9 Reasons to Take a Teen (or Two) to Williamsburg, VA

If your kids have reached their teenage years and you’re looking for a new family vacation destination that will please everyone in your brood, why not plan a trip to Williamsburg, VA? If you think the only things to do there are history-related, you’ve got another think coming. One Long Island mom took two 15-year-olds for a long-weekend getaway, and discovered nine reasons why Williamsburg, VA should be your next family trip—especially with teens.

The mention of Williamsburg, VA conjures up warm and fuzzy memories for so many of us: the coasters at Busch Gardens, the clip clop of the horse-drawn buggies on the cobblestone streets of Colonial Williamsburg, and the fife and drums of the stirring Marching into Evening parade. If you haven’t taken the kids in forever—as I hadn’t—consider making the drive now. Or soon. An early-fall long weekend is pretty much ideal down there as far as weather—still plenty warm enough to hit Water Country USA or enjoy the hotel pool, but not so hot that just looking at “Ben Franklin” striding about in his velvet top coat makes you woozy. Plus, the crowds will have thinned. Wondering whether your teen will still find Williamsburg fun? I took my two favorite high school sophomores, and here, in no particular order, are nine reasons I’d say, yeah, for sure.

They can hurl axes.

The instructors at the ax-throwing range in Colonial Williamsburg make this 18th-century pastime easy for teens to get really good at, really fast. If you want to take a swing at it, wear closed-toe shoes. (I showed up in sandals so couldn’t participate.) And be on time. Each session starts with a safety talk, and if you miss it, you have to wait for a later session.

ax throwing at colonial williamsburg va

The first try at ax throwing after the lesson in Colonial Williamsburg: not bad!

They can sleep in a house a President did.

Twenty-four authentic colonial houses, each with a unique history behind it, are part of the Colonial Williamsburg Resort. These are scattered about the heart of Colonial Williamsburg, so you can walk to everything. Parking is free. We tucked into the Nicholas-Tyler Colonial House. After figuring out how to get in (a skeleton key is involved), we were blown away. It was like stepping back in time. Cliche, but true. We soon figured out that the man whose portrait hung over the fireplace was our 10th President, John Tyler…and he had lived in that house. Staying in this home was a unique, memorable experience. But….there is no Wi-Fi in any of these colonial houses. I can only guess they are trying to keep the colonial environment genuine (but there is TV?). I endured a looonnng night of sheer panic until we sorted a hot spot work-around. Staying there was still totally worth it, but just know this little detail going in.

They might see a ghost! 

No, not in the colonial house, though I suppose that can’t be ruled out entirely. I’m referring to the Official Colonial Williamsburg Ghost Walk. This tour with a costumed interpreter, under the cover of darkness, of course, featured a mix of spooky tales related to what happened in the buildings hundreds of years ago…and what happened last month. (Hint: A big, brawny security guard with a military background, no less, quit after his first night). It’s not for little kids, always a plus for teens.

They can post on Snapchat that they’re at a brewery.

No worries…they’ll be with you. The Alewerks Brewing Company welcomes all ages for their brewery tour, with under-21s able to taste a variety of non-alcoholic beverages. Plus, you’ll find food trucks serving teen-friendly fare parked outside, and an area with picnic tables so you can grab a cheap, tasty lunch. The tour was given by owner Drew Whitlock (aka The Sweetest Man Alive). Among his offerings for the grown-ups was a Flight of Ale. This including Weekend Lager, which, according to Whitlock, pairs with “barbecue, pizza, and humility,” and Chesapeake Pale Ale, a match with “chicken, cheddar, and generosity.” Aleworks also makes seasonal brews, including “coffeehouse” (a rich milk stout with a healthy dose of Guatemala Antigua coffee) and pumpkin, essentially pumpkin pie in a bottle.

drew whitlock alewerks brewing company

Drew Whitlock shows off his stash of brews in the Alewerks production facility. 

They’ll never complain about going to the orthodontist again.

Among the discoveries at the Continental Army Encampment, on the actual battlefield where the American Revolution was won in 1781 outside of the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, is the surgeon’s tent. The most modern medical implements of the period can be seen (we’re talking leeches, people). The good doctor regaled us with tales of pain management during dental work on the enlisted men: being held down by your buddies, far enough away from the camp so that you couldn’t be seen or heard. It would be bad for morale, he explained.

Kids get a chance to fire the types of guns used in the siege of Yorktown at the drill field, and amble by a tent used by General George Washington.

Private tours are available year-round, either of the entire museum property or customized to a theme, say, food, military, historical clothing, or gardens.You might consider heading down the weekend of Oct. 19-21 to catch the big Yorktown Victory Celebration.

They can hop onto a Segway.

At Patriot Tours and Provisions on the riverfront in Yorktown, we opted for the 1-hour Breeze Tour (which felt longer than 60 minutes, in a good way). Our guide had a great sense of humor and plenty of fun stories to share about the homes and businesses in the village (including one building that has a centuries-old cannonball still lodged in its side), the bridge, and the little church and cemetery. My daughter raved about the tour, relatively speaking: “The history part was even…sort of interesting.” Tenth grade brings the U.S. History requirement, so fingers crossed. And, in case you were wondering, Segways are much easier to ride that you might think.

They can eat all the sugar they want.

Stop by the Silver Hand Meadery for a family honey tasting. You’d be surprised how many types of the sweet stuff it offers, all locally sourced. My favorite was the orange blossom, but also of note was the avocado blossom (which is faintly reminiscent of barbecue sauce somehow), and its best-seller, Star Thistle, which one patron we chatted with said tasted like “fireworks.” 

They can soar above the trees.

Ziplining (and much climbing) is the order of the day at the Go Ape TreeTop Adventure Park. This place is teen heaven. The full Treetop Adventure takes 3 hours at the very least to get through, we found, so allow enough time. The courses get progressively harder as you go. The teens sailed through them all with glee. Unlike the Segways, though, these courses were definitely not easier than expected. I quit after the first one, and was just as happy strolling around the peaceful forest (I saw a doe!) and watching the teens from the ground. Don’t judge.

zip line go ape treetop adventure park

The final run for my girl at Go Ape Adventure Park. 

They can have a little freedom.

The colonial houses are part of the swanky Colonial Williamsburg Resorts. That means you can use all of those amenities, including the spa and indoor and outdoor pools. (These were within sight of the house we were staying in.) The spa and the pool area are adjacent to each other, so what I did was kick back with a Nirvana Stress Relief Massage after signing the kids into the pool area. A snack bar and plenty of shaded tables are right there, so they were perfectly content to hang at the pools for a while. This, I thought to myself as I sunk into a chaise lounge with chilled hibiscus tea and a plate of cashews, is one perk of your kids getting older.

Main image: In the colonel’s tent at the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, my petty criminals each chose an infraction. 
All photos by Christina Vercelletto