The first British colonists to land in America didn’t arrive on the Mayflower or land on Plymouth Rock. It was at Jamestown where colonists from the Virginia Company first settled in 1607. And the spot where they landed is now First Landing State Park, a National Natural Landmark that is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. There are no manmade vestiges of this history to see here, but visitors can explore the same beaches, waterways and cypress swamps that early colonists encountered on their arrival. Aside from the history, First Landing State Park is also a great spot to enjoy nature, with 1.5 miles of beach, campground, cabins, and nine hiking and biking trails that run for 19 miles through the park’s lagoons, dunes and beachfront.
On a trip to Charlottesville, you have to chance to drink wine grown in the spot where U.S. founding father Thomas Jefferson helped plant the seeds of America’s first vineyards. Jefferson and Italian viticulturist Philip Mazzei experimented with grapes here, but today the art of Virginia wine has been perfected, and the modern owners grow a number of grape varieties ideally suited to the climate. Not only is Jefferson Vineyards in a historic location, it’s also the closest and most convenient winery to Charlottesville, an ideal spot for an afternoon glass of the vineyard’s chardonnay, merlot or petit verdot while socializing in the rustic tasting room or relaxing on the garden patio.
For many travelers, the highlight of a trip to historic Williamsburg is a tour of the ornate Governor’s Palace, which served as the official residence of the Royal Governors of the Colony of Virginia. Construction on the Governor’s Palace began in 1706, and although updates and remodeling continued for decades, official construction concluded in 1722. Thomas Jefferson was the last governor to live in the palace.
The 30-minute guided tour of the site takes visitors back to the early 18th century. Docents lead the tour dressed in period-era clothing through the palace's three floors, each spanning over 3,300 square feet, an extensive cellar and numerous outbuildings. The main house burned down in 1781 but has since been restored to much of its former grandeur.
Spend an afternoon shopping and people watching around the hip and vibrant Carytown neighborhood in west Richmond. The nine-block shopping area sits just south of the Museum District, only a couple blocks from the Museum of Fine Arts. Carytown boasts more the 250 shops, with everything from big name clothing stores to local boutiques and craft shops. You’ll find dozens of restaurants, cafés and bakeries, so there are plenty of choices when it’s time for a lunch break. Carytown is also home to the Byrd Theatre, a national historic landmark that is still in daily operation. Stop in to catch second-run movies for only $2.
Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello comprised far more than just the founding father’s grand house. It was also a working plantation with myriad supporting players—including slaves—and buildings. Mulberry Row was the industrial center of Monticello, located a few hundred feet from the main house. Mulberry trees, homes, storehouses and work places lined the 1,000-foot stretch of lane where both free workers and slaves lived and toiled. The people on Mulberry Row handled manufacturing for Monticello, performing jobs like metal-smithing, weaving cloth and carpentry. Today visitors can see the sites and ruins of various structures, like the stable, forge, nailery, gardens, and also the recreated Hemings Cabin, as part of the Slavery at Monticello tour.
Travel back in time to the year 1784 at Michie Tavern, a Virginia Historic Landmark. Owned originally by Scotsman William Michie, the site served as the epicenter of social life in Earlysville, Virginia. The Tavern offered travelers food, drink and lodging before the Commonwealth of Virginia purchased it in 1910. The Tavern operated in Earlysville until 1927, when the current owner, Josephine Henderson, moved it to its present location, a half mile from Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's home.
Visiting Michie Tavern today feels much the same as it may have 200 years ago. Servers don period outfits and serve up both traditional southern cuisine and hospitality. Before or after dining, guests are invited to tour the oldest section of Michie Tavern to learn more about its history. In addition, guests can peruse any of four shops: the Tavern-Museum Shop, the Metal Smith Shop, the Clothier and the General Store.
Along the Monticello Wine Trail, which parallels the scenic Blue Ridge Mountains in Virgina, Blenheim Vineyards is an historic estate that is today home to a small winery owned and built by the singer Dave Matthews. In the 1700s, the property was the residence of John Carter, Secretary of the Colony of Virginia, and the estate still features historic 18th and 19th century buildings, including a school-chapel and a library. The winery building itself, however, was built in 2000 using environmentally friendly practices, with the tasting room where glass panels offer a view into the production area below.
After stepping foot on the ground where America secured its independence in the final, decisive battle of the Revolutionary War, head to the Yorktown Victory Center to experience what post-war life was like in the newly free colonies. A living-history museum, the Yorktown Victory Center features indoor exhibitions, a Continental Army Encampment and a 1780s farm.
Two of the most fascinating exhibits include an early draft of the Declaration of Independence, before it was given to Congress members to sign, and one that covers the fates of British ships lost in the York River during the war. At the outdoors Continental Army Encampment, historical interpreters detail the lives of American soldiers at the end of the war. Also outdoors, a fully recreated 18th-century farm showcases the types of crops tended to in that time period and the lifestyles of many Americans during the war.
On Oct. 19, 1781, General George Washington’s allied American and French forces declared decisive victory over the British Army, bringing an end to the American Revolutionary War and with it, independence to the United States. The Yorktown Battle remains one of the most famous and important battles fought on American soil, and the site now sits in the Colonial National Historic Park, where visitors get a glimpse into the last major battle of the war.
Over 3 million people visit the sites here every year, and two of the most prominent pieces of the battlefield are the 1724 Nelson House, where British General Cornwallis resided, and the nearby Moore House, where negotiations for British surrender took place.