It’s time for the usual fall rituals, everything from leaf peeping to pumpkin picking. While many people follow the traditional pilgrimage along the Blue Ridge Mountains, you may want to steer your family off the beaten path and make an October jaunt to Fredericksburg.
This fun-filled destination offers everything from Virginia wineries and seasonal festivals to unique restaurants and a bustling arts scene. Fredericksburg’s downtown area has more than 20 local galleries and artist studios, most of which are within walking distance of each other. LibertyTown Arts Workshop, for example, has up to 40 local artists working in a variety of mediums. The city also offers a gallery walk on the first Friday of each month with artist receptions and extended hours at most downtown galleries.
Many families like to visit Gari Melchers Home and Studio at Belmont on Washington Street. Melchers was an American Impressionist painter. His home and studio, now a museum, appear as they did in the 1920s during his career. The 27-acre property also has formal gardens and wooded hiking trails. On the last Sunday of each month, visitors can participate in a guided walk with a Virginia master naturalist.
Although history doesn’t have to be the focal point of a family visit to Fredericksburg, there are a number of fun stops for kids. One of the most interesting attractions is the Hugh Mercer Apothecary Shop. Dr. Mercer, who was a friend of George Washington, served the citizens of Fredericksburg. The restored eighteenth century shop offers a completely manageable piece of living history for families. Costumed interpreters talk to visitors about Colonial medicinal treatments such as using snakeroot to cure a lady’s hysteria. Moms and dads will love that one. And most kids will get a kick out of seeing the leeches housed in one of the pharmacy’s jars.
Another popular stop is Rising Sun Tavern just a block away. A tavern museum, Rising Sun was built around 1760. Here, costumed interpreters (tavern wenches in this case) will entertain you with stories about tavern life. You’ll even learn how certain phrases like “mind your Ps and Qs” made their way into our language. Here’s a hint: It stems from the olden days when it was a way of keeping track of how many golden beverages a person had consumed.
One of the best ways to get an overview of the city is to take part in one of its unique tours, everything from horse drawn carriage outings to trolley excursions. Since October is the most ghoulish month of the year, it’s the perfect time for The Ghosts of Fredericksburg tour. Costumed guides take you on a 90-minute candlelight stroll where you are likely to come across ghostly footprints, a phantom harpist, and a mysterious floating glow.
One of the city’s newest offerings is a Segway tour that rolls by Carl’s Frozen Custard, established in 1947. The legendary establishment features three classic flavors – vanilla, chocolate and strawberry – churned in period-perfect 120-gallon Electro Freeze ice cream machines. Carl’s is a landmark for locals who start stocking up on the creamy delicacy in the fall because they know that Carl’s will be closed from Thanksgiving weekend to Valentine’s weekend.
When it comes to restaurants, Fredericksburg has lots to choose from including Goolricks Pharmacy in the historic district. The family-friendly restaurant is one of the longest continually running soda fountain and pharmacy combinations in the country. You’ll find everything from egg salad and grilled cheese to homemade cherry Cokes and to-die-for malts.
Another unique eatery is Poppy Hill Tuscan Kitchen, also in the historic district. The restaurant was named one of the top ten farm-to-table restaurants in the country by Bon Appétit magazine. The menu changes seasonally and each dish is made from scratch. Even though you’ll find white tablecloths, the atmosphere is casual.
Of course when you think of good food, you also think of good wine. At least you will during the Fredericksburg Area Wine Festival on October 8 and 9. Held on the banks of the Rappahannock River, the festival features eight wineries, a beer garden, food, and entertainment.
Since October is Virginia Wine Month you may want to visit the four wineries near Fredericksburg. All of the wineries are at least a 20-minute drive from the historic area.
The sprawling Mediterranean-style Potomac Point Winery in Stafford produces several vintages including Richland Reserve Voignier and Petit Verdot. Rated one of the top ten wineries in Virginia by the Virginia Wine Festival, Potomac Point holds fall harvest tours through November 7. The tours give you a firsthand look at how grapes are crushed. You’ll also learn how wine is made. The winery will kick off Virginia Wine Month with a Harvest Fest October 1. The event offers an afternoon of family fun with everything from face painting and a moon-bounce to grape stomping and musical performances.
The small family-owned Mattaponi Winery in Spotsylvania County has been producing wines for more than 20 years. When you visit, take notice of the names of the wines such as Wabamin, Miskwamin, and Makadewamin. They reflect the area’s Native American history.
The Hartwood Winery in Stafford, which produces award-winning wines such as Rappahannock White, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc, holds a Harvest Festival with wine tastings, live music, hayrides, pony rides, games and tours. Families can also enjoy scarecrow making and pumpkin painting.
The intimate Lake Anna Winery features its award-winning wines during Oktoberfest and its Haunting Halloween Madness event. The evening includes pumpkin carving, marshmallow roasting, costumes and dancing.
The winery is not far from Belvedere Plantation, a 64-acre heritage farm built in the 1760s. The plantation holds an annual Fall Festival each weekend in October where you’ll find hayrides, bonfires, a cornfield maze, a zip line, and a pumpkin patch, as well as Friday night square dancing.
For a truly original autumnal adventure, check out The Fall Colors Float down the Rappahannock River on October 15. You’ll get the chance to paddle down the river in a canoe during one of the most beautiful times of the year. And, you and the whole family will get a brand new perspective on at those changing leaves.