Road Tripping to Richmond, VA
If you had 48 hours to spend in Richmond, how would you spend it?
We recently kicked off our summer travel with a road trip down to Richmond, VA where we spent a fun, whirlwind 48 hours exploring the local sites, food and family-friendly fun. While it’s often just the four of us, this time we decided to bring our golden, Shadow, along for the ride! Yes, it may have changed our approach a bit, but it was definitely worth it.
We put together a video to give you a quick overview of our trip, but for those that want the nitty-gritty details of where we went and what we recommend, keep reading after you give it a peek!
Arriving in Virginia
Road tripping can be hit or miss in our opinions. Some families prefer to drive everywhere (who are you crazy people?! lol), some drives are better than others and sometimes you barely make it to your destination in time to claw your way out of the car before you lose what’s left of your mind. While flying is always our first choice (we love to fly), we’ve found that occasionally we enjoy driving–or at least we think we do until we hit the 10th hour and we start questioning every decision we’ve ever made!
A word to the wise: Don’t assume that just because everyone posts happy road trip selfies that they’re really feeling that fabulous the entire time. A road trip is a lot like a marriage–lots of bumps, some great moments along the way and plenty of unpredictability.
The drive down to Richmond was around 13 hours with some crazy weather (since when do we get monsoons on the east coast?!) and pit stops–5 bladders in one car, enough said! We left around 7am and got to the hotel at about 8pm–a decent amount of time in the car with two boys, a dog and two adults. We’ve done longer (wait until you hear about our trek up the east coast–stay tuned!), but generally once you hit over 8-10 hours we find it’s all the same–loooooooong. Everyone did well though, thank goodness.
We realized once we crossed the Virginia border that getting to Richmond a little later than we’d hoped meant we had to grab dinner along the way. I always create a semi-loose itinerary for us for every trip (classic type-A amplified by the fact I’m surrounded by ADHD disorganization 24/7), but we decided to change course a bit to grab dinner on our way to the hotel from the restaurant we’d originally planned to hit up. That way we wouldn’t have to check in only to immediately turn back around, get the car from valet and get dinner. I think we all would have foregone dinner at that point!
Night 1 Dinner: Kokonut Grille Richmond, VA
Kokonut Grille came up during my pre-trip research as a fantastic Malaysian restaurant in Richmond (an added bonus was its proximity to our hotel). For those of you that don’t know any of our story, Patrick grew up in Indonesia, so any opportunity for a taste of “home” is always appreciated.
He was pleasantly surprised to see that it wasn’t an Americanized sham of a restaurant, but rather far more authentic than either of us anticipated. Believe it or not, there were real Malaysian cooks in the kitchen!
We ordered a few dishes to bring back to the hotel to eat family-style in our room. For the boys and me, everything was delicious and not totally unfamiliar given my own Asian background. For Patrick, it was a savory trip down memory lane. Everything from the peanut sauce to the nasi goreng was very reminiscent of his childhood. Dinner 1 = Success!
|Chicken satay with Patrick’s beloved peanut sauce.|
|Chicken curry, macaroni and coconut rice.|
|Nasi goreng (with chicken) with a fried egg.|
Night 1 Sleep: The Jefferson
We’ve done a lengthy review on our experience at The Jefferson, but for those that haven’t read it yet, we had an amazing time! The hotel was beyond pet-friendly, the service was excellent and we really enjoyed the historic elegance of the hotel, overall. Read our full review in our previous post if you want to know more!
|We spent the rest of the night relaxing and getting some beauty sleep before our big day exploring Richmond!|
Day 2 Breakfast: The Lab by Alchemy Coffee & The Urban Farmhouse Market & Cafe
Our first morning in Richmond, we really wanted to check out some local third-wave coffee spots (for those that haven’t followed us for a while, we’re total coffee lovers). They say America runs on Dunkin’s, but we’re fueled by responsibly-sourced, single-origin, fresh-roasted, small-batch lattes. Not as catchy? Perhaps, but definitely far more delicious in our opinions!
One of the highest rated third-wave coffee shops in Richmond on multiple lists I analyzed was The Lab by Alchemy Coffee. Normally when we cross-reference reputable best-of lists with third-party review sites we find high ratings to be accurate (I mentioned we take our coffee seriously, right?). We’re sad to say, Alchemy was a miss for us. Not only did they not offer any decaf coffee (my poor heart cannot tolerate regular), but the coffee Patrick got and the cold chai I ended up getting were not great. They weren’t horrendous, but definitely not on-par with some of the exceptional cafes we’ve been to during our travels (or ones we frequent back at home). Perhaps it was an off day or perhaps we’re just in the minority on this one, but we personally can’t recommend them.
I did end up grabbing a smoothie from The Urban Farmhouse Market & Cafe nearby (our poor golden was so anxious around all the large box trucks passing by, by that point that we didn’t stop to snap any pics here, sorry guys!) and it was good–no sugar-added and made with almond milk, greek yogurt and fresh fruit. They also had a couple of gluten-free snacks, which was nice. I would recommend giving them a try if nearby.
|Sorry, The Lab, we wanted to love you, but it just wasn’t meant to be!|
Day 2 Morning: Belle Isle
We (and by “we” I mean me researching then sending links to Patrick) spent a lot of time pre-trip looking into the most pet-friendly and family-friendly sites in Richmond. If you want to know how dog-friendly a city is, just bring your pooch along on your next trip and you’ll learn really fast! Belle Isle consistently came up on every must-see list we read through and given the fact dogs were allowed on-leash and it promised some really unique places to explore it made it to the top of our list.
We’re happy to report that it didn’t disappoint! From the ruins of old factories to beautiful, tree-covered trails, Belle Isle was a perfect (high-calorie burning) way to spent the morning. Keep in mind, Belle Isle had a very mixed history and not all of it was good. The former site of a POW camp for Union soldiers, multiple factories, a village and an original point of exploration for Captain John Smith, it had quite the interesting story.
Parking was a cinch, but we got there around 9 am on a weekday at the very beginning of June. We’ve read it fills up quickly (and it did) as the day progresses, especially during the summer, which we found to be true by the time we returned to our car.
I had originally read that Belle Isle was accessed by a long suspension footbridge (for pedestrians and bicyclists) under a very large bridge. Some commenters on different sites noted how much it moved and how anxious it made them. Generally, Patrick and I are good with situations like that as long as we know things are safe, but the boys can be hit or miss. Thankfully, the boys didn’t bat an eye and none of us felt like the bridge was in any way questionable. Honestly, it didn’t even really move that much–we’ve all been in far more eyebrow-raising situations in the past. For someone with heights, however, you may want to do some extra research (or watch our video above) to see just how high it floats above the James River.
The view from the suspension bridge was amazing. You could see the Richmond skyline from one side and get a cool view of the James River on the other.
On another note, we were surprised by how muddy the James River was! The boys thought it looked like the chocolate river in Willy Wonka’s factory–we’re big Roald Dahl fans here. I won’t tell you what Patrick and I thought it looked like… 😉
|Checking out the Richmond skyline from the suspension bridge!|
|As you can see, it’s a fairly long bridge.|
|View to the right on the way to Belle Isle from the suspension bridge.|
We chose to take the trail that walked around the outskirts of the entire island, which took us about 1.5-2 hours with lots of stops for photos, exploration, etc. There were bathrooms by the parking lot and some along the way, but this germaphobe family made sure we didn’t need to use them. We’ve read they’re not the most fantastic, but in a pinch, when you’ve gotta go (and you absolutely cannot hold it and don’t want to do damage to your body), you gotta go.
We saw everything from old ruins to a small pond tucked away in the middle of the island. It was a really great time and not a single, “I’m bored!” was heard from the youngest!
|Lots of remnants of old structures throughout the island.|
|Learning about the varied history of Belle Isle–some good, some bad.|
|The James had incredibly fast-moving rapids around one side of the island in particular.|
|The boys spotted this little tail-less guy munching on some lunch by the river!|
|Our oldest has always been a climber, so he was very excited to find footholds on some cliff surfaces.|
|Our youngest gave it a try, too!|
|Must scale all the rocks!|
|We found a pond in the middle of the woods filled with plenty of tadpoles!|
|The boys were totally enthralled with this Headgate Cleaner that was used to keep logs and things out of the water for the hydroelectric plant.|
|I loved this gear so much that I spent about 10 minutes trying to get a decent photo despite the shadows and shifting light. Isn’t it cool?|
|Happily plugging along ahead.|
|The only way to get shots of this old plant was to walk along a somewhat narrow, elevated, railing-less wall. It was worth it, even with my youngest clinging to me while also balancing my DSLR!|
|The boys were beyond amused that this wall was standing erect with nothing behind it!|
|So much fun to photograph!|
|This old house somehow managed to withstand quite a number of years with the help of some bracing. It had actually had dirt piled up really high along one side, which had since been removed.|
|We may come from colonial Massachusetts, but the boys were still shocked by the short would-be ceiling height!|
Day 2 Lunch: Lunch Restaurant
After a couple hours of walking in the 90+ degree sun, we were all famished! We ran back to the hotel, changed out of our sweaty clothes and drove over to Lunch and Supper–one of the most interestingly confusing dining situations we’ve recently come across.
Lunch and Supper were basically two sides of the same coin. Kind of the same restaurant (adjacent, but separate), but you could only order from one at a time from their separate menus. We ordered from Lunch, accidentally tried to pick up from Supper and in the end, were glad we gave it a try!
Aside from the obvious denotation of their names in regards to their differing menus, Lunch also offered breakfast in addition to lunch-type fare (because it wasn’t confusing enough already!).
One of the reasons we were drawn to Lunch was because they offered some gluten-free options including their take on breakfast bowls! Just a heads-up, many of the places we looked into only offered sandwiches, biscuits, pasta,
etc. for lunch and strangely we found a handful of the ones we were interested in
weren’t open on Mondays, which further limited our choices. Lunch ended up being a great choice, however!
Both boys got pressed breakfast sandwiches while Patrick and I got breakfast bowls with pulled pork on them. I expected the pulled pork to be heavy with barbecue sauce (which I’m personally not a huge fan of), but it really wasn’t heavy at all! Our breakfast bowls came with southern style sausage gravy (not something we see up north where we’re from) that wasn’t overly peppery (which for us was a plus) and not super strong flavor-wise, but it worked with the breakfast bowls!
|Bacon, egg and cheese pressed breakfast sandwich.|
|Breakfast bowl with pulled pork, bacon, eggs, potatoes, cheese and southern-style gravy.|
Day 2 Afternoon: Carytown
My sister went to college in Richmond, so we consulted her and a bunch of other resources while planning our trip. Carytown was a suggestion that popped up in everything we read, which my sister affirmed was a must!
For those unfamiliar with Carytown, it was basically a cluster of quaint shops and restaurants in one condensed area. While we found that many of the stores weren’t dog-friendly, we found that walking up and down the street was easy-breezy with our golden. Keep in mind, bringing a dog may limit your ability to eat and shop in certain places unless you have someone that can stand with your pup while you pop in.
Overall, a super cute and delicious experience! Some of the highlights for us included:
Day 2 Dinner: Mellow Mushroom
Mellow Mushroom was one of those chains we don’t have where we’re from, but that we’d heard of multiple times before (including a sparkling review from my sister), so we decided to give them a try for dinner since one of their locations was in Carytown. We didn’t dine in the restaurant since we had our golden with us, but ended up bringing food back to the hotel with us when we were done exploring Carytown.
Mellow Mushroom offered a lot of options and thankfully some of them were gluten-free! While they had a separate gluten-free pizza menu, they also allowed us to choose one of the regular pizzas and just put it on a gluten-free crust. While they couldn’t guarantee cross-contamination when we did this (not a good option for those that are hyper-sensitive), my allergy tends to be fairly okay as long as the contamination isn’t super heavy. I didn’t have any issues with what I ordered, though I’d strongly recommend that anyone with a wheat allergy or who is Celiac order specifically off the gluten-free menu unless he/she knows that possible contamination won’t be an issue.
The boys got a cheese pizza and some bread twists. All of our food came with apple slices, which was awesome (yay, fruit!).
Really yummy, definitely give them a shot.
|Mellow Mushroom, huh? 😉|
|We decided to splurge for dinner after a full day of nothing but walking, so we ordered Red Skin Potato Pie on a gluten-free crust for Patrick and I!|
Day 2 Sleep: The Jefferson
We spent our second night at The Jefferson and had another great night’s sleep! We also did a bit more exploring in the hotel and got some great shots. Read our full review in our previous post if you want to know more!
Morning 3: Brewer’s Cafe
On morning 2 we spent our last few hours in Richmond enjoying what was left of our time, however, a good cup of coffee was high on the list of priorities! We decided to roll the dice on another third-wave cafe that had made it to the top of many best-of lists we’d read and were so thankful we did!
Brewer’s Cafe was a family-owned cafe (literally, the family owned and operated the cafe down to the youngest little guy who was so darn adorable!) that offered exceptional coffee, pastries, light fare, etc. The vibe was modern, but chill, and the coffee was great! They took such care in brewing amazing coffee that they almost didn’t want to put out any decaf because at one point they were unhappy with the initial cup they brewed for me (keep in mind, they didn’t even serve it to me, they rebrewed immediately without forcing me to give it a try). They did end up brewing a second cup and oh my gosh was it delicious! Patrick and I each tend to get the same thing no matter where we go, partially because it’s what we like and partially so we can fairly compare places we hit up–an iced or hot latte with cow milk for him and a decaf iced mocha latte with almond milk for me. So good! We also grabbed the boys one of Brewer’s famous, homemade oatmeal pies for the boys and they nom’d it down on our way back home.
Brewer’s gets a giant thumbs-up from us–really worth a stop if in the area (or even within a somewhat reasonable driving distance!).
|There’s A.J. Brewer behind the counter greeting customers and brewing a great cup of coffee!|
|Brewer’s Cafe, thank you so much again for such a fantastic latte! Really, it was just what we needed.|
Pit Stop: Flag Ponds Nature Park in Lusby, MD
We planned to make a pit stop at Flag Ponds Nature Park in Lusby, MD on our way home–famous for the fossils and shark teeth that supposedly wash up on the beach due to the eroding cliffs along this area of the coast on the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. We’re going to devote a separate post to our experience here, but you can see a bit of our time there in the video at the top of this post!
Stay tuned for that post because you may be interested to hear what we experienced.
Final Thoughts on Our Richmond, VA Roadtrip
Overall, this was a really enjoyable trip! To be totally honest, I don’t think our expectations were super high because we had never been to Richmond, hadn’t come across many folks that traveled there specifically for pleasure with younger kids, have additional challenges and needs due to the individuals in our family (we’re a complicated group!) and couldn’t get a super deep feel for what the city had to offer based on what we read. The ironic thing was, it was one of the more enjoyable trips we’d had this late spring/summer up to that point!
The Jefferson was fantastic, we were able to find a reasonable number of food spots that offered gluten-free options and the entire pace of our trip was somewhat relaxed (for us). We found that traveling around Richmond with our golden was fairly easy and that there were plenty of outdoor, dog-friendly things to do (at least during the summer).
Richmond was an interesting city. In some ways it felt small and in others it clearly didn’t. While Richmond was obviously a “college town” for the mere reason several notable colleges were located within its borders and quite close to our hotel, it was void of some of the typical things you see in many college towns, such as a slew of nothing but cheap chain restaurants coupled with young college kids partying til the wee hours of the morning. Yes, it was summer, but there was clearly more to Richmond than it’s school-year residents. The mere fact it wasn’t a ghost town during the summer was proof enough it had plenty of offer whether or not school was in session.
Richmond was definitely more a horizontal than vertical city. Buildings didn’t stretch so far overhead and that we couldn’t see the sky beyond them for the most part, yet the city was quite expansive area-wise. Much like our beloved Boston, Richmond had a very discernible, historic richness sprinkled throughout the city. We always appreciate cities that offer a refreshingly green oasis amid the urban bustle (we’re New Englanders, we basically suffocate without some trees in sight!)–Belle Isle was a total win in that department! We didn’t come across any particularly hairy situations that made us feel that the city wasn’t safe (for a city), though we likely didn’t travel through any unsavory areas simply because our travel was based on rooting out family-friendly activities and dining.
We are somewhat surprised to say (I hope you don’t take that offensively, Richmond natives!) we’re really happy to recommend Richmond, VA as a great family-friendly travel destination based on our experience. While we shied away from some of the more stereotypical attractions such popular Civil War-related museums (partially because we traveled with our golden and partially because it wasn’t the focus of our travel), we found there was enough to do, see and eat to keep our big and little ADHDers interested and engaged.
Thanks again for a great trip, Richmond! You have some new fans in us. <3
Note: Our stay at The Jefferson was hosted/media rates were extended, however, the rest of our trip was entirely paid for by us–including dining, shopping, travel, etc. All opinions are our own.