Distance from Charlotte: 317 miles
Loading up the minivan for a trip to Colonial Williamsburg has become shorthand for conjuring the quintessential American family vacation, and with good reason. Not only is this area near the James River in Virginia chock-full of early settler history and Revolutionary War drama, it’s also so easily navigated, well programmed, and family friendly that you almost expect to see Mickey Mouse hanging around in colonial garb. The perfect place to set up camp when you’ve got the family in tow is Kingsmill Resort (from $259, kingsmill.com), a sprawling golf resort (and registered Audubon bird sanctuary). Spring for a two-bedroom suite where you can spread out in the spacious living room, fill up the full- size fridge in the kitchenette, and recover in the elegantly renovated bathrooms and bed- rooms. The resort offers bike and boat rentals, kids-night- out activities, tennis lessons, a game room, and a full-service spa. There are five on-site dining options at Kingsmill, but when you’re ready to venture out, make reservations at Blue Talon Bistro (bluetalonbistro.com) for elegant comfort food like chicken and mushroom crêpes or Brunswick stew. — Jenn Grabenstetter
You’ll want to set aside at least two days to explore the pedestrian-only streets of Colonial Williamsburg (from $22.95 per adult, history.org). Be sure to make the narrow climb up into the Magazine & Guardhouse (at the intersection of Duke of Gloucester and Queen streets) to see an enormous cache of guns, muskets, and vicious swords. Skip the line at the historic bakery and head over to Merchant’s Circle to nibble on hearty sandwiches and gourmet fromage from The Cheese Shop (757-220-0298).
Historic Jamestown. Any kid who has spent hours making holes in the backyard will be fascinated by the live archeological dig at the site of the original colony ($10, nps.gov/colo), but call ahead to see if they’re digging before you go. If not, skip the historic site and head straight for Jamestown Settlement ($15.50 for adults, $7.25 for kids six to twelve, historyisfun.org), to see a full-scale re-creation of the colony. Kids can hoist barrels on a ship’s deck, carve out a canoe, and report for sentry duty inside the fort.
Admittedly, Revolutionary War history probably isn’t a hot topic for the under-ten set, but bunking down in a soldier’s encampment, trying on a captain’s woolen coat, squirming at the tales of wartime medicinal practices, and hearing the boom of authentic musket fire at the Yorktown Victory Center ($9.50 for adults, $5.25 for kids six to twelve, historyisfun.org) should capture their interest. The actual battlefield is just down the road if you want to see it first hand (a CD-led driving tour is available at the Yorktown Visitor Center, nps.gov/colo). Afterward, grab a waterfront table at Riverwalk Restaurant (757-875-1522) for hearty but tender crab cakes.