If you are wanting a winter getaway that will leave you feeling like you are the main character in a Hallmark movie, then book your flight or set up your driving plans to go to Williamsburg! Not only did my daughter and I visit Williamsburg, but we also visited Jamestown and Yorktown, Virginia. While most people know Williamsburg for its historic Colonial Williamsburg area, there is so much more to this area than history - even though visiting for the history would be a trip in and of itself.
We started our first day with breakfast at Culture Cafe. With a selection of freshly made pastries that would rival a bakery, a hot drink menu that rivals a coffee shop, and a drink menu that rivals a bar, Culture Cafe is an eclectic spot where we each had a breakfast sandwich. I opted to try their famed mushroom coffee as well–yes, you read that right! One of their specialties is mushroom coffee. With a smooth and yet earthy taste, this makes a great option for people who want the boost of regular coffee without the jitters and crashes that can come from caffeine.
Our first stop after breakfast was to First Baptist Church, home to one the oldest continuous congregations organized by African Americans in the United States. Our tour guide, Liz Montgomery, one of the congregants of First Baptist Church, gave us a personal guided tour. As a member of the church’s historical society, the attention to detail that she paid in telling us the history of the church, from its origins to the present day, was astounding. My daughter and I were able to ring their freedom bell, taking a moment to pay homage to the free and enslaved members of the church over the years, the history of the church and Williamsburg in general, and our own personal intentions.
After leaving First Baptist Church, we headed to the Williamsburg Christmas Market. The market is chock full of vendor chalets with everything from tasty treats like crepes to local artists’ wares. After warming ourselves by the fire pits and getting pictures with Santa, we headed out for our next stop: the Spa of Colonial Williamsburg. After a morning of strolling around the church and the Christmas Market, the Himalayan stone massages for me and my daughter were just what the doctor ordered!
After our relaxing afternoon at the spa, we headed for our last stop of the day: Busch Gardens Christmas Town and we finally understood why Busch Gardens has been called “The World’s Most Beautiful Theme Park.” For Christmas, the entire park is decorated with over 10 million dazzling Christmas lights. As fun as it would have been to ride the coasters, visiting the park at night and seeing how the park was transformed into a winter wonderland was a delight!
After an action-packed day, we headed back to the Williamsburg Inn, our home for vacation. The Inn, elegant without being pretentious, has an old world charm that was the perfect place to stay in this town with so much history.
Day two of our mother/daughter time in the Williamsburg area started with Tipsy Beans, a black-owned restaurant in Williamsburg. Shrimp and grits and a gingerbread latte for my daughter and brisket and sweet hash for me fueled us for our morning at Jamestown Settlement.
Jamestown Settlement is a living history museum of 17th century Virginia history and culture. As one of the exhibits said, “in the beginning, all America was Virginia.” Detailing the settlement of Jamestown by British colonists, their interactions with the Indians living in the area at the time, and how they used enslaved people to work the land, Jamestown Settlement exhibits a microcosm of the history of the United States.
We enjoyed lunch at Waypoint Seafood and Grill and were able to have some of the seafood that Virginia is known for. I enjoyed the she crab soup and a crab cake, while my daughter had crab-stuffed flounder. There was no way we weren’t going to leave Virginia without making sure we had plenty of seafood! Waypoint uses local Chesapeake ingredients and items grown at local farms.
Full of some of Virginia’s finest seafood, we headed to Yorktown. There we met Trish Thomas of Williamsburg Walking Tours, our local guide for the afternoon. We had read that she spent a lifetime studying history, particularly the history of Virginia, but that preview was nothing compared to the wealth of information that spilled out of her. Trish’s interest in history began as a child, charged by having a Choctaw grandmother who taught her history from a much different perspective than what Trish was learning in school. Much like Jamestown Settlement, Trish told us about the history of Yorktown from the arrival of colonists to the present day. With anecdotes not written about in the average history text we have in school, she filled in the blanks and answered every question we had on the tour.
After ending our time with Trish, we were able to explore the Historic Yorktown before enjoying the Enchanted Evening on Main Street later that night. We felt like background actresses in a holiday movie, as we watched an ice carving demonstration, strolled down luminary-lined streets, and listened to Christmas carols played by the Fifes and Drums of York Town, dressed to the nines in traditional colonial attire. To top it off, there was an artificial snow-blowing machine sprinkling the air with faux flakes.
Dinner that evening was, in one word…epic! We dined in the Rockefeller Room back at the Williamsburg Inn. A five-course experience began with an amuse bouche of mushroom and pickled tomato for us both, followed by the first course of squash bisque for my daughter and oysters Abby for me. The second course was a crispy deviled duck egg for us both (yes: the white of the egg was lightly battered and fried topped with pimento cheese. Delish!) The third course was pan-roasted scallops and the premier course was one of my all-time favorites: a wagyu ribeye for me and a braised beef short rib for my daughter. To top it all off, dessert was a beautifully plated assortment of delights: bananas foster, lemon cake, honey banana crème brûlée and candied honeycomb. This five-course menu was one that will never be forgotten!
The next morning started with breakfast at Blue Talon Bistro, a local American eatery serving comfort food inspired by a French bistro. While I chose a classic breakfast dish, I was still shocked by the meal: scrambled eggs, grits in their own ramekin, homestyle potatoes, country ham on a biscuit and smoked bacon! My daughter had French toast which was made of thick French pastry toast served with bacon and pure maple syrup that tasted like it was “straight from the tree” - her words!
Our next stop, or should I say ride, was a carriage ride around Colonial Williamsburg. In a horse drawn carriage styled as one would have been in the 18th century, we felt like royalty riding past tourists who waved to us as we passed.
After our ride, we met back up with Trish Thomas again for an African American Tour of Colonial Williamsburg. With just as much gusto and information like the day before, she told detailed stories about the lives of free and enslaved blacks in Colonial Williamsburg. If you make the trip here, make sure that you take a tour with Trish. Her passion for the history of the area is infectious. We even wrote down some of the books she suggested we read to learn more after we returned home.
Staying in the Colonial Williamsburg area, we next did a Christmas decorations tour. The beauty of the area is that everyone decorates in a style that could be recognized in the 18th century. Businesses and houses alike have wreaths and garland from natural materials: fruits, seashells, and dried flowers that take you back in time to imagine what Christmas in the 18th century must have looked like. There is even a wreath decorating contest with various categories, and while some winners had their award-winning ribbons displayed, to the untrained eye, the wreaths all looked like winners to me!
On our last evening, we had to make sure we saw Grand Illumination. For the days we were in town, people would ask if we were going. We are all familiar with fireworks on the 4th of July, but fireworks to celebrate the joy of the holiday season? Yes, please! In the 18th century, “illuminations”, or the firing of guns and lighting of fireworks, celebrated major events. And what could be more major than kicking off the Christmas season? Not only were fireworks set off from the front of the Governor’s Palace, but also from the Capitol building. Our heads stayed on a swivel as we looked back and forth from display to display!
When the Illumination was over, the masses moved to the streets to head towards dinner. We chose The Hound’s Tale, a pub-style eatery decorated with, you guessed it, dog artwork! My daughter was still on a mission to make sure she had plenty of local seafood, so we ordered the crab dip as an appetizer and then mac and cheese with scallops for her meal. I enjoyed a burger, which was one of the favorites of local patrons.
The next morning, our trip came to a close with breakfast at the Terrace Room at the Williamsburg Inn. While breakfast tends to be a casual meal, we dressed up to match the luxurious room. This being my last chance for local seafood, I had an omelet with crab meat and my daughter had gingerbread pancakes. The services at each of our dining experiences was of the highest caliber.
On the way out of town, we stopped at the Williamsburg Premium Outlets and did some damage to our wallets!
Two of the delights of the holiday season are the beauty of decorations and the anticipation of Christmas itself. The Williamsburg area has managed to capture the delight and whimsy that make the holiday season so special. From the history of the area to the sights and delights of the Christmas decorations, there is so much to be absorbed here.