Y’all, writing this post has made me fall in love with Charlottesville ALL OVER AGAIN! (As though I didn’t love it enough already.)
I was lucky enough to go to UVA, which is located in historic, beautiful Charlottesville Virginia. After living there for four years and making a point to go at least two or three times a year post-grad, I’ve amassed quite a few memories in Jefferson’s Virginia and am excited to share my picks with you today. Of course, I’m sure my fellow Hoos can also offer up their two cents and might have different favorites—but when people reach out to ask me for Charlottesville advice, I generally share the information below. And since I’d emailed it around so many times, I thought it was high time to make a Charlottesville travel guide. So when I went to visit my sister this past weekend, we spent a good chunk of time driving all over town snapping pictures of our favorite places to eat and things to do.
You’ll notice that a large chunk of this guide is focused on where to eat. Anyone in Charlottesville will be fast to quip that the town has more restaurants per capita than New York City—whether or not that fact is true or not, you should definitely plan on heading to Charlottesville with an empty stomach! I also want to preface this guide by saying it mostly focuses on the areas around UVA like The Corner and Grounds as well as Historic Dowtown Charlottesville/its Pedestrian Mall and the neighborhoods that connect the two. There are many other areas of Charlottesville to be explored, but these are the areas I know best and have found to be the most charming—plus, they’re very accessible to all those vineyards you’ll want to go to!
As always, if you have any questions about your upcoming trip to Charlottesville, please don’t be a stranger—I am happy to answer any questions!
HOW TO GET THERE /
Charlottesville is the perfect weekend escape from the Washington, DC area and is very easy to drive to—if you time traffic right, it should only take you between two and two and a half hours to get there. If you’re trying to go Friday night after work, just know getting out of the city will probably add an extra hour to your journey. If you are planning on driving, I recommend taking I-66 out to Route 29 in Gainesville and then take 29 the rest of the way down. If you want a sweet treat on your way down, you’re in luck—in Warrenton, there’s a cheesecake drive through called A Slice of Heaven, and further down the road in Remington is the well-known Moo Thru, which serves up the best ice cream and milkshakes fresh from their dairy farm.
If you’re farther away, Charlotesville does have a small airport (CHO), but flying into Richmond (RIC) or an airport closer to DC (IAD or DCA) and renting a car might be cheaper depending on where you’re flying in from. There’s also an Amtrak train station right in town, so that’s an option as well.
WHERE TO STAY /
Admittedly, I am not the best person to ask about where to stay in Charlottesville because I’ve almost always had a bed or air mattress waiting for me when I arrive. However, when I do opt to stay at a hotel, I love the Marriott Courtyard or the recently renovated Graduate Hotel—Tina Fey is on the room keys! Both of these are on “the Corner,” which is UVA’s main strip of bars, restaurants, and shops right across the streets from Grounds. (If you want to talk like a local, never call it campus, always Grounds.) These hotels are a short Uber or Drive away from Charlottesville’s other neighborhoods and very close to vineyards. They book up quickly on home weekends during football season, so if you’re looking to plan a trip in the fall, definitely book early.
If you’re looking for a place to stay near the University but a little bit removed from all the action, The Oakhurst Inn would be a great option—still walkable to Ground and the Corner, just in a more quiet residential area.
Or, if you want to avoid the college scene entirely and hang with a bit older crowded, I’d recommend staying near Historic Downtown Charlottesville. About a five to 10 Uber drive away from UVA, you’re still equally connected to everything and within walking distance to—a different set of—shops and restaurants. If that’s the case, I’d recommend looking into the Omni Charlottesville or Marriott Residence Inn if you prefer the comforts of a chain hotel or the South Street Inn, The Inn at Court Square, or The Inn at 400 West High if you’re looking for a boutique lodging option.
WHERE TO EAT: BREAKFAST /
- Bodo’s—I can only dream of the day that Arlington has a Bodo’s or I live in the delivery range again. These are seriously the best bagels I’ve had on the planet, and no other breakfast in Charlottesville competes on price and quality! They’re open all day unlike other bagel shops, so it’s easy to get your fix—and they have three locations!
- Blue Moon Diner—this is a pretty classic diner with staple offerings, but it generates a line week after week because the food is so good and the atmosphere and decor are unique to Charlottesville. My advice is to get there early on weekends students are in town—this place is always packed!
- The Virginian—I’d eat any meal at the Virginian, but I have a special spot in my heart for their breakfast burrito that comes with a delicious side of salsa ranch. A note that they only do brunch on the weekends.
- La Taza—this is the cutest Latin-inspired coffee shop located in the Belmont neighborhood near Historic Downtown. In college, it was such a treat to enjoy a lazy morning here with friends eating their Machaca dish. However, I would not recommend La Taza if you’re short on time—the service is always unbelievably slow.
- MarieBette Cafe & Bakery—located near Historic Downtown in the Rose Hill neighborhood, this is a cute dine-in or carry-out cafe that has a range of breakfast items at great prices—I love their quiche. Seating can be hard to come by, so I’d avoid this place if you have a party of four or more.
- The Villa or Tip Top—both of these are your no frills, standard diner fair, but sometimes, you just need a menu that has everything on it after a night out, you know?
WHERE TO EAT: LUNCH /
- Take It Away—two words: house dressing! This sandwich shop on the Corner is one of my favorites. If you need a snack for a vineyard, pop in to pick up a bag of bread ends for 50 cents and a quarter pint of their house dressing. If you’re picking up lunch, grab one of their lemon bars for dessert.
- Ace Biscuits & BBQ or The Local Smokehouse—my favorite barbecue place from college closed down, so these are your best bet to finding the best pulled pork in town. Ace Biscuits & BBQ might have a bit more hype, but it’s been around longer, so I recommend taking a gamble on whichever one you’re closest to.
- Feast!—such a fun sandwich/soup/salad counter set up in a high-end market with samples of food and olive oil out for you to taste while you’re waiting for lunch.
- Bellair Market—if you can get over the fact this deli is in an Exxon Mobil, you’re in for the best sandwich in Charlottesville. I swear by their Walnut Creek! Bellair is a bit farther away than some other options, but, it’s right on the way to vineyards—hello, picnic lunch.
- Revolutionary Soup—there are two Rev Soup locations, one on the Downtown Mall and one on the Corner. They have a great variety of soups, salads, and sandwiches—it’s also very vegetarian friendly.
- Foods of All Nations—an international market that has a great deli with premium meats and breads. It’s on the pricey side, but it’s worth it! There’s limited seating, but there is a small patio for a nice day.
- Boylan Heights—Boylan also offers brunch on the weekends and dinner every night, but I think it’s a great sit-down lunch option that’s on the casual side. I always make my own burger, and since it’s on the Corner, they ran with the school theme and you make your picks on a scantron. That’s my kind of test! Note—this would be a great place to watch a sports game with a beer all afternoon.
- Beer Run—this a great beer market that has an eat-in pub. They have wonderful sandwiches and the best pasta salad side.
Bonus option—if you’re near UVA’s campus and want to interact with students some, I still dream about the quesadillas at the Fine Arts Cafe on Rugby Road.
WHERE TO EAT: DINNER /
- The Local—one of my favorite dinner spots in Charlottesville for a nice dinner out, The Local’s menu is constantly changing because they source as much produce and meat from nearby farmers. The atmosphere here is wonderful and the service is great.
- Mas Tapas—if you want to dine at Mas on the weekend, I highly recommend arriving at the restaurant about 10-15 minutes ahead of the first seating at 5:30 pm. There’s always a line at this traditional Spanish tapas bar—and for good reason, the food is great and reasonably priced.
- Bang!—this is a great option for those who are gluten free, vegetarian, or vegan—but I am none of those things and still love this Asian tapas restaurant. Go early and have a couple of drinks at the bar, you won’t regret it!
- Continental Divide—blink and you might miss it—Continental Divide is only marked by a blue neon sign that says “Get In Here.” The best Mexican in town, hands down. And, it’s not too greasy!
- Orzo—the menu here rotates seasonally, so they’re using in-season vegetables to complement their meat and fish offerings. It’s primarily Mediterranean fare and there’s a great wine list.
- The Whiskey Jar—great Southern fare and atmosphere. If you love whiskey, this place is going to quickly become your new favorite restaurant.
- C&O Restaurant—best date night spot in town due to the fine French dining and rustic, cozy bar. You might not want to be the one paying for this one ;].
- Tavola—the cutest Italian restaurant in town. It’s on the smaller side and they don’t take reservations, but it’s worth the wait!
- Basil—one of my favorite restaurants on the Corner for a nice dinner, Basil serves up Mediterranean food. Don’t skip the baklava!
- The Fitzroy—this is a new(ish) place on the Downton Mall, and while I haven’t been able to dine there personally (yet!), my sister loves this place and I loved all the Gatsby-era decor I could see when we walked by.
- Public Fish & Oyster—the best seafood in town and super cute branding. Reminds me somewhat of The Darling Oyster Bar in Charleston!
- Red Pump Kitchen—owned by the people that run Pippin Hill Farm & Vineyards, Red Pump Kitchen is a delicious Italian restaurant on the Downtown Mall. They focus more on the cuisine of Central Italy, and they have a great cavatelli. Red Pump opened after I graduated, so I’ve only been once, but I can’t wait to get back.
WHERE TO EAT: LATE NIGHT SNACK /
- Christian’s Pizza—a New York Style pizzeria that serves up all sorts of pizza’s by the slice. There’s one on the Corner and one on the Downtown Mall.
- Littlejohn’s Deli—truth be told, I would and have eat here for any meal—it’s delicious and open 24 hours. But there’s just something super special about eating my Freebird sandwich with a side of chips at 2 am.
- Marco & Luna Dumplings—the best fried dumplings I’ve ever had, hands down. There’s one on the Corner and one on the Downtown Mall.
- White Spot—if you like divey and diners and aren’t concerned about your heart health at 2 am, this is the place for you. They’re know for their gus burger, which has a fried egg on it, and their grillswith, which is two grilled donuts topped with ice cream. #YOLO
WHERE TO GRAB A DRINK /
- The Biltmore—my favorite bar on the Corner, it’s essentially a bar in a dilapidated house with a tiki bar upstairs and a beach bar on the side, but a great place to grab a drink and catch up with friends.
- The Virginian—I know I mentioned it underneath brunch spots, but one of my favorite things to do at The Virginian is grab a later dinner—get the mac & cheese!—and then stay until after the kitchen closes. This place gets crowded at night, but it is so fun—and at midnight, they play God Bless the USA and everyone stands on the tables and sings along. Some of my best memories are at this bar!
- Miller’s Downtown—a well-known jazz bar that’s a fun place for a relaxed drink and live music.
- Draft Taproom—over 60 drafts on tap! You’re given a card when you enter to keep track of all your purchases and then you pay at the end, just like Vapiano’s, so if you’re looking to split checks, this is a great option.
- Southern Crescent—a wonderful New Orleans restaurant tucked away in the Belmont neighborhood. The owners turned their family home into a restaurant so the vibe is so cozy—get a mango margarita!
- Commonwealth Skybar–don’t let the name fool you, this is only a two-story bar, but a fun place to grab a drink outside when it’s warm.
WHAT TO DO /
Charlottesville is a center of history, the arts, and culture, so I have no doubt that you’ll find good ways to spend your time. I highly recommend visiting Jefferson’s home, Monticello. There’s a reason this home is on the back of the nickel. The colonial mansion has been restored to the nines and is undergoing renovations to reflect the lives of the slaves that lived and worked on the plantation. Even if you’re not into history, you’ll love the views of Jefferson’s house on a hill—Monticello means “little mount” in Italian.
If you can’t get enough of our third President, or like drinking in public places, I invite you to tour the grounds of my alma mater, The University of Virginia, otherwise known as the only UNCESO World Heritage Site where alcohol is allowed. During the school year, historical tours take place daily at 10 am, 2 pm, and 5 pm—no reservation necessary. Of course, you can walk around on your own as well. I recommend going into the gardens behind any of the Pavilions on the Lawn—if the door is open, walk on in!
If shopping or bar crawling is more your thing, you’ll definitely want to check out the Historic Downtown Mall I’ve been mentioning so much. A pedestrian mall, the sidewalks are lined with boutique stores and non-chain restaurants. It’s also home to two active theaters, The Paramount and The Jefferson, as well as a movie theater, Violet Crown.
Or, if taking in the grand outdoors is more your speed, there are lots of local hiking trails and a large running community. For starters, check out Humpback Rocks (an easy/medium hike), Old Rag (more advanced), or if it’s warm, hit up Blue Hole.
And, of course, you’ll want to take advantage of the Monticello Wine Trail. Which brings me to…
BEST CHARLOTTESVILLE VINEYARDS /
Pippin Hill Farm & Vineyards is probably my favorite winery in the Charlottesville area—and, it’s one of the closest to UVA ! There are definitely places with better wine, but this venue is awesom and the atmosphere both indoors and out is unbeatable. If you want to extend the afternoon, Albemarle Ciderworks is right down the road. Note that Albemarle Ciderworks is champagne-style cider, so if you don’t like champagne, you should try Bold Rock instead.
If you’re looking to vineyard hop, Veritas, Blue Mountain Brewery, Devil’s Backbone, Afton Mountain Vineyards, and Bold Rock Hard Cider are all a hop, skip, and a jump from each other about 30 minutes out of town to the west. Blue Mountain Brewery has great food and Afton Mountain Vineyards is the best winery to hit up during inclement weather—they have a glass pavilion so you feel like you’re outdoors, but you are sheltered from the elements.
If you want to drive a bit north of town—or, hit up some vineyards on your way out of town, Keswick Vineyards, Castle Hill Cider (champagne-style cider), and Barboursville are all on the same road. A note that the Keswick tasting room is not the same as the event space they promote on the website, so if you go for that reason, you’ll be disappointed. Barboursville is arguably the state’s best vineyard and has 20+ wines on their tasting menu for $7!
Whew! Ok, I know that was a long one, but if you couldn’t tell, Charlottesville is an amazingly charming southern town! I am always happy to give additional recommendations or answer any questions: firstname.lastname@example.org