Hip Things to Do in Williamsburg
Look a little closer at Williamsburg, Virginia, and you'll see it's gaining on Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in the trend-setting department.
Williamsburg. If you're of a certain age, it evokes images of muskets and rousing speeches and the birth of a nation. If you're a bit younger, the mention transports you to a hipster haven in Brooklyn.
About the only place the two images merge is when it comes to men with ponytails.
Mead: So Old, It's Hip
Move over, Brooklyn. Virginia’s Williamsburg has you beat on this one.
With mead, that ancient honey-based wine, experiencing a nationwide revival, Williamsburg, Va., is right at the cutting edge. It’s riding the wave of interest in all things craft-produced.
Just ask Glenn Lavender. When he moved to Williamsburg and decided to open Silver Hand Meadery after 12 years with the Canadian band Downhere, he went on a road trip, visiting the handful of meaderies between Williamsburg, Va., and New York. Among the five he found, not one was in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
So when Silver Hand opened in March 2016, it was an instant hit and quickly ran out of its traditional mead. Just like popular brewpubs and micro-distilleries, Silver Hand makes its own meads in-house and offers tours and tastings.
Mead, considered the ancestor of all fermented drinks, dates back at least 9,000 years. Traditionally people combined honey, water and yeast from the air, letting it ferment.
"It's arguably the most ancient fermented beverage," Lavender says, though he admits he may get an argument from beer fans.
Modern mead makers like Lavender create complex, layered meads with a variety of honeys and additives such as fruit and spices. Silver Hand's Scarborough Fair, which won a prestigious Mazer Cup Award, is made from star thistle honey, rosemary and thyme. Dream by the Fire is crafted with Virginia wildflower honey, orange blossom honey, clover honey, cinnamon, cloves and allspice.
The names for all the offerings at Silver Hand are inspired by songs, a legacy of Lavender’s former career. Scarborough Fair naturally grew out of a Simon and Garfunkel hit, while Dream by the Fire is a line from "Walking in a Winter Wonderland."
Small-Batch Craft Beer Bonanza
OK, OK, the craft brewery thing is everywhere. But in Williamsburg, Va., you'll find brewers taking the word “craft” as license to experiment in addition to producing their regular rotation of brews.
Alewerks Brewing Company, Williamsburg’s first micro-brewery, is a direct-fired brick-clad Peter Austin brew house. Opened in 2006, it offers brewery tours and tastings in its tap house and outdoor terrace, where 10 beers are on tap and a cask ale is served weekly. It makes small batches of beers, like a mesquite-smoked brown ale and a Belgian-style dubbel, as well as seasonal flavors like pumpkin spice.
Virginia Beer Company, the newest kid on the craft-brew block, offers get-'em-while-you-can five-barrel batches of beer, like a pecan-smoked porter or an India brown ale. "That's my playroom," says brewmaster Jonathan Newman, about the small batches. “That’s where I get to be really creative.” This new craft brewery, taproom and outdoor beer garden opened in the spring of 2016. Using a custom-designed pump system, it focuses on a small, high-quality core lineup and rotating limited-edition beers.
Brass Cannon Brewing Co., with its brand-new tasting room under construction just down the street from Alewerks, offers kegs, growlers and draft selections, as well as tasting flights. In addition to its five brews, it has four rotating seasonal selections. Stay tuned for a grand reopening announcement.
Farm-to-Table and Bay-to-Table
Farm-to-table is everywhere in both Williamsburgs. But thanks to its coveted location between two rivers — the James and the York — and proximity to the Chesapeake Bay, Virginia’s Williamsburg boasts some bets you won’t find in New York:
- Tucked into a strip shopping center outside of downtown is Waypoint Seafood and Grill, which highlights farm- and Chesapeake Bay-to-table fare at the direction of Chef Hans J. Schadler, who balances the fish-centered menu with schnitzel, pork and beef.
- At the Fat Tuna Grill & Oyster House, Chef Ken Brown combines his love of fishing and cooking in his sea-to-table menu of fresh oysters, crabs, fish and other bounty from local waters.
- At Cafe Provencal on the Williamsburg Winery grounds, Chef Ian Robbins dips into the best of local ingredients to create dishes like Border Springs Farm rack of lamb inspired by his classical French training.
- Since its opening, the Fat Canary has been one of the best restaurants in Williamsburg, conveniently set on Duke of Gloucester Street. The seasonally changing menu features delights like pan-seared scallops with smoked tomato and pork belly using locally sourced ingredients.
Winning with Wine
Williamsburg can go head to head — or rather, wineglass to wineglass — with Brooklyn any day. Williamsburg Winery, the largest in Virginia, turns out award-winning wines on its 300-acre farm right in Williamsburg. Plus, it offers tasting tours of the growing and production process; two outstanding dining venues, the Gabriel Archer Tavern and Café Provencal; and a 28-room European-style country hotel, Wedmore Place, for a full-immersion overnight experience. Yes, Brooklyn Winery is located right in that other Williamsburg, but its grapes are sourced elsewhere and its menu is limited to light snacking fare. Take that, Brooklyn.
World on Two Wheels
What could be more hipster than two-wheeling it? With 109 miles of bicycle paths, some on thoroughfares maintained by the National Park Service, Williamsburg has been named a Bicycle Friendly Community by the League of American Bicyclists every year since 2013. You can cycle your way around the area’s scenic landscapes along standout bike trails, such as the Colonial Parkway, Historic Jamestowne Bike Trail, Freedom Park, York River State Park, New Quarter Park and the newest, the Virginia Capital Trail.
One of the first inland routes in America, the Virginia Capital Trail boasts 52 miles of scenic pedestrian and bicycle trails that connect the state’s past and present capitals of Jamestown and Richmond. You won't find 52 miles of wooded bliss anywhere in that other Williamsburg.
Yes, zip lines are the latest must-have toy for any self-respecting destination. And Williamsburg doesn’t disappoint. At Go Ape Treetop Adventure in Freedom Park, there are five — count ‘em — zip lines, with the longest a 600-foot finale. Plus, there are rope ladders, a canopy tour, trapezes and two Tarzan swings. This is no zip-and-run adventure; the experience can last up to three hours. Compare that to Brooklyn, which has an indoor, kid-sized zip line, which takes youngsters on a ride of about — wait for it — five seconds.
With all these attractions, it’s no wonder Greater Williamsburg, Virginia, is enjoying its place in the hip parade.