams of tunneling to China or prefers to spend their afternoons buried in blanket forts, take them where, as they like to say, “history runs deep.” At the Grand Caverns in Grottoes, visitors have the opportunity to discover a small natural history exhibition before descending underground amidst stalagmites and stalactites for a 70-minute tour of the subterranean world. Pro tip: If you have a kiddo especially afraid of the dark, be aware that tour guides often kill their flashlights in one portion of the tour—a thrilling stunt but one that might scare little visitors.

For Adrenaline-Seeking Tiny Tots:

Kings Dominion, Doswell 

Not ready to make the leap to Disney? There are plenty of amusement parks at home to, well, amuse your crew. Enjoy a park that’s tiny-tot accessible with a visit to Kings Dominion. Thanks to its Planet Snoopy section, even the smallest guests can get in on the fun with rides like Peanuts 500, a mini race car amusement, and Sally’s SeaPlane, which slowly soars up just a few feet in the air.

Courtesy of Kings Dominion

For Seasoned Thrill-Riders:

Busch Gardens, Williamsburg

This site likes to tout its blend of 17th-century charm with 21st-century technology. You’ll see that in the beautifully landscaped gardens juxtaposed with wild roller coasters including the heart-racing loop-de-loop Loch Ness Monster and the Apollo’s Chariot, which has a 210-foot drop.

For the Rookie of the Year:

Richmond Squirrels or College Baseball, Richmond/Charlottesville/Harrisonburg

Have an MLB enthusiast in your midst? Tell them to grab their mitt and head to Richmond for a Flying Squirrels baseball game. The minor league team’s season runs from April through September, offering ample nights to take your kiddo out to the ballgame. The University of Virginia’s Wahoos and James Madison University’s Duke Dogs also have kid-friendly stadium games worth visiting.

Photo courtesy of Richmond Flying Squirrels

For Future Farmers of America:

Chiles Orchards, Charlottesville

I’ve eaten peaches in many states, and I can say that by far the best ones come from Virginia. Taste them sun-warmed and fresh off the tree at Chiles Peach Orchard in Crozet. U-pick season runs from mid-June through September. The Chiles family, who launched their ag empire in 1912, now operate a collection of orchards that also includes Carter Mountain in Charlottesville (apples) and Spring Valley in Afton (cherries).

For the Water Baby:

Smith Mountain Lake, Moneta

Virginia has a vast coastline for building sandcastles, but little swimmers might need a more placid body of water for a safer experience. Smith Mountain Lake in Moneta has the distinction of staying at a welcoming 77°F from June through September and is a favorite family summer recreation. Visitors can paddle, boat, or teach the little ones how to fish for perch, striper, and bass.

Photo courtesy of Smith Mountain Lake

For the Exotic Animal Aficionado:

Metro Richmond Zoo, Moseley

For your budding zoophilist, take a spin to the Metro Richmond Zoo. Just a short drive from the city lies a habitat for 190 different species and some 2,000 animals including African penguins, cheetahs, snow leopards, and a white rhino.

Photo courtesy of Metro Richmond Zoo

For the Tiny Tot on the Go:

Virginia Discovery Museum, Charlottesville

Have an active toddler who loves to explore? If you’ve  exhausted all of the sites in the capital, including the can’t-miss Children’s Museum of Richmond, head to Charlottesville for the Virginia Discovery Museum. Conveniently located on the city’s historic mall, near plenty of lunch options, toddlers have the chance to work on their fine motor skills in the Construction Zone, test their vision in the Sensory Studio, or expand their imaginations in the Showalter Cabin, where they can play an 18th-century pioneer.

For the Itty-Bitty Outdoor Enthusiast:

WildRock, Crozet

This nature play center outside of Crozet is like a hidden oasis for parents looking to give their child more interactive experiences—albeit safe and secure—outside. Filled with opportunities to interact with nature, it has a Discovery Loop Trail kids can easily hike, a bird sanctuary, a labyrinth, and 12 additional play zones for ages 3–12.

Photo courtesy of WildRock

This article originally appeared in the August 2024 issue. 

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