America was born in Boston’s backyard, with the first shots of the Revolutionary War fired in the battles of Lexington and Concord. Bostonians are pretty blase about our embarrassment of such historic riches—been there, done that, took the elementary school field trip. But it can be cool to experience Colonial history elsewhere. So if you want to see where the war’s final shots were fired, head to the “Historic Triangle” of Virginia. This corner of the Old Dominion State, tucked on a coastal peninsula, is defined by three primary points of interest—Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown—that offer an easy way for history buffs to work serious sightseeing into even a short getaway.
Start your trip at the triangle’s tip: Williamsburg, an adorable enclave of Colonial architecture—all cute clapboard and gambrel roofs. Williamsburg was a vital early settlement, founded in 1632 and once the capital of the Virginia Colony. And its historic district, Colonial Williamsburg, is a living museum where visitors can meander among preserved storefronts and period-attired guides. It’s like Downtown Disney meets Sturbridge Village, home to about 20 different tours, many self-directed, museum galleries filled with early American antiques and folk art, and numerous shops for souvenirs. Need replica silverware for your next porridge-filled dinner party? You’re covered.
Like Boston, Williamsburg is a college town, home to William & Mary, the country’s second oldest institution of higher learning. (The first? Harvard, duh.) So the student population also ensures a handful of lively hangouts for modern visitors. Fat Canary, a four-diamond-rated restaurant and wine bar, has homey digs and a classy-rustic American menu. (Free-range guinea fowl, anyone?) Visit its adjoining relative, the aptly named Cheese Shop, to grab unique fromage and charcuterie to enjoy back in your hotel room. And score a tasting in the taproom of AleWerks Brewing Company, an award-winning Williamsburg microbrewer that produces “historical beers,” following recipes used by 18th-century Virginia taverns, alongside modern styles like its Bitter Valentine, an ultra-hoppy double IPA.
Williamsburg will probably offer your best lodging options, too. So consider booking at Williamsburg Lodge, a mid-priced alternative to the luxe Williamsburg Inn. You’ll have access to the same free bike rentals, eight tennis courts and three golf courses at Golden Horseshoe Golf Club, where you can hit the links, and then the poolside grill, with the kind of polo-clad old-money types that made fortunes off tobacco farms. (Try not to hold it against them.) The rooms are spacious and comfortable, and you’ll probably want to grab a separate snooze at the spa, which offers services inspired by historic eras, like the “18th-century Colonial Orange & Ginger Scrub & Massage.”
Next on your Historic Triangle tour, devote a day to exploring Historic Jamestowne, the National Parks-run site that marks the first English colony in the Americas. (Yes, there’s a statue of Pocahontas.) Take an organized tour or just wander by ruined forts, around still-active excavation areas or through the “Archaearium,” a museum of settler and native relics, from coins to skeletons, buttressed by plenty of historical factoids, including creepy tales of cannibalism.
Skip the highway and hop on the Colonial Parkway, a gently curving route shaded by tall, lush trees, en route to the third point: Yorktown. You can watch yachts laze along the York River from Riverwalk Landing, a waterfront development with green spaces for festivals and concerts, shopping and restaurants. (Behold: the sloppy Fat Bastard burger at Water Street Grille, 16 ounces of sauce-slathered gluttony.) But the main attraction is Yorktown Battlefield, where colonists triumphed in the Revolution’s final siege and at last sent the Redcoats packing. There’s also the nearby Yorktown Victory Center, if you prefer historic settlement replicas and hands-on exhibits. But the main draw is the battlefield, marked by several miles of road for self-guided auto tours past various vital sites. The grassy fields are quiet now, but those shots still ring loud and clear.
– Thrill-seekers should make time for Busch Gardens, Williamsburg’s behemoth amusement park and home to Apollo’s Chariot, rated one of the best steel roller coasters in the world.
AleWerks Brewing Company 189-B Ewell Road, Williamsburg (757-220-3670) alewerks.com
The Cheese Shop 410 W Duke of Gloucester St., Williamsburg (757-220-0298) cheeseshopwilliamsburg.com
Colonial Williamsburg Visitor Center 101 Visitor Center Dr., Williamsburg (888-965-7254) colonialwilliamsburg.com
Fat Canary 410 W Duke of Gloucester St., Williamsburg (757-229-3333) fatcanarywilliamsburg.com
Historic Jamestowne 1368 Colonial Parkway, Jamestown (757-229-4997) historicjamestowne.org
Water Street Grille 323 Water St., Yorktown (757-369-5644) waterstreetgrille.net
Williamsburg Lodge 310 South England St., Williamsburg (757-220-7976) colonialwilliamsburg.com/stay/williamsburglodge