The tight economy makes this the perfect time to vacation right here at home. Take some time to look at Richmond from a different perspective - from a raft on the James River, perhaps, or through the prism of history that's not related to the Civil War.
For 10 weeks this summer, I did just that. Richmond looks like a completely different place after visiting the area's numerous parks, gardens, museums and wineries.
There's so much to do here that 10 weeks wasn't enough to do it all.
While I made it to St. John's Church, I missed the John Marshall House. I spent half a day visiting Agecroft Hall and the Virginia House, but I never made it to the Virginia Historical Society.
And I probably missed many of the places where you like to spend time.
Why go elsewhere?
All of my research begged a question: With so much to do around Richmond, why do people travel to Williamsburg or Washington to find things to do?
"Unfortunately, there are so many things we take for granted that we forget to go do them," said Patricia Stubbs, a Chester resident who was visiting the Citie of Henricus with a Boy Scout troop.
Patricia, her husband Matthew Stubbs, and Matthew's sister, Melody Stubbs, listed half a dozen places that they enjoy visiting - but admitted that they hadn't been to many of them in a while.
"I've lived here quite a long time, and we've got a lot of people who don't want to do these things," said Matthew Stubbs. "The ones who do, they don't talk about it."
Laura Boughner, who I met while cruising the James River on the Annabel Lee, moved to Richmond from Williamsburg a few years ago.
She had been wanting to visit places like the State Capitol and Maymont, but was doing so now only because she had visiting family members to take with her.
"I'll ask different people [in Richmond], and they don't want to go," she said. "There is an incredible amount to do here. It's a great city."
Even if they don't go themselves, most Richmond-area residents are familiar with places like Maymont, the Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
Try something different
But there is more to Richmond than the places everyone knows about.
There's rock climbing in downtown, and horseback trail rides in Goochland County. There are wineries in Hanover County and a gem mine in Amelia County.
You can walk the same path as the feet of thousands of slaves did, as they traveled from the James River to the holding jails during the 1800s. Or you can get a taste of Latin and Hispanic culture at the Saturday Night Mercado, held monthly at the 17th Street Farmers Market.
"You've got to find stuff to do," said Ashley Glazebrook, who I ran into on a tour of the Flood Wall and in a rock climbing class. "Now that I'm looking, there's so much to do that I want to stay here on weekends. I used to get out of here on weekends."
Glazebrook has found so much to do, in fact, that four of her out-of-town friends couldn't bear to miss the fun: They invited themselves to Richmond to take part in an activity-filled long weekend.
Can't do it all in a day
Whether you want to spend time indoors or outside, relaxing or exercising strenuously, the next seven stories you'll find in Discover Richmond will point you toward the places to visit.
I've investigated a variety of activities, for adults and children, in a range of prices for any budget. Consider this a guide to a seven-day vacation, with activities grouped by theme so you can choose your mood, then make plans for the day.
But beware: There is no way to do all of the activities in each story in just one day. In some cases, it would take seven days to visit everything mentioned in one story.
The hope is that regardless of what you enjoy doing, you will find at least one place in each story that you'll visit. If not, turn to the rest of Discover Richmond, where you'll find list upon list of what Richmond has to offer.
After just a few weeks of running around Richmond, I found the following five truths to be self-evident while vacationing in my own back yard.
After just a few weeks of running around Richmond, I found the following five truths to be self-evident while vacationing in my own back yard:
Lesson 1: There is a limit to the number of museums that you can visit in one day and retain your sanity. Try for three or fewer, because four is just too many. After spending six hours at two museums and two historic houses, I went home more tired than I would have been if I'd been in the office all day. So remember that you're on vacation, and take it easy.
Lesson 2: Wear comfortable shoes! Being a short drive from your house doesn't mean you can forget this important rule for sightseeing. On the same day I visited four museums, I chose to wear shoes with a thick, two-inch heel. I didn't want to walk anywhere after that!
Comfortable shoes can also help combat "museum feet," which I learned about in the June 2003 issue of Glamour magazine, of all places. Lactic acid builds up in your legs when you walk slowly, and your feet will swell if you stand in one place for too long. So take pity on your tootsies and treat 'em right.
Lesson 3: Start early. Yes, vacation is traditionally the time when you can turn off the alarm clock. But museums, parks and historic houses are usually open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., or at least not much later than 6. If you want to visit several in one day, it will behoove you to be up with the birds.
Lesson 4: Carry cash. I learned this embarrassing lesson at the Blandford Church and Cemetery in Petersburg. I had assumed that I could use my credit card for the $5 admission, and that turned out not to be the case. I had to rummage through the change in my car to come up with the last 50 cents. So either call ahead and find out whether you can use a credit card, or be prepared with enough cash to cover your admission fee in case you need it.
Lesson 5: Bring a friend - or five. Since I was visiting all these great places as part of my job, my friends were typically at work and I had to go by myself. I loved every minute of it, but I often wished that I had someone with me to share my experiences. Vacationing is always more fun with friends and family, so bring them along.