Just under three hours from Raleigh, there's another capital city that offers plenty of fun for families interested in a road trip.
Richmond, Va., is home to museums, baseball, plenty of history and Maymont, a beautiful destination that includes a giant park, garden, mansion, nature center and small petting farm.
My sister recently moved to the Richmond area from Alaska. We met up with her and her three boys, ages 2 to 8, along with our own parents, for a whirlwind weekend of activity.
Here's what we did:
Science Museum of Virginia
Our first stop was the Science Museum of Virginia, which offers a variety of science, technology, engineer and math-related exhibits and serves hundreds of thousands of guests each year. The favorite of the kids in our group - ages 2 to 12 - was the first floor exhibit all about speed. The interactive exhibits here let them race with each other, test their throwing speed, learn about the speed of light and sound and test their air hockey skills with a robot.
Other favorites included the Boost! exhibit, which is all about healthy living and features plenty of activities for kids who need to move their bodies. The kids in our group enjoyed an exhibit where a touchscreen allowed them to write their own music that was played by percussion instruments; have a computer determine their height; and have their bodies scanned to see if they're doing yoga positions correctly.
And there's the Dome, which shows live astronomy presentations and other movies on a giant screen. We caught "Planet Nine," which is all about the search for a new ninth planet. During the show, the two-year-old in our group hung out with his mom in a special space nearby for younger children and had a blast.
Tickets start at $13.50 for kids ages 4 to 12 and $14.50 for adults. Add $4 for a show in the Dome. We spent about four hours there. We didn't have time for it, but the Children's Museum of Richmond is right next door.
Richmond Flying Squirrels
The Richmond Flying Squirrels are a minor league baseball team and Double-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants. Just like just about any minor league game, there's plenty for kids here. Before the game, kids in our crew were able to get programs and a baseball mitt signed by several players. They also got pictures with mascots Nutzy and Nutasha. In the concourse, they can try throwing balls or shooting hoops in a small game area. And, of course, there's the baseball. Tickets start at $12. The games often include giveaways and other fun activities for kids.
By far, my favorite part of our trip to Richmond was exploring Maymont, a stunning property that includes a giant garden, beautiful mansion and, for kids, a nature center and farm, where they can feed various farm animals. The estate was home to James and Sallie Dooley, who lived on the property from 1893 to 1925. Today, the 100 acres is open to the public.
We started in the nature center where the focus is on animals who live on the land and in the waters of the James River and Chesapeake Bay. That includes alligators, crabs, fish, frogs, turtles, seahorses and North American river otters. Exhibits tell more about the different animals and their habitats. Regular programs are offered on the weekends. Admission to the nature center is $4 for ages 13 to 59 and $3 for kids ages 4 to 12. It's free for kids under 4.
From there, we wandered around the gardens, stopping for a shaved ice treat along the way. The Japanese Garden, with its stepping stones, are a must. You can actually walk across the stones. But our kids just enjoyed running around the vast expanse of green lawn.
From there, we toured the 12,000-square-foot, 33-room mansion. The boys in our group sat this one out, but the girls loved wandering through the rooms and learning a bit about the furniture and accessories, which are mostly original to the house. The highlight: Sallie Dooley's swan bed. Tours upstairs are guided. A $5 donation is suggested. But it's free to tour the "belowstairs" area, which offers a fascinating look at the many people who cared for the house, the estate and the Dooleys.
Finally, after a bit of walking, we made it to the farm. Here, for about 50 cents, you can buy feed to give to the goats, sheep and other animals on site.
Take a Drive
Downtown Richmond is full of beautiful buildings and lots of history. We spent an hour, weaving in and around downtown streets, to see the Virginia State Capital, Monumental Church, Monument Avenue, the Jefferson Hotel and more. Richmond's Liberty Trail includes lots of great sites.
American Civil War Museum
There's lots of Civil War history in Richmond. After all, it was the capital of the Confederacy. The American Civil War Museum covers it in three separate locations. We visited the Historic Tregedar site, which featured lots of touchscreen activities and some hands-on exhibits for kids, including a dress up area. I also recommend going next door to the National Park Services' Tregedar Iron Works, which was one of the largest foundries in the nation and one of the reasons why Richmond became the Confederate capital.
It's free to see the National Park Services' exhibits. Admission to the American Civil War Museum starts at $10.
Food is a big deal in my family. And it's a big deal in Richmond. We had a busy schedule and a variety of palates to cater to, but we had a great meal at Peter Chang Cafe, including some melt in your mouth scallion bubble pancakes. Another don't miss: Gelati Celesti, which specializes in delicious homemade ice cream.
I feel like I just scratched the surface of Richmond on our visit there. Luckily, with my sister and nephews nearby and everything we haven't seen, there are lots of reasons to go back.
If you go, check out Richmond Region Tourism to learn more about hotels, restaurants and other activities.
And, for more road trips from Raleigh, check out our Road Trip page.