Many people know Charlottesville, VA for the wineries and college atmosphere, but it’s just as great with kids. From kid-friendly museums to art activities and more, there are so many fun things to do with kids in Charlottesville, VA. Keep reading to find out why Charlottesville (also known by locals as “C-Ville”) is one of the best Virginia weekend getaways for families.
Learn Through Play at the Virginia Discovery Center
The Virginia Discovery Center is a must do if you’re looking for fun things to do in Charlottesvile, VA with toddlers (or kids of any age!) Also known as the Charlottesville children’s museum, this hands-on learning museum is filled with interactive exhibits. Kids can have fun building things with large bricks, making magnetic race cars, building a magnetic gravity wall and much more. If you’re visiting Charlottesville with a baby like us, there’s also a fun sensory room at Virginia Discovery Center for kids ages 0-2. (Our 11 month old loved it!)
The employees at Virginia Discovery Center are also great at interacting with the kids and helping them make the most of their visit.
Note: The Virginia Discovery Center reopening date is September 7 for general admission. Until then, they have pop up hours for visitors periodically that you can find on their website.
Visit Monticello With Kids
Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello is one of the best historical things to do with family in Charlottesville, VA. While parts of it can be tough to digest with kids, it’s never too soon to teach kids about history- even the hard parts! If you’re visiting Monticello with kids, some things that can’t be missed are below.
- Explore the visitor’s center at Monticello, including the hands on Griffin Discovery Room that lets kids learn about Monticello in an interactive way.
- Catch a presentation at the family area of Monticello. The staff shares about life on the plantation in a way that easily relates to kids. (Look for the benches in the yard outside of the house!)
- Listen in on a Slavery at Monticello or Gardens and Grounds tour. (The slavery tour is a little heavy for kids, but Monticello employees are great about encouraging families to come and go as they need to.)
- Explore the first floor of the house and look out for some of the unique items Jefferson collected.
- Take a break with some of the ice cream Jefferson is known for, or a bottled Monticello root beer at the Farm Stand by the house. The Farm Table cafe at the Monticello visitor’s center also has a kids’ menu for lunch.
- Walk back from the house to the visitor’s center on the trails at Monticello.
- Do one of several learning at home activities for Monticello either before or after your trip to reinforce what you learned.
Note: The plantation is large and requires a lot of walking, especially if you take a tour. We recommend bringing a stroller and/or a baby carrier if you’re visiting Monticello with a baby or toddler. Masks at Monticello are required indoors and on the shuttle for ages 5+.
Create Works of Art at the IX Art Park Farmer’s Market
IX Art Park is another one of the best kid-friendly things to do in Charlottesville, VA. The park itself is filled with art from the ground up, and it includes a sand pit (plus other fun things for kids) that makes it one of the best Charlottesville toddler activities. The best time to visit is on Saturdays for the farmer’s market at IX to sample tons of local foods and other vendors.
During the farmer’s market, be sure to visit the Outside Art Room at IX Art Park. They have a great little corner with art kits for kids to borrow and create things. If you don’t have much time, you can even get an art kit to-go in a little paper bag. (Our 4 year old loved the clay kit he received and used it over our entire weekend in Charlottesville, VA.)
Explore the Looking Glass
The Looking Glass at IX Art Park is the coolest immersive art experience and another can’t miss activity on our list of things to do in Charlottesville with kids. You enter the space through what looks like a janitor’s closet and open the door into an enchanted forest. There are so many lights, colors and things to explore at the Looking Glass. (And it’s such a great way for kids to experience the arts in Charlottesville, VA!) Touching is permitted, and some things our baby and toddler enjoyed the most include:
- Swinging on hammock chairs in the forest
- Using the laser pointer in the neon maze
- Playing in the little house in the forest
- Touching the garden goddesses to make different noises
- Going from room to room to experience different lights, sounds and textures
Note: The Looking Glass is pretty dark inside at some areas, so if you have a child who’s afraid of the dark they may want to stick to the forest at the entry. It’s a small space and can be explored in about 30 minutes- unless your child doesn’t want to leave like mine! Children 3 and under are free.
Walk Around Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall
If you’re planning to skip shopping in Charlottesville’s downtown with kids, think again! There are so many fun things for families to do and see throughout. Some of the can’t miss shops in Charlottesville, VA for kids include:
- O’Suzanahh for Littles, a boutique store with a huge selection of quality kids clothes, books and toys. (It can’t be missed if you’re looking for a Charlottesville baby store!)
- Alakazaam or Shenanigans for fun toy stores in Charlottesville, VA.
- 2nd Act Books for a fun selection of kids books.
- Ice cream at Chap’s or Kilwin’s ice cream shops in Charlottesville, VA.
While you’re in Downtown Charlottesville, be sure to also take your kiddos for a ride on the old Charlottesville carousel outside of the Virginia Discovery Center.
Go on a Scavenger Hunt to Find Murals in Charlottesville, VA
A fun way to experience the Cville arts with kids is to go on a search to find some of the awesome Charlottesville murals. The Charlottesville Mural Project was started as a way to highlight and support local artists and encourage an interest in art for all ages. (Plus, it makes the town of Charlottesville look so vibrant and colorful!) There’s a google enabled Charlottesville Mural Project map here that makes it easy to follow while you’re walking (or driving) around town.
If those little legs get tired, you can also take the free trolley in Charlottesville, VA around town as well!
Eat at Some Yummy Kid-Friendly Restaurants in Charlottesville, VA
If you’re visiting Charlottesville, Virginia with kids, one thing we found was that it can be tough to find restaurants with a kids menu. (Although most places still have high chairs- just call in advance to check!) A few family restaurants in Charlottesville, VA we recommend include:
- A historical lunch at Michie’s Tavern. Kids under 6 eat free with a full buffet including fried chicken, cornbread, mashed potatoes and more.
- Iron Paffles & Coffee to try a paffle (puff pastry in a waffle iron). There’s a kids menu with several delicious, comically named paffles with a choice of side.
- Dairy Market Charlottesville for a huge selection of different foods in a food hall type setting. (Perfect for even the pickiest eaters to find something!)
- The Pink Grouse for upscale dining in Charlottesville with a kids menu. (The southern fried chicken tenders and fries are some of the best we’ve ever had!)
- Brunch, lunch or dinner at Three Notch’d Brewing Company. (Our favorite option for a kid-friendly brewery in Charlottesville, VA.)
Have you been to Charlottesville with kids before? We’d love to hear more of your favorite things to do with kids in Charlottesville, VA in the comments! If you’re planning a visit to Charlottesville in the fall, be sure to also check out the awesome events as part of the Charlottesville Arts Excursion.