Raising Richmond: RVA staycation…toddler style

Two parents, one toddler, and four obligation-free days in their hometown. The goal: introduce the kid to places in and around Richmond that will bliss him out. The rules: do something new each day and make it home in time for naps. See how it played out…

A couple months ago, my husband Ross and I made plans to take our little boy JR out to Charlottesville to spend about a week in a lovely house with two of our best friends. There would be naps, and walks, and eating, and more naps — all for free (because these friends had some seriously sweet connections).

But alas, life happened, and it didn’t work out.

Refusing to be defeated by this set-back, Ross and I decided to still take the time off and spend a few days that week showing our son an awesome time in the good ol’ RVA… toddler style.

The goal: introduce our nearly-two-year-old boy to places in and around Richmond that would totally bliss him out. The rules: 1) do something new every day and 2) be home at least in the vicinity of naptime/bedtime (not just for the kid — we wanted to get some rest, too).

Below you’ll find out where we went, what we thought, and what you can expect should you be inspired to have a staycation of your own.

Day 1: Metro Richmond Zoo

My husband and I both spent our middle school and teen years in Midlothian, but neither of us ever made the short(ish) drive down Hull Street to check out this family-owned establishment. Open since 1995, Metro Richmond Zoo is set on 70 acres and boasts around 1,400 animals, including tortoises, lemurs, tigers, gibbons, rhinos, penguins, ostriches, just to name a few. Oh and these:

One of the main reasons we chose to make this a staycation stop was to get an opportunity to feed the giraffes. For just a couple extra bucks at the check-in booth, you get a large cup of feed from which the giraffes can nosh while you stare in wonder as “The Circle of Life” echoes in your brain.

Visitors can also peek in on penguin feedings at 11am and 4pm daily. If you’re looking to get a bigger picture of what the Metro Richmond Zoo has to offer, you can take a ride on the Safari Train or get a bird’s-eye-view of the whole joint on the Safari Skyride. Being that our son is on the young side, we opted out of the rides, but your older kids will surely love them. Remember, you’ll be doing quite a bit of walking, so wear comfortable shoes and bring along the stroller or baby-carrying device of your choosing.

  • Open Monday through Friday, 9:30am to 5pm
  • 8300 Beaver Bridge Road (just off Hull Street, right past Grange Hall Elementary)
  • Adults, $11.25; seniors (60+), $10.25; kids (2-11), $9.25; kids under 2 are free (rides and food for the animals cost extra, but parking is free)

Day 2: Virginia Aviation Museum

Question: What is the only thing this little boy (and his father) could love more than monkeys and giraffes?

Answer: Really big things that fly high in the sky.

I never even realized we had an aviation museum before last week, so I’m calling this place one of Richmond’s best kept secrets.

The Virginia Aviation Museum is located at the Richmond International Airport and features the SR-71 Blackbird, 38 historic vintage aircraft, and early flight memorabilia. As Ross is a lover of all things history, and JR is a lover of all things that GO!, this was a definite winner for us. Plus, you can actually get in one of the planes:

Helpful hint: save the plane-sitting until the end of your visit, or allow time to make one more stop before leaving… or else you might have a toddler tantrum on your hands. I speak from experience. I also suggest you stop just up the street at Country Style Donuts (4300 Williamsburg Road) for a pre- or post-museum snack. It is very much a toddler-approved activity.

  • Open Tuesday through Saturday from 9:30am to 5pm, Saturdays from noon to 5pm (closed Mondays)
  • 5701 Huntsman Road (at Richmond International Airport)
  • $6 for adults; $5 for seniors and kids; kids under 2 are free

Day 3: Bass Pro Shop

Wait, hear me out.

I realize Bass Pro Shop will be called “a store” by some, but going there is more like “an event.” Case in point:


I challenge you to show me a toddler (or a person) who isn’t impressed by such a sight.

Even if the outdoor life isn’t your cup of tea, there’s plenty at Bass Pro Shop to keep everyone entertained, including fish feedings (we’re talking great big catfish) at noon every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday and a Fudge Shop where they let you sample whatever you like before making your purchase. Finish things off with a quick drive up 95 to Ashland to scope out the train tracks and grab some lunch, and you’ve got yourself a lovely Hanover County afternoon.

  • Open Monday through Saturday from 9am to 9pm, Sundays from 10am to 7pm
  • 11550 Lakeridge Parkway in Ashland
  • Free to get in because, well, it’s a store. Fudge will costs you $3 per square.

Day 4: State Fair of Virginia

This might cost me my RVA card, but the last time I was at the State Fair, I don’t think I was even old enough to tie my own shoes. Meanwhile, Ross, a non-native to Richmond, had *never* been. Naturally, we were stoked to realize the State Fair was scheduled to start up right in the middle of our staycation. The animals! The wholesomeness! The pig races! The funnel cakes! Memories in the making, folks.

Even though your little ones might be too small to get on any of the rides (or maybe they’re like JR who had absolutely no interest whatsoever), there is so much going on at this annual event, boredom is impossible. Some of our favorites were Young McDonald’s Farm (complete with ducklings, piglets, calves, and the like), the new K-9′s in flight show, and the arts & crafts competitions. Seriously, those crafters do NOT mess around:

Fun fact: this quilt won best in show, and all of the stitches were done by hand — a good lesson in patience and persistence for kids (and adults) of all ages.

Now I realize that ticket prices for the State Fair can seem a bit steep; we’re in the same boat as everyone else. Plan your visit for when you can get the biggest bang for your buck — no one wants to fork over $10 to $15 a person, only to be forced to leave one hour because SOMEONE is cranky. We headed over after a nice, long nap, guaranteeing us at least four hours of fun before any bedtime hulk outs began.

  • Runs September 23 through October 3; Open Sunday through Thursday from 10am to 10pm, Fridays from 10am to 1am, and Saturdays from 10am to midnight.
  • Meadow Event Park (exit 98 off of I-95)
  • Prices vary, so see website for details. Cheapest scenario? Go Monday through Friday after 5pm and walk-around tickets will only cost you $10 a piece.

Sure, a few days of relaxation would have been swell, but I think Richmond treated us pretty well last week: fun was had, new traditions were born, and sleeping schedules weren’t screwed up too much. A staycation success in my book. That being said, I’m sure we left something out. We’d love to see some ideas for future RVA staycations (for us and you lovely readers) in the comments.

(All images courtesy of Ross Catrow)

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Valerie Catrow

Valerie Catrow is managing editor of RVAFamily. When she’s not oversharing her parenting struggles and successes, you can find her raising a preschool-aged boy and watching 90s television shows.

7 comments on Raising Richmond: RVA staycation…toddler style

  1. That donut picture needs to come with some kind of warning about extreme and excessive cuteness.

  2. He killed that thing.

  3. Ryan Smartt on said:

    Nice. Also, I think my wife wants to eat up JR, similar to the way he’s eating that donut.

  4. Elizabeth Smartt on said:

    Yes! JR is a delicious little donut! I just want to eat up those little cheeks!! That photo is destined for a frame.

  5. I’ve never been to the State Fair. My parents were all “But the Chesterfield County Fair is right here!” FAIL.

  6. Fun fact: I’ve never been to the State Fair, either. It’s slightly less easy to do now that I’m on the other side of the state, but uh, yeah…I missed the last four, too. AND I’d always wanted to go to the Aviation Museum, but never got to see that either. Oops.

    If that photo of JR and the donut were a mathematical function of cuteness, it would approach infinity.

  7. Amanda G on said:

    OMG, JR is such a cutie-patootie! Sounds like you had a lot of fun. Thanks for the suggestions.

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