Family Fun in Norfolk, Va.

When it comes to traveling as a family, it’s always nice when you find a destination interesting to everyone — from parents to the youngest child. Norfolk, Va., is one destination that delivers on just that, in spades.

Founded in 1682, Norfolk’s history is nearly 100 years older than that of the United States itself, and part of that history includes the largest naval base in the world — Norfolk Naval Base and Air Station. A terrific look at Norfolk’s naval history can be found at Nauticus, on the waterfront in downtown Norfolk.

Nauticus in Norfolk, Va.

© Visit Norfolk

Not a museum, per se, Nauticus touts itself as an “interactive science and technology center that explores the naval, economic and nautical power of the sea.” What does that mean for you and your family? Loads of hands-on exhibits, traveling exhibits, HD and 3-D films on a giant screen, the Hampton Roads Naval Museum and the crowning jewel, the Battleship Wisconsin.

The WWII battleship also served in the Korean War and, most recently, in Operation Desert Storm in 1991. In October 1996, she retired to Norfolk and is a proud part of the Nauticus experience. Visitors are invited to come aboard and explore her decks, as well as exhibits that tell the story of her service. Organized scavenger hunts are fun ways to keep your kids engaged when exploring the Battleship Wisconsin and the rest of Nauticus.

Kids are mesmerized when they see glass melt right in front of them, only to be molded into a work of art at the Chrysler Museum of Art’s Perry Glass Studio. Everyone it seems, regardless of age, is mesmerized during the studio’s glassmaking demonstrations that are held at noon daily, free of charge. Artists easily melt and mold and bend and cut and shape “liquid glass.”

The glass studio offers classes for beginners up, and even for kids who are interested in learning the fluid art form. Many classes are for kids 12 and up, but some are geared toward 5 and up so the littlest artists can get in on the wild fiery fun.

Sisters at the zoo

© MNStudio | Dreamstime

Another way to get wild in Norfolk is at the Virginia Zoo. Originally known as the Lafayette Zoological Park when it began acquiring animals in 1900, the Virginia Zoo is indeed more than 115 years old. More than 500 animals, including lions and tigers and bears (oh my!) call the zoo home, alongside elephants, giraffes, skinks and tree frogs — and so many more! The Zoo Train, a 1/3-scale model of a C.P. Huntington steam engine, transports 80 passengers on a 20-minute ride around the zoo, giving you a terrific opportunity to scout out where you’ll go next.

Budding zoologists may convince their parents to let them go behind the scenes with their favorite animals. The zoo offers nine behind-the-scenes tours for kids — and those young at heart — to learn about animal care, behavior and conservation with a zookeeper. Feed the giraffes, help Hattie the Tapir with her training session or hang with a sloth — these are but a few of the hands-on opportunities.

Virginia Zoo Giraffe

© Visit Norfolk

For more outdoor fun, make plans to visit the 175-acre Norfolk Botanical Garden. The 52 distinctive, themed gardens here bloom in every season, and are also home to 95 species of birds and 30 types of butterflies. The botanical garden keeps its youngest botanists in mind, too, and recently introduced World of Wonders — A Children’s Adventure Garden. Within the three-acre garden, kids can explore the connections between plants, international cultures and the environment. And they might even learn something amidst all of the fun.

Plenty of family-friendly activities can be found at Norfolk Botanical Garden, too, such as guided kayaking tours and hikes, arts and crafts events and even a chance to get hands-on with the butterflies during the 2017 Monarch Tag & Release Saturday, Sept. 16.

Norfolk, Va., harbor

© Calvin Leake | Dreamstime

When in Norfolk, it seems only natural to want to get out on the water, and your family can do just that aboard the sailing ship American Rover. Don’t be surprised if your kids are put to work onboard — they’re invited to help set the sails, or even take a turn at the helm and navigate the tall ship. You can pitch in, too.

For younger kids, the daytime harbor cruise is your best bet; older kids may enjoy the sunset cruise. Whichever you choose, both last two hours and are narrated by the captain, who will point out the highlights found in the Norfolk Harbor.

These are just a few ideas on how to have some family fun in Norfolk, Va. The area is ripe for exploration — after all, there are 144 miles of shoreline just waiting for you.