WILLIAMSBURG - Four hundred years ago, the first English settlers arrived in Virginia and established a permanent residence in what would become the United States.
These colonists left a rich and vibrant history that has been carefully preserved for future generations to enjoy. But there's more to do in the Historic Triangle than visit battlefields and colonial farms, and much of it can be done cheaply or for free for the family on a budget.
CREATING A NATION: Jamestown, Yorktown and Williamsburg make up the Historic Triangle in Virgina, connected by the Colonial Parkway.
Buying one pass for $10 gains entrance for seven days into the National Park's Jamestown Settlement and Yorktown Battlefield for one person. There are separate museums operated at each park that offer a variety of activities. Combination tickets for these non-governmental museums are $20, or they can be purchased separately.
It's free to walk around the Yorktown riverfront area, nestled right under the Coleman Bridge, an immense expanse that opens for larger vessels to pass through. The trolley that runs between the Yorktown Victory Center and Yorktown Battlefield is also free, and the drivers dole out amusing snippets about the area. They'll point out the cave where Cornwallis holed up and a Revolutionary War cannonball still lodged in the side of the house in the Yorktown settlement.
The riverfront, close to an area where the U.S. Coast Guard holds training, is home to specialty shops and restaurants.
in Yorktown, Va.
June, July, August:
l Saturdays, 8 a.m. to noon - Yorktown Market Days at the River. The farmer's market season includes local produce, fresh meat and seafood, baked goods, specialty cut flowers, handmade soaps and candles, gourmet herbs, quality art, and live musical entertainment. Riverwalk Landing. 757-890-3500.
l Wednesdays - The Fifes and Drums of York Town. Wednesdays, 5 p.m. at Yorktown Victory Monument. Free. Sundays, 4:45 p.m. at Yorktown waterfront. 757-898-9418.
l Fridays - "Shagging on the Riverwalk" Beach Music Concert Series, 6 to 9 pm. Annual concert series featuring a variety of beach music suited for all ages. Lawn chairs and blankets welcome. Riverwalk Landing. 757-890-3500. Through Aug. 7.
l June 7 - York River Concert Band, 5:30 pm. Outdoor concert in the Churchyard of Grace Episcopal Church. Bring a chair or blanket and pack a picnic supper. 111 Church St. 757-890-4490.
l June 11- Kalmar Nyckel, The Tall Ship of Delaware, 1 to 4 pm. Step aboard this nostalgic ship for a deck tour. Riverwalk Landing pier. 866-659-7447
l June 21 - Made From Scratch Bluegrass Band, 5 p.m. Outdoor concert in the Churchyard of Grace Episcopal Church. Bring a chair or blanket and pack a picnic supper. 111 Church St. 757-890-4490.
l June 28 - Peninsula Concert Band, 6 pm. Outdoor patriotic concert in the Churchyard of Grace Episcopal Church. Bring a chair or blanket and pack a picnic supper. 111 Church St. 757-890-4490.
l July 4 - 30th annual Independence Day Celebration, 4 pm. Celebrate July 4th where independence was won. This year's event honors the 30th anniversary with the theme, "Let Freedom Ring." Activities begin at 8 a.m. with the Independence Day 8K run/5K walk and continue at 4 p.m. with live entertainment, children's fun center, concessions, an 8 p.m. patriotic concert, and a 9:15 p.m. spectacular fireworks show. 757-890-3500.
l July 12 - Watermen's Heritage Celebration, 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 pm. Workboat parade, blessing of the fleet, workboat races, entertainment, exhibits (including Navy, Army and Coast Guard), arts and crafts, crab races, seafood and other food available for purchase. Watermen's Museum. 757-887-2641.
l July 14 - Bastille Day Concert, 6:15 to 7:15 p.m. The Peninsula Concert Band presents a lively concert of French music to celebrate French connections and Yorktown's sister-city relationship with Port-Vendres, France. Freight Shed, Riverwalk Landing.
l July 19 - Classical Guitarist Stephen Bennett, 7 p.m. Candlelight concert in Grace Episcopal Church. 111 Church St. Free. 757-890-4490.
l Tuesdays, Aug. 4-25 - USAF Heritage of America Band "Airwaves" Concert Series, 6:30 pm. Musical group from Langley Air Force Base presents a program of music highlighted by a different ensemble each week. Lawn chairs and blankets welcome. Riverwalk Landing. 757-890-3500.
l Aug. 9 - Poisoned Dwarf, 5 p.m. A program of Celtic music focusing primarily on Irish traditional music. Performed in the Churchyard of Grace Episcopal Church. Bring a chair or blanket and pack a picnic supper. 111 Church St. 757-890-4490.
The Yorktown Victory Center is worth a ticket. It's a highly interactive museum that includes a Revolutionary War encampment and a colonial farm staffed by re-enactors. The museum itself recounts the events that led up to the Declaration of Independence and tracks the military campaigns that ended in Cornwallis' defeat.
Jamestown Settlement includes Powhatan Village and recreations of the three ships that brought the first settlers.
The toll-free Colonial Parkway itself is a beautiful drive and makes for easy biking as it's relatively flat and well maintained. It's 23 miles long and operated by the National Park Service. There are public pull-offs along its route where families can stop for picnics, to fish, view wildlife or watch the U.S. Naval vessels travel up and down the York River to the base in Norfolk.
THE CAPITAL OF A COLONY: Williamsburg served as the capital of the Virginia colony from 1699 to 1780. People still live in the 300-acre historic district, which includes Bruton Parish church, the Governor's Palace and several shops and taverns that have been fully preserved and restored. Some of the private residences are also open to tour.
If you don't want to spend $30 per person on the entrance ticket, don't worry - it's possible to pass most of a day wandering around the historic district without paying a dime. Park passes are only necessary to enter the buildings, such as the mansion and the courthouse, or to view demonstrations or concerts. There are several family activities available with the purchase of the ticket, so if you've got a history-loving brood, it would be worth it.
Walk through Brython Parish Church and its cemetery, an active Episcopalian church where people have worshipped since 1715. Hours for tours are posted at the church; visitors are also welcome to attend worship services.
Re-enactors drive cattle through the streets, horse-drawn carriages make the rounds, and occasionally a character will burst into a speech about how locals reacted to the news of independence.
DINING: Cheap eats are not to be had in the historic district, unless you count the $6 hot dog meal on Chownings' patio. The patio is a great place for a picnic, with grape arbors above and grassy lawns around it. Call for a reservation if you want to eat at the historical restaurants such as Christiana Campbells Tavern, the Kings Arms or Shields. These historical restaurants hearken back to the colonial days, and the staff serves meals in period dress. It makes for a fun, but slightly pricey, evening.
Go for more modern fare at the nearby Pierce's Pitt Bar-B-Que. This is the best barbecue you will eat in the area. It's tasty, it's cheap, and hot sauce and paper napkins adorn the booths. There are chicken and rib dishes available for those not into shredded, roasted, succulent pork. Get the bar-b-que dinner. For $9, you get a plate of barbecue, hush puppies, coleslaw and french fries. Sure, there's other stuff on the menu, but who needs it?
Anyone who orders the garden salad should be drawn and quartered, unless it's ordered with a scoop of barbecue on top.
For Mexican, take a trip across the Coleman Bridge to Salsa's in Hayes, Gloucester County. Portions are ample, the beer is cold, and the ingredients are all fresh in this cantina converted from an old Shoney's.
ODDS AND ENDS: Yorktown Beach is close by and offers access to the river for swimming, fishing, boating and windsurfing. It's also a great place to watch the Coleman Bridge and boat traffic.
Or, Virginia Beach is about an hour by car for those who want the ocean experience.
If it's raining, head into Newport News, where shopping centers and the Patrick Henry Mall offer indoor entertainment and places to vent a shopping habit that won't take a vacation.