Marie’s Butterfly Trail is filled with plants to attract the winged creatures. (Photo by Ash Daniel)
At its core, life with small children is a series of regular practices. They almost always wake-up, eat, watch, and play at similar times and with the same things. Even outings with them are most likely a variation on the usual spot. Admittedly, all the habit is helpful, but the routine can also get old.
How to shake it up? Take a day trip to Richmond. Less than a mile from Cary Street in the heart of the city is Maymont, a 100-acre, 120-year-old former estate that is now a combination grounds, gardens, and children’s farm. Park by the latter and you’ll be greeted at the entrance by an enormous Vietnamese pot-bellied pig, then roosters, bunny rabbits, and kid goats.
|Not to miss
Still have time to spare? Squeeze a few of these into your trip before heading home.
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts • vmfa.state.va.us
Science Museum of Virginia • smv.org
Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden • lewisginter.org
Children’s Museum of Richmond • c-mor.org
From there a paved path winds through numerous domestic and wildlife animal exhibits. Initially, there are a number of goats that are fun to hand feed (with pellets from a nearby machine for only a quarter). More exotic creatures follow, like a caged bobcat or a glorious gray fox that paces behind a short electric fence.
The trail continues to Raptor Valley, where owls, hawks, and vultures loom behind wire. Two Bald Eagles perched on a hillside are the real treat here.
(Like the rest of the birds of prey at Maymont, they have permanent injuries that prevent them from surviving in the wild.)
The wildlife panorama typically finishes with an elusive black bear. If he is nowhere to be seen, then you’ll have to settle for a bronze likeness. My 4-year-old crouches before it, pretending it was the fierce animal escaped.
The animals are only part of Maymont’s allure. Eventually, the asphalt walkway leads to a large waterfall amid a bamboo forest with footpaths kids can trawl like they are in a jungle. Beyond that is a 100-year-old Japanese garden with a pond that features enormous Koi fish. Bring some old bread to crumble and feed them.
With its grassy knolls, the garden is one of many spots that are excellent to picnic at, but if you forego that option, then venture uphill and past an Italian garden with cascading water fountains to the 33-room mansion built in 1893 (guided tours are available most afternoons). Next, venture downhill to the Nature Center where a small food station with a select array of snacks—like chips and ice cream sandwiches—and bottled drinks await. However, the aquariums full of river otters, turtles, and fish are the main attraction here.
Had enough nature? Then make the short walk back to the car and drive two miles northwest to a cute children’s bookstore called bbgb. Spotted with small bean bag chairs, it’s easy to while away an hour reading book after book to your child, only to emerge with one like The Gruffalo that amuses you both.
If you didn’t picnic, chances are you’ll be starving by this point. Just a few short blocks away is Bandito’s Burrito Lounge. While the kids can choose items like a cheese quesadilla, taco, or chicken nuggets and fries off their own menu, parents have a wider array to select from. Best of all, the family-friendly nonsmoking area is cordoned off from the rest of the restaurant/bar, lending it a relaxed atmosphere. Thirst quenched and bellies full, you’ll be ready for the drive back to Charlottesville. Exhausted, yes, but satiated and refreshed for your regular routine.
Visit maymont.org for more information and directions.