by Carmel L. Mooney
When starting our Presidential Tour of Charlottesville and the surrounding areas, we stayed at The Cavalier Inn at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. This was a centrally located property within walking distance of the University. Offering a full breakfast and snacks throughout the day, along with a business center, we all found this to be a comfortable choice for the entire family.
Ash Lawn-Highland was the home of President James Monroe who held more offices than any other President. A self-supporting 535-acre estate boasts several special events, including the Summer Festival. Monroe purchased Ash Lawn-Highland because his friend Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello was close by. Today’s guests can enjoy the historic, refurbished home, elegant furnishings, garden, picnic spots, statues, and glimpses of Monticello. Kids love rolling hoops on the lawn and visiting the sheep, peacocks, and chickens.
Michie Tavern is an 18th-century inn that invites visitors to dine on a traditional southern luncheon meal served by period attired servers. Visitors enjoy period dishes like southern fried chicken, hickory-smoked pork barbecue, black eye peas, stewed tomatoes, biscuits, and cornbread along with Virginia wines and lagers. Our kids loved eating the real period food and making history come alive in tasty ways they could understand.
Tours of the original Inn, the Virginia Wine Museum, and Virginia Reel dance lessons are offered. We enjoyed the ambiance and the gorgeous grounds and handcrafts. The hospitality of the staff was exceptional and we were very blessed to pick up the Mitchie Tavern cookbook so we now can enjoy the recipes that weary travelers once savored at this amazing piece of history. Kids who visit Mitchie Tavern also dress in costume and partake in cool treasure hunts. Our kids loved trying on the costumes.
The Neighborhood Pass is available for traveling families who want to combine a tour to Michie Tavern, Monticello, and Ash Lawn-Highland. You can purchase the pass online.
Monticello named one of “the 25 must-see sights in the US” by Travelers Magazine, the home of President Thomas Jefferson is an architectural masterpiece. Recent archaeological excavations and the Center of Historic Plants have drawn worldwide attention. Jefferson was centuries ahead of his time as a botanist and his gardens, orchards, and vineyards are spectacular. He was also a gifted engineer and his inventions and even his designs on many aspects of this impressive home are mind-blowing and again, so ahead of their time. We found Monticello to be the most exciting for kids. Be sure you ask for the Exploring Monticello guide that brings alive the vibrant history in children’s terms.
The University of Virginia, founded by Thomas Jefferson, is one of the most prestigious universities in the United States and was built by Jefferson as an academic village to enrich those seeking knowledge. We enjoyed visiting the special collections library to see the original Declaration of Independence broadsides. The UVA Rotunda was exquisite.
Montpelier, the lifelong plantation home of President James Madison and his wife Dolly has a 200-acre, old-growth forest, archaeological sites, and cemeteries for the entire Madison family and slaves.
This spectacular President’s home will always be one of our top favorites. You can stand in the library where James Madison first envisioned the constitution. With an enormous number of educational exhibits and extremely friendly and helpful docents, we learned a great deal about the President and his history. We even enjoyed a delightful deli lunch at the snack bar where we were refreshed by healthy food choices as well as some not-so-healthy decadent treats that got the kids loaded up.
Mom and Dad will want to note that the region, Orange County, is a noted wine region with numerous romantic inns and vineyards throughout the gorgeous area. There are even romantic Montpelier Wine Weekends that can be booked as a package online.
Walton’s Mountain Museum provides a step back to a simpler time and replicas of The Godsey’s Store, and sets of portions of Walton’s home. Tours are available by appointment.
Right in Downtown Charlottesville, the kids can learn and play at the Virginia Discovery Museum. This museum has changing exhibits all the time but you can always learn through the ongoing history, art exhibits, and hands-on science learning opportunities.
For some of the best family-friendly food in town, try Downtown Thai in Charlottesville. Rarely do you find such outstanding food for such a reasonable price? Memorable salads, curries, soups, and specials, along with freshly prepared starters promise you’ll all be pleased. You can choose mild, medium, hot, extra hot, or native Thai for your seasoning/spice level.
The greater Charlottesville area and Orange County are brimming with treasures and find for a road-tripping family. Arts, culture, shopping, history, museums, festivals, wine tasting… a Presidential Road Trip awaits.
Carmel L. Mooney is a travel columnist, author, and radio talk show host. She is the editor of Road Trips for Couples