Virginia, first southern state and proud of its place in the Revolution, is throwing its own bicentennial party this year in Yorktown to mark the 200th anniversary of the surrender of British General Cornwallis to the American forces on Oct. 19, 1781.

For the occasion, the London National Portrait Gallery is sending over the Gainsborough portrait of the general, which will hang on the walls of Yorktown's Victory Center in company with eight paintings loaned by the French government from Versailles. Beginning May 10, Cornwallis will be staring across at portraits of Louis XVI, reigning monarch at the time, and at the Comte de Grasse, whose French fleet kept the British ships blockaded. A major four-day celebration begins Oct. 16.

Eyewitness paintings of the bloody battle of Louis-Nicholas Blarenberghe also will be in Yorktown, and our own Library of Congress has agreed to display the actual documents of surrender. The international loan exhibition also includes artifacts and a portrait of Francisco de Miranda, the Venezuelan who was responsible for raising the money in Havana to get the French fleet to the scene of the battle.

At Newport News, farther down the peninsula, the War Memorial Museum, closed all winter for renovations, reopened April 17 with top-to-bottom improvements in display, lighting and a new, easier-to-follow chronological pattern. War memorabilia ranges from uniforms to posters and covers every conflict involving U.S. troops from pre-Revolutionary times to Vietnam. The museum is especially proud of its new display of World War II recruiting posters, some of which earlier were hung almost out of eye range near the ceiling. A new display of modern military uniforms of the world and a valuable collection of German silverware with the Nazi insignia also have been added.

At the Mariner's Museum, a touring exhibit that includes drawings and etchings by Rominer Lovewell, as well as several large views of Boston harbor, is scheduled for June 12. There also will be carved wooden figureheads and ship models by August Crabtree.

Over in Langley at NASA, history is instantaneous, with a new direct video linkup with the Houston control of space events. You will be able to see on large-screen TV the progress of future space shuttle flights, and a day-to-day update on Voyager 2, scheduled to pass by the planet Saturn in August.

At colonial Williamsburg, his excellency the governor is entertaining tourists these days in a newly refurbished palace closely approximating what the residence must have looked like under the reign of Lord Botetourt, beloved bachelor governor who died in office there in 1770. Historians recently discovered a new household inventory of the palace during his lifetime and have faithfully recreated the residence as it must have been. The costumed staff is talkative and anxious to confide to you the 18th-century palace gossip. (See related story on page E7.

Attending attractions in Williamsburg has been made easier by a new ticket that obviates the difficulty of trying to crowd everything into one day. The ticket has 10 punches for $9 and doesn't expire. You can come back again and again to use punches you didn't get around to earlier. The ticket is good for everything except Carter's Grove, Bassett Hall and the governor's house. (The latter is half price to holders of the new ticket.) For $13 you can get 18 punches.

Just four miles east of Williamsburg, Busch Gardens' Old Country theme park is going into its seventh year and boasts that it's the top commercial attraction in Virginia. Two million visitors annually pour through its gates, and last year the total was 2,159,126. If this makes you wonder if the crowds might be getting a bit thick, Busch has some tips to help you avoid getting hung up in the lines. The park is least crowded, say authorities, in the spring and early summer and in the morning and evening hours. To get even more elbow room, reverse the usual progression, beginning at Oktoberfest and working backwards to the entrance.

Kings Dominion in Doswell, the other popular outdoor amusement park, has seven new shows for 1981, ranging from a high-stepping tribute to the Broadway stage to a 20-minute show starring a dozen mongrel dogs apparently trying to outsmart their owner. At International Street, the theme section has been vastly remodeled and the planting of more than 100 trees has created a plaza-style area.

From Fredericksburg comes reports that tourists finally have learned that speeding by on the interstate means they will miss Kenmore and a variety of the town attractions, including some new restaurants like the popular Arbuckel's and O'Hara's, the Irish pub that opened last month.

Alexandria says this year it will, for the first time, schedule a candlelight tour of the Lee homes, Carlyle House and Gadsby's Tavern in the summer. Mark June 5th and 6th on your calendar.

Woodrow Wilson's home in Staunton and Stonewall Jackson's home in Lexington have been extensively restored. The Wilson home was done under the guidance of the curator of the governor's mansion in Richmond, working from old photographs ferreted out recently from the former president's belongings. Jackson's diary and letters to his wife were the basis for the Lexington renovations and the replanting of the gardens outside his old townhouse, where every detail has been made to match.