Resting an easy hour-and-a-half drive’s west of Richmond, Charlottesville is both, at times, a big town and a small city. On the surface, this college town looks quaint, forever indebted to Thomas Jefferson for putting a world-class university at the doorstep of the Blueridge. Although the University is certainly an active member in shaping the spirit and tone of the town, in recent years, Charlottesville has certainly taken leaps in shaping an identity of its own. The culinary scene is very active and growing. There are dozens of vineyards and breweries to visit and a significant amount of cultural activities to take in. Charlottesville is an awesome place to live and visit. Here’s what we try to do when we’re in in town.
This restaurant serves up a contemporary take on traditional southern cuisine. The menu is in constant rotation based on the availability of locally sourced ingredients. Fresh fruits and vegetables come from nearby farms. Hand-cleaned trout arrives from the Shenandoah Valley. And the meats have been ethically raised on the other side of the mountain. For appetizers, the pimento cheese fritters are a must.
With a history that spans over three decades, the C&O is a staple of Charlottesville dining. Perhaps it’s best but certainly not only feature is the ambiance. The lighting is dim, making it an obvious choice for an intimate dinner or cocktail. The restaurant has three levels, each having a different aesthetic: the top is fine dining, the middle is also dining but in a more rustic tone, and the lower level is a bar with a real casual vibe. If you dine at C&O during warmer months, try to grab a seat in the back patio, it’s one of the best places to be outside in Charlottesville.
Tavola is an intimate Italian restaurant in the Belmont district of Charlottesville. Make sure to order the hand-made pasta and defer to the sommelier for wine pairings. For dessert, you can’t go wrong with the tiramisu. Consider this a heads up but don’t let this deter you: the dining area is small and they do not take reservations, so plan accordingly.
This vineyard is one of the largest and most well-known in Virginia. Barboursville currently has 126 acres of vineyards in production and 21 varieties of wine including Chardonnay, Barbera, Malvaxia and Pinot Grigio. For an immersive experience, reserve a room at the 1804 Inn or one of the cottages on the grounds. If you can’t stay the evening, consider booking a table with their onsite restaurant Palladio’s. Wine is food here.
There are only a few places that produce their own wines and hold polo matches. If you’re a fan of both, King Family Vineyard should be on your radar. This vineyard is family owned and operation located roughly 15 minutes outside of Charlottesville. If you’re in the area during the summer, stop by the vineyard to catch a polo match. The winery specializes in small productions of ultra-premium wine that showcase the remarkable qualities of nearly 100% estate grown fruit.
Enjoy a beer on the outside patio at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The brewery serves ten hand crafted brews daily, and offers a full restaurant menu that includes pizzas, sandwiches and burgers – you know, the foods that you like to eat with beer. The brewery is also located on a farm, which grows its own hops.
Live Arts is an intimate community theater located off the Downtown Mall. If you find yourself in Charlottesville when a production is going on, go, you won’t be disappointed. The productions tend to be on the edgier side, but attending a live theater performance here is well worth it.
Second Street Gallery is a contemporary art gallery that has been around for over 40 years and located inside of the same building as Live Arts. With frequent shows and exhibitions, they offer some of the best fine art in the region.
More art: McGuffey Art Center
The Jefferson Theater is one of the best music venues in Central Virginia. The venue is large enough to attract touring national acts, but still manages to feel intimate. Check out upcoming shows here.
A smaller venue than The Jefferson Theater, The Southern still attracts big name acts. Future Islands played an incredible show here shortly after their game-changing performance on the Late Show with David Letterman earlier this year.
Out of the handful of vinyl stores in Charlottesville, Melody Supreme is a standout. The selection includes new and used vinyl records. If you’re feeling lucky, Melody Supreme frequently stocks first pressings and limited editions of hard-to-find records.
The home of arguably the most famous resident to ever live outside of Charlottesville, Thomas Jefferson, Monticello is an impressive estate. Grounds are expansive, and you get a sense of the man who used to live there by walking in his footsteps.
The Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection is the largest collection of Australian aboriginal art outside Australia, and contains over 1800 objects and paintings. Special events include film screenings and lectures and performances by visiting artists, musicians, and scholars.
Montpelier is home of former U.S. President James Madison and Dolly Madison. With stunning grounds and the staff’s commitment to research, Montpelier is a trip that should not be overlooked. We visited during the summer and had an incredible time.
Years ago, apple picking at Carter Mountain used to be a secret. It has exploded with popularity recently, but it’s still a great place to visit. Try to get there early to beat the crowds. Picking apples from low-lying branches will keep you busy, but make sure to take in the incredible views from the top of the mountain. Apples are sold by the pound, so take home a full bag or two as evidence of your hard work.
The Downtown Mall has a few new, used and rare bookstores. With a collection of books the numbers in the thousands, Daedalus Books is the most impressive, and the easiest to spend the most time in. You could easily spend half a day or more here if you aren’t careful.
Virginia Film Festival (November 6-9, 2014)
The 27th Annual Virginia Film Festival kicks off this weekend. Expect three days of incredible documentaries, in-depth panel discussions, and award-winning independent films. Read our recent conversation with the Director of the Virginia Film Festival, Jody Kielbasa.
The Festival of the Book (March 18- 22, 2015)
The Festival of the Book is a 5-day celebration of the book. The festival consists of mostly free literary events that honor book culture and promotes reading.
A festival unlike any other, The LOOK3 event will please any photography enthusiast. For the duration of the festival, downtown Charlottesville is transformed into a vibrant art space that includes photography exhibitions, lectures, workshops, and projector installations.