Things to do in Charlottesville with kids
I’ve lived in Charlottesville now for 7 years and 5 of it has been with kids; so basically, I know that experiencing an area with and without kids are two very different worlds.
I’ve also had the privilege of photographing many families from out of town – whether visiting their old Alma Mater at UVA or gathering for a family reunion, families from Lynchburg, Harrisonburg, and Richmond, and as far as New York, Hawaii, London, and Australia.
It’s somehow quaint and bustling, joining a funky & urban downtown to scenic rivers and the blue ridge mountains, all in one beautiful 30-minute radius. I always get asked what my favorite things are to do with kids and I’ve discovered that my picks aren’t necessarily the same as what the “best of” lists might recommend.
Still, they’re our honest tried-and-trues for simple, manageable family activities with kids and I want to share them with you!
Check out my favorites below for a starter guide on the best family activities in Charlottesville, from restaurants to museums, outdoor adventures to rainy day fun.
Paradox pastry – a spacious patio and their morning glory muffins = our top choice for a morning treat. They’re also located directly across from the train tracks downtown and the farmers market that sets up on Saturday mornings!
The Pie Chest – a quaint and unique little spot on the downtown mall for a brunch treat that everyone can get on board with
Found Market – This spot is just THE CUTEST atmosphere with lots of savory breakfast/brunch options, seating indoor and out, and easy parking.
Duck Donuts – we love grabbing some fun donuts and taking them to the courtyard directly across from it’s spot in Stonefield plaza to picnic and kick a soccer ball around or throw a frisbee.
Bowerbird bakeshop – If you’re a macaroon fan, this is your JAM. It’s more of a take-out place because there’s not a lot of seating, but a great idea for pick-up treats and picnics.
Iron Paffles – One of our FAVORITE spots that kids and adults alike will become obsessed with. It’s simple and delicious with a select menu of gluten free and vegan options (my favorite is the TBALT!), and quick ordering. It’s a tiny little place, so most often, we’ll order ahead for pickup and either bring it home or walk down to the Pavillion or IX Park to picnic.
Rev Soup – For soups, salads, and sammies, this is the BEST. Unique combos and delicious local ingredients, with a quaint atmosphere and quick ordering. They don’t have outdoor seating, but do have indoor tables in a casual environment on the downtown mall.
Brazo’s Taco’s – YUM. Basically can’t go wrong with anything here. Located in IX park with lots of outdoor seating and a large, grassy courtyard nearby, this is a great place to gather and play for wiggly kiddos.
Three Notched – Fun atmosphere + delicious food + beer flights! The restaurant is spacious with lots of indoor and outdoor seating and the patio has some toys and yard games that kids can engage with while waiting!
Monsoon Siam – Our favorite local thai place with the most adorable atmosphere and a lovely patio. A better option for kids who are a little older OR take out/delivery/date night 🙂
Lampo – Fancy shmancy pizzas that are so divine and lovely that’s a step up from casual night. Limited seating, so call ahead if you plan on dining there, or order for take-out to your local Air B&B
Burger Bach – New Zealand inspired burgers and french fries with sauces that are to die for ; also located in the Stonefield plaza, which makes for an easy run-around space for kids while waiting on dinner to arrive
Chris Greene Lake – We love this spot for woodsy morning walks and especially the lake-front dog park to take our wild Australian Shepherd for a swim! In the summer, there’s also a beach that’s open to the public to swim and docks to launch kayaks and canoes.
Mint Springs – another lake-front park in Crozet with mountain views for a family-friendly walk and playground time
Walnut Creek Park – we LOVE hiking around these trails with beautiful mountain views and especially visiting the beach in the summer!
Wildrock – what a FUN spot for little kiddos – it’s an outdoor play paradise including a stuffed animal wildlife rescue station, hobbit house, wading stream and outdoor kitchen, natural climbing structures, trails and more. Pack food and spend a whole morning here – kids and adults will just breathe in the fun and creativity of nature!
Greenleaf Park + Splashpad – super simple and small neighborhood park, but of all the parks around here, this one tends to be our favorite for both my 5 year old and 1 year old. It’s probably best for kids under 7ish. In the summer, the splashpad is an added bonus on hot days!
Beaver Creek – a perfect launch spot that’s easily accessible for paddleboards/kayaks and a gorgeous view.
Humpback rock – This is a tougher hike that’s about 4 miles from the base but doable for a 1/2 day adventure with a gorgeous view and great for older kids or tiny ones that you can throw in a pack.
Sugar Hollow – A shady hike with waterfalls and pools to play in!
Ivy Creek – Super walkable trails for tiny ones with bridges and streams for splashing and adventuring. They also have a large barn where you can sometimes find events and nature exhibits taking place
Riverview Park – Our go-to walking or jogging trail that’s paved, so easy to manage with a stroller or bikes. Parallel to the Rivanna river, it’s a lovely view the whole way along, is dog-friendly, and has easy parking with a fun playground, too – just an easy place to exercise that everybody seems to enjoy.
Monticello Trail – The climbing log along the way is a kid favorite and the windy paved paths make for a lovely, stroller-accessible walk that all ages can manage! (If you go all the way to the top, you’ll find your way at Carter’s Mountain orchard where you can grab a cider and enjoy the view!)
Shenandoah National Park – if you’re up for a drive and a view, there are several entrances to the national park about 1 hour from Charlottesville. There are tons of pull-off spots to watch the sunset or trails to go for a good hike.
Firefly – of course I have to plug my name twin! This is a restaurant and game room, so it’s great for a casual burger and fries or table apps to split while you play fun, classic games like ski ball, pool, or a slew of pinball machines.
Monticello – Ok, yes, this is top notch on a pretty day when you can really enjoy the views, but there’s so much of the tours that are inside the home of Thomas Jefferson, covered patios for eating, and a discovery center especially for kids. They do a fantastic job of storytelling and making history come alive, and definitely worth a stop for families of all ages.
Discovery Museum – (*currently closed to general admission during COVID-19) SUCH a fun spot for kids to explore, learn, and pretend, but especially for ages 2-7ish.
The Hive – WOW we LOVE this place. A cute and cozy craft room with innovative ideas for kids at different ages and abilities. Grab a hot tea at their little corner shop and have some fun creating!
RockyTop – Best for older kids with a wild hair – this indoor climbing gym has youth and adult equipment so everybody can join in on the fun.
Bounce, Play, & Create– Basically the bouncy house version of an amusement park. But they also have a creation station for building, painting on glass walls, and more. You can also rent bounce houses here for parties, gatherings, reunions, etc!
These are some of our favorite little half-day adventures or outings that only take a couple of hours so you can plan them around nap times and other activities during your stay!
Schedule a fun family photos session with me! I love working with families who are excited about incorpoating some of their real-life family adventures into their sessions.