A family vacation for us requires affordability along with an array of activities all members of our family will enjoy. Recently, we traveled to Staunton, Virginia, less than two hours away from Richmond in pursuit of an adventure filled, and economical getaway. The “Queen City” proved to be an ideal destination for our family, full of exciting options for children and learning experiences for the adults, too! The travelogue below recounts our three days in the charming city of Staunton, Virginia.
The Frontier Culture Museum was the first stop on our journey. This living museum seeks to teach about the formation of American folk culture from the blending of African, European and indigenous peoples. The museum tells the story of those who migrated to colonial America and of the lives they created. There are 10 permanent exhibits; such as, 1700s West African Farm and 1820s American Farm. The Frontier Culture Museum is expansive, all exhibits walkable one to the next. For those with mobility issues, golf carts are available. The entire museum area is stroller friendly. Patrons may choose to take a guided or self-guided tour. After nearly two hours of driving, we opted for the self-guided to let our children have the freedom to run and move as needed. Fortunately, there are picnic tables and benches throughout the grounds, no need to buy lunch, packing and eating at the museum was easy and fun. The museum provides a short trail walk around a pond and several animals throughout the grounds, including these especially wooly sheep. We walked nearly three miles during our 4 hour visit; be sure to wear proper footwear! Tickets are $12.00 for adults; $7.00 for children 6-12; under 6 is free. Discounts for students, seniors. Annual passes are available. (7 days a week, 9:00AM – 5:00 PM)
Our second stop of the day was The Split Banana Co. in downtown Staunton. This delicious gelato hit the spot after our walking adventure at The Frontier Culture Museum. The Split Banana Co. was the hardest part of our trip: deciding between which delicious gelato flavor was the ultimate challenge. Luckily, each of us could not have been happier with our picks. (Tuesday – Sunday: 12:00 PM – 10:00 PM)
Our next destination was The Camera Heritage Museum, right next to The Split Banana Co. With over 6,000 cameras, accessories and photos that span over 150 years, you don’t have to be a photography enthusiast to appreciate the collection and history in this small museum. While we opted for the self-guided tour ($5 for adults; free for children), the owner of the museum walked us through each exhibit and helped us gain understanding of each display. The cameras each have a story that parallels world history; making this a valuable learning experience. Highlights included seeing Jacques Cousteau’s underwater cameras and mini “spy” cameras. Note: due to the size of the museum, and no touching, our family split up so our three year old could enjoy his own adventure. Fortunately, the downtown area of Staunton is easily walkable with sidewalks, eclectic shops and lots to explore, making it easy to find new excitement at every turn. Our tiny bibliophile was able to find plenty of products he liked at The Book Dragon Shop. This quaint, vividly decorated bookstore was a hit for our whole family.
Needing to burn a bit more time (and energy), we headed to Montgomery Hall Park. While not in downtown Staunton, it is less than 10 minutes drive from the area. Here we found a large playground, and the unique Nature Ridge Natural Playground, which uses all natural materials for climbing, balancing and playing. At the other end of the park is a large play structure with swings, a climbing apparatus and fun ride-ons. Montgomery Hall Park provides another option for picnics and appreciating the outdoors; we loved this park.
The caboose of our fun-filled day was dinner at the Depot Grille adjacent to Staunton Train Station. This fun eatery is situated in the old freight depot of Staunton Station. Within view of the restaurant are two old train cars, which perfectly completed the dining experience.
Our second day in Staunton began with a quick walk to The Sears Hill Pedestrian Bridge. Having spotted it the night before from the Depot Grille, we eagerly began our morning there. This bridge crosses the railroad tracks and leads to Woodrow Park, offering a stunning view of downtown Staunton. Following our early morning walk, we ventured to Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum. Due to the pandemic, all tours are self-guided. Through various artifacts and relics, the life of our 28th president, Woodrow Wilson is depicted with great detail. The museum does an impeccable job of relating Woodrow Wilson’s successes but also shortcomings as president. Perhaps one of the most moving museum experiences is the World War I trench exhibit. This simulation allows patrons to experience what life was like for soldiers during battle. Note: the museum has a gorgeous, spacious garden to take restless little ones. Tickets are $10 for adults; children 6-15 are $5.00; children under 6 are free.
After a quiet morning, we headed to Gypsy Hill Park, another beautiful public park in Staunton. We were amazed by the many offerings of Gypsy Hill, including: two playgrounds, a lake, duck pond, a mini train that runs May – October, tennis courts and a skate park. Perhaps our biggest regret of the entire trip was that we did not have quarters to purchase food to feed the ducks at the pond. After eating lunch here, we headed to kids’ paradise, also known as Pufferbellies Toys & Books. This novelty toy store is located in downtown Staunton, right near the train station; hence the name, Pufferbellies. Even parents with little toy appreciation can admire the simplicity and educational value in each product at Pufferbellies. Giving each of our children a (small!) budget, they were able to choose one toy to take home. The store owners were so patient and kind with our kids as they fawned over toy after toy before making a decision.
A quick treat and coffee stop after Pufferbellies Toys & Books lead to Réunion Bakery & Espresso. Despite being in this Virginia city, the French inspired baking took us straight to Paris. Miam, Miam, c’est délicieux!
The last portion of our day turned out to be quite unexpected, and also one of the most engaging. We had planned to visit the Jumbo Antique Fire Engine Museum; however, it is still closed, so the generous firefighters at Staunton Fire Station would not let the kids leave disappointed. Right away they got firefighter helmets for both kids and set aside nearly 30 minutes to teach about the different tools and parts in the firetruck. For a little boy who loves things that go, this is something he will talk about for a long time.
We wrapped up our second day in Staunton at Clocktower Eats & Sweets. We were all tickled to be eating in the historic clocktower building. The Staunton Police Department block off the streets during the weekends to allow for additional outdoor seating for those who prefer eating outside.
On the final day of our trip, we headed 20 minutes away to the Grand Caverns. We enjoyed a 70 minute tour of the caves. Highlights were The Rainbow Room, Cathedral Hall and the Zoo Room. Seeing how the formations have changed and what the transformations resemble is absolutely fascinating. In addition to the Grand Caverns caves, there is also a large park on the grounds, Grand Caverns Park, with picnic shelters, trails and playgrounds. We utilized the park to get out our wiggles before heading back home.
Staunton, Virginia provides families an economical, educational and exciting destination. Richmond families looking for close by adventures will be enamored with the charm of this vibrant city and all it has to offer.
— By Lindsay Garrison
Richmond on the Cheap contributor Lindsay Garrison is a Richmond, Virginia based mom to two young children. A graduate from Chesterfield Schools and Randolph-Macon College, Lindsay is proud to call Richmond home. In the years prior to planning activities and outings with her own children, she was a French teacher. During her tenure she earned accolades for her creative teaching style and ability to connect with her students. Lindsay now applies the skills she learned when she was planning student trips to France, to her own family adventures. She can’t wait to take her own children to France one day! Follow the Garrison’s family adventures on Instagram: @thegarrisonsrva
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