Virginia is the place where America began, and it was in this state that the first Thanksgiving was actually held, rather than in Massachusetts. From its rich Colonial history to its modern high-tech high rises, Virginia welcomes visitors with vacation destinations that set the heart fluttering and send vacationing professionals, moms and dads, and retired seniors alike home with unforgettable Virginia vacation rental experiences to remember for a lifetime.
1. Charles City
When your family stays at a vacation rental in Charles City, you’re spending the holiday season at Ground Zero for Thanksgiving festivities. For weeks leading up to the holiday, the whole town sets out decorations and gears up for the inevitable flood of visitors. Learn about the real history of Thanksgiving at Berkeley Plantation, where event organizers stage tours of the 1726-era Manor House, traditional Native American dances, local arts and crafts, as well as booths run by jewelry vendors. Guests who stick around for the afternoon shows can enjoy choral music, a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, and a live recreation of the historic landing of Capt. Woodlief’s expedition, which is a big deal in these parts.
2. Newport News
Newport News is home to the Virginia Living Museum, which keeps a small flock of one tom and three female turkeys on the grounds for visitors to overfeed throughout the year. Once a year, however, the museum lives up to its moniker and chooses life for the resident gobblers by staging an official turkey pardoning with all of the solemn “tomfoolery” such events inspire. On the appointed day, at the gentlemanly hour of eleven-ish, a formally dressed and serious-looking member of the Newport News City Council arrives at the museum with a declaration from His Excellency, the Mayor, pardoning the tom and wishing him a long and healthy life. Approximately five hours later, the museum empties out as families go home to enjoy their own turkey feast.
However fun and relaxing they may be on the grand scale, family vacations during the holidays can turn into logistical challenges, which is what makes Thanksgiving dinner at Cooper’s Landing in Clarksville so appealing. Bring your own turkey in the morning to be professionally roasted by Landing staff, or leave the bird in your vacation rental freezer and enjoy the in-house sage turkey with cardamom stuffing, Coppola red zinfandel cranberry sauce, and a lavish dessert of mouth-watering Southern sweet potato pie.
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Vacation rentals in Bedford are in high demand, and it’s obvious why. This gorgeous small town, nestled between Otter Peaks and overlooking Abbott Lake, seems to be a single human outpost in a remote forest world. Here, surrounded by lush foliage in Technicolor, you and the family can tour the grounds of the storied Peaks of Otter Lodge, which celebrates Thanksgiving with a fully stocked bar, activities for the children, and a buffet that would put the Pilgrims to shame. Skip making the big dinner yourself, and instead take your pick of oven-roasted turkey, poached Faroe Island salmon, roast pork, and an exotic spread of sides that includes something called “Brussels sprout gratin.” After your meal, take a leisurely stroll through the adjacent woods before heading back to your car, and see if the squirrels are into your leftover stuffing, which the staff at the Lodge have thoughtfully boxed for you.
5. Glen Allen
Glen Allen is a cozy bedroom community that has spent the last hundred years hiding from the go-go New South capital of Richmond, which lurks a few miles to the south. Local attractions, such as the town’s many Revolutionary War, Civil War, and Colonial era memorials, dot the largely open landscape here, but Thanksgiving is when the town gets a chance to shine. Tourists who make it to their vacation rentals in Glen Allen the day before Thanksgiving can get a head start on the cooking by picking up super-fresh turkeys, fixings, trimmings, side dishes, main dishes, and ceramic dishes at Tom Leonard’s Farmer’s Market. Meet the farmers and elite turkey wranglers who brought your meal to market and go home with the freshest vegetables you’ve ever eaten for the day ahead.
The name “Shenandoah” resonates through American history like the sound of steel clashing on steel. Here, the Army of the Potomac came to grips with the Army of Northern Virginia, and the fate of America was decided over and over again. The National Park here is shot through by monuments, memorials, guided tours, and a history so omnipresent it seems to hang in the air, especially when the leaves turn and the frost starts to bite. The small town of Luray sits right in the middle of that heavy history, and it looks the part. Here, you can hike the Appalachian Trail, fish in mountain lakes that are clearer than your windows at home, and tour the numerous tumbling waterfalls that all look like they’re auditioning for a seasonal calendar photo shoot. Around Thanksgiving, the downtown area is festooned with decorations, and dinner is served at Skyland Resort on Skyline Drive. Holiday meals at this popular local attraction start with an exotic variety of cheeses from countries all over the world, then move on to turkey, haddock, and pork loin, before wrapping up with dessert and socializing over coffee and drinks. Kids are welcome at this event, but it’s strongly advised you make reservations early; on the day itself there’s rarely an open seat.
Up the slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains, nice and far away from the noise of the flatlands, the microscopically tiny burg of Wintergreen greets each Thanksgiving with small-town warmth and community celebrations. The town is mostly built around the Wintergreen Resort, which has a large common room for events, so it’s natural that most of the festivities should take place here. You and the family are welcome to join in on the holiday workshops, outdoor games for the kids, and the grand illumination of the resort’s courtyard. If you’re too taken with the natural splendor of the wooded mountains around you, you can also make time to go golfing, skiing, mountain climbing, hiking, biking, and — if you have the nerve — take a dip in the liquid ice of a high-altitude late-autumn lake. Extra points if you can stand under the waterfall for more than a fraction of a second.
Lerty is a small, mostly unincorporated area in the tidal estuary of Westmoreland County, up near the mouth of the Potomac River. Mostly open fields and isolated roads, this lonely community is home to the beating heart of American history. Here, at the ancient Stratford Hall plantation, built by Colonel Thomas Lee and held for centuries by Virginia’s first family, were born two signers of the Declaration of Independence, a Revolutionary War hero, and General Robert E. Lee. Every year, the Hall puts out a massive Thanksgiving spread for adults and children, conducts guided tours of the 300-year history of the site, and offers a wide selection of souvenirs to help you remember the amazing time you had there.
Arlington is the home of the U.S. military, and the site of the National Cemetery where America’s most honored fallen are interred. The site is open to the public during the holidays, so you and your family can give thanks during a morning walk through the grounds past the graves of American servicemen who died in every conflict from the Civil War to Iraq. Afterwards, in nearby Falls River, join the Temple Rodef Shalom for Feed ‘Em Friday, and enjoy a casual Shabbat dinner while assembling hundreds of gift bags for local police officers as a token of gratitude for their service. Dinner is free, though donations are welcomed. Before heading home for the night, you can blow off some steam at the annual Post-Thanksgiving Family Magic Show at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, which wraps up early enough to get the kids home and into bed at a decent hour.
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