Updated May 2020
We went to Williamsburg, Virginia to explore American history in a hands-on way. But there’s only so much kids are willing to learn on summer vacation.
If we didn’t break it up with some non-educational fun we would have had a rebellion of our own. Luckily, the area increasingly has family friendly attractions with nary a tri-corner hat in sight.
Here were a few of our favorite other things to do with kids in this popular family vacation town.
5 Surprising Things To Do With Kids in Williamsburg
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Make Modern Candles at Yankee Candle
Yankee Candle Village* was the biggest surprise for us. At the store’s Wax Works you can make your own candle-type things.
We tried a bunch, but the most fun and unique experience making was wax models of our hands.
Choose a pose (Spock’s salute and peace signs are popular), and then let a staffer alternately dip your hand in cold water and paraffin.
They somehow manage to slip your hand out of this new glove. Then they add a final layer of colored wax and voilà, you have a hand!
The only challenge was that the paraffin wax is soft and melts easily. Getting the hands home intact as challenging.
Once home, it was even harder to find a spot where heat from the sun, lights, electronics or baseboards wouldn’t make them droop. After a year, Tiny Traveler’s was still OK, but Rich’s and mine had both collapsed into themselves.
You can also take a Yankee Candle jar and fill it with your own scent combination from dispensers that look like frozen yogurt machines.
Tiny Traveler opted for a mash-up sweet and fruity scents, while Rich went for visual appeal with purple (lavender) and white stripes. I went for autumnal pumpkin and cinnamon layers.
After you’ve filled your jar with wax crumbs, they sit under a heat lamp so the wax can melt into a smooth candle.
While you’re waiting for your wax goodies to finish, you can check out some of the other shops.
The best by far is the Christmas Store with a wooden footbridge, a room full of snow globes and dozens of holiday villages —choose from Downton Abbey, Whoville and Charlie Brown themes as well as your traditional Dickensian ones.
It snows hourly and Santa visits at 11:00 on most days. He looked for Tiny Traveler’s name in his giant book and made notes about her bedroom-cleaning and homework habits as well as her holiday wish list. She loved it.
Note: If you’re a candle collector, look for scents that are unique to the store and check out the bargain shelf with candles from other countries.
Get Wet at Water Country
We’re not roller-coaster people—we’re fairly chicken when it comes to theme park rides, in fact—so we skipped famous Busch Gardens.
We thought Water Country USA* would have more activities that a timid 7YO and her slightly less timid parents could do together. And it was the right choice.
Aside from letting Tiny Traveler play in the kids area while we made evening plans, we did everything together at this water park.
On a weekday in late August the crowds were manageable, but it still pays to get there a few minutes before the gates open at 10:00 am.
You have your choice of lockers for your valuables and dry clothes. And you can easily find a group of chairs by the wave pool to be your base for the day.
After that, we recommend hitting the slides early on, especially the bigger and more popular ones. The lines for those got longer as it got later but the lazy river and wave pool were always readily available.
We noticed shorter lines on the smaller slides, especially those where you had to carry your tube up yourself—and we were fine with that. They were fun and not scary and you could repeat them a few times with little effort.
Wild Thang, an older slide tucked away behind the Colossal Curl, is a good option with kids who are outgrowing the splash pads but too small for the big slides.
Check Out the Williamsburg Farmer’s Market
We love green markets. If there’s one happening in the place we’re vacationing we always visit.
Saturday mornings offer a good-size farmer’s market at Merchant’s Square, where you’ll no doubt head for dinner at some point.
Seasonal produce, coffee, baked goods, pork products and southern specialties like boiled peanuts are for sale. It offers good people-watching and sampling and is a good resource for picnic supplies.’
When you do come through for dinner, I liked Berret’s Seafood Restaurant, a block off the main square, the best of three restaurants around the square that we ate in.
The service is friendly and the she-crab soup is one of the best I’ve had. Plus, the kids’ menu offers crab cake, shrimp and salmon along with the usual items.
Tip: if you have time, take a stroll around the nearby classic William & Mary campus while you sip your coffee. It’s beautiful, most of the walk is pretty shaded and no one cares if your kids are a boisterous.
Take a Swim at Yorktown Beach
Yorktown Village is small but has an appealing riverfront shopping area and beach (above) called Yorktown Landing.
This public beach is free and offers calm water for kids to play in, dockside fishing and waterfront dining. We didn’t get a chance to swim, to our chagrin, but enjoyed wading, walking and digging on the beach after dinner one evening.
The Yorktown Pub looks like a dive from the outside, but it’s family friendly and a good choice for inexpensive and really good seafood that’s often local.
We made a post-water-park feast of raw clams, fried oysters and steamed shrimp. You’ll also find typical pub food options for kids who don’t eat seafood.
Enjoy Good Southern Food
You can find lots of good local food and locally brewed beer in the restaurants around Williamsburg and Yorktown. We went out of our way to have lunch at the Old Chickahominy House anyway, and it was worth it.
Located halfway between Williamsburg and Jamestown, the house is divided between the restaurant and an antiques store. You can window shop in the latter while you wait for your table.
This is old-school home cooking: They offer fruit salad and ground ham and almost everything comes with or on biscuits. Tiny Traveler and I had bowls of chicken with small, pillowy dumplings. Rich had Brunswich stew dotted with plump lima beans.
Of course there’s pie. Whatever types they’ve baked that day ask for a slice of each. Neither the chocolate chiffon or buttermilk pies disappointed and the fruit pie looked awfully good.
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*We were guests of Visit Williamsburg at Yankee Candle and Water Country USA. We received a discounted rate at the Woodlands Hotel. We don’t guarantee coverage in exchange for access and our opinions are always our own.