Leah O'Connell

families, local

Things to do in Charlottesville with kids

I'm Leah!

I’m obsessed with stories of family, creativity, and simple joys.  A nostalgia nerd, educator, wife, and mom of 3, I believe life’s most fun when you’re dreaming big and having kitchen dance parties. 

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There are so many adventurous and beautiful things to do in Charlottesville with kids.

Through my years living here, I’ve had the privilege of photographing many families from out of town – whether visiting their old Alma Mater at UVA or gathering for a family reunion, I’ve gotten to meet and work with families from Lynchburg, Harrisonburg, and Richmond, and as far as New York, Hawaii, Canada, London, and Australia.

However people find their way to Charlottesville VA, I don’t think I’m biased when I say it’s just the best.

It’s quaint and bustling, joining a funky downtown vibe to scenic rivers against the blue ridge mountains.

Walnut creek park

Over the years, my family has discovered that many of our favorite things to do aren’t necessarily the same as what the “best of” lists might recommend.

Still, they are unapologetically our honest tried-and-true activities for simple, manageable things to do in Charlottesville with kids and I want to share them with you!

photo from one of my fall family sessions at Chiles Peach Orchard

Food

Coffee Shops + Treats

The Workshop in Woolen Mills – online, this looks like a wine shop. But in person and during the day, it’s a tucked away coffee shop with both a spacious patio and large indoor space. Plus, their muffins are magnificent. It’s positioned on the edge of some gorgeous trails, bridges and a little creek which may for fun roaming and playing space to tack onto either end of your outing.

Found Market – This spot is just THE CUTEST atmosphere with lots of savory breakfast/brunch options, seating indoor and out, and easy parking.

Duck Donuts – we love grabbing some fun donuts and taking them to the courtyard directly across from it’s spot in Stonefield plaza to picnic and kick a soccer ball around or throw a frisbee.

Bowerbird bakeshop – If you’re a macaroon fan, this is your JAM. It’s more of a take-out place because there’s not a lot of seating, but a great idea for pick-up treats and picnics.

Lunch

Iron Paffles – One of our FAVORITE spots that kids and adults alike will become obsessed with. It’s simple and delicious with a select menu of gluten free and vegan options (my favorite is the TBALT!), and quick ordering. It’s a tiny little place, so most often, we’ll order ahead for pickup and either bring it home or walk down to the Pavillion or IX Park to picnic.

Rev Soup – For soups, salads, and sammies, this is the BEST. Unique combos and delicious local ingredients, with a quaint atmosphere and quick ordering. They don’t have outdoor seating, but do have indoor tables in a casual environment on the downtown mall.

Brazo’s Taco’s – YUM. Basically can’t go wrong with anything here. Located in IX park or Barracks Plaza with lots of easy picnic-table outdoor seating and a large, grassy courtyard nearby. This is a great place to gather and play for wiggly kiddos.

Dinner

Three Notched – Fun atmosphere + delicious food + beer flights! The restaurant is spacious with lots of indoor and outdoor seating and the patio has some toys and yard games that kids can engage with while waiting!

Monsoon Siam – Our favorite local thai place with the most adorable atmosphere and a lovely patio. A better option for kids who are a little older OR take out/delivery/date night 🙂

Lampo – Fancy shmancy pizzas that are so divine and lovely that’s a step up from casual night. Limited seating, so call ahead if you plan on dining there, or order for take-out to your local Air B&B

Burger Bach – New Zealand inspired burgers and french fries with sauces that are to die for ; also located in the Stonefield plaza, which makes for an easy run-around space for kids while waiting on dinner to arrive

Outdoors / Active

Parks

Chris Greene Lake – We love this spot for woodsy morning walks and especially the lake-front dog park to take our wild Australian Shepherd for a swim! In the summer, there’s also a beach that’s open to the public to swim and docks to launch kayaks and canoes.

Mint Springs – another lake-front park in Crozet with mountain views for a family-friendly walk and playground time

Walnut Creek Park – we LOVE hiking around these trails with beautiful mountain views and especially visiting the beach in the summer!

Wildrock – an outdoor play paradise including a stuffed animal wildlife rescue station, hobbit house, wading stream and outdoor kitchen, natural climbing structures, trails and more. Pack food and spend a whole morning here – kids and adults will just breathe in the fun and creativity of nature. Make a reservation online before going!

Greenleaf Park + Splashpad – super simple and small neighborhood park, but of all the parks around here, this one tends to be our favorite for both my 5 year old and 1 year old. It’s probably best for kids under 7ish. In the summer, the splashpad is an added bonus on hot days!

Beaver Creek – a perfect launch spot that’s easily accessible for paddleboards/kayaks and a gorgeous view.

Beach day at Walnut Creek
mornings at Chris Green Lake Dog Park
snapshots of little adventures on the water at Beaver Creek
Wildrock in the fall
Chris Greene Lake beach in summer

Hikes + Walks

Humpback rock – This is a tougher hike that’s about 4 miles from the base but doable for a 1/2 day adventure with a gorgeous view and great for older kids or tiny ones that you can throw in a pack.

Sugar Hollow – A shady hike with waterfalls and pools to play in!

Ivy Creek – Super walkable trails for tiny ones with bridges and streams for splashing and adventuring. They also have a large barn where you can sometimes find events and nature exhibits taking place. (It’s also one of my favorite outdoor locations for family sessions!)

Riverview Park – Our go-to walking or jogging trail that’s paved, so easy to manage with a stroller or bikes. Parallel to the Rivanna river, it’s a lovely view the whole way along, is dog-friendly, and has easy parking with a fun playground, too – just an easy place to exercise that everybody seems to enjoy.

Monticello Trail – The climbing log along the way is a kid favorite and the windy paved paths make for a lovely, stroller-accessible walk that all ages can manage! (If you go all the way to the top, you’ll find your way at Carter’s Mountain orchard where you can grab a cider and enjoy the view!)

Shenandoah National Park – If you’re up for a drive and a view, there are several entrances to the national park 30mins-90mins from Charlottesville. There are tons of pull-off spots to watch the sunset or trails to go for a good hike.

Playing in the woods at Ivy Creek
summer session at Ivy Creek

Orchards / farms

Critzer’s Farm / Carter’s Mountain / Chile’s Peach Orchard : all great spots for picking seasonal fruit, enjoying a local beer, cider, or glass of wine, and running around on a pretty day.

blueberry picking chiles orchard
Blueberry picking at Chiles Orchard – sometimes you get lucky and catch a train passing through!

Rainy Days

Firefly – Of course I have to plug my name twin! This is a restaurant and game room, so it’s great for a casual burger and fries or table apps to split while you play fun, classic games like ski ball, pool, or a slew of pinball machines.

Monticello – Ok, yes, this is top notch on a pretty day when you can really enjoy the views, but there’s so much of the tours that are inside the home of Thomas Jefferson, covered patios for eating, and a discovery center especially for kids. They do a fantastic job of storytelling and making history come alive, and definitely worth a stop for families of all ages.

Discovery Museum – SUCH a fun spot for kids to explore, learn, and pretend, but especially for ages 2-7ish.

RockyTop – Best for older kids with a wild hair but all ages are permitted! This indoor climbing gym has options for all experience levels for a fun and adventurous activity.

Bounce, Play, & Create– Basically the bouncy house version of an amusement park. But they also have a creation station for building, painting on glass walls, and more. You can also rent bounce houses here for parties, gatherings, reunions, etc.

rainy day activities in Charlottesville, VA for toddlers and preschoolers
The hospital station at Charlottesville’s Discovery Museum
activities in charlottesville va with kids
Bounce and Play

Winning Combos | Our favorite half day dates with kids in Charlottesville

These are some of our favorite little half-day adventures or outings that only take a couple of hours so you can easily plan them around nap times and other activities.

  • Ice cream and the petting zoo at Yoder’s in Madison
  • Pack snacks and walk to the river at Ivy Creek to splash and picnic
  • Polo at King Family Vineyards – every Sunday from Memorial Day through mid-October starting at 10am / bring a tent, some sandwiches (we love this little place just outside of the vineyard!) and a blanket and spend the whole afternoon. Throw some bubbles and a ball in a bag for the kids to run around with on the sidelines – they’ll love watching the horses run!
  • Friday nights at Chisholm Vineyards + Adventure Farms / food trucks and live music with a beatiful view. Lots of open space for kids to run around a play + tables and chairs to gather.
  • Lunch at Brazos and play around at IX Art Park
  • Discovery Museum + Iron Paffles at the Pavilion – the pavilion is usually empty during the day so it’s a great place to take pick-up food where you can sit on the low wall to eat, but also let kids run around with plenty of space and shade on hot days.
  • Smoothies from The Juice Laundry or legendary bagels at Bodo’s and a stroll around UVA grounds!
polo at king family vineyards, things to do in charlottesville with kids
polo at king family vineyards
fall on grounds at UVA

Whether you’re local to Charlottesville and looking for some fun new ideas or just visiting from out of town, there is so much to do as a family (even with toddlers and babies!) while still keeping things simple and stress-free.

Have a blast exploring all the fun things to do in Charlottesville with kids!

Interested in making family photos part to celebrate your family time together? Whether we’re at home or out and about, we’ll make image that feel wild and true. Reach out here to get the ball rolling.

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Playful family photos at Chiles Peach Orchard

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Hi, I'm Leah.
Family photographer, writer, educator.

I’m  one of the first to meet your newborn baby, the one who won't judge your clothes baskets and unmade beds, and the one who can capture the way your husband looks at you with a twinkle in his eye after 12 years of marriage. I believe in honoring people and telling stories.

I believe art has the power to light up the world in dark places, starting at home.