A Things to Do and Places to Go Around the Commonwealth Series – Part 2 – Central VA

Let’s start this part of the series with a summertime tip – be sure to take it easy. Even if it’s just for a little while, take a few minutes, sit down, and relax.

Boy Reading Newspaper

Let’s take a trip to Central Virginia. There are so many amazing places that you can visit in Virginia. Among the locations in Central Virginia are Lynchburg, Harrisonburg, the Shenandoah Valley, Charlottesville, and Richmond.

First, let’s look at Richmond. Of course, the best thing to do in Richmond in the summertime is, of course, to attend HEAV’s annual convention.

Ariel view of Exhibit Hall booths at the convention

Whether you are visiting the HEAV table in the lobby, listening to one of the amazing speakers, perusing the humongous exhibit hall, or finding deals in the Used Curriculum Sale, the HEAV convention is the place to be for homeschoolers. Be sure to check out my post about how the convention is A Family Field Trip the Kids Will Love! If you missed it this year, put it on your calendar for next year.

Of course, there are other great things to do in the Richmond area as well:

Maymont: Maymont is a great place to visit. It’s a landmark, a retreat, and a living classroom. There are amazing gardens that were designed and developed over 100 years ago surrounding the mansion on the hill. Acquired in 1886, Maymont was the home of James and Sallie Dooley. The 12,000 square-foot, 33-room home is a well-preserved documentation of the lifestyle of well-educated millionaires of that time period.

Three photos - set table in formal dining room, next the picture is of a tan brick mansion, then a living room with pink walls and pink carpet.

If architecture and gardens aren’t your thing, that’s okay, because Maymont is home to many of Virginia’s native animals including birds of prey, bison, white tailed deer, black bear, bobcats, gray foxes, and sika deer. There is also a Children’s Farm which includes many domestic farm animals for the children to pet. Be sure to bring quarters for the feed dispensers as you are not permitted to share your own food with the animals. A $4/person donation is suggested to visit the Children’s Farm. There are plenty of wide open spaces for family picnics, just be sure to wear comfy shoes as Maymont’s 100 acres include quite a few hills.

Three photos - a baby goat, a bald eagle, two black bears in a tree.

You can start or end your visit to Maymont with a tour of the Nature and Visitor Center. Its newest exhibit, American Alligators, is arriving on August 2nd to join the venomous snakes exhibit at Maymont. There is a small fee for visiting the Nature and Visitor’s Center, although a membership to Maymont, which helps their overall operating budget, allows you and your family to visit free for the next year.

A baby alligator.Child wearing blue apron looking a woman through a glass wall.

Surrounding areas of Richmond are rich with museums, theater, colleges and various other kinds of entertainment. However, keep in mind that Richmond is a large city, so use good judgment when traveling around.

If you are looking for a break from the city, head west to the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. Located on the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains is Lynchburg, VA. Having lived and homeschooled in Lynchburg for 7 years, the area is near and dear to my heart.

Amazement Square – The Rightmire Children’s Museum: If you want amazing, then the first thing you need to do is check out the Amazement Tower. The Amazement Tower extends through all four floors of the museum and includes tunnels, slides, ladders, net walks, a zip line and an observation deck on the roof. You know how we try so hard to teach kids not to write on the walls – well, at Amazement Square, they don’t just get to write on the walls, they get to paint on them! In the Kaleidoscope Gallery’s Paintbox, kids strip off their shoes and socks, don an apron, and get time to paint.


A small model of a town.

All the way upstairs, you will find the “On the James” exhibit in which you float boats down the river and make it rain in the city, or you can head next door and go on your own pretend float trip at the “Board a Bateau” exhibit. In between the top and bottom floors you will find Raceways, Voltageville, Your Amazing Body (with a walk-through heart), a special area just for the little ones called the Big Red Barn and an amazing Changing Gallery. We’ve spent so many hours at Amazement Square – it really is an amazing children’s museum.

Need a few more places to check out in Central Virginia? Here’s a list of them:

  • Peaks of Otter – Bedford
    • The Peaks include Sharp Top, Flat Top, and Harkening Hill and they are responsible in part for the beautiful view that you see in this region of Virginia. The website link takes you to the Peaks of Otter Lodge site, but from there you can learn all about the area and the lodge is a pretty place to stop and visit even if you don’t stay the night.
  • Rise Up Indoor Rock Climbing – Lynchburg
    • Rise up Climbing provides beginning to advanced indoor climbing services and includes programs for kids as well as adults. This is a great mom’s night out as well!
  • Smith Mountain Lake – Bedford
    • This is a great natural beauty for relaxing or days full of activities. Just before Bug was born, my in-laws rented a house on the lake and the whole family went for a week. We rented a boat and toured the lake, watched fireworks, went fishing and mini-golfing, and just sat by the edge of the water playing.
  • National D-Day Memorial – Bedford
    • The National D-Day Memorial is an amazing tribute to the Allied forces who participated in the largest land, sea, and air operation in history: the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944.
  • Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest – Bedford
    • What was once Thomas Jefferson’s secluded retreat is now a National Historic Landmark. You can tour the house and the grounds and there are numerous programs throughout the year. Teacher/parent resources, including lesson plans, are available online through their website.
  • The Nature Zone – Lynchburg
    • Whether you want to touch a turtle, feed a toad or attend a naturalist class, the Nature Zone in Lynchburg is the place to go. With the prices ranging from $1 for kids and seniors and $2 for adults, this is definitely an affordable family field trip. Your kids (and you) can challenge yourself with a puzzle, have a staring contest with a snake, or shop at the gift shop.

Children in a circle examining something on the ground.

  • Liberty Mountain Snowflex – Lynchburg
    • Where else can you go skiing, snowboard, and tubing in the summer time? The unique Snowflex material mimics the grip and slip action of real snow, allowing riders to hone their skills no matter what the season. While you are there, you can check out Liberty University and start planning for college.
  • Appomattox Court House National Historic Park – Appomattox
    • This historic park commemorates the heroic acts which took place in April of 1865 to bring about the end of the Civil War. The walking tour allows you to see buildings from the time period that have been restored to their original condition. You can also visit the McLean House where General Robert E. Lee and General Ulysses S. Grant crafted and signed the terms of surrender.
  • Frontier Culture Museum – Staunton
    • The Frontier Culture Museum tells the story of early immigrants and their American descendants. Twice yearly homeschool days offer students the opportunity to participate in cooking, gardening, wool and flax processing, and animal care. Be sure to keep an eye on HEAV’s Homeschool Day Events Page for more details about this and other homeschool day events.
  • Luray Caverns – Luray
    • Do the names Dream Lake, Totem High, Stalacpipe Organ, or Giant’s Hall mean anything to you? After a trip to Luray, they certainly will. These are just a few of the amazing sites that you will see on a trip to Luray Caverns. Regardless of the weather outside, the caves are a constant 54°F inside, so you might want to bring a sweater. Be sure to check out the Teacher’s Resources before your trip.
  • Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello – Charlottesville
    • When visiting Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello you can choose from a variety of opportunities including the Monticello Day Pass, Monticello Sunset Pass, Behind the Scenes Day Pay, Family Friendly Day Pass and many more. Choose what works for your family and spend an hour or a day at Monticello. Here I should probably mention that, if you are looking at colleges, UVA is located nearby, but, since I’m a Hokie from Virginia Tech, if you want more information on UVA, you are going to have to look up that link on you own.

Three photos - Group of people looking into valley, old fashioned house, three girls walking on a path.

  • Pamplin Historic Park – Petersburg
    • Journey back to the 1800’s and experience a full day of exploring and learning about the Civil War and life in the antebellum South.
  • The American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar – Richmond
    • Discover a new way of looking at our shared history that explains much of who we are today in the signature exhibit, In the Cause of Liberty. There are various events going on at any given time, including the history of the Tredegar Iron Works before, during, and after the Civil War, and the camp life of the common soldier.
  • Henricus Historical Park – Henrico
    • Want to know what it was like in Virginia in the 1600’s? Henricus Historical Park is re-creating the second successful English settlement in the New World. Be sure to check out their Homeschool Day – 17th Century History Field Day coming up on September 30th, 2014.

If you want more ideas be sure to check out local Parks and Recreation departments and summer reading programs at your local library.

Michelle, a Virginia native, currently lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and three children. Active in Scouts, area homeschool groups, and with her family, she can be found on her blog, “Homeschooler on the Edge,” as well as Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.


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