Afternoons Full of Fun in Fredericksburg, VA
Lovely Fredericksburg, Virginia is a bedroom community along the i-95 corridor about 50 miles south of Washington D.C. The city itself and neighboring Spotsylvania county share a population of fewer than 30,000 which helps maintain a certain small town feel despite rapid commercial growth in the last few decades. For the past 15 years, it’s been the closest “big city” to our rural sticks and bricks home in Montross, VA and a frequent destination for an afternoon of fun. We have three favorite areas to explore in Fredericksburg – the downtown historical and shopping district along Caroline street, the parks, monuments, and historical buildings, and the much more commercial shopping area of Central Park.
Downtown Fredericksburg – Caroline Street
You haven’t really visited Fredericksburg, Virginia until you walk its streets downtown and get a sense of the Colonial era that still permeates. The City of Fredericksburg was established in 1728 as a port city for its county of Spotsylvania of which it was then a part. The city gets its name from Frederick, Prince of Wales, and all of the downtown streets are named for members of the royal family: Caroline Street, William Street, Princess Anne Street and Charlotte Street.
Those four streets bound the area we most like to walk – you can find plenty of restaurants, local interest shops, boutiques, galleries and even an old-fashioned drugstore still pulling sodas from the fountain and adding syrups for fantastic flavor. There is plentiful free street parking throughout the downtown area as well as municipal parking lots and garages.
First stop should be a check-in at the visitor’s center downtown. You can pick up a map and information about other local spots to see. Be aware that the sidewalks are brick and can be uneven in places, but if your ankles and strollers can handle it, you’ll be charmed. The cafes are overflowing with locals dining al fresco with their pooches, streets are lined with trees (thanks in part to TreeFredericksburg!) and the storefronts feature lovely vignettes that beg for a close up.
Don’t miss the Fredericksburg Area Museum and Cultural Center for art, artifacts and loads of culture and history. It’s located on the corner of William and Princess Anne Streets…another great corner of downtown with a local butcher, coffee shop and numerous bistros, lounges and restaurants. Sigh…not enough time in the day!
Before you leave the downtown area, drive down William street to get a frozen treat at Carl’s – a long-time local favorite for frozen custard with outside seating.
A Day of History in Fredericksburg, VA
If you’re a Civil War buff, you can’t miss checking out the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. The park includes four battlefields: Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Wilderness, and Spotsylvania Court House; two manor houses: Ellwood and Chatham and the Stonewall Jackson Shrine. Entrance to all buildings and exhibits is free, but be sure to start your tour of the sites at either the Fredericksburg Battlefield Visitor Center or the Chancellorsville Battlefield Visitor Center and catch the 22-minute orientation film. Any one of these locations could take up an entire day, so plan accordingly!
Much more doable in an afternoon, Kenmore Plantation features the mansion built by George Washington’s sister, Betty Washington Lewis which sits on 3-acres of gardens and land. Check out the wilderness walk on the corner of the plantation with your littles, but be sure to check the visiting hours which vary with the season. Just across the Rappahannock river in Stafford County is Ferry Farm – George Washington’s boyhood home – another fun way to spend an afternoon immersed in our country’s history.
If you’re looking to let your hair down and have a little fun, Funland in Central Park has something to offer almost everyone (except healthy food; definitely bring snacks). There is a massive arcade, a bouncy climbing structure for little ones (socks required), laser tag, a rock-climbing wall, carnival type rides, go-kart racing and more. We’ve spent many an afternoon here for no more than $20 each and had a great time. Look for local coupon deals and groupons to save on the cost of games and rides.
Just around the corner from Funland is one of our favorite restaurants which frequently has specials, particularly at lunchtime – The Melting Pot. Although we usually prefer to choose local favorites for dining while traveling, this restaurant has special meaning since it was where we met for our first (blind!) date. The kids also like to, ahem, get involved with their food.
If fondue isn’t your speed, no problem – there are literally dozens of other choices, both local favorites and national chains. There are a multitude of services – banks, carwashes, gas stations and grocery stores (Wegman’s – our favorite) as well as a Target and Walmart and a Lowe’s Home Improvement store. You could easily boondock in your RV in Central Park, and spend a whole day here! Have fun.