Williamsburg is about more than just stagecoaches and Revolutionary War drum and bugle corps walking down the street trying to entertain tourists. It’s got a mix of old and new from Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Water Country USA to more waffle houses and BBQ joints than you can shake a rib at. The historical significance of this town is that it hosted “the new gentry” and U.S. founding fathers from 1699 to 1780, including Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson, but it also provided a general melting pot of African-Americans and Europeans from all walks of life.
The historic district of Williamsburg is easily walkable from the Amtrak train station, while the nearest airport is Newport News, which is about a 20-minute drive. No cars are allowed in the historic area, but all the sites within it are easily strollable. A value-added aspect of visiting the colonial sites is that Busch Gardens and Water Country are only minutes away by car. If vacation time’s limited, you can see these attractions and the others we suggest within a couple days, though four is ideal.
5…Get in costume, walk the “DoG”
Colonial Williamsburg, a private foundation celebrating its 75th anniversary of “costumed interpretation,” is as quaint as it looks in its photos, but a closer look is in order. That means parking along the main drag, Duke of Gloucester Street -- which the “natives” refer to as “DoG Street” -- before exploring. Buy your tickets at the Williamsburg Visitor Center (101 A Visitor Centre Drive, 1-800-History, $37.95 basic adult one day ticket). The Visitor Center can set you up with revolutionary garb at $20 per day if you really want to feel part of the scene. And if you have kids you can even rent such old-school playground equipment as a hoop and stick.
You can visit the very early predecessor of Starbuck’s called Charlton Coffeehouse, although you can’t actually buy coffee there anymore. On its steps is where the 1763 Stamp Act Protest took place. Top picks on DoG Street include Margaret Hunter Shop (aka “the Millinery & Tailor”), which includes displays of handmade ball gowns from colonial times. Peek in at The Pasteur & Galt Apothecary Shop where there is a live demo of a Revolutionary War medical kit that includes –egad -- amputation supplies and a leg cast made of leather. Also visit the Magazine with its handmade stick fence, which includes the Military Storehouse full of ammo; the costumed guide says that 80 per cent of the stored weapons are in working order. Afterwards, it’s almost required that you visit the stockades directly across the street. No trip to Williamsburg is complete without a Facebook-destined photo shot here.
There are not a lot of places to sit down for a meal but DoG mainstay King’s Arms Tavern has worthy five-buck Peanut Soupe, based on a late 1880s recipe. While there you’re likely to encounter a costumed society lady who dishes the dirt on her friends who are “regulars” there. If you can’t get enough American Revolutionary history after this, Jamestown and Yorktown easily link to Williamsburg via the Colonial Parkway.
4…Take hiking at William & Mary
A five-minute walk from DoG is William & Mary, the second oldest university in the country and also among the most beautiful, not only for its buildings -- the Sir Christopher Wren building is the oldest college building continually in use in the United States -- but for its grounds including 350 species and varieties of woody plants. Hikers adore the 10 miles of tree lined walking trails through the College Woods and it’s one of the more fun and unexpected ways to get exercise while in the area. For a heads-up on festivals, food events, fashion shows, and other happenings here, check out the university’s Web site at http://www.wm.edu or call 757-221-4000.
3…Outlet shop or dip your hand in some wax
About a 10-minute drive from Colonial Williamsburg, Williamsburg Premium Outlets packs in every level of retail store from The Gap to Burberry as well as Michelle Obama-favorite Black House/White Market. If you get peckish from sniffing out bargains you have choices that are cut above dismal food court fare. Good picks include Giuseppe’s Italian Restaurant, about a hundred feet behind the outlets, as well as seafood eatery Oceans & Ale.
Another five minutes by car from the outlets is one of only two national Yankee Candle Flagship stores (2200 Richmond Road, 877-616-6510, www.yankeecandle.com). Mold your hands in wax ($8), make candles with the scent of your choice ($10) or graze what’s arguably the best homemade fudge counter on the East Coast (six 2” X 2” pieces for $12). There are unannounced candle discounts in the store (some as low as $1) and about 400,000 candles available.
2…Get wet at Water Country USA
A decidedly un-colonial experience is standing in a wave pool and if you’re in town when Water Country USA (176 Water Country Parkway, 800-343-7946 is at full throttle – its season lasts May-September – you may want to wade in Surfer’s Bay, a 24,000 sq. ft. fresh water pool that creates new waves for ten minutes and then takes a 10-minute break before starting again. Another good pick here is Hubba-Hubba Highway, sort of like being on a rollercoaster in your swimsuit, except you’ll be propelled by a circuit of water in lieu of an electric car and you’ll be horizontal the whole time. And if loud rock music and very twisted water slides pack appeal, check out Rock ‘N’ Roll Island. Also consider Jet Stream -- comprised of four different flumes that let you move up to 35 mph -- and single lane slide Nitro Racer, which lets you ascend to 320 feet in about four seconds. General park admission is $69.95, but if you’re also heading to Busch Gardens Williamsburg – operated by the same corporate entity -- investigate whether a multi-park ticket is worth your while.
1… Have some thrill rides with your beer
Busch Gardens Williamsburg (One Busch Gardens Blvd (phone 800-343-7946, http://buschgardens.com/bgw/default.aspx, $61.95 for adults) is divided up into countries – Germany among them and yes, it’s still possible to get Anheuser-Busch beverages at several park eateries.
If you have kids in tow you can a quick taste of everything in ten minutes from an air balloon perspective via Europe in the Air. But if your party skews older, be reassured that coaster experiences rule here. If you feel the need for the speed, check out the rather colorful but traditional Apollo’s Chariot, which towers above everything else in the area and is considered the park’s centerpiece with its 4,882 feet of track. The ride yields a “free flight” sensation you won’t soon forget. The newest coaster is The Griffon, a twisty affair with a 205-foot drop from its highest point, followed by a second drop of 130 feet. Also available are several good animal-oriented “VIP” tours, which include up-close and personal visits with Clydesdales, collies, owls, and bald-headed eagles and more. If you do the Highland Stables Upclose (aka The Clydesdales and Collies Tour, $18), you’ll get to feed baby sheep -- just be prepared for a jarring onslaught of hair and horns.