Hometown tourism: From the river to the arcade in Roanoke, VA

How do you transform a hometown visit into a family vacation in a travel destination? Anthony grew up in Roanoke, Virginia. We’ve gone back to visit family many times before and after becoming parents. We’d also been looking forward to exploring the area more like anywhere else we travel with the kids. From Thomas Jefferson’s home to tubing on a river, childhood arcade games to a parents-only art date, we found so many things to do with kids in Roanoke—and so many ways to turn a family trip into a week of hometown tourism.

“Hometown tourism reminds us that no matter how well we may know a place, there is always so much more to experience together, and come back all the happier.”

3 family travel tips to be a tourist in your hometown

Turning the familiar into the new can be challenging, but it is totally doable. You can get fresh perspective on a place you’ve known your whole life. Plus, it’s pretty fun to approach the place you grew up with the perspective of traveling somewhere new.

Now that the kids were older, we wanted our family trip to Roanoke to be a full-on family vacation. There are places Anthony knew from childhood that we wanted to see like travelers. Plus, there are places he hadn’t been before, that we all wanted to see for the first time, together. We wanted to be tourists in a hometown. Here are 3 ways we made it happen:

1. Plan like you’re planning any other trip: Look up travel info at local tourism boards, on social media, in guidebooks, and more.

The Taubman Art Museum in Downtown Roanoke is a wonderful date destination, with the eateries and liveliness of downtown right there too.
The Taubman Art Museum in Downtown Roanoke is a wonderful date destination, with the eateries and liveliness of downtown right there too.

When planning a trip, we always look at the info from the area’s tourism board and get a visitor’s guide. For Roanoke, we drew extensively on the Instagram and website for Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge, the main tourism info authority for the Roanoke area.

One experience we got to have? A tubing trip on the Upper James River was a serene way to kick back after crossing the continent and having a family reunion.

“I grew up not far from here,” Anthony said while we were floating. “But I never even knew this was a possibility.”

Even when traveling to your hometown, it helps to plan that visit like any other trip:

  • Snag a guidebook
  • Find accounts, hashtags, and posts related to the area on social media
  • See what info, deals, and events the area tourism board has to offer

That not only gives you fresh information, but fresh perspective: You’ll be thinking of your destination less like somewhere you already know, and somewhere you’re raring to explore.

2. Think back to childhood trips: What can you revisit yet experience anew?

As a kid, Anthony went on school field trips to places like Natural Bridge State Park and Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. With a 7-year-old and a 10-year-old, the kids were old enough to dive in to some of these same experiences. Visiting places like these with the kids, we took in both nature and history during wonderful day trips.

Visiting your hometown as a parent puts a new spin on a place you experienced during your childhood. Whether a spot you liked to visit as a kid, a school field trip that has stuck with you all these years, or just any area you want to experience with your kids, your childhood trips and visits can be the perfect starting point for things to do with your family in your hometown.

3. Places change. See what’s new and different since the last time you visited.

One of Anthony’s favorite childhood spots, the downtown museum space Center in the Square, has changed a lot over the years since Anthony moved to Oregon. In addition to the Mill Mountain Theatre and the immersive science museums he loved as a kid, there was now a fun Pinball Museum and STARCADE arcade museum! We spent fun afternoons at these family friendly destinations—and introduced the kids to arcade classics from our own childhoods.

It can be easy to think of our hometowns as set and unchanging, preserved in the amber of memory. That’s far from true though. Even though some things will be the same, odds are your hometown has changed in ways you haven’t realized.

Checking out what’s changed matters in a different way too. Kids can be so caught up in the moment. Sharing your memories gives kids continuity and perspective beyond the current moment.

Hometown tourism balances travel and seeing family

When we visit family, we fully immerse ourselves in being with relatives that we rarely get to be with. At the same time, we also love to explore where we are, check out new things, and have a little time as just our wee family unit too.

We put out open invitations to many of our adventures. If a relative can join us, we see that as adding to the experience. One evening in Roanoke, we visited Twisted Track Brewpub. This brewery is owned in part by Anthony’s uncle. We’d been longing to visit—and try the beers that we knew would be amazing, given our experience with said uncle’s homebrew—but the pandemic had prevented us from giving our in-person support.

Heading there for dinner one night, we invited Anthony’s mom and stepdad to join us on the open-air patio. Over some fine locally brewed ale, we chatted about family, our upcoming transition to full-time global travel, and other trips we’ve taken with the kids.

Was it a grand adventure? No—and it didn’t have to be. Whenever you travel, anywhere you go has the opportunity to be an adventure. Being with other family enhances the experience even more. For us, Twisted Track gave us the opportunity both to support a family business, sample some great beer and food (seriously, family or not, it was a heckuva menu, and Anthony won’t shut up about the Pastrami Reuben). We also got to spend more time with Anthony’s mom and stepdad, for a relaxed evening that we get to fondly think back on wherever we go next.

Want to know more about hometown tourism?

There are so many ways to be a tourist in your own hometown!

Hometown tourism and things to do with kids in Roanoke, VA

Being a tourist in your hometown can be such a fun mix of new and familiar

Wherever we go, we always pack a fresh perspective. Going home can be familiar, sure. Plus there’s all the excitement of being with family. Even when we visit one of our hometowns, we see it as an opportunity to travel more, and immerse ourselves in a familiar place but in a new way.

Family travel takes so many forms. When you live far away from where you grew up, it can become all the more important not only to see faraway loved ones, but to keep that travel flame glowing bright. Hometown tourism gives us a mix of new and familiar. It turns a family trip into something that goes to the heart in new ways. Hometown tourism reminds us that no matter how well we may know a place, there is always so much more to experience together, and come back all the happier.

About the author
Learners and Makers
We are the St. Clair Family: Anthony, Jodie, Connor, and Aster. As Learners and Makers, our family of four slows down, connects, and enjoys the world and each other's company. We have been traveling full time since 2022.

Leave a Comment