Charlottesville, VA City Guide

Today’s Charlottesville, VA City Guide comes to us from local resident Kate Sanger. Kate has been a design-enthusiast all her life, heavily influenced by her mother’s dual enthusiasm for modern design and historic preservation and her father’s interest in city planning, architecture, and contemporary art. She is a San Francisco native, but has lived in Charlottesville for the past seven years while working as a PhD candidate at the University of Virginia. When she is not thinking, writing, and teaching courses about international politics, she spends her free time walking, listening, eating, drinking, and looking around Charlottesville with her fabulous friends and handsome husband.  Today she shares with us some of the many charms and delights this city has to offer.  Thanks for such a comprehensive guide, Kate! –Stephanie

Read the full guide after the jump…

Graduate school drove my relocation to Charlottesville, not a desire to live surrounded by red brick and dogwoods in Central Virginia. In fact, before moving here I was a bit of a big-city snob, having previously lived in San Francisco, Boston, London, and New York. But seven years in I now have a hard time imagining moving – I never anticipated how much I would come to love this place. Since I moved to Charlottesville it’s grown evermore culturally, musically, aesthetically, and epicurean-ily (sure – that’s a word) abundant. Depending on who you ask it’s a small city or a big town – either way it is clear that Cville is full of vitality, beauty, and Southern charm-lite. And now, in addition to an esteemed university, a UNESCO world heritage site, foundational American history, Blue Ridge hiking trails, a vibrant music scene, ample antiquing opportunities, copious locavorian (yes, that’s now a word too) delights, wineries, breweries, cideries, and a generous helping of delicious restaurants we have a Whole Foods and a Trader Joes! So for a city of this size, we’ve really got it all!

There are a surprising number of things to do, eat, drink, hear, and see in Charlottesville, so this guide is not nearly complete. I’ve highlighted my personal favorites to help visitors and newcomers get started, but hopefully others will add their favorites in the comments section below.

(Hat tips and curtsies to several Charlottesvillians who shared their insights for this guide: Emily Charnock, Molly Scudder, Hilde Restad, Julie Basic, Bethany Blalock, and Amy Grady.)

SUGGESTED ITINERARIES

My recommendation is to mix and match – Charlottesville is a great place to make your own adventure by combining indoor and outdoor, historical and contemporary, urban and rustic fun.

  • Daytime at Monticello: If the weather is good bring some picnic supplies, park at the bottom of the Saunders-Monticello trail and walk up to Monticello’s visitor’s center. Have a picnic and take the complimentary van up to tour Jefferson’s creatively designed home and plantation. Walk back down to your car along beautiful tree-lined paths. Stop into Michie Tavern, a restored independence-era pub, for a beer. In the Fall combine this with a trip to Carter’s Mountain Apple Orchard – you can hike there to really earn your cider and donuts… but if you are also going to see Monticello or actually plan on apple picking you might want to drive.
  • Daytime at the University and Downtown: Start at the University/ Corner area. Have a morning coffee and scone at Para Coffee, walk to the Rotunda and peak inside, walk around the lawn/range and explore the Special Collections library to see what exhibit is showing. Then take the Free Trolley or walk down West Main St. stopping for lunch at Feast. Continue to the historic, pedestrian Downtown Mall to window (or really) shop at the many antique, book, design, and clothing stores.
  • Take a Scenic Drive: Drive to Albemarle Cider Works if you are a cider fan, to Devil’s Backbone for beer, or to Hill Top Berry Farm (my favorite place to bring a picnic) if you want to try their range of fruit wines and mead (honey-based wine). If you have the hankering, on the way home stop by one of the many antique shops you are bound to see on the side of the road as you approach Charlottesville.
  • Nighttime on the Mall: See a concert and picnic at the Pavilion – bring a big blanket and your dinner from one of the many take-out options along the Mall (Marco and Luca, The Flat, Cinema Taco, and Christian’s are all good options – see below for descriptions.) Or you can partake in one of the food trucks inside the Pavilion. After the show have a drink and catch a bit more live music at The Whiskey Jar.

Be sure to check out this map with all of the below listings, as well as individual Google Maps for each neighborhood too!

all photos by Kate Sanger

DOWNTOWN

Charlottesville shopping and eating scene centers on The Downtown Mall – it’s a very successful and attractive brick-laden pedestrian mall and has basically nothing in common with a conventional American “mall.” So don’t be deterred by the name; this is probably where you want to spend most of your time within the city.

Here is a map of the following Downtown locations!

Shopping, Antiques, Design:

  • Roxie Daisy: Beautiful glassware and linens on the Downtown Mall with an elegant-meets-rustic vibe.
  • Caspari: Interior decoration with a preppy vibe. Brightly patterned upholstery, dinnerware, and stationary among other things.
  • Bittersweet: Vintage and contemporary clothing, shoes, and accessories. A boho-chic-southern aesthetic with lots of Frye boots.
  • Vintage Vixen: The name says it all. Beautiful vintage clothing and accessories from big couture houses and relative unknowns.
  • Low Vintage: Vintage clothing, accessories, house wares, and other assorted items. If you are looking for a pristine vintage Chanel handbag this isn’t the place for you, but I once found a stellar leather bucket bag here that is my go-to concert carry-all.
  • Melody Supreme: Super cool interior where you can browse an impressive vinyl collection.
  • Sidetracks: An independently-owed store selling music in a range of genres in a range of formats.
  • Second Yard: I am not gifted in the arts of sewing and upholstery, but my friends who are insist that Second Yard is a very noteworthy store and the best place in town for fabric.
  • O’Suzannah: Playful, colorful paper, accessories, beauty products, and gifts from a range of designers.
  • Verdigris: Designer fashion on the Mall – you no longer need to drive to DC for your Nicole Miller party dresses.
  • Rock Paper Scissors: Artful, lighthearted stationary. They carry my current favorite – Rifle Paper Co. – along with many, many other lines. They also do custom work.
  • Telegraph: This recently-opened print shop/boutique hosts changing, thematically oriented exhibitions of high quality prints as well as other design-minded accessories, books, and items.
  • Posh: Antique and contemporary designs in women’s clothing alongside antique or vintage-inspired accessories. A great spot to score a beaded evening clutch and fabulous costume jewelry.
  • Circa: Used and antique furniture and house wares of all kinds. Not right downtown but a very close drive. You can find a delicate spoon set, a comfy arm chair, or a hat!
  • Deloach Antiques: Underneath the Inn at Court Square you’ll find an array of beautifully restored and preserved furniture and other goodies. In fact, I am writing this from a glass-topped architecture desk I scored there years ago!
  • Downtown also has a number of book stores worth exploring, including New Dominion Bookshop, Daedalus Bookshop (121 4th St NE), Blue Whale Books, Oakley’s Gently Used Books, and Read It Again, Sam (214 E Main St).

Art and Architecture:

  • Court Square and the Mall: Walk around to see the historic buildings of many styles and from several different era – municipal, commercial, and residential.
  • McGuffey Arts Center: Composed of several galleries and studios this is a place to see diverse local artists’ work in a variety of media just a block off the Mall.
  • The Bridge: A community art space for emerging artists to collaborate and exhibit their work.
  • New City Arts: Check out the New City Arts web site  to find out about their diverse offerings including exhibits, lectures, and interactive opportunities.

Music, Theater, and More:

  • The Pavilion: Possibly my favorite music venue in the entire world. It has a great big sound-enhancing tent covering an intelligently designed seating area and lawn. You can watch the show standing right in front of the stage, sitting under the tent in a chair, or lounging on the lawn. I personally love to picnic on the lawn either by bringing in outside food (which is, amazingly, allowed!) or partaking in the food trucks inside the pavilion itself. Some of my favorite shows include the Decemberists, Jack Black, and Rodrigo y Gabriela… and Al Green! Every year has brought a number of unforgettable experiences.
  • The Jefferson: With its beautifully restored interior and boozy atmosphere this is the perfect place to take in a rock concert on the Mall. Before going, get dinner at the adjacent Cinema Tacos. I just saw Over the Rhine perform and they were fantastic!
  • The Paramount: Another beautifully restored theater, the Paramount hosts all manner of performances from concerts to plays to comedy to Charlottesville Oscar Night.
  • The Southern: An energetic, dive-y venue for more up-and-coming acts. I have heard the food is also pretty good but can’t personally vouch for it.
  • The Garage: This is a pretty creative use of a single car garage, a versatile “art space/concert venue/amateur film theater/ impromptu studio/potluck dining hall/etc.” Check the web site to see what is happening when you are in town.
  • Live Arts: This volunteer theater hosts a range of polished, high quality performances. I’m excited to see the Pulitzer and Tony-award winning play “August: Osage Country” this summer.
  • First Fridays: On the first Friday of the month head downtown for some free culture and cavorting. The Pavilion hosts a free concert Fridays After Five while galleries open their doors and often their wines. Do like my friend Molly and start it off at Market Street Wine Shop with a wine tasting, then wander through the nearby galleries: Chroma Projects, McGuffey Art Center, Second Street gallery, Firefish Gallery, CitySpaceThe Garage, Writer HouseWarm Springs Gallery, Bozart, The Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative, and the WVFT and Radio IQ Studio Gallery.

Sit-Down Restaurants:

  • C&O: The classic Cville restaurant serving substantial European-inspired food in a cozy setting. I like going here on colder nights though the garden is also fun in better weather.
  • Petit Pois & Fleurie: There is a strong tradition of French cuisine in Charlottesville. Petit Pois and Fleurie are probably the best on the Mall. Petit Pois is a little less formal than Fleurie. Both are pretty darn delicious.
  • Zocalo: An extremely reliable restaurant with fun twists on southern and local fare. The menu hasn’t changed the whole time I’ve lived here, and that’s just fine by me. I insist that you have the Sidecar cocktail when you go – scrumptious.
  • Ten: Excellent (if pricey) Japanese food in a highly stylized space. Fun cocktail menu.
  • Glass Haus: With a James Beard Award semi-finalist at the helm this new restaurant’s American-fusion cuisine has gotten a lot of positive attention since it opened.
  • Mono Loco: A lively restaurant with margaritas and very filling, very delicious “nouveau-Latin” food. I like the fried cod and avocado burrito with the jalapeño margarita. Great for birthdays or any other time you feel celebratory and hungry!
  • Himalayan Fusion: I go for the saag paneer, tandoori chicken, and garlic naan. A solid vegan-friendly option.
  • Monsoon: Thai/Burmese restaurant in a restored home off the Mall. Really good, rich curries and friendly staff. In my opinion, if you are feeling like Thai food definitely go here – other Thai options around the Mall are not nearly as good.
  • Citizen Burger Bar: Another attractive yet unpretentious space (lots of wood, brick, and warmth) where you can enjoy different permutations of burgers made from high quality, local ingredients and a range of beers and mixed drinks.
  • Whiskey Jar: Great late-night menu along with, predictably, a strong drink menu. Fried chicken and hushpuppies!
  • Brookville: French-influences and local produce. Lots of meat with greens pairings, the Pork Belly sandwich with frisee is my kind of thing.

Snacks, Stop-Ins, and Take-Aways:

  • The Flat: Sweet and savory crepes you can enjoy sitting on benches around the take-away window or take with you as you stroll down the Mall. Ideal for lunch or pre-concert quick dinner.
  • Christian’s Pizza (118 W Main St.): This is really good pizza. The classic cheese and pepperoni are of course delicious, but I go for the avocado, tomato and feta!
  • Marco and Luca: Dumplings and noodles. Simple and delicious.
  • Cinema Taco: Tacos and empanadas next to the Jefferson Theater.
  • Eppie’s: Southern favorites in an informal café. I recommend their mac and cheese and their curry chicken salad.
  • Song Song’s Zhou & Bing (106 5th Street SE): Two forms of Chinese food done extremely well: Zhou, a savory porridge, and Bing, a meat and vegetable filled bready shell. Very tasty.
  • Hanu Truck: What college-foodie town would be complete without a Korean-Taco truck! But ours also has Mulitas, Quesadillas, and innovative specials. Often found outside Champion Brewing Company but you can check the web site for location updates.

On the Weekend:

  • Farmer’s Market: I have a kitchen so I go for the produce, but if you are there for more immediate gratification I strongly recommend the taco stand at the bottom of the hill and the fresh donuts at the top!
  • Bluegass Grill: It’s open during the week too, but this is an especially popular spot for Saturday and Sunday brunch. See below for details, and how Bluegrass Grill compares to its main brunch rival, the Blue Moon Diner.

Drinks – Coffee and The Real Stuff:

  • Mudhouse: An on-the-mall favorite for coffee, with colorful clientele and good coffee.
  • Whiskey Jar: For whiskey, scotch, rye, mint juleps, and anything else in a lively bar often with live music. Youthful, indie scene.
  • Citizen Burger Bar: Spacious but still warm and cozy, good beer list and a range of mixed drink options.
  • South Street Brewery: Beer brewed in-house in an attractive but casual open space. Good for big groups.
  • Court Square Tavern: Low key joint where you can actually hear each other talk.
  • Fellini’s: Good spot for a glass of red wine and conversation on a colder night.
  • C&O: Bring one friend and come to the downstairs bar for an adult but unpretentious scene and live music some nights.
  • Escafe: This is where to go if you want to dance. Unofficial Cville gay bar.
  • Skybar: Not my scene but a popular spot with an excellent rooftop location. On the weekends it has a bit of a meat-market vibe.
  • Market Street Wine Shop: Superb selection and knowledgeable staff if you want to buy wine, beer, and snacks.

WEST MAIN STREET/ MIDTOWN

West Main is the connector between the Corner/ University and the Downtown Mall. It used to serve primarily as a conduit between these two commercial hubs but has in recent years developed its own restaurant row with some of the best food in town.

Here is a map of the following Downtown locations!

Shopping, Antiques, Design:

  • Main Street Market: This industrial building has been transformed into a lovely shopping and eating venue. It has a number of great offerings: Sustain for clothing, accessories, and beauty products. Hedge for flowers. See below for the food offerings there.
  • Random Row: Not only does Random Row sell “used, rare, and uncommon books” it also serves as a community event space, hosting lectures, film screenings, concerts, and other events.
  • Eloise: Comfortable-cocktail party designer clothing and accessories from lines like Splendid, Clare Vivier, Ella Moss, and James Perse.
  • City Clay: Make your own pottery or ogle others’ in this light-filled, unpretentious pottery studio with an inviting atmosphere. Classes are offered for all ages and skill levels.

Restaurants:

  • Feast: This is probably my favorite lunch spot in town. You can buy specialty and local groceries here or order from the lunch counter. The Polyface Farm chicken salad sandwich is pretty addictive. And it has an epic cheese selection.
  • Seafood @ West Main (and Sushi): My favorite monger for when I am cooking, and scrumptious sushi for lunch. Their sushi is simple – no crazy combination and sauces here – but really just perfect.
  • Café Calvino for coffee, panini, cookies, etc.
  • The Organic Butcher: Pretty self-explanatory, but let me just add that the staff is delightful and their hot dogs must be laced with some sort of illegal substance because I’ve never had better hot dogs.
  • Moto Pho Co: A new addition to the dining scene with several versions of Vietnamese noodle soups on offer in a clean, modern setting.
  • One Meatball Place: Another newbie, and I am a big fan especially because, despite its name, it has good options both for carnivores like me and vegans like my husband. It offers all types of meatballs – beef, chicken, salmon, and falafel – which come alone, as a sandwich, or on pasta. Very attractive space and a nice, simple bar. I can’t help but order the chicken meatballs on penne pasta with the green chili sauce – delicious!
  • Orzo: I like going here for dinner on colder nights to take advantage of the strong red wines and rich pastas. Also offers my favorite Caesar salad in town – with anchovies!
  • Maya: Another of my favorite dinner spots – southern/ local options like grilled trout and shrimp and grits. Lovely outdoor patio in good weather and frequent live music.
  • Horse and Hound: I go here for the extensive beer list and burgers. My friend Hilde encourages you to go crazy with their delicious homemade spicy sauce.
  • Etoile: A favorite of Cville’s French restaurants, on the formal side but with very knowledgeable staff and excellent food.
  • Continental Divide: Small in size but big in personality, this is a very well regarded Southwest/ Mexican restaurant – especially loved for its margaritas.
  • Blue Moon Diner: This is my go-to lunch spot. Although many people come here on the weekend for the brunch menu I like to come during the week when they often have innovative specials (bring back the edamame ravioli!). If you are considering this for weekend brunch, see below on Where to Brunch for a fuller description.

Snacks & Desserts

  • Gearharts: If you come to visit me, feel free to pop in here and for the best hostess gift imaginable – artisan chocolate truffles.
  • Albemarle Baking Company: Great bread baked daily and an assortment of dangerously delicious pastry. I love the cornmeal loaf and the breadsticks.

 

BELMONT

Belmont has been a desirable residential neighborhood for a while now but in the last decade or so has also become a foodie district.

Here is a map of the following Downtown locations!

  • Mas: A lively, stylish, Cville classic serving Spanish-style tapas with local accents. (The restaurant also sponsors the best soccer team in town: Go Mas!) I encourage you to order pretty much everything on the menu since it is all delicious and also strongly endorse their Basil Gimlet – especially when the weather is nice so you can sip it outside.
  • Tavola: In my opinion, unparalleled Italian menu in town. Amazing everything in a great space. It’s a good thing I don’t live in Belmont or I’d be here every night. Come early and expect a bit of a wait, especially on weekends.
  • The Local: As you can imagine from the name, this attractive neighborhood restaurant and bar specializes in using locally sourced ingredients in their Italian-American food.
  • Belmont Bar-B-Que: Self explanatory and controversial. Some people love it, others not so politely abstain.
  • Jinx’s Pit Stop: By many people this seems to be considered the most legit BBQ spot in town.
  • Black Market Moto Saloon: Evidently it has a loyal following of fun, plucky young professionals, bikers, and hipsters with lots of good drinks and food to go around in a cool commercial space decorated with motorcycles. I’ve heard especially positive reviews of the garlic fries and the home-smoked brisket, which you can enjoy on a wrap-round porch in the summer and in front of a wood-burning stove in the winter.
  • The Farm: A casual new spot where you can take out or eat in. Sandwiches, soups, salads, coffee, treats.
  • Spudnuts: This is where you go for donuts in Cville.
  • The Korean House (221 Carlton Rd #8): Admittedly not the most attractive spot but very solid Korean food from a lovely, family kitchen.
  • Beer Run: As the name suggests – it has a serious selection of beers and an accompanying food menu.

THE CORNER & UNIVERSITY AREA

The Corner is the term used to describe the commercial strip around University Avenue and 14th Street that abuts the University of Virginia. It’s not my favorite place to eat or shop as it is primarily geared towards undergraduate students who are wonderful, but rarely share my culinary or aesthetic preferences. However, there are some perfectly tasty options if you want to have lunch or a snack when visiting the University. Almost all of these places also offer dinner but for the over 22 set I recommend going to Downtown, West Main Street, or to Belmont in the evening.

Here is a map of the following University/ Corner locations!

Art, Architecture, Education, and Theater:

  • University of Virginia Rotunda, Lawn, and Gardens: Thomas Jefferson founded the University of Virginia in 1819, though the first classes were not held until 1825. The Rotunda, lawn, and surrounding pavilions compose Jefferson’s original “Academical Village” where faculty and students lived and studied together. I am particularly fond of the original gardens that run along the outside of these pavilions: each has a unique design and character. Beware: these gardens are downright romantic in the spring – unexpected courtships can take root here.
  • University of Virginia Art Museum and Special Collections Library: Both the Museum and Special Collections libraries house historical documents and fine art reflecting the role of Virginia and the Charlottesville area during the nation’s founding. The Dunlap Broadside at the Special Collections library is pretty amazing to behold. The Art Museum also hosts traveling and its own exhibits, including a vibrant collection of Indian miniature paintings.
  • UVa Theaters: With several theaters (one just opened and still sparkling!) and productions throughout the year, these offerings are much more sophisticated than what you might expect from university-based theater. Serious talent in serious surroundings.
  • The Miller Center of Public Affairs: If you are in Charlottesville you should take advantage of the intellectual offerings of a University town. One way to do that is by visiting the Miller Center, which hosts lectures and debates by expert scholars and policy-makers on a variety of topics in historical and contemporary politics in a beautiful, classical setting.

Restaurants:

  • Boylan Heights: Beer and specialty burgers.
  • Michael’s: Probably the most adult place in the area with a range of simple meals and a solid beer list.
  • Lemongrass: For Thai.
  • Pigeon Hole: My usual pick for brunch and lunch. Breakfast burritos, meatloaf sandwiches, grits.
  • Christian’s (100 14th St NW): A second location of the Downtown pizza joint.
  • Bodo’s Bagels: People in Charlottesville are serious about Bodo’s. They have a number of sandwich options – I like their whole wheet everything with egg salad myself. (There are other branches of Bodo’s on Emmet and on Preston Avenue.)
  • Revolutionary Soup: Good for vegan and vegetarian options – try the Senegalese Peanut. They also have a downtown location.
  • Marco and Luca (107 Elliewood Ave.): A second location of the Downtown dumpling house.
  • Wayside Fried Chicken: Self-explanatory and delicious. A favorite for football tailgaters. It is not really on “The Corner” – it is a 20 minute walk from central campus. But if you are hankering for fried chicken, its worth the walk or drive.
  • Fry’s Spring Pizza: I go for the 1/2 off wine bottles on Wednesdays.

Coffee:

  • Para Coffee: My favorite coffee house near the University with great espresso drinks and teas.
  • Bodo’s: Solid drip coffee.

ON THE OUTSKIRTS & OUTSIDE OF TOWN

Here is a map of the following locations!

Art, Architecture, and History:

  • Monticello: The historic home, farm, and gardens of Thomas Jefferson and his family. Monticello is perched on a hill just outside of Charlottesville and offers tremendous views in addition to being architecturally, historically, and agriculturally alluring. The tours offer great insight into the time and life of Jefferson and his enslaved staff. The dining room just got remodeled to make it more historically authentic – go check out the new “Monticello Yellow” walls!
  • Michie Tavern: A fun stop on the way to or from Monticello or if walking the Saunder-Monticello trail. The Tavern dates to 1784 when it served as a restaurant, bar, community center, and lodge for the surrounding community. Today there is a self-guided tour and a restaurant serving fried chicken and related southern fare. Personally I’d go for a beer and the ambiance, and then eat elsewhere later.
  • Ash Lawn-Highland and Montpelier: The historic homes of James Monroe and James Madison, respectively. Probably not quite as rich an experience as Monticello but a very nice visit if you have the time and interest in early American architecture and history and want a country drive. If you have to choose between the two Montpelier is a bit grander but further from town, whereas Ash Lawn is very close to Monticello so you can do both in one afternoon. If you drive to Montpelier you can combine the trip with a visit to some of the Civil War battlefields like Wilderness and Barboursville winery.
  • Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection: If you are feeling over-saturated with Americana, come here to a robust collection of Australian Aboriginal art.

Shopping and Design:

  • And George: Rustic, charming, surprising home décor ranging from crystal decanters to sculptural coral. If you are driving to Crozet or anywhere else west of town on route 250/ Ivy Road you should stop in here.

For Shakespeare:

  • Staunton’s American Shakespeare Theater: This is a good 45 minute drive from Charlottesville but very much worth the (very pretty) drive. Watch Shakespeare’s plays performed in the historically authentic Blackfriars Playhouse. I especially try to make it to the comedies. During intermission the actors perform music in the theme of the play and serve local wine and beer on the stage. It is an intimate, thoroughly engaging way to experience excellent theater. While you are there you can also walk around downtown Staunton with its historic architecture (check out the train station) and antique shops.

For Hiking and Outdoorsy-Types (great thanks to Julie Basic and Amy Grady for their extensive local park knowledge):

  • Skyline Drive/ Blue Ridge Parkway: Probably one of the most celebrated scenic drives in the US. Enjoy over 100 miles of driving and numerous hiking trails off the main road with views over the Blue Ridge Mountains. The only downside is the entrance fee… and the slight risk of walking into a bear, but don’t worry: they are pretty innocuous.
  • Saunders-Monticello Trail: The main trail is a 2-mile walkway with numerous off-road tracks on the mountain where Monticello, Michie Tavern, and Carter Mountain Orchard are located. You can park at the bottom and then walk up to the Monticello Visitor’s Center or stop half-way for a drink at Michie Tavern.
  • Ivy Creek Natural Area: A 215 acre nature preserve with 7 miles of walking trails just outside Charlottesville. Gorgeous in spring and fall.
  • Old Rag Mountain: As the National Park Service says, “Old Rag is Shenandoah’s most popular and most dangerous hike.” Have fun and be cautious.
  • Walnut Creek Park: Hiking, biking, swimming, golfing, fishing, picnicking. You can rent kayaks and canoes to take to the lake.
  • Sugar Hollow: Fishing, nature trails, and rock climbing west of Charlottesville.
  • Strawberry & Peach Picking at Chiles Peace Orchard in Crozet.
  • Apple picking at Carter Mountain Orchard near Monticello.
  • Crabtree Falls: Beautiful waterfalls and surrounding hiking. Walk with care!
  • Humpback Rocks: A steep climb with stunning views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
  • Stargazing nights at Observatory Hill.
  • Go tubing on the James River: James River Runners and James River Reeling and Rafting can make it happen.
  • Consider a tour with The Locavor Hunter: I’ve wanted to take his Deer Hunting for Beginners class for several years now. He also sometimes partners with other naturalists/ experts to lead fishing or foraging hikes.
  • A Note on Dog Parks: Chris Greene Park is close to by the airport, but it has the best dog park in all of Charlottesville according to close sources. Whereas Darden Towe and Azalea are big fenced areas absent of any trees or shade or access to the rivers that run by both parks, Chris Greene is a wooded expanse with a long stretch of lake access. Dogs can run, swim, lounge, and owners don’t have to bake in the sun.

Food and Drink:

  • If you are going to take a hike or wander around one of the outside-of-town spots I recommend bringing a picnic. You can pick something up at the Whole Foods, Food of All Nations, Feast!, or Greenwood Grocery.
  • Crozet Pizza: Mmmmmmmm… Crozet Pizza. I am a Christian’s girl myself but many friends think Crozet Pizza is even better. And going there gives you an excuse to drive on 250 to Crozet, an attractive drive to a nearby town. Stop by And George on the way.
  • BBQ Exchange: Who doesn’t want a country drive that ends with scrumptious BBQ?
  • Milan: They do a good, well-priced lunch buffet and I love the goat korma for dinner. Predictably delicious garlic naan too.
  • Basic Necessities: A quaint brunch spot out-of-town. A great option if you are combining brunch with a Blue Ridge hike.

Breweries I think the breweries and cideries are more interesting to visit than the wineries around here, but that might be my Northern California roots speaking. Either way, we have great beer and cider around here and you should check it out:

Cideries (plus one Mead-ery):

Wineries:

Coffee:

  • Shenandoah Joes: This local roaster and coffee shop has two locations. Great for a place to work or meet with friends.

WHERE TO BRUNCH

  • Blue Grass Grill vs. Blue Moon Diner: If you feel like weekend brunch, go to one of the two Blues. Some people have strong feelings about which of these are superior. I am a Blue Moon regular myself but I think both are great for different things. Go to Blue Grass when you feel like pancakes, roast potatoes, corned beef hash, and eggs benedict, and when you are willing to wait a long time for a table (I only go on weekdays when there isn’t a wait). I go to Blue Moon for French toast, eggs, burgers, and creative specials. Also, for the coffee and Bloody Mary’s. If you want to listen to Led Zeppelin in a funky, dive-bar environment, go to Blue Moon. If you want to listen to a blue grass reinterpretation of Led Zeppelin surrounded by banjos and baskets, go to Blue Grass.

PLACES TO STAY

  • 200 South Street: (200 W South St.) A casual bed-and-breakfast one block from the downtown Mall. Each room has its own character but all are housed in an attractive 1856 building. I like the balance of its warm, elegant environment and casual atmosphere.
  • Inn at Court Square: (410 Jefferson St.) A 1785 building transformed into a very stylized inn. Each room is filled with luxurious antiques and the breakfast is decadent and delicious. A bit more formal than 200 South Street, but with a similar historic, B&B feel.
  • Clifton Inn: (1296 Clifton Inn Drive) If you want a bit more solitude, the Clifton Inn is a very popular out-of-town option. The Inn, a popular wedding venue, has 17 rooms on 100 acres with a very well-regarded restaurant.
  • The Silver Thatch: (3001 Hollymead Drive) An intimate B&B close to town.
  • Log Cabin at DelFosse Winery: (500 DelFosse Winery Ln. Faber, VA) I just found out about this and haven’t been myself but plan to if I get an excuse. Delfosse is one of the more attractive wineries in the area, and another popular wedding venue. The recently restored Log Cabin has one large bedroom, wine bar, patio, and kitchen. In addition to offering wine tastings the property has a lake and abuts several miles of hiking trails.
  • Keswick: (701 Club Dr., Keswick, VA) Enjoy Fosters restaurant, golf, spa services, and a billiards room. There is also an infinity pool that even non-guests can access with a day pass. If you come for breakfast bring sunglasses and watch the sun rise over the beautiful grounds.
  • Boar’s Head Inn: (200 Ednam Dr.) If you want to incorporate golfing and spa-time into your trip, this is another good place to stay. You’ll be just outside of town with access to numerous on-site luxuries and an elegant restaurant.

SERVICES

  • Oasis Day Spa. For in-town manicures, pedicures, facials, hair-removal, and massage. If you need a facial or hair plucked from your face (or anywhere else – it is beach season after all) I strongly urge you to make an appointment with Sarah, a Cville institution in-and-of herself as far as I am concerned.
  • Spas Out of Town: Keswick and Boar’s Head both have ample services in beautiful surroundings.
  • Sneak Reviews: Great movie rental shop with new releases on the ground floor and older films organized by director and nationality on the second.
  • Great Graphics: Not only does this shop, conveniently located on the Mall, have a superior range of frames it also sells a dazzling array of vintage prints to put in those frames.
  • Yoga anyone? Charlottesville has several options including Bikram, Studio 206, Ashtanga.
  • The Free Trolley: This is my favorite way to get around town. The Free Trolley runs on a loop from downtown to UVa and back along West Main Street.

OTHER INFORMATION & RESOURCES

NOTABLE LOCALS

  • The Dave Matthews Band
  • Coran Capshaw of Red Light Management – a huge force in the local music scene and a big reason why there is such a strong music scene here
  • Joel Salatin, author and farmer of Polyface Farms fame
  • John Grisham, author
  • Sissy Spacek, actress
  • Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, actor (this might be rumor – I’ve never actually seen him here.)
  • Howie Long, former football player and TV personality
  • Historic Notables: There are many historical notables including Presidents Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe; Meriwether Lewis; Nancy Astor; and Edgar Allen Poe whose former room is preserved on the UVa Range
.tif smith

Hey! I live in C’ville! Thanks for this excellent and very thorough guide. It covers so many of my favorites. I work downtown, and you really hit the yummy spots. I really enjoy living here.

This Farming Man

Thanks for the guide! I love visiting Charlottesville, and you’ve listed some of my favorite spots as well as new places to try. Great job!

FripperyVintage

Great city guide, very thorough. Looks like a lot of great vintage stores. I think it would be a great place for a jewelry buying trip for my website!

Emi

The Local is SO GOOD! We had our rehearsal dinner there and the food and service was AMAZING! One of the very best restaurants in the area and we tried most of them. Slightly off the beaten path but SO worth it!

Lola Zabeth

Very awesome guide! I went to U of VA for undergrad and this post brought back many fond memories. Wahoowa!

Lizabeth

If you make it as far as Devil’s Backbone, down the road towards Nellysford is the Blue Ridge Pig BBQ – awesome!!!!!! And their dill potato salad is perfect. Yum, yum, yum….

Lizabeth

And don’t forget local author Rita Mae Brown…she writes a mystery series set in Crozet, VA with her cat, Sneaky Pie Brown.

Gabby

I LOVE Charlottesville! I’ve stayed at the Boars Head Inn (last one on the “places to stay list”) and it is seriously gorgeous! I highly recommend it to anyone who visits the area. We haven’t had any luck picking good restaurants there so I really appreciate this guide; very well done!

Leslie

Ah I miss it so much! But seriously, I dream about Bodo’s Bagels. Best ever.

Jill

I almost had a heart attack when I got 2/3rds of the way through and hadn’t seen Bodo’s on there! I left town 6 years ago and STILL buy a dozen bagels to put in my freezer every time I come back!

Jill

I live in Cville & I think this is an awesome guide! It has everything & highlights the best our town has to offer. Great job!

Jill

Also, the winery list here is very short and left off a few of my favorites! Veritas and Cardinal Point are both in Afton near Blue Mountain brewery. Horton Vineyards is directly across the street from Barboursville, so the two are a good package deal for an afternoon. Horton is also a nice alternative to Barboursville – casual, laid back, and far less “corporate”.

Carissa

You forgot to mention the polo matches at King Family Vineyard every Sunday from Memorial Day on through the summer–weather permitting of course! Great tailgating and family fun.

Christa Avampato

Love this guide. I want to graduate school at UVA and Charlottesville will always have a special place in my heart. Thanks for this “walk” down memory lane.

Jeannine @ Small & Chic

This is wonderful! I’m so proud of this amazing town and it’s always fun to look at what was deemed notable and what gems might still be a secret (Sweet Haus!).

Stephanie Marie

Amazing job on this– SO comprehensive and you hit nearly everything our sleepy, gorgeous, hip little town has to offer! I was sad to see Bizou not on the list of places to eat Downtown– located diagonal from the movie theater and across from Christian’s Pizza, it is the most delicious place for lunching outside and people watching when the weather is lovely.

Cat Thrasher

Kate, this is awesome. You rock. Awesome guide…I’m going to be sharing this with all of my incoming guests, as it pretty much sums up our awesome little city. :)

Megan

So glad you mentioned the avocado and feta pizza at Christian’s! It is my favorite pizza of all time.

Cville lover

This is such a great guide! One thing I love about Charlottesville that wasn’t mentioned here are all of the fantastic festivals that happen pretty much year round – Virginia Film Festival, LOOK3 Festival of the Photograph, Virginia Festival of the Book, Tom Tom Founder’s Festival – and I’m probably forgetting a few!

Stephanie

I can’t believe it — we’re New Yorkers who were in Charlottesville this weekend to visit friends and I literally checked on Monday night to see if there was a Cville Design Sponge guide and was surprised when I saw there wasn’t one. I’m so sad I didn’t see this until we got back to New York tonight. What a fantastically thorough guide!

Ashley

Well done! We’re in Chicago now but still travel back to C’Ville for Marco and Luca…

K

Great guide. For a weekend treat, Carpe Donut is a must after the farmers market on Saturday mornings. It’s on McIntire.

Jennie

Awesome post. Charlottesville is beyond compare. I love Star Hill brewery and catching any and every show local guitarist Tucker Rogers plays. Also the house dressing with bread ends at Take It Away is my must-do indulgence for every trip.

krissy m. murphy

I like the Bellair Market – gourmet sandwiches in a gas station. A lot of the other popular cville things are a bit overrated/overpriced IMHO.

Earl

Hey Kate, what about The White Spot on the Corner! Gotta be one of the great C’ville traditions.

Jenee Libby

As a food writer here for five years (thedinerofcville.com) I have to say this is a most comprehensive list! Kudos! But to leave out Zinc? A travesty. Chef Vu and his team consistently put out the most stellar food in their converted gas station on West Main. Unique and delicious. Zinc always appears on my yearly “Best of” list. Check ‘em out!

Jenny

No Paradox Pastry for bakery/dessert cafe in the downtown area? How’d ya miss us? (I’m biased….)

jennilou

This article describes many of the things I love about Charlottesville—and she name-checks Over the Rhine! I would add these to the list:
– the library book sale at Gordon Ave.
– Sneak Reviews and its amazing collection of domestic and foreign films
– beautiful spring evenings at Davenport Field watching UVA baseball
– Saturday afternoons at Mad Bowl watching rugby
– great city pools and gyms
– Carpe Donut
– local produce at Integral Yoga
– Rev Soup and Red Row Farm
– Radio IQ
– WNRN community radio
– the Virginia Arts of the Book Center and the vibrant printmaking and letterpress community
– pick-your-own flowers at Bel Air Farm
– New City Arts Initiative
– Public nights at Fan Mountain Observatory in April and October
– Ace Biscuits
– the embarrassingly abundant local food options
– the book, film, and photography festivals

Chelsea

So, so happy to see Charlottesville featured on this blog. I live in Brooklyn now but will always consider that pretty little town my home and hopefully someday the place I return to. Great guide to just about all the bests, but a few photos can’t do Cville’s beauty justice! One really must visit to get a sense of its special charm. How lovely the hills!, how quiet the valleys!, how cozy the winters!, how breezy the summers!, how kind the folks!, how happy the dogs!, how full of love all around!, and how the sky just always seems so big… :) Miss you, Charlottesville. Thanks for sharing!

Julie

Charlottesville holds a special place in my heart. My now husband and I were engaged at Carter Mountain Orchard and celebrated with friends after at nearby Blenheim Vineyards. We’ve spent many days there but that one was most definitely my favorite!

Kate Sanger

Thanks to everyone for filling in some important gaps in the guide.

Thanks to LIZABETH, KRISSY M. MURPHY, JILL, CARISSA, JENEE LIBBY, and CVILLE LOVER for their recommendations regarding Blue Ridge Pig BBQ, Bellair Market, wineries and polo at King Family Vineyards, Zinc, and the many festivals that enrich our town every year. STEPHANIE MARIE, I agree Bizou is a great outdoors eating spot (I go for the Caesar salad with fried chicken – a perfect pairing). And JENNIE, thanks for mentioning the terribly addictive sandwich spread/ dressing at Take It Away on the Corner– I might have to find an excuse to go there tomorrow. EARL, White Spot is absolutely an institution – but one I can’t personally speak to…

JEANNINE, K, and JENNY pointed out a number of dessert shops that I somehow forgot to mention: Sweet Haus (www.sweethaus.com), Carpe Donut (www.carpedonut.org), and Paradox Pastry (www.paradoxpastrycafe.com). Maybe forgetfulness was my brain’s way of protecting my body from sugar cravings, because those comments prompted me to think of some other sweet spots also worth checking out like The Baker’s Pallet (www.bakerspalette.com), which is just off the Mall and great for cakes, tarts, cookies, lemon and chocolate bars. Timberlake’s Drug Store and Soda Fountain is my go-to when I want an old-timey milk shake or root beer float, while Arches (archsfrozenyogurt.com) is where I will satisfy my frozen yogurt cravings this summer. If you are on the Mall and looking for ice cream head to Splendora’s (www.splendoras.com) or Chap’s (www.chapsicecream.com) – both are delicious in different ways. If you are looking for cup cakes, in addition to Sweet Haus on West Main there is Cappellino’s Crazy Cakes (www.cappellinoscrazycakes.com) on the Mall. I am not a cup cake eater myself, so I can’t speak to their taste but they sure are pretty!

FRIPPERYVINTAGE’s comment reminded me that I omitted some noteworthy jewelry stores in the downtown area – an unfortunate oversight. Ana Cavalheiro’s (www.anacavalheiro.com) bold, stone-centric rings are positively empowering. Lynne Goldman (www.lynnegoldmanelements.com) carries beautiful jewelry of her own design (I gravitate to the bright stones set in what strikes me as Byzantine-inspired metalwork), new pieces from Gurhan, and vintage treasures. The Jeweler’s Eye (www.jewelerseye.com) has some truly spectacular antique/estate pieces and I’ve trusted them with important repairs. Angelo Jewelry (www.angelojewelry.com) carries its own designs in addition to out-of-town fine jewelry designers like Alex Sepkus (oh how I crave his gold and sapphire rings). I have had luck with relatively inexpensive antique finds at Central Virginia Coin & Jewelry (119 W. Main Street). Walk around the Mall and you are sure to find plenty of other jewelry and antique shops worth peaking into as well!

Terry G

This is a very nice reminder of why I finally fell in love with the South. (As a Pacific-Rim/West Coast diehard, I resisted for a few years.) I recently visited the Hudson Valley (NY) and altho it is especially lovely in the Summer – the grass wasn’t “greener” there. It was the first time in my life I came home thinking, “wow – it is pretty terrific here” when the fantasy of living someplace new couldn’t overcome the reality of being home in C-Ville.

How can you beat a hometown burger joint that sells glasses of wine called “A little ‘sumpin ‘sumpin”, everyone from the bank teller to the sales clerk calling you “hon” or “sugar”, people maintaining politeness and courtesy while in line for Black Friday sales, or watching the fireworks at McIntyre park, the families on First Night, or the air balloons flying over town. According to my son who now lives in MI, he misses the fried chicken we have ‘everywhere’.

Yes, “The Rock” does live here — he was in line for ice cream with me a year ago.

Please add to the Cider listings: Castle Hill Cider. It is at 6065 Turkey Sag Rd, Keswick , VA. Not only do they have award-winning hard apple cider, they host gorgeous weddings & events in their beautiful barns on the immense farm. http://www.castlehillcider.com/

Jenee Libby

Splendora’s for gelato….all made in-house. Their Thai Iced Tea and Strawberry Pink Peppercorn are amazing! As is their house made hot chocolate slow mixed in a bain marie….decadent! —-The Diner of Cville

Meg Zakin

Dear Kate,
You are to be commended for such a comprehensive list of just about everything that makes C’Ville so special. As someone who has lived here for 13 years, it is so helpful to reminded of some of our treasures that I haven’t as yet visited and incredibly helpful for my house guests. As the owner of One Meatball Place (OMP), I am especially grateful for your mention of our non meat options such as falafel which does get overlooked given our name. The photos are wonderful as well. Many thanks for guide and for your patronage
at OMP. All the best, Meg Z.

Emily H.

Thanks for posting this guide! I live in nearby Richmond and am planning to spend a weekend in Charlottesville sometime next month. Looks like I’ll have plenty to do! It’s so nice to be able to read a thorough guide like this, especially for restaurants – Yelp can be overwhelming. You’ve got a beautiful big town/small city!

jasmine

Yessss! My husband is considering accepting a job offer in Charlottesville….and I’ve been pensive about the move….but this list is giving me hope for a vibrant future!
Cheers!

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