As Washingtonians, my daughter and I have been escaping to Virginia for years. One of our favorite let's-have-fun forays starts at Colonial Williamsburg, leads to the James and York rivers, and continues to Hampton before ending, about 50 miles later, at the sandy shores of Virginia Beach.
Because of the abundance of family attractions, this region, home also to Busch Gardens Williamsburg and its sister theme park, Water Country USA, as well as the Virginia Air and Space Center, Hampton, is sometimes referred to as Virginia's "kids' corner."
A long weekend here is how we like our Colonial history — spiced by roller coasters, lightened by water parks, sprinkled with science and salted with sea spray. Water Country and Busch Gardens close in the fall, but the other attractions are open all year long.
Colonial Williamsburg to Start
We always start at Colonial Williamsburg, about a three-hour drive from Washington, D.C. The 173-acre historic area recreates Virginia life in the 1770s, a time when this capital bred independent politics and drew revolutionaries such as Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry. Time travel is lively here. Depending on when you visit, you might witness Mr. Henry arguing for liberty from British tyranny, participate as a juror in a witchcraft trial, watch the Fife and Drum Corps march down the Duke of Gloucester Street, or have your children join the locals at hoop rolling, lawn bowling or quoits (the colonial version of horseshoes). With many costumed interpreters and scores of original and reconstructed 18th century homes, shops and buildings, including the imposing Governor's Palace and Capitol, Colonial Williamsburg (www.history.org) makes history anything but boring.
At 6 years old, what my daughter Alissa liked best were the horse-drawn carriage ride and her chats with a bewigged townsman about stocking up on candles. At 12, she "signed up" for a stint in the 2nd Virginia Regiment: practicing drills, mastering a bayonet lunge and assisting with canon cleaning like the other new "recruits." At 15, Alissa focuses on the art, lingering at the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum, admiring the whimsical hog and cow weather vanes, the childlike lines of landscapes and the simple portraits of children with fat cats and flower baskets.
On to Jamestown
From Williamsburg, the Colonial Parkway leads to Jamestown. The windy road cuts through groves of oaks and elms, over creeks, past marshes thick with cattails and green reeds before opening to sweeping river views. While it's only about a 10-mile drive, you "go back" to 1607 when the first permanent English settlement in the New World was established.