Charlottesville, VA is a charming little town. Hilly and wooded, it’s very feudal south. People who live there really love the place, and I think that’s always a good measure of how nice it really is. It’s a short distance from Washington D. C. but a huge distance in lifestyle. It’s also well known for its local food movement, which can be experienced in a number of establishments all over town. Here are a few of the places I’d recommend vising if you get a chance!
1. No trip to this area of the country is complete without a trip over the Blue Ridge Parkway. Winding along the mountains, you get a great view of the valleys that surround the area and the hills themselves. You can take the parkway itself or turn the other direction and head into Shenandoah National Park (3655 US Highway BSN 340 Luray, VA 22835, 540.999.3500) and Skyline Drive – either way is gorgeous.
2. Thomas Jefferson designed the University of Virginia campus in 1819 and his hand can be seen all over the campus. The buildings are reminiscent of his very own neoclassical Monticello. Though the campus has expanded considerably it’s still a lovely walk around the old part of the school, imaging yourself 100 years ago immersed in this very collegiate atmosphere.
3. To really experience a new place, I like to head to the grocery store and have a look around. Foods of All Nations (2121 Ivy Rd, Charlottesville, VA 22903, 434.296.6131) is probably one of the more interesting grocery stores I’ve had the pleasure of visiting. All sorts of exotic treats as well as homegrown goodies await the taste-inclined shopper. Whatever treat you’ve developed the taste for and haven’t been able to find easily, I’ll wager it will be on the shelves. They’ve even got a bit of a shop online.
4. If you are looking for good sushi and a fun atmosphere, head over to Ten (120 E Main St., Charlottesville, VA 22902-5220, 434.295.6691). Recently opened downtown, their hip decor and interesting drinks make this a hot spot. And though it’s usually not my favorite, the tempura is simply to die for. Delicate and delightfully crunchy, there’s something for everyone here, even if you don’t think you like Japanese food.
5. You may think that once you’ve had Indian food at some buffet you’ve tasted it all, but that won’t be the case once you visit Milan (1817 Emmet St N., Charlottesville, VA 22901-2812, 434.984.2828). They have all of the old standbys but the flavors are so much more intricate and delicate than usual. Make sure not to eat for some time beforehand because you won’t want to be limited by the mere bounds of your stomach wall.
6. If beautiful housewares and lovely gifts are what you’re after, Caspari (100 W. Main Street, Charlottesville, VA 22902, 434.817.7880) is a must-stop. Another located on the downtown mall, this gorgeously-designed shop has it all, from custom monogrammed stationery to interesting light fixtures and beautiful wrapping paper.
7. In this age of the Kindle and iPod, it’s always refreshing to see a bookstore. From the street, New Dominion Books (404 E Main St., Charlottesville, VA 22902-5236, 434.295.2552) invites you in, enveloping with you withe delicious scent of paper. New and used, spanning every possible subject, there’s no reason not to pop in and see if you can’t find something worthwhile.
8. The Blue Moon Diner (512 W Main St. Charlottesville, VA 22903-5542, 434.980.6666) might not look like much, but if you can get over the cigarette smoke (make sure to sit in the non-smoking section) the food is fantastic. Nothing too fancy but everything is prepared so well, lentil soup and grilled cheese become a delicacy. Make sure to get the lamb grinder if you’re looking for something interesting.
9. It seems that in recent years, the Chinese have developed a taste for Western furniture and have been willingly giving away their old things. You can take advantage of this trade disparity at Oyster House (122 E Main St., Charlottesville, VA 22902-5220, 434.295.4757), an import store with Asian flair that has one of the best collection of Chinese antiques I’ve seen in a while, and at very reasonable prices.
10. Many of the places I’ve mentioned above can be found at the walking mall in downtown Charlottesville. There are many places that I haven’t mentioned as well. Lots of outdoor restaurant seating, street vendors and the occasional Friday night concert make this a pleasant place for a stroll.
11. Just off the mall can be found the McGuffey Art Center (201 2nd St NW, Charlottesville, VA 22902-5012, 434.29.7973). An old elementary school turned into a series of studios and gallery space, you have the ability to pop your head into one of many working art studios to have a chat with local artists and to get an up-close view of their work. I of course love the fact that they re-used an old building for a new, artistic purpose.
Those are just a few things that this quaint, walkable town has to offer! I’d love to hear your suggestions if I’ve left some place out. Next up – the southern belle, Savannah, GA.