There’s a smart movie called See You Yesterday that Netflix released in May 2019. In it, a couple of bright teenagers have figured out the whole space-time continuum and use their know-how to turn back the clock to save a loved one. Of course, if you’ve seen enough sci-fi films, you know that space and time are finicky items. Needless to say, it takes our portal-jumping protagonists a few trips to get things right.
Williamsburg is a unique Virginia city that has this time-travel concept pretty well figured out. For decades, millions of tourists have viewed the city, specifically Colonial Williamsburg, as a sort of living history textbook, where American Revolution-era reenactments happen, fully costumed actors in period garb walked around and meals found on dinner tables in the 1700s, when the town served as the Virginia Colony capital, were eaten.
Fast forward to the present and the city finds itself in a fascinating place, where it wants to embrace its vivid past, yet it fully understands that if it’s to hold the interest of today’s meme-obsessed traveler, it has to keep up with the current culture, too.
To that end, hotels are upgrading, exhibits are modernizing and food is becoming more fun. And after a recent visit to the city that proudly touts itself as being “Where History Never Gets Old,” we can confidently say that Williamsburg’s future couldn’t be brighter.
Colonial Williamsburg’s cobblestoned streets and storefronts with women knitting on porches are quite the sight. Snap a few pictures of what you see. Be sure to tag the destination in your posts — don’t let the petticoats fool you; Colonial Williamsburg has a very active Instagram account.
Pop into John Greenhow Store for 18th-century-inspired kitchen items and toiletries. Join the 10:30 a.m. Walk Through History with a Nation Builder tour for an in-depth journey through time with a guide who’s assumed the role of a historical figure. Have some Southern fried chicken and a Tavern Shrub (gin, shrub, thyme and cava) by candlelight at Christiana Campbell’s Tavern.
If you’re thirsting for more knowledge, make the 15-minute drive over to the Jamestown Settlement. (Quick history note: Jamestown, Williamsburg and Yorktown form the Historic Triangle.) Through a series of gallery showings, movies and outdoor exhibits, the story of how a trio of people (native Powhatans, English settlers and West African slaves) entwined to make American history is told.
But rather than skim over the contributions of those who weren’t European males, the Settlement shines an important light on figures like Angelo, one of the first recorded Africans in the Virginia colony, and Anne Burras, a teenager who’s thought to be a part of the first English marriage in the area. Both are chronicled in “Tenacity: Women in Jamestown and Early Virginia,” a powerful collection showing through January 5, 2020.
When it comes time to recharge after the insightful afternoon, the best places to do so are the Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Williamsburg Inn and the neighboring Forbes Travel Guide Recommended Williamsburg Lodge, Autograph Collection. Both provide a strong sense of place.
Williamsburg Inn does so with pictures of John D. Rockefeller (the man who financed Colonial Williamsburg’s restoration in the early 1900s) on the wall and tapestried chairs in the corners. Williamsburg Lodge underwent a major renovation in 2018 that saw rooms filled with antique touches get a contemporary makeover.
We experienced Williamsburg Inn’s Rockefeller Suite and it was every bit as ritzy as you might have gathered from the name. A four-poster bed, elaborate drapes and two fireplaces leave you genuinely feeling as if you’ve been transported to the magnate’s home.
Shared amenities bring the two properties together. There’s an outdoor pool that’s hidden from passers-by with manicured shrubs. You’ll also discover the fabulous Spa of Colonial Williamsburg. We were blown away by Charice’s hands as she performed the Orange and Ginger Body Scrub, popular in the 18th century, to perfection. Seasonal treatments (like November’s Purifying Pumpkin Enzyme Facial) won’t just catch your eye; they’ll help to eliminate the bags under them.
Forbes Travel Guide Recommended Rockefeller Room is Williamsburg Inn’s elegant dining room. Its location may have moved to a smaller space at the hotel — modern travelers just aren’t gravitating to formal settings like they did back in the good ole days — but the restaurant’s dedication to executing a perfect lamb shoulder roast has not wavered a bit. Between scrumptious bites, allow Anna Perkins’ soft jazzy tones to whisk you away to simpler times.
But no matter how much Williamsburg tries to rewind the clock, it knows that some change is inevitable. At Williamsburg Inn, for instance, a 2017 Golden Horseshoe Golf Club expansion and several hotel enhancements in 2018 (including the new Social Terrace) prove that the property is focused on the future.
The Jamestown Settlement is in the midst of $10.6 million gallery improvement project that has rolled out an experiential theater, touch-screen exhibits and more.
Even Busch Gardens, one of Williamsburg’s top attractions since the mid-’70s, is making sure it doesn’t show its wrinkles. Amusement park fans are eagerly anticipating Pantheon, a ride that promises to be North America’s fastest multi-launch coaster when it debuts in 2020.
Still, nowhere in the city are things evolving more rapidly than within the culinary scene. Put on a pair of Thomas Jefferson’s spectacles and see for yourself — there’s an explosion of flavors right now. Places like Blue Talon Bistro, Cochon on 2nd and The Trellis all speak to this locally sourced, seasonally driven movement around Williamsburg.
Two-year-old Amber Ox Public House stands out because of its dual nature. On one side, you have a kitchen dedicated to delivering smoked-just-right wings, fried Brussels sprouts and sweet-tea-brined pork chops. But on the other side, you have an onsite brewery where tasty pours like Cheapbeer Ale and Midwest Dropout are created.
Savor every sip and nibble because, when you get home from your trip, you’re going to wish you had a time machine that could go back to the very moment you sat down at the table.