Y’all may remember the massive round-up I did for my Travel Guide: The Best of Richmond. It’s one of my most popular posts and one I send to readers and friends again and again when they’re planning a trip down to Richmond. Every one of my Richmond recommendations is rounded up into one central place – and it was only a matter of time before I did the same thing for my favorite city in the world, Charlottesville, Virginia. For my Charlottesville travel guide, I’m going to run through the same format I did a while back for Richmond and tell y’all why to go, where to stay, where to eat, where to drink, and what to do. Also, just a heads up that a fall weekend in Charlottesville travel post is coming to the blog in about 2 weeks!
WHY GO TO CHARLOTTESVILLE?
Well, first of all, it’s my favorite city. It’s where I went to college, it’s where I’m getting married, it’s where I would love to retire one day. But, if that’s not enough reason, it’s a beautiful mountain town just 2 hours from DC where you’ll find a vibrant city, sweeping equestrian landscapes, and outdoor activities galore for the outdoorsy among us. There’s everything you could want in a big city – in a small town. It’s laid-back, artsy, and quirky, while still maintaining the best parts of old Virginia tradition.
Also, since I reference it a lot in this post but don’t explain it until the “What to Do” section, the Downtown Mall is a charming pedestrian area right downtown. Not a mall in the shopping mall sense!
WHERE TO STAY
While you have lots of options for where to stay in Charlottesville – a quick Google search will turn up a myriad of local and national options – I’m just going to speak to the few I have stayed in. Also, I’ll make a quick note that I’ve heard the new Draftsman Autograph Collection hotel that just opened is great, though I haven’t been.
- Oakhurst Inn: I stayed at this darling boutique hotel right near campus a few years ago and I’m staying there again in a couple weeks. There’s a wonderful cafe and the rooms are cozy yet modern.
- South Street Inn: My go-to for a budget-friendly, yet cozy and quaint, stay on the downtown mall, I’m actually staying at South Street Inn again this winter when I’m in town for my wedding (but before we head out to stay at the next hotel on this list…)
- The Farmhouse at Veritas: This is a bit more of a splurge, but I’m partial to it since we’re getting married here in December. The food is unreal, the decor is so on point, and the rooms are traditional, but modern.
- The Graduate Charlottesville: If you need a spot right on the Corner to stay, you’ll want to choose The Graduate. And, even if you don’t stay here, stop by their rooftop restaurant.
- Airbnb: Of course, there’s always the Airbnb option. I’ve stayed in many in the area, some are hit, some are miss. I’ve found the ones in town or out in the country to be great, the ones that are more in the suburbs tend to be people looking to make a quick buck on a football weekend…and they leave something (a lot of something) to be desired.
WHERE TO EAT
Oh my gosh, I didn’t even know where to start this section. Perhaps everyone is partial to the food in their college town, but, seriously, I think the food in Charlottesville cannot be beat. I’m dreaming of Bodo’s Bagels as we speak (luckily, I alwayshave some frozen in the freezer).
- Bodo’s Bagels: A classic water bagel recipe, Adam buys a dozen of these each time we find ourselves in C’ville.
- Bluegrass Grill & Bakery: You’ll probably wait at this Southern breakfast spot right near South Street Inn, but just pop in the bakery to grab something (like the chocolate-pretzel-peanut butter cookie) to tide you over.
- The Nook: A diner on the downtown mall, there’s often a line, but it’s the best place to get your go-to hungover breakfast.
- Java Java: Just pop in here to grab a coffee while you wait on your breakfast table next door at The Nook.
- C’ville Coffee: Grab coffee and a bite to eat in this spacious spot before exploring a few of the shops that are tucked away in this little neighborhood right off of downtown.
LET’S DO LUNCH
- Take It Away: The best sandwiches in Charlottesville – make sure to get a side (or a jar) of the house dressing! Also, I just noticed on their website they have a page dedicated to day-of catering for weddings. Read my mind.
- Riverside Lunch: A staple among locals, these thin-patty burgers and thin fries are what my fast food dreams are made of.
- Bellair Market: Yes, it’s a gas station, and, yes, you’ll get the Jefferson, a gourmet Thanksgiving sandwich.
- Feast: Located right on Main Street, this is a great place to pick up a local, freshly made lunch.
- Wayside Fried Chicken: I’m not a fried chicken person, but Adam says this might be the best fried chicken he’s ever had, so I figured I had to include it.
TAKE ME OUT TO DINNER
- The Local: I had to put the Local first because this is where we’re having our rehearsal dinner! The gnocchi bolognese is one of my favorite all-time dishes anywhere.
- C&O Restaurant: A wonderful spot for a nice dinner, I actually prefer C&O’s late night menu. You walk in a side door, take a seat in the dimly lit, wood paneled room, and order warm comfort food. It’s one of the best experiences in Charlottesville.
- Oakhart Social: This bright, white space is a fun place to come with a group, order some pizzas, some appetizers, and dig in.
- Bang!: One of my favorite restaurants over a decade ago, I’m so glad Bang!’s Asian fusion is still served out of a tiny rowhouse right off the downtown mall.
- Mas Tapas: This was probably the first restaurant where I encountered the small plate concept and it’s still one of the best.
- Ten: When we were feeling trendy back in college, this was the date night spot. I haven’t been in probably 10 years, but I noticed last month that it’s still going strong on the downtown mall, and I definitely want to revisit.
- Maya: Charlottesville does Southern food well, and Maya takes it a step above with locally sourced, inventive Southern dishes.
- Duner’s: Located a bit outside the city on Ivy Road, this is where you go for excellently prepared, consistent fine dining that isn’t too stuffy.
- Continental Divide: Another fun spot to take a group, this a loud, buzzy, delicious Mexican restaurant.
OTHER PLACES TO GRAB A BITE
- Christian’s Pizza: While they’ve now expanded to include locations in Richmond and all over C’ville, back in my day, this was only on the downtown mall. And I always ordered the avocado and feta pizza. Why? I don’t know. But, I still do. Those kids that now have access to Christian’s late night on the corner have no idea how good they have it.
- Little John’s: Get the pepperoni pizza sub late night. You won’t regret it. And, yes, it’s worth the line.
- The White Spot: Right on the corner, this is the place where you order an egg on a burger late night. It’s been around since my dad was at U.Va. and it’s still going strong.
- Arch’s Frozen Yogurt: I don’t love that they’ve gone to a self-serve format like all of the trendy fro-yo places, but it still has a special place in my heart. Get the gooey brownie. It’s life-changing.
- College Inn: My mouth is watering thinking about the cheesy bread with a side of ranch. When I was in C’ville at some point over the last year, Adam and I ordered this late night and stood outside the completely dark restaurant waiting for our order. Adam tried to convince me that it was definitely closed and our food was not coming. No, I told him, it’s coming. This place is just SUPER shady. Then a man appeared from a side door down an alley and quietly handed us a large pizza and cheesy bread. I’ve perhaps never been more grateful to a dark shadow in the night.
WHERE TO DRINK
There are, of course, the vineyards, but for the purposes of this post, I‘m going to stick to bars and breweries, most of which are in Charlottesville proper.
- Whiskey Jar: With bourbon, Southern food, and live music, you can’t go wrong.
- Champion Brewing Company: A huge, open brewery downtown, this is great space to watch sports.
- Three Notch’d Brewery: Some of my favorite goses come from here, so if you’re into sours, check it out.
- Blue Mountain Brewery: Located near our wedding venue, an excellent spot to grab a craft beer and a pizza.
- Skybar: Charlottesville doesn’t get too trendy, but this rooftop on the downtown mall is as close as it gets.
- South Street Brewery: Right downtown, this is a great spot for some bar food and a craft beer.
- The Virginian: If you venture over to U.Va’s campus, make a stop by this institution.
- Coupe’s: This is where I lived much of college – if it’s a reunion weekend, chances are we’re stopping by.
WHAT TO DO
If you’re into the outdoors, you’ll love Charlottesville. If you’re into history, you’ll love Charlottesville. If you’re into wine, you’ll love Charlottesville. If you’re into music, you’ll love Charlottesville. There truly is something for everyone in this town.
- Monticello: Thomas Jefferson’s home is a perfect stop for history buffs.
- University of Virginia: Stroll down the Lawn of Thomas Jefferson’s University before exploring the shops and restaurants on the Corner.
- Football: I have to give a shoutout to UVA football for two reasons – the first being I’m a fan despite how terrible they often are, but second, if you’re planning a fall visit, you may want to check the schedule before committing to a weekend. Maybe you want to go to a game…or maybe you’d rather not deal with the crowds.
- Downtown Mall: A pedestrian mall (not a shopping mall!) full of vintage shops, home and stationary stores, bars, restaurants, and local C’ville hippies. You’ll find concerts at the Amphitheater at the end of the mall during the summer.
- Hiking: I’m not a hiker, but even I have ventured into the Blue Ridge Mountains a time or two. Old Rag and Humpback Rock are two of the most popular destinations.
- Apple Picking at Carter Mountain Orchard: During the fall, apple picking and apple cider donuts bring in a crowd that stops traffic all the way down the mountain.
- Wine Tasting: I’m going to do a separate post entirely on wine tasting, but you’ll want to check out Pippin Hill, Afton Mountain Vineyards, Castle Hill Cider, King Family Vineyards, and, of course, Veritas.
- Foxfield Races: Yes, you can do this like a college student, or you can go to the twice a year steeplechase race with a well planned out tailgate, craft cocktails, and get the full equestrian experience.
- Charlottesville City Market: If you find yourself in Charlottesville from April to October, stop by this farmer’s market off the downtown mall on Saturday mornings.
- The Jefferson Theater: Check out the concert lineup at the Jefferson Theater and swing by a show while you’re in town.
LET ME KNOW YOUR CHARLOTTESVILLE FAVORITES
I’m actually headed back down to Charlottesville in two weeks for a football game, working on a fall Charlottesville travel guide, and spending a non-wedding planning weekend in the area! So, I’d love to know if you’ve found any new (or old!) restaurants that I absolutely need to check out, or maybe there’s a new shop or a new brewery. I know things are always changing and, while I’m down there a lot, I can’t possibly keep tabs on everything that’s going on!