5 Family-friendly options for a Charlottesville day trip

More than just a college town, check out Charlottesville’s off-the-beaten-path gems for the family.

By Shelby Robinson

For a family-friendly jaunt out of town this weekend, consider a day trip to Charlottesville.

Not far from the stomping grounds of Thomas Jefferson and home to the University of Virginia, Charlottesville offers a wealth of activities for the kids and shopping for the adults and is just two hours from Northern Virginia.

Here are some of the sites to see.

Charlottesville's Market Street
Photo by Shelby Robinson.

Main Street Arena

A modern and enticing hub of activity, the Main Street Arena, also located on Main Street in Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall, has glass window-walls around the arena and a highly-rated cafe.

The Main Street Arena covers 40,000-square-feet and hosts a variety events. From hockey games and ice skating in the winter to Mixed Martial Arts competitions and the Virginia Film Festival, the arena is often a hive of what-to-do in Charlottesville.

Main Street Arena’s cafe has a more than just pizza for kids and offers a selection of beer and wine for the accompanying adults. Check its website for times and programs. 


Virginia Discovery Museum

Virginia Discovery Museum
Kylie Edwards experiments with the Amazing Airways exhibit at VDM. Photo by Shelby Robinson.

Located in an old house on Main Street in Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall, the Virginia Discovery Museum is great for kids up to about age 5. 

The VDM currently features “The Amazing Airways Exhibit.” Kids are invited to put gigantic soft balls in the openings of what almost looks like a huge gerbil tunnel system and watch high pressured air push it through the intricate tubing of the exhibit.

The Virginia Discovery Museum also has a miniature version of Charlottesville called “Little C’ville” and interactive colonial exhibits.

Check here for their complete list of programs. The VDM is open Monday – Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $6 for non-members. vadm.org.


New Dominion Bookstore

New Dominion Bookstore
Photo by Shelby Robinson.

With a huge selection of both kids’ and adults’ books, the New Dominion Bookstore is a great place to stop and peruse along the Downtown Mall.

The New Dominion Bookshop is one of the oldest independent book stores in Virginia, having been around since 1924. With a staff that is courteous, well-read and helpful, New Dominion Bookstore offers patrons an “old-timey” feel. It also hosts a book signings, public readings and poetry and literary discussions. New Dominion Bookshop is open daily, hours vary.


Alakazam Toys & Gifts

Alakazam Toys & Gifts
Photo by Shelby Robinson.

Whether you’re just window shopping or looking for a great gift, Alakazam Toys & Gifts is a good place to peruse for its treasure trove of items for both the young and the young at heart.

Alakazam is a locally-owned toy store that opened on the mall in Charlottesville in 2005. Since its opening, it has sold a variety of classic, eco-friendly, educational, futuristic and interesting toys and games. Alakazam Toys & Gifts is open every day, hours vary.



Eppie’s is a fun, casual restaurant offering great dining options for kids, including vegetarian and gluten-free items.

Options such as “build your own sandwich” encourage children to explore and try new combinations, even it’s putting bananas on a sandwich for the first time. Eppie’s colorful and fast-paced environment doesn’t give kids time to be bored.

Although it definitely caters to kids’ interests, Eppie’s also offers more mature fare to keep the adults happy as well. Eppie’s opens at 11 a.m. daily, closing hours vary.