Insider Tips for Visiting with Kids

Posted in: Visiting Monticello

As spring settles in, more and more visitors are making their way to Monticello.  With Spring Break upon us, this seems a fitting time to offer some insider tips to make your family trip to Monticello as pleasant as it can be.  I’ll include a list below of some helpful hints, and I encourage you to comment with your own tips for a successful family visit to Monticello.  (This blog is intended to be more about logistical considerations than to outline all we have available for families to enjoy.  Please view our Visiting with Kids page to learn more about tours, attractions, and some helpful tips about what to see and do before and during your visit to Monticello.) 

First—here’s a drawing of the visitor center for reference.  Numbers used on this general map will also appear on the pictures below near that area. 

Map of Visitor Center

1. Potties and Changing Stations: Let’s face it, when you’ve gotta go, it’s hard to focus on much else. 

At the Thomas Jefferson Visitor Center and Smith Education Center

Visitor Center pavilions

  • The good news is that right past the Dominion Welcome Pavilion (where the ticket office #1 is located) at Monticello’s visitor center (VC), there’s an alcove on the right with restrooms #2 (pictured, above.  The inset photo is a closer view of the restroom alcove entrance). 
  • At the VC, there’s also a family or companion restroom, so if you need a bit more space, this is the restroom to visit.  The two changing stations available on the courtyard level of the VC are in those family/companion restrooms.
  • Also in the VC, there is a lower lobby with restrooms (both the women’s and men’s have changing stations).  If you are traveling with a stroller or a person using a wheelchair and enter through the Smith Education Center entrance #3 (pictured, below), this lobby is also where you’ll get the elevator up to the ticket office. 

Smith Education Center entrance

And here’s a drawing of the mountaintop where Monticello (the house) is for reference.  Numbers used on this general map will also appear on the pictures below near that area. 

Mountaintop map

On the mountaintop:

  • On the mountaintop, restroom facilities are available under the South Terrace #6 and underneath the Mountaintop Museum Shop #7.
  • The South Terrace restrooms (entrances pictured, below) are the only mountaintop restrooms that do not require stairs to access.  If you are traveling with a stroller or a member of your group uses a wheelchair, I recommend asking a staff member how to navigate to these accessible restrooms.  There you’ll find both a men’s and women’s restroom; the women’s restroom there has a changing station, while the men’s room in this location does not. 

South Terrace restrooms

  • The restrooms below the Mountaintop Museum Shop #7 are accessed by a set of stairs to the left (if you are facing the shop’s entrance, pictured below).  

Mountaintop museum shop

  • Both the women’s and men’s rooms at this location have changing stations.  (Pictured, below, is a closer view of the set of stairs down to the restrooms and the small sign on the post says so—a close-up of the sign is also included).

Stairs down to the restroom below the Museum Shop

Former Nanny’s Note: I recommend encouraging youngsters to give the potty a try before entering the house for the tour.  While you can exit your tour and attempt to rejoin it if a potty emergency occurs, visiting the restroom prior to entering may help you and your family enjoy the tour fully and not miss anything. 

Elevator sign2. Elevators (a.k.a. the Up-and-Down Box, sign pictured): For those traveling with kids in strollers or who have a member of their group who uses a wheelchair or scooter, elevators are available to provide access to all three levels of the visitor center. 

  • To get from the VC lower level to the courtyard level, there’s the elevator in the lower lobby that I mentioned above in the section about restrooms (enter at #3 on the map). 
  • To get to the upper level of the VC, where you find the shuttle station to catch a shuttle up to the mountaintop to see the house, there is a long outdoor staircase.  Inside the Smith Galleries building (adjacent to the stairs), there is also an elevator (#4 on the map).  Using the elevator is preferable to trying to carry children and strollers (or children in strollers) up the stairs.  Be advised, though, that we ask that most strollers are folded up to take on the shuttle. 

3. House Tours: While there’s plenty to see and do at Monticello in addition to the house tour, it is often the most anticipated part of our visitors’ time here. 

  • Seasonally (during times when our family visitation peaks), we offer Family Friendly Tours.  We welcome families on all of our house tours, but these tours are specifically geared toward youngsters and incorporate hands-on opportunities.  Six Family Friendly Tours occur each day they’re offered.  You can purchase tickets in advance or, if available, when you arrive at Monticello.  
  • If you plan to do a house tour and have a youngster in your group who might prefer to enjoy some toddler toys at the Mountaintop Hands-on Activity Center or do a puzzle in the Griffin Discovery Room, your group can split up so everyone who wishes can enjoy the house tour.  If you wish to do this, either buy tickets at least an hour apart (if you’re purchasing ahead online) or let the ticket office employee know when you buy your tickets onsite.  For example, say a set of grandparents, parents, and three children are visiting together.  The youngest child is 18 months and is happiest when she is either touching or licking (or both) everything; since many of the furnishings and items in the house are over 200 years old, enjoying them in this manner is a bit of an issue.  So, the parents and two older children might take a 10 a.m. Family Friendly Tour while the grandparents and the little one enjoy the Mountaintop Hands-on Activity Center.  Then, after the first group has enjoyed their tour, the grandparents can take an 11:15 house tour while the parents and kids visit the Griffin Discovery Room. 

4. Bags: Traveling with kids means carrying necessities, of course.  Here’s some info regarding bags at Monticello.

  • For safety and security reasons, we ask that visitors bring bags smaller than 11” x 15” x 6” to Monticello. 
  • Diaper bags, backpacks, large purses, etc. should be carried in front of visitors while in the house to avoid accidentally knocking into other visitors, the walls, or items on display. 
  • If you have a large bag you don’t want to leave in your vehicle, we have lockers available onsite in the VC lower level.  These lockers operate on quarters. 

5. Strollers: Ah, the limousines to the very small…

  • Visitors may take smaller strollers in the house.  Wondering if your stroller might be too big?  If so, think about if your stroller will be able to fit through a standard doorway.  If your stroller is too large to safely navigate some of the more confined areas on the house tour, we are happy to provide loaner umbrella strollers while visitors enjoy the house.  
  • As mentioned in the elevator section, most strollers need to be folded up to board one of Monticello’s shuttles.  If you have a stroller that cannot be folded up or a member of your group uses a wheelchair or scooter, Monticello always has at least one shuttle running that has a wheelchair lift.  
  • In addition to shuttle service to and from the mountaintop, we have a path available as well.  Some visitors like to walk up or down (or both) with kids.  Be advised, the path’s grade is quite steep in places.  If you plan to push a stroller, please just be mindful of the steepness. 

6. Food and Drink: Rest easy, we have some.

  • Food and drink are available at the Café at Monticello.  The Café offers grab-‘n-go options as well as made-to-order sandwiches and such.  There’s a kids’ menu available.  
  • The Café has indoor and outdoor seating available. 
  • A picnic area #5 is available near the bus parking section of the parking lot near the entrance to the courtyard of the VC.  You wouldn’t find it unless you were looking for it.  Cross (safely) over the traffic circle in front of the VC.  (When you do, you’ll be standing near the place pictured below; at this point, the VC will be behind you). 

Path to picnic area
When the bus parking area (which usually has at least a bus or two) is in front of you, turn right.  You’ll use the wide crosswalk (pictured above to the right of the bus) to get to an entrance to a path (pictured above with a big red arrow).  If you start on that path, almost immediately on your left it opens up into a picnic area with several picnic tables (pictured, below).  This is a nice place to enjoy lunch in the warmer weather. 

Picnic area

(Former Nanny Note: I recommend reminding kids that buses may be pulling into and out of the parking area not too far away, so they’ll remain mindful of looking both ways and keeping an eye out for traffic. 

  • We ask that visitors not eat or drink inside the house.  
  • The Museum Shop at the VC as well as the small Mountaintop Museum Shop both have some snack foods and drinks available, to stave off those low-blood-sugar-meltdowns that can ruin the fun.  
  • Water fountains are located in the VC near the restrooms on the lower and courtyard levels (#2 and near #3).  On the mountaintop, there is a water fountain on the exterior of the Mountaintop Museum Shop building, near the stairs down to the restrooms #7 (pictured, below).

Water fountain near the Mountaintop Museum Shop

Former Nanny’s Note: I recommend, especially if you’re near one of those tricky food times of day, to offer kids a snack and moderate drink (one not significant enough to bring on a potty emergency) prior to going on the house tour.

7.Sundries: In case there are things you lost, forgot, or didn’t even think you’d need, the Museum Shops have you covered. 

  • As mentioned above, both locations for the Museum Shop have some food and drink.
  • If a rainy day surprises you, both shops have rain ponchos and umbrellas available for purchase. 
  • Sun getting to you?  The shops have hats and sunscreen, too. 
  • The shops have a wide selection of T-shirts, polos, and sweatshirts, in case you dressed too warmly or too coldly. 
  • Both shops have batteries and disposable cameras, so technical difficulties won’t keep you from capturing family memories via photographs. 

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