Enjoy destination restaurants, local wine, history and art in the vibrant mountainside town of Charlottesville

Downtown mall

Photo courtesy of Virginia Tourism Corporation

Nestled at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains near Shenandoah National Park, Charlottesville, Virginia is perhaps best known as the home of two former presidents (Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe) and the University of Virginia. But beyond its presidential pedigree and handsome neoclassical campus, the city is a great place for a few days, with a thriving restaurant scene, easy access to the bucolic countryside, and contagious creative energy. Here’s how to make the most of a weekend in this small town with the perks of a big city.

Your home port is Quirky hotel, Charlottesville’s first art-centric boutique hotel, opened in 2020. Located downtown on West Main Street, the hotel is within walking distance of the city’s best shopping and dining. Rooms, all with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking downtown or the Blue Ridge Mountains, are modern and just the right amount of fun, with pops of pink and creative design cues; each headboard, designed by Richmond abstract artist Kiki Slaughter, is a unique painted canvas. With five on-site bars and restaurants, a stylish lobby lounge, and an art gallery, the hotel is a destination unto itself.

Quirky hotel

Photo courtesy of Virginia Tourism Corporation

Start with a quick elevator ride to the hotel Q roof. Order the citrus-infused Pink Breeze cocktail and take in the mountain views before walking a few blocks for dinner at Social Oakhart. Exposed brick, reclaimed wood floors and a wood-burning oven set the scene for this neighborhood restaurant that everyone wishes they had at home. The ambience is simple yet elegant, with a seasonal menu of new American dishes meant to be shared. (Make sure these plates include the wood-fired oysters, hanging steak, and roasted Brussels sprouts, along with a local Basic City Our Daily Pils.) End the evening at Driveway Light, a small, unmarked restaurant tucked away on a side street (look for the lantern in the alley). Bar manager Micah LeMon combines local fruits and foraged ingredients with his homemade bitters, syrups and sodas to create the magic of mixology. Find a seat where you can in the dimly lit space, choose your booze, and ask for Dealer’s Choice.

Social Oakhart

Photo courtesy of Virginia Tourism Corporation

Start the day at MarieBette, a Parisian bakery with two addresses in the city center. Order a croque monsieur, a quiche of the day or an assortment of pastries, such as canelés filled with custard, kouign-amanns with butter, apple galettes and chocolate and almond croissants. Next, it’s the turn of the farmers’ markets: first, head to Charlottesville City Market, where more than 100 vendors offer local produce and cheeses, homemade kimchi, artisan knives and pottery. Then cross the railway line to the Farmer’s Market at Parc IX. Once a textile factory, IX is now a paradise of murals, sculptures, restaurants and, on Saturday mornings, more than 60 farmers. Browse the local products, then enter the Mirrorwhere local artists have converted a 6,000 square foot warehouse into Virginia’s first immersive art space, which features a multi-level treehouse, interactive soundscapes and opportunities for art creation.

One of the busiest pedestrian malls in the country, Charlottesville’s Downtown mall is full of more than 120 shops and 30 restaurants, most with terraces. Lunch amid pots of flowering geraniums at kiss, where chef Vincent Derquenne serves comfort food with a French accent. Order the meatloaf or fried chicken sandwich, but save room for toasted banana bread with ice cream and caramel. Then, shop for local gifts, handmade soaps, and unique home decor at O’Suzannah and browse New Dominion Bookstore for signed copies of local author John Grisham’s latest book. Then walk a few blocks to McGuffey Art Center, an artist-run co-op in a historic elementary school building. Visit the gallery and peek into all the open studios; chances are the artist will invite you inside. Energy to burn? Take the short drive to the restored historic wool factorywhere you can stroll along the nearby Rivanna River Riverview Park and enjoy an Italian pilsner at the Selvedge Brewing.

wool factory

Photo courtesy of Virginia Tourism Corporation

Dinner is at Tavola, a cozy trattoria serving rustic Italian dishes in the bustling Belmont neighborhood. Start with burrata or fried artichokes and a negroni from the cicchetti bar while enjoying the warmth of the intimate space. You can’t go wrong with anything on chef Michael Keaveny’s local menu, but his linguine alla carbonara will be hard to resist (so don’t try). After dinner, return to the city center for The milkman’s barlocated in the recently restored dairy market food hall, built in 1937 to house the Monticello Dairy company and now housing more than 18 restaurants and shops. Embrace the nostalgic vibe of the soda fountain and order the Big Tickle, an egg custard made with bourbon and amaro, and enjoy the lively atmosphere. End the evening with live music at Miller Town Center, where local part-timer Dave Matthews once ran the bar; jazz is on the menu almost every night, but you never know who might turn up.

dairy market

Photo courtesy of Virginia Tourism Corporation

A visit to Charlottesville is not complete without seeing the University of Virginia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site designed by Thomas Jefferson. Begin at the rotunda, modeled after Rome’s Pantheon, and wander the lawn, where students live alongside professors in the original brick dormitories. Nearby, see the recently built Memorial to bonded laborers. Unveiled in 2020, its two engraved granite rings recognize and honor the 4,000 or more people who built and maintained the university from its beginnings in 1817 until the end of the Civil War. Your final stop is perhaps Charlottesville’s most famous destination: Bodo’s Bagels. Head to the UVA Corner location (the hub of college nightlife, on University Avenue near Elliewood Avenue), order a Deli-Egg (an omelette filled with diced meat and cheese) on Everything , and consider yourself a local.

University of Virginia

Photograph by Shutterstock

The Charlottesville area is home to over 40 wineries and a thriving community of craft breweries and cider houses. Start with these, all within half an hour’s drive from the city centre.

grape escape
Sip an award-winning glass of rosé on the lawn of King Family Vineyardswhere mountain views take center stage and free polo matches are held most Saturdays.

What about apples
Order a sparkling Farmhouse Dry at Potter’s Craft Ciderwhich sources ancient apples from nearby farms and is housed in a 100-year-old stone church.

good beers
Play cornhole, listen to live music, and most importantly, order a Chapter 2 IPA and settle into an Adirondack chair overlooking the North Fork River at the Brewery Tree Beer Company.

This article originally appeared in the Spring and Summer 2022 issue of Southbound.


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