By Bekah Wright
“Give me liberty or give me death!” No, it’s not the cry of a toddler attempting to get out of their parents’ clutches. Rather, it’s the edict proclaimed by Patrick Henry in 1775 at the start of the Revolutionary War. The site of the memorable speech – St. John’s Church in Richmond, Virginia.
Because of its ideal proximity, many people consider Virginia’s capital city a base camp for visiting amusement parks like Busch Gardens or King’s Dominion, historical destinations such as Williamsburg or Jamestown or The Smithsonian Institution in nearby Washington, DC. Richmond has its own treasures to behold, though, from a deep-rooted history to a rich arts and culture scene. Best of all, the city’s many gardens, museums and theatres welcome families of all ages.
TOP FAMILY FRIENDLY ATTRACTIONS
Byrd Park & Maymont
These two recreation areas are directly beside one another, making visiting both on the same day a possibility. Not to miss at Byrd Park are the peddleboat rides on Fountain Lake. There are two other lakes on the 287-acre property as well, including the aptly named Swan Lake with its many feathered inhabitants. There are plenty of trails to explore, as well as a playground for swing time. Hear the Carillon’s 56 bells note the hour and the urge to hear live music may come on. Lucky for visitors, the park’s Dogwood Dell amphitheatre has a full summer schedule with music, dance and theatrical performances.
Byrd Park is located at 600 S. Boulevard. For information about Dogwood Dell performances phone 1-804-646-DELL.
Visit the historic Maymont for both a glimpse back in time and to get in touch with nature. From 1893 to 1925, the 100-acre grounds were home to the Dooley millionaires. Their Victorian mansion is available for touring for a look at daily lives that included regular tea parties, card games and entertaining. Kids will especially like Sallie Dooley’s opulent swan bed. Down in the servants’ quarters, visitors get a realistic viewpoint of what it took to accomplish all that lavish living.
Strolling through Maymont’s gardens, it’s easy to imagine the fairy chases that take place on property. There are other gems to be stumbled upon as well from a 45-foot waterfall and idyllic gazebos to a Butterfly Garden and bamboo forest. A great way to get an overview of the area is via a horsedrawn carriage ride. Once having met the resident horses, there are other creatures to visit at the Children’s Farm, Nature & Visitor Center and Outdoor Wildlife Exhibits. The place to spot black bears on a hot day – treading water in their private pond.
Maymont is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.. Maymont Mansion, Nature & Visitor Center are open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.. To learn more, visit www.maymont.org or phone 1-804-358-7166.
Children’s Museum of Richmond
Proof that Richmond is a city that believes in the power of play are its two Children’s Museums, the Central Location (CMor Central) on Broad Street and the newly-opened Short Pump facility (CMor Short Pump).
For those families fresh from the Science Museum of Virginia next door (another of Richmond’s family friendly activities), more science can be had via Central C-Mor’s Cave Exhibit filled with stalagmites and stalactites. Visitors can turn paleontologists in the Dinosaur Exhibit and dig for fossils and meet a Stegosaurus or baby Triceratops. Dramatists can play with the puppets at the Playhouse or build their own magic kingdom out of blocks.
CMor Short Pump is a smaller facility, but has numerous displays that will keep little ones entertained for hours. Here it’s possible to don a pirate hat and commandeer a crew from the giant pirate ship, ride aboard the Wild Safari Train or make like fishes in the Whale of a Tale Water Play area. Children (or parents) still having fantasies that require playing out can head to the Enchanted Castle and work on their fairy godmother skills or be king for a day.
For information on both Children’s Museum locations visit www.childrensmuseumofrichmond.org or phone 1-804-474-7000.
Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden
Think all gardens are the same? Not in Richmond and definitely not the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. At first glance, the Conservatory may look both inviting and austere. Enter its doors, though, and whimsy abounds with the current Frabel exhibit with glass clowns, lizards and, yes, aliens mixed amongst the plants. They’ve even taken over the thatched-roof cottage in the Conservatory’s West Wing.
There’s magic to be found throughout the expansive property with frog fountains and butterfly chairs to be discovered in the Central Garden, a Tea House just outside the Rose Garden and a humongous pestle and mortar in the Healing Garden.
Perhaps the most fascinating garden of all, though, is the Children’s Garden. Giant wind chimes welcome from the treetops. Speaking of trees, there’s a tree house with views of Sydnor Lake for playing house. Other toddler-sized houses are in the area, too, signifying types of shelter found in different cultures. There are also trees to be climbed, arts and crafts to be made and a WaterPlay area for cooling off. For those not visiting in summer months that bemoan water fun, the winter holds an equally exciting venture – checking out the gardens transformed by holiday lights.
To learn more about Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden visit www.lewisginter.org or phone 1-804-262-9887 ext. 300.
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts & Virginia Historical Society
Dashing preconceived notions that museums are stuffy are the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) and Virginia Historical Society. Next door to one another, both hold treasures to behold. Introducing youngsters to fine art is VMFA’s one-hour gallery walk geared for families. On the tour are a series of objects used for carrying people and things from a Faberge egg that holds a mother’s special photo to animals that guarded an Indian king. After the tour, there’s more to be discovered from an Egyptian mummy to a flying rabbit.
To learn more about the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts visit www.vmfa.museum or phone 1-804-340-1400.
The Virginia Historical Society never says “shhh” and believes exhibits are there to be handled. Just ask them. Beyond a healthy children’s program that includes arts and crafts, games, story times, camps, teas and tours, there are exhibits for checking out like various modes of transportation (how did they get that trolley car in there?) and a log cabin the pint-sized can appreciate. As for dress-up, sure, parents can try on the hats, too.
To learn more about the Virginia Historical Society visit www.vahistorical.org or phone 1-804-358-4901.
Theatre IV: The Children’s Theatre of Virginia
Located within the historic Empire Theatre. Bring beloved children’s books to the stage like Ferdinand the Bull (10/1-10/17/10) and The Velveteen Rabbit November 26, 2010 – January 9, 2011 (at the Willow Lawn location). The Big Friendly Giant February 18 – March 6, 2011 and Honk! April 29 – May 15, 2011
To learn more about Theatre IV visit www.theatreivrichmond.org or phone 1-804-282-2620.
NEXT: Where to Stay
WHERE TO STAY
The best place to stay during a trip aimed at taking in the city’s history, arts and culture would hands down be The Jefferson Hotel. Built in 1895, the hotel is a Richmond icon, particularly when it comes to sheer elegance. And while it may be sophisticated, it’s also family friendly at the same time.
Parents will fall in love with the ceiling frescos of the Rotunda Lobby and stained glass windows of the Palm Court. Toddlers will immediately note the alligator statues, vintage phone booths just right for quick changes by Superman and the Grand Staircase’s banisters that looks like an e-ticket ride (which is, sadly, not permitted). As for live alligators – many of which were dropped off from travelers en route from Florida—the last in residence at The Jefferson was Old Pompey, who passed away in 1948.
Larger families may want to spring for the 1,400-square-foot Presidential Suite with its separate living area, dining room, kitchen (with refrigerator and microwave) and marble balcony. And though families might not need them, the baby grand piano and three, non-operational fireplaces lend ambience. Beyond a master bedroom with a four-poster king bed, an adjoining room with two double beds can be reserved.
Another option is an Executive Suite with a separate living area, bedroom with a king-sized bed and master bath. The suite’s mini-fridge can be cleared out so there’s space for milk and juice, or an additional mini-fridge can be placed in the room. Cribs and rollaway beds are also available upon request.
There are two restaurants located within the hotel. Helmed by Chef Walter Bundy, Lemaire is ideal for parents seeking a date night. In fact, Fridays are designated as such with drink specials aimed at couples. Beyond cocktails, the venue serves up New American cuisine with ingredients picked fresh daily from the chef’s on-site urban garden.
Best for the entire family is TJ’s. Executive Chef James Schroeder offers up fare pleasing to palates of all ages, as well as Virginia favorites like fried green tomatoes, peanut soup and grits. A kid’s menu is available here, as well as through room service.
A favorite timeworn tradition at The Jefferson is afternoon tea held in the Palm Court from Friday through Sunday. Little ones will especially love the Teddy Bear Tea hosted the first Sunday of every month.
For those guests venturing out for their meals, many cafes and restaurants are within strolling distance. Additionally, the hotel offers a complimentary shuttle service that travels within three miles of The Jefferson. The best way to cool off after a downtown jaunt for lunch – with a dip in The Jefferson’s indoor swimming pool.
To learn more about The Jefferson visit www.jeffersonhotel.com or phone 1-804-788-8000 or toll free 1-800-424-8014.
For more on Richmond, Virginia, visit www.visitrichmondva.com or phone 1-800-370-9004.
Planning one last summer getaway? Try this kid-friendly city that’s full of history!