• Related: Virginia's presidential homes, ranked
It may sound trite to say "Virginia's got it all," as so many natives have when describing it. But it's true: The Old Dominion proves delightfully difficult to classify, especially at this time of year.
Let's say you're thinking about planning a beach trip. Virginia's got you covered. Or, maybe you'd like to escape to a cabin in the mountains and do some hiking? You can do that in Virginia, too. Long weekend getaways to a city with great restaurants, fun nightlife and cultural activities for everyone in the family? Virginia checks out. An enlightening trip through time, exploring historic towns and homes? Yes, Virginia's your place.
And that's the state in a nutshell. (For the record, that nut was probably a peanut.) There's no limit to the types of entertainment you'll find, from loud, fast cars and roller coasters to quiet drives through rolling hills and concerts under the stars.
Last week, our colleague Fritz Hahn extolled the virtues of summer fun in Maryland. This week, we're doing the same for Virginia.
See where it all started
The ships Discovery, Godspeed and Susan Constant sailed up the James River -- named for King James of England -- and stopped at what is now Jamestown Island on May 14, 1607. The United States got its humble start in a triangular wooden fort on a swampy island, battling mosquitoes, Indians and uncertainty.
Visitors to Virginia's Historic Triangle - which includes Colonial Williamsburg and Yorktown, the site of the surrender that ended the Revolutionary War - can see two versions of our first city. Jamestown Settlement is a living-history site that features a replica of the fort, with settlers and reenactors wearing period costumes. Historic Jamestowne is where archaeologists are still peeling away layers and making discoveries at the original site of the fort.
Colonial Williamsburg also takes the living-history approach, but it's the real deal: Visitors can explore Duke of Gloucester Street and go inside the Governor's Palace, the Capitol and Bruton Parish Church, to name just a few of the original and restored buildings.
Yorktown Victory Center remains open during a transformation. Next year, a new museum will open and the facility will take the name American Revolution Museum at Yorktown.
Take a picnic, stay for the music
Wolf Trap doesn't have the hippest summer lineup, but the Vienna venue is so phenomenal, it almost doesn't matter what's onstage. Garrison Keillor back again with "A Prairie Home Companion" on May 22 and 23? Sure, why not?
Get a lawn seat where you can spread out a blanket and recline, watching the fireflies come out as the sweet strains of Sugar Ray -- remember them? -- wash over you (Aug. 20). This may be the only area music venue where you can bring your own food and drinks, including wine or beer. And unlike, say, Merriweather Post Pavilion or Jiffy Lube Live, Wolf Trap has a classier, quaint feel, especially if you're packing brie and sauvignon blanc in that cooler. Not even "Weird Al" Yankovic (June 12) should be able to disrupt the mellow vibe. Only the inevitable summer thunderstorms can do that.
Wolf Trap, www.wolftrap.org. Ticket prices vary.
Embrace craft beer and culture in Richmond
Stop in any Richmond restaurant and check out the taps. See those names -- Ardent, Isley, Midnight -- lined up next to the now-familiar Hardywood, Center of the Universe and Legend? The craft beer scene in the state capital has exploded, making it comparable in quantity and quality to any beer region in the area. And the brewers are collaborating while also making friends throughout the community.
Midnight Brewery, which opened in 2011 in nearby Rockville, partnered with the State Fair of Virginia (Sept. 25-Oct. 4 in Caroline County) to create Virginia Midway, a wheat ale with a touch of local honey that serves as the annual event's official beer. The Richmond Flying Squirrels, a San Francisco Giants Class AA team, teamed with Center of the Universe for Chin Music, a crisp amber lager. And Hardywood collaborated with the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts last fall to create Forbidden, a Belgian white ale infused with dragon fruit, to pair with the museum's "Forbidden City: Imperial Treasures From the Palace Museum, Beijing" exhibition.
Speaking of the museum: Most of its famed Fabergé eggs are on tour, but make time to see "Van Gogh, Manet and Matisse: The Art of the Flower" before the exhibition closes on June 21. And if 19th-century floral paintings aren't your thing, "Japanese Tattoo: Perseverance, Art and Tradition" is opening later this month, focusing on the work of seven internationally acclaimed artists of ink.
And yes, the museum restaurant and cafe serve Hardywood and Legend.
Head for the mountains in Shenandoah National Park
On a map, Shenandoah National Park stretches from Front Royal to near Waynesboro as a thin jagged tract of green. The northern tip of the 105-mile-long sanctuary sits just 90 minutes from Washington, but once you're confronted by the rolling Blue Ridge Mountains, city life feels worlds away - especially in the summertime.
And that's when hiking enthusiasts will want to head to Old Rag. Those in the know will freely warn of the drawbacks: It gets crowded; it's a tough climb; and the last few miles of fire road can be a real slog. But the path is well-traveled for good reason. Scrambling up the granite staircase and hopping from boulder to boulder makes you feel like a kid again. It's just a sweaty good time. Plus, the view from the summit can't be beat.
A couple of tips: Bring lots of water and snacks. This is a nine-mile hike if you're doing the full loop, and it can take about seven hours. And, even more important, get there early - as in, crack-of-dawn early. That's the only way to secure a good parking spot and avoid running into lines at some of the rock-induced bottlenecks.
If you're not feeling quite so spry, there are plenty of less strenuous climbs. Whiteoak Canyon is a stunning alternative, dotted with waterfalls and swimming holes. The full hike is nearly as long as Old Rag but a lot less challenging, and visitors can opt for a short walk to the first falls before turning around.
If you think the natural world looks good above ground, wait till you go subterranean. The Shenandoah Valley is also home to remarkable rock formations, and you can see them at the caverns in the area. The largest is Luray Caverns. Discovered in 1878, it's now a tourist attraction with its otherworldly natural structures, including stones that look like curtains, an organ that makes music with stalactites and a massive, oddly creepy column that goes by the name of Pluto's Ghost. Visiting the caverns also has another benefit in the summertime: It's a lot cooler underground.
Old Rag and Whiteoak Canyon, www.nps.gov/shen. $20 park entrance fee per vehicle.
Luray Caverns, www.luraycaverns.com. $26; $23 seniors; $14 children.
Turn left around the state with NASCAR
Auto racing may seem like a novelty to some around the country, but Virginia's racing roots run deep. A number of prominent drivers have cruised to victory on NASCAR's top circuit, including brothers Ward and Jeff Burton and Ricky Rudd, after earning their stripes on the state's short tracks. (Ward's son, Jeb, is a NASCAR rookie this season.) And Virginia has two tracks that host two races each in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Martinsville Speedway and Richmond International Raceway (three if you include Bristol Motor Speedway, which is just over the border in Tennessee).
On Sept. 12, the Richmond track -- a three-quarter-mile oval that's one of the most popular with drivers -- will host the Federated Auto Parts 400, which should be an intense final race before NASCAR's postseason. Martinsville, a half-mile paperclip shape that forces drivers into a deliberate, stop-and-go style, will host the first Eliminator Round race Nov. 1, the Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500.
Don't let the ridiculous race names distract you from enjoying this unique sporting experience. Grab a ticket, pack a cooler and focus on the fast, loud stock cars; the die-hard fans decked out in their colorful, race-day best; and the checkered flag at the finish line.
Dive in, float away
Nothing says lazy summer days like an easy float down a barely moving river. Tubing is popular on the Shenandoah River, but riding down the James is even more languid. It's most fun with a big group, so gather your friends and head to James River Reeling and Rafting in Scottsville where you can pick up a tube and hop on a bus to be shuttled to a drop-in location. You can even rent a tube for a cooler so that you can keep all your, um, sodas nice and cold.
Getting to Virginia Beach in the summer months is a traffic nightmare; a closer alternative is Lake Anna in Spotsylvania County. Never has a reservoir designed to cool down a nuclear power plant brought so much joy to so many families. On the public side of the lake, anyone can camp, lie on the sand, splash in the water or kayak. Those renting houses might find themselves on the much quieter private side, but just know that the public beach has one big advantage: The water is much cooler.
Of course, if you don't want to vacation in the shadow of a nuclear power plant, the family-friendly Cape Charles Beach on the Chesapeake Bay is a nice option. Cape Charles is a low-key town with a beach that's beautifully maintained -- and without big crowds or touristy restaurants. At low tide, the water stays shallow for what feels like ages, which means it's also a great place to bring the little ones.
James River Reeling and Rafting, www.reelingandrafting.com. $24 for tube, shuttle and rope.
Lake Anna State Park, www.dcr.virginia.gov/state-parks/lake-anna.shtml. Parking: $3-$9 per vehicle. Swimming: $3-$4; $2-$3 ages 3 to 12; free for children younger than 3.
Cape Charles Beach, www.capecharles.org. Free.
Go for a (thrill) ride
The fake Eiffel Tower looming over Interstate 95 gives some sense of the tawdry appeal of Kings Dominion, which is celebrating its 40th birthday this year. The Doswell theme park is a little like Las Vegas: It's totally tacky and also utterly delightful, as long as you keep your visit short. The roller coasters are the best in the state, and all of your childhood favorites are still there, except for the backwards version of the Rebel Yell. The creaky old Grizzly still feels like it might self-destruct at any second; Anaconda is still doing loop-de-loops and making a splash; the oldie but goodie Shockwave, a.k.a. the roller coaster on which you stand up, is still eliciting terrified screams; and the Berserker viking ship still sets sail for 360s every few minutes.
Pro tips: Go on a weekday and bring some over-the-counter painkillers. A day of thrill rides can make a grown-up surprisingly achy.
Kings Dominion, www.kingsdominion.com. $55, $43 children.
Sip and slurp
In just over a decade, Virginia went from being a state that squandered a sizable bivalve population to the "oyster capital of the East Coast" (according to Gov. Terry McAuliffe, at least). Thanks to a few eco-conscious companies and the support of the government, there are now oysters galore, with restaurants, annual festivals and an official Virginia Oyster Trail.
For the uninitiated, there are seven oyster regions in Virginia, each with its own distinctly flavored delicacies, ranging from pleasantly briny to buttery and mellow. The challenge is deciding where to get your oysters now that there are so many options.
The truth is, you don't have to go far. Rappahannock Oyster Company has set up a number of outposts where you can pick up its goods, including an oyster bar in D.C.'s Union Market and co-owner Travis Croxton's newly opened Brine in Fairfax's Mosaic District. If you're up for a drive, some oyster farms offer tours. One is Virginia Beach's Pleasure House Oysters, where you can eat oysters while standing knee-deep in Lynnhaven River, tour the farm or follow a waterman.
And do you know what pairs well with shellfish? Something else Virginia has been doing well recently: wine. If you're looking for the kind of one-stop shopping where you can eat fresh oysters and visit a winery on the same day, your best bet is on the Eastern Shore at Chatham Vineyards, known for its steel-fermented chardonnay.
Enjoy the benefits of a student-free college town
Charlottesville is always a charming place to visit. But the summer months are especially lovely, what with all those pesky college kids gone. What's left is small-town quietude, but with plenty still to do: hiking at Humpback Rock, taking a dip in Chris Greene Lake or doing a little of both by hiking from Sugar Hollow Reservoir to Blue Hole for swimming. There are wineries to explore along the Monticello Wine Trail and a slew of new cideries, including the increasingly popular Bold Rock, plus good food around every corner that ranges from swanky (the French tasting menu at Fleurie) to casual and locally sourced (the Whiskey Jar on the Downtown Mall) to low-key (Continental Divide for Tex-Mex).
History abounds at Thomas Jefferson's home and the university he built, but there's also plenty of culture, including free "Fridays after Five" concerts every week through Sept. 11 at the nTelos Wireless Pavilion at one end of the Downtown Mall. Before the show, stroll along the eight-block outdoor shopping district, which is closed to automobiles, and you'll find boutiques, galleries and one other Charlottesville must: mint-chocolate-chip ice cream at the retro diner Chaps.