I Heart My City: Erin’s Williamsburg

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Nat Geo Young Explorer Erin Spencer is a marine scientist with a curious fascination with invasive lionfish and tri-cornered hats. After visiting Virginia’s Historic Triangle every year as a child, she ended up moving to Williamsburg to attend the College of William & Mary. Though she now lives in Washington, D.C., she takes frequent trips to satisfy her colonial cravings. Here are some of Erin’s favorite things about her home away from home.

Follow Erin’s story on her personal websiteTwitter, and Instagram.

Williamsburg Is My City

When someone comes to visit me, the first place I take them to is the Mermaid Bookstore to scout out antique books and prints. Then we head to Aromas for a coffee break.

October is the best time to visit my city because the leaves are turning, Tribe Football Saturdays are in full force, and the weather is pleasantly cool. Plus, the first weekend in October brings the annual Occasion for the Arts, a large art and music festival that takes over downtown.

You can see my city best from Confusion Corner—the intersection of Richmond and Jamestown roads. The heart of Colonial Williamsburg stretches out in front of you with the College of William and Mary behind you.

Locals know to skip the outlet mall on Black Friday and check out the unique local stores in Merchants Square instead.

The John Greenhow Store in Colonial Williamsburg is the place to buy authentic, local souvenirs. 

In the past, notable people like Thomas Jefferson, Glenn Close, and former United States Secretary of Defense Robert Gates have called my city home.

My city’s best museum is Colonial Williamsburg because it’s arguably the world’s largest living museum. Immerse yourself in pre- and post-Revolutionary War Virginia by talking to interpreters and exploring life in colonial times.

If there’s one thing you should know about getting around my city, it’s that pedestrians expect drivers to stop at crosswalks and will simply walk out without looking.

The best place to spend time outdoors in my city is the Sunken Garden on the College of William & Mary campus. The quad is surrounded by charming old academic buildings and always filled with students lazily reading and enjoying the weather.

My city really knows how to celebrate the Fourth of July because half of the city is dedicated to recreating Revolutionary War-era America. Local celebrations include a parade, a dramatic reading of the “Declaration of Independence,” and musket and cannon salutes. Seriously, people from Williamsburg live for this stuff.

You can tell if someone is from my city if they don’t look twice at a person in Colonial garb standing behind them at Starbucks.

For a fancy night out, I grab some friends for half-price wine night at the Blue Talon. A side order of their gourmet mac and cheese is a must.

Just outside my city, you can visit Historic Yorktown. If you’re looking for a nice meal, Riverwalk Restaurant is situated right on the York River and serves up the area’s best seafood.

My city is known for being touristy, but it’s really a haven for the arts. Between dramatic productions at the Kimball Theatre, live bands on the William & Mary campus, and seasonal arts festivals downtown, Williamsburg has established itself as a regional arts hub.

The best outdoor market in my city is the Williamsburg Farmers Market in Merchant’s Square. Running Saturdays from March through December, the market features local produce, baked goods, meats, crafts, and more.

Five Forks Cafe is my favorite place to grab breakfast, and the College Delly is the spot for late-night eats (I favor their cheese fries).

To find out what’s going on at night and on the weekends, visit the official City of Williamsburg website or the College of William & Mary’s newspaper, The Flat Hat.

When I’m feeling cash-strapped, I fill up on free samples at The Peanut Shop.

To escape the crowds, I take a drive on the Colonial Parkway and read a book at Jamestown Beach.

The dish that represents my city best is Brunswick stew, and spiced cider is my city’s signature drink. Sample them at Christiana Campbell’s and DoG Street Pub, respectively.

The Wren Building is my favorite building in town because it’s the oldest academic building still in use in the United States. Presidents Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, and John Tyler all walked Wren’s halls.

Paul’s Deli is the best place to see live music, but if you’re in the mood to dance you don’t have too many options. However, the occasional dance party has been known to break out at Brickhouse Tavern on karaoke night.

Regular cannon fire could only happen in my city.

In the spring you should get a cheese plate and a baguette from The Cheese Shop and have a picnic on the Governor’s Palace Green.

In the summer you should spend a day at Water Country, USA. Williamsburg can get brutally hot in the summer, so you’ll appreciate that lazy river.

In the fall you should embrace your touristy side and take a carriage ride through Colonial Williamsburg. Take some hot apple cider along and enjoy the spectacular fall foliage.

In the winter you should brave the crowds for the Grand Illumination. Always held the first full weekend of December, the event includes the official lighting of Williamsburg’s holiday decorations and an extravagant fireworks display.

If you have kids (or are a kid at heart), you won’t want to miss Busch Gardens! I recommend going in October during Howl-O-Scream season, when the entire park turns into a haunted house after dark.

The best book about my city is Williamsburg Before and After, by George Humphrey Yetter, because it details the restoration of Williamsburg with vivid “before” and “after” photographs of historic Duke of Gloucester Street.

In 140 characters or less, the world should heart my city because it boasts a tight-knit community that’s proud of its past and that is actively shaping our future. Plus, we know the value of a tri-cornered hat.

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