Tours of historic sites will dominate a visit to Yorktown, the county seat of York County in east Virginia.
Founded in 1691, Yorktown is on the south banks of the York River.
It served as a port of the early English settlers who established York as one of the eight original shires of colonial Virginia.
Mainly because of its strategic port, Yorktown figured prominently during the American Civil War and the US Revolutionary War.
Yorktown today is one of Virginia’s Historic Triangle, which also includes Williamsburg to its north and Jamestown to the west.
Besides its historic charms, Yorktown also offers plenty of outdoor activities, especially water-based recreational delights.
After all, it is wedged on the banks of York River, which empties on the Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary in the US.
Check out what awaits you in a visit to York’s county seat in this list of things to do in Yorktown.
Take a Stroll on the Yorktown Battlefield
This historic site is accessible from the Yorktown Visitor Center on Parkway Street.
On the Yorktown Battlefield during the Revolutionary War in 1781, the army of General George Washington defeated the British forces of Lord Cornwallis.
It culminated in the surrender of Lord Cornwallis to General Washington in the historic Moore House on Nelson Road a short distance east of the battlefield.
The Yorktown Battlefield’s area features a historical marker, cannons, and interpretive signs about the British fortifications along the York River.
After visiting the battlefield, you can also stroll westward to the Yorktown Victory Monument on Main Street.
This monument rises amid a well-manicured grass field, featuring a Liberty statue atop a memorial column commemorating the 1781 Yorktown battle and ensuing peace treaties.
Exhibits on the 1781 Siege of Yorktown during the Revolutionary War are also displayed at the Yorktown Visitor Center, featuring a gift shop.
Enjoy Yorktown Beach
Yorktown boasts a two-acre beachfront easily accessible from Water Street.
You can bring the whole family to this beach, which is ideal for picnics, sunbathing, and boating.
Kayaks and paddleboard rentals are available near the beach area.
You can also rent a bike here and explore the beach via the mile-long Riverwalk.
Biking or strolling on the Riverwalk opens access to many nearby points of interest, like the historic Yorktown Battlefield and its satellite museums.
Tour the American Revolution Museum
Battlefield-costumed interpreters will guide you on a tour of this multimedia museum Water Street.
The American Revolution Museum at Yorktown recounts the story of the US march to nationhood not only via immersive indoor exhibition galleries.
The museum also presents films and living-history experiences in outdoor presentations.
Across this facility, you can visit the fortification of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers of the British who fought General Washington and his French allies during the 1781 Siege of Yorktown.
This area is also part of the Colonial National Historical Park–Yorktown Battlefield, where there are commemorative markers about the French participants in the siege.
Shop and Dine at the Riverwalk Landing
A fine selection of shops and restaurants are just steps away from Yorktown Beach—Riverwalk Landing on Water Street.
For shopping, your choices here include the wares in the art gallery Auntie M's American Cottage.
Other picks on goodies are available at the Yorktown Bookshop and Viccellio Goldsmith & Fine Jewelry.
Some of the dining options at the Riverwalk Landing even have live weekend music, like the Water Street Grille, a seafood-centric restaurant also serving many microbrews.
You can also have ice cream at Ben & Jerry’s and enjoy the treat while sitting on the beach.
Dock at the Riverwalk Landing Piers
Visitors arriving by boat in Yorktown can dock their vessels in one of its public piers on Riverwalk Landing.
Transient boaters and overnight stays are accommodated in these piers, providing dockage of 1,200 linear feet.
Water and power supply, as well as sewer pump-out, are available at the pier side.
Yorktown visitors coming in by water also have access to a restroom facility and private shower.
Visitors docked at Riverwalk Landing enjoy a front seat to Yorktown’s amenities, festivals and events.
Frequently, Riverwalk Landing is also the port of call for iconic, foreign-flagged tall ships and frigates like the HMS Bounty, thus further enhancing Yorktown’s historic charm.
Check Out the Watermen’s Museum
Located on Water Street, this museum devotes its exhibits to the history of Revolutionary War watermen and their craft.
The Watermen’s Museum captures in its display the role that Chesapeake Bay Watermen played in shaping the US as a nation from pre-colonial to contemporary times.
Its exhibits depict not only military but also civilian mariners’ craft and activities.
Watermen’s Museum also conducts field trips where you can learn not only about boatbuilding but also pirate topics, archaeology, and environmental exploration.
Catch Crabs and Bass at the Yorktown Fishing Pier
This fishing pier is easily accessible from the corner of Water Street and Conte de Grasse Street.
You can also fish from the shore of the York River, like at the Coast Guard fishing pier near Ballard Street.
However, it is more advisable to cast your line at the Yorktown Fishing Pier because fishing from here does not require a license.
In the late spring months of March and April, your likely catch from the York River is striped bass and crabs.
As the waters get warmer into summer, the fish caught in the York River in Yorktown approaching the Chesapeake Bay can include speckled trout, croaker, and flounder.
Visit the York County Historical Museum
Located on Main Street, York County Historical Museum displays many artifacts, including Native American tools and historic items from colonial Virginia and the Revolutionary and Civil War.
It also exhibits memorabilia from the World War II aircraft carrier USS Yorktown and items from the nearby Naval Weapons Station.
In addition, many historical items in this museum show the growth and development of York County.
As a memento of your Yorktown visit, you can pick from the souvenir wares in the museum’s shop.
Among the items it sells are replicas of the flags flown over the Yorktown Battlefield and laser-etched historic Yorktown ornaments.
Go for a Photo-op at the Yorktown Windmill
This windmill is located adjacent west of the Watermen’s Museum and was a reconstruction of the 1711 William Buckner's Mill in Yorktown.
The Yorktown Foundation, the County of York, and the Colonial National Historical Park undertook this windmill reconstruction.
The project, launched in 2008, was undertaken to create an interpretive program showing the imagination and ingenuity that drove America's Wooden Engineering Age.
The original William Buckner Mill stood as a landmark on the York River for nearly two centuries.
The mill was used to grind corn and supplied most of the flour for York County during the 18th and 19th centuries.
Step into Circa 1700s Main Street Homes
Yorktown’s Main Street is the domain of several circa 1700s residences, the most prominent of which is the Nelson House.
Located on Main corner Nelson Street, this brick residence with two chimneys was the home of Thomas Nelson Jr.
He gained prominence in Yorktown for being one of the signatories of the Declaration of Independence.
This house, built in the 1730s, is one of Virginia’s finest renditions of early Georgian architecture.
This style was popular in the 1700s because of the order and stability that its simple, balanced appearance conveys.
Other houses with similar features and vintage along Main Street include The Old Custom House, the Somerwell House, and the Dudley Diggers House.
Book a SegwayPT Tour
Patriot Tours & Provisions on Water Street not only rents bikes, kayaks, and paddleboards.
It also offers a convenient and engaging SegwayPT tour of Yorktown's various points of interest.
Riding a Segway, a tour guide will accompany you on a one-hour ride along the York River through the historic village.
The tour’s itinerary will cover the bluff near the Victory Monument up to the National Park Service visitor center’s entrance.
From your tour guide, you will learn the significance of each historical site as you roll along enjoying the Segway ride.
You also have the option for a two-hour guided SegwayPT tour covering Yorktown’s history during the Colonial, Revolutionary, and Civil War periods.
In this tour, you will visit the waterfront area, the scenic bluffs overlooking the York River, and the historic Main Street village.
Cruise aboard the Schooner Alliance
Yorktown Sailing Charters on Water Street offers cruises aboard its Alliance, a 105-foot, gaff-rigged schooner.
From April to November, this vessel sails thrice daily from the Riverwalk Landing Pier.
In this cruise, the schooner will sail past the Yorktown Battlefield, enabling a perspective of the siege from the water.
During the cruise, you will appreciate not only the sight of Yorktown’s bluffs and the towering Victory Monument.
Other sights you may see include ospreys and dolphins, working watermen, or perhaps even a warship or submarine from the nearby Yorktown Naval Weapons Station.
The Allianceschooner has sailed the traditional manner of block and tackle, and those in the cruise, if so inclined, can help with the crew’s guidance.
Yorktown Sailing Charters also offers Pirate Adventure Cruises suited for a family adventure.
In these cruises, the kids will learn sailor skills, steer the ship, and set the sails, as well as imagine some Johnny Depp pirate antics.
Enjoy Craft Beers at Water Street Grille
This restaurant is located on its eponymous Water Street and provides casual indoor and outdoor seating with marvelous waterfront views.
It tempts customers with its wide selection of craft beers from breweries worldwide.
Among the 20 microbrews that Water Street Grille’s taproom rotates are Yuengling American Light Lager and Solace Four-Leaf India Pale Ale.
A savory dining experience is another ace up Water Street Grille’s sleeves, offering fresh seafood, Italian tapas, and artisanal pizza.
On Friday and Saturday nights, you can also catch live music entertainment at Water Street Grille.
Have a Cup of Coffee at a Colonial House
The circa 1730 Cole Digges House on Main Street is host to the Mobjack Bay Coffee Roasters and Petite Cafe, offering guided tours in Yorktown.
The beverage offerings in this unique coffee shop not only include hot and cold coffee brews.
Petite Café also provides a wonderful selection of teas, cold drinks, drinking chocolate, wine, and beer for sale.
Additionally, this coffeehouse has a kitchen with tempting Paninis, gourmet sandwiches, and soups.
Its menu also features a selection of fresh-baked items, including muffins, scones, cookies, and apple strudel.
Petite Café’s customers can enjoy their orders either in the dining rooms or in outdoor seating.
At this café, you can also arrange a tour of the Yorktown Battlefield and the Main Street Village.
Drive or Bike the Colonial Parkway
The Colonial Parkway stretches for 23 miles and was specifically built to connect the Historic Triangle: Yorktown, Williamsburg, and Jamestown.
You can start driving or biking from the Historic Yorktown Battlefield, head north to Williamsburg, then loop down west to Jamestown.
In a certain sense, this scenic roadway also connects the York River at Yorktown to the James River at Jamestown.
For most of the roads that the Colonial Parkway crosses, it does not directly intersect with that road.
Instead, it either goes on or under a bridge, and in one stretch, a tunnel at Colonial Williamsburg.
The Colonial Parkway also does not pass any modern commercial development, thus providing a continuity of the motorists’ or bikers’ experience of traversing through America’s colonial history.
Along this historic corridor, visitors will enjoy magnificent open vistas of the York and James rivers, tidal estuaries, as well as lush sceneries of hardwood and pine forests.
Other Things to Do Nearby
Go Birdwatching at Gloucester Point Beach Park
This park is on Greate Road at Gloucester Point, the largest community of Gloucester County.
The Gloucester Point Beach Park is just 1.7 miles northeast of Yorktown and is across the George P. Coleman Memorial Bridge.
More than 200 bird species visit Gloucester Point Beach Park annually, attesting to the complex ecosystem of the nearby Chesapeake Bay and its watershed.
Other points of interest in Gloucester Point Beach Park are a beach, a playground, and a boat ramp.
Yorktown has a unique character spanning three major eras of US history, making it such a fascinating place to visit.
At the same time, this seat of York County flaunts a riverside location offering plenty of exciting outdoor activities and melding flawlessly with its historical sites.
Although small compared with other travel destinations, Yorktown thus deserves a stop of a day or two in a trip to Virginia.