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Idyllic Virginia

Now more than ever, “Virginia is for lovers.” 

Still the state’s official slogan after more than five decades, this statement is meant to imply that whatever you’re looking for in a vacation, you’ll get (and love) in the incredibly diverse Virginia. Does your group want surf and sand? They’ll find it in Virginia Beach. How about history? The entire state is rich with attractions, eateries and even hotels that provide peeks into its fascinating past. 

Recently, groups have even discovered a food and wine scene now booming within Virginia’s borders. Add to all of this a gorgeous landscape that makes motoring through the state an absolute pleasure, and you have one of the country’s most idyllic states for group getaways.

Popular Demand

Shenandoah National Park

Two words: Skyline Drive. The iconic road, which travels along the crest of Blue Ridge Mountains for 105 miles, is a flat-out showstopper. The seemingly endless views from it are enough to get your group googly-eyed even without doing anything else in the park, but in spring through fall, groups will want to hop a shuttle down to Rapidan Camp. It was once a summer retreat for President Herbert Hoover and hosted the likes of everyone from Thomas Edison to Winston Churchill. In addition, rangers can be booked as step-on guides, and Byrd Visitor Center in the Big Meadows area is worth a stop for its detailed overview of the park.

George Washington’s Mount Vernon

President George Washington spent five decades working on Mount Vernon, so it’s only fitting he, along with his wife, Martha, would be interred on the grounds. Their tomb is typically a must-see for groups visiting the rambling, bucolic property, which is about 40 minutes from D.C. So is visiting the beautifully restored mansion, where a wealth of history interpreters keep things lively, as well as the museum and education center. Leaders can book a number of special experiences for their groups, like attending a wreath-laying ceremony at the tomb, helping to raise the flag at the main gate or breaking bread with a character interpreter from Washington’s life.

Arlington National Cemetery

Known as “our nation’s most hallowed ground,” Arlington National Cemetery presents a moving opportunity every group member is sure to appreciate: the chance to remember and honor more those who have served our country. That includes President John F. Kennedy, who is buried on the grounds of the 639-acre cemetery, as well as soldiers whose remains were never identified, memorialized at Arlington’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Leaders should be aware that motorcoaches are generally not authorized to drive through the cemetery, but private tours can be booked in advance through Arlington National Cemetery Tours, Inc. 

Colonial Williamsburg

Colonial Williamsburg doesn’t just give groups the opportunity to learn about the past, it also gives groups the opportunity to live it. Set on more than 300 acres, what’s been dubbed “the world’s largest living history museum” includes 600-some recreated and reconstructed buildings from the town’s Colonial past, with loads of costumed interpreters to interact with group visitors. Leaders can choose from a variety of packages for their group and opt for experiences from guided day tours to evening programs like ghost walks, period-inspired dances and trials of pirates and “witches.” For groups staying into the evening, dinner at the King’s Arm Tavern, which dates to 1772, is a must.

Up and Coming

Virginia Aquarium Marine Science Center

Currently at the tail end of its nearly $30 million expansion and renovation after a long series of delays, the Virginia Aquarium’s South Building will debut sometime soon, perhaps by year’s end. When it does, the Virginia Beach attraction will feature exciting sea life and exhibits never before seen there, including chocolate chip sea stars, a giant Pacific octopus and a variety of jellyfish. A brand-new animal care center will give groups the chance to see veterinarians at work caring for marine sea critters and even allow them to ask the vets questions via a push-to-talk button. 

Norfolk Botanical Garden 

Groups will have to wait a bit to visit the Norfolk Botanical Garden’s “Garden of Tomorrow.” Best estimate on the timeline for the $30 million expansion’s debut is 2024, but when it does open, it will be a jaw-dropping improvement to the facility. Plans include a reimagined parking area filled with shade trees and flowers and a new entry pavilion, as well as what may be the most exciting addition: a 26,000-square-foot conservatory. Separated into four biomes, it will introduce groups to environments as varied as a tropical rainforest and the Arizona desert and feature an indoor/outdoor skywalk.

National Museum of the Marine Corps

Intel has the massive, 15-year (and then some), $100 million-plus expansion of Prince William County’s National Museum of the Marine Corps seeing completion in 2030, although there should be a wealth of new history galleries opening as early as 2025. In the meantime, there’s much new that’s already launched, such as the extension of the Legacy Walk, which tells the tales of the U.S. Marines providing embassy security and performing humanitarian missions, 9/11, Marine Corps families and the corps honoring fallen marines. 

Virginia Museum of History and Culture

When the Virginia Museum of History and Culture in Richmond reopened in May after a $30 million-plus expansion and renovation, guests were greeted by a gleaming, completely modern update that changed almost two-thirds of the facility. From a soaring two-story entrance atrium to a state-of-the-art immersive orientation theater — both of them brand new — this is a thrilling transformation that groups will want to see for themselves. Even better? The 50% increase in display space, used for engaging exhibits like “Our Commonwealth,” which is organized by geographic region and provides a true multi-sensory experience.

Overnight Sensations

Martha Washington Inn and Spa

Tucked away in pretty little Abingdon — itself renowned as a premiere culinary destination — the Martha Washington Inn and Spa features 63 rooms and suites with well-appointed decor that recalls the property’s illustrious heritage. Built in 1832 as a lavish retirement residence for General Robert Preston, a War of 1812 veteran, the inn was once a college named in honor of the country’s first first lady and later a hospital for wounded Civil War soldiers. Now a member of the Historic Hotels of America, the inn offers groups goodies like special rates and complimentary bus parking.

The Jefferson Hotel

So opulent it may well turn into your group’s favorite hotel, this Richmond Beaux Arts beauty debuted in 1895, going on to host luminaries like Charles Lindbergh, Elvis Presley and President Barack Obama. Your group will want to take a gander at The Jefferson’s museum, located at the bottom of the grand staircase (said to have inspired the similar staircase seen in “Gone With the Wind”), which leads from the mezzanine level to the Rotunda lobby. 

Memorable Meals

The Dairy Market

If you’d like to set your group loose for a bit, Charlottesville’s Dairy Market is a good place to do it. Located in the historic Monticello Dairy building, which was built in 1937, the bustling hall is home to more than a dozen vendors serving up an eclectic range of food and drink. Groups will find gourmet burgers, Southern soul food, exquisite baked goods, Thai and Latin American street fare, artisan pizza and more, much of it crafted from locally procured ingredients. There’s often live music, too.

Waterman’s Surfside Grille

When you’re at the shore, you need to sample seafood at least once, and it’s even better if you do it where you can see the water. Located along the Virginia Beach Boardwalk, Waterman’s Surfside Grille dishes out just about any fish you might wish (try their justifiably famous she-crab soup), with a panoramic view of the Atlantic Ocean. For larger groups of 40 or more people, the restaurant also offers The Attic at Waterman’s, a private venue.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.