When it comes to a family-friendly getaway that's an equally family-friendly distance from Richmond, it's hard to beat Williamsburg. For starters, the 40-minute drive grants you access to the rides at Water Country USA (800-343-7946 or watercountryusa.com) and Busch Gardens (800-343-7946 or buschgardens.com), which this year has added a Sesame Street-themed area, including breakfast and lunch with Elmo and the rest of the gang. (Busch Gardens' Fun Card is a great deal for Virginia residents — pay $59.95, the price of a day's admission, and you can come back as many times as you want through Labor Day for no additional cost.) And then there are the dependably enjoyable (and often educational) charms of Colonial Williamsburg (757-229-1000 or his tory.org), where the historic area offers a range of attractions, from hands-on 18th-century household chores at the Benjamin Powell site to children's games at the James Geddy House.
The offerings at Great Wolf Lodge (800-551- 9653 or greatwolf.com/will iamsburg) — a 405-room hotel attached to an indoor water park that's exclusively for guests — include restaurants; spas for children and adults (plus activities for kids through its Cub Club to keep the little ones entertained while you're enjoying a hot-stone massage); and, weather permitting, an 18-hole miniature-golf course, but the undeniable main attraction is the water park. Our young children were so entranced by its wave pool, its kiddie water slides and Fort Mackenzie, a Rube Goldberg-esque tower of water that's guaranteed to get you wet, we never even had a chance to do anything else. (If you're looking to save some cash, stay just one night; you can enjoy the water park after checkout until closing. Lockers and a changing area are available.)
If your significant other's a William & Mary alum, you'll probably be swinging by Merchants Square stalwart The Cheese Shop (757-220-0298), where calling in your sandwich order ahead of time — don't forget to ask for the house dressing! — can facilitate a quick pickup at the outside window. Pierce's Pitt Bar-B-Que (757-565-2955 or pierces.com) has outdoor picnic tables that are the perfect environment in which to scarf down your pulled pork. When it comes to your evening meal, head back to Merchants Square and The Fat Canary (757-229-3333), an excellent option featuring American cuisine shaded by influences from New Orleans and elsewhere. Unfortunately, this relaxed bistro's not for smaller children: Maybe you can convince the grandparents to come along and babysit?
You have until July 19 to see a rare exhibition of Revolutionary War battle flags, four of which are on view at Colonial Williamsburg's DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum. The privately owned flags are extremely rare (only two dozen or so are known to exist), and these four — three of which belonged to the 3rd Virginia Detachment — are in comparatively good condition. Also worth a visit is the 2,705-acre Waller Mill Park (757-259-3778 or williamsburgva.gov), which features playgrounds, hiking trails, a paved bike path and the central attraction — a 286-acre reservoir that's open to fishing, canoeing, kayaking and pedal boating, with boats available for rent by the hour. Waller Mill also has its own dog park, just in case you decided to bring Fido along for the trip.
Every night at 8 p.m., The Original Ghosts of Williamsburg Candlelight Tour (877-624-4678 or theghosttour.com) departs from the Barnes & Noble in Merchants Square for a spooky 90-minute walking tour featuring some folklore, some history and plenty of ghostly tales. Kids 6 and under are free, as are any resulting nightmares. (An additional 8:45 p.m. tour runs from June through August.)
We could pretend that you're not going to hit Prime Outlets — Williamsburg (757-565-0702 or primeout lets.com), but we're all adults here. Once you're finished, swing by the 45,000-square-foot Williamsburg Antique Mall (757-565-3422 or antiqueswilliamsburg.com), and don't forget to take a lunch break from the browsing at La Petite Tearoom inside the mall. Other antique spots worth checking out include DoveTail Antiques (757-565-3553 or dovetailantiquesatnorge.com), with a well-organized selection of everything from clocks to 19th-century furniture, and Lightfoot Antique Mall (757-229-8759), where you'll find shabby chic alongside fine antiques. Finally, Mermaid Books (757-229-3603 or mermaidbookswilliamsburg.com) is always worth a browse. You'll find antiques, collectibles, postcards and bookshelves stuffed to the gills with new, used and rare books.