Hotspots in Norfolk, VA
It's fitting that a beach town should boast many opportunities to learn about life under the sea. At the Virginia Aquarium, you'll find rays, harbor seals, loggerhead turtles, river otters, sand tiger sharks and komodo dragons -- 800,000 gallons of aquariums in all. There's also a touch pool where you can pet rays and starfish. Their 300 hands-on exhibits teach about habitats like a Malaysian peat swamp, Red Sea, and volcanic islands. You can watch a 3-D IMAX movie in their theater, but you might be too busy watching the shark tank and trying to befriend the walruses. Bring the family, and you'll want to spend the whole day here.
Maybe you don't find televised baseball games all that thrilling, but anyone can enjoy watching a game live, up close and personal. So minor league baseball is a great entertainment option. The triple-A affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles, the Tides has been in existence since 1961 and has won the Governor's Cup five times. Buying a seat to watch them play at Harbor Park is affordable (about $10 to $14), and the local light rail stops there. An evening at the ballpark is a great experience, offering summer air, the smell of popcorn and peanuts, funny antics by the mascots, oversized beers, and the chance for kids to catch a foul ball.
Offering one of Chesapeake Bay's few ocean views, Norfolk's eight miles of beach are well-maintained and free to visit. Go for a sail or kayak (there are plenty of spots to rent equipment), a summertime swim, or a picnic in one of their pavilions. This is a calm, laid-back beach with few tourists where kids can swim and play without danger--since it's on the beach, there are no big waves. Norfolk's Town Point Park, the site of the annual Harborfest, overlooks it. Locals recommend sticking to East Beach due to its safer vibe.
Want to get kids interested in the environment? Try showing them this unusual example of recycling. A 165 acre park constructed by compacting a landfill's worth of junk, the mini-mountain is now an idyllic spot for walking, picnics, volleyball, and even skateboard stunts – its skate park has been visited by the likes of Tony Hawk. Take little ones to the Kids' Cove playground, or let them fly kites on the breezy top of the hill. And their Water Wise demonstration garden demonstrates eco-friendly “xeriscaping,” a resource-light way to grow plants.
Museum outings with young kids can be difficult—but not when the exhibits are designed for growing minds. With great hands-on exhibits like an interactive boat, a life-sized house, a model farm that teaches how food gets made, and the chance to play inside a human-size bubbles, It will keep keeds age 1 to 11 enthralled. Visitors can also pretend to work as a firefighter, police officer, bus driver and more. A huge, two-story space, it can provide families with hours of fun. A favorite is the train room, which lets kids play with an awesome electric train setup. Whether you're trying to stimulate kids' imaginations or just seeking a rainy-day activity, this is the perfect choice.
A trip to the zoo can't compet with the Living Museum. This all-inclusive institution is part aviary, part aquarium, part botanical garden and part planetarium. Instead of seeing animals in caged enclosures, you'll view them in realistic local environments, including model cosatal planes, Appalachian coves, swamps and caves. Their tanks display fish, alligators and turtles. Outdoors, tour an aviary, butterfly garden, and 3/4 mile boardwalk trail that lets you watch bobcats, river otters, red wolves and more. There's even a touch tank with horshoes and starfish, and more. It's an awesome experience that should entertain anyone, from adults to toddlers.
While D.C.'s air and Space Museum may be more famous, Virginia's version is located in the birthplace of the U.S. space program. And this museum's awe-inspiring glass structure is a good indicator of the wonderos that await inside. It features intereactive exhibits that let you launch a rocket, drive a mars rover or a lunar module, simulate piliting a shuttle or commercial jet, and try on wings to learn about flight. Displays include original aircraft from the beginnings of flight to the age of space exploration: It's home to the original Apollo 12 command module. And if you're not wowed yet, take in an IMAX movie.
While zoos usually get more attention as a kid-pleasing daytrip, the world of plants can be equally fascinating. Founded in 1938, this 155-acre shrine to all things botanical includes gardens dedicated to desert plants, herbs, medicinal plants, ferns and conifers, as well as a Japanese garden and the Bicentennial rose garden, with over 3,000 rosebushes. The site's pools, streams and wonderful fragrances relieve stress, and kids will be thrilled by the 2-acre butterfly garden. It's a great place for a picnic -- and might make you want to plant some seeds in your own back yard.
You don't need to be a naval history buff to enjoy a visit to Nauticus-- with hands-on exhibits, wide-screen high-definition films, theaters with live actors, shark touch, and national-caliber traveling exhibits, it's enough to get anyone interested in maritime adventures. Its displays aren't the ordinary museum exhibits. They let you simulate life on a space station, a submarine (where you control a robotic arm to collect artifacts off the sea bed), and type out morse code. Watch high-definition films on their 50-24 foot screen. Check out Horseshoe Crab Cove, their simulated tidepool. Nauticus is also home to the Battleship Wisconson, a real World War II Navy battleship that you can explore.