Birthplace of our nation’s third president, Albemarle County is a place where the houses have names. This is horse country Virginia and it’s awfully pretty in the fall. Just over 100 miles southwest of DC, away from the hustle and bustle of politics and pontiffs, Charlottesville is safely nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. This is where Thomas Jefferson went to escape Washington political life. One trip to Monticello and you’ll know why. Suffice to say the more I learn about Jefferson, the more I want to know.
Our family of four drove to Charlottesville on a five-day getaway from our home in Baltimore, MD. We spent the first night in Washington, DC to break up the drive, and to visit family. I’d say our stay at the Rouge, a Kimpton Hotel, was perfect. We loved our spacious suite-like room with two queen beds (almost unheard of in the chain hotel world of “doubles”). A great value (note: free wine in the lobby at happy hour) the Rouge was within walking distance of our destination ‘hood, Logan Circle. We ate a fantastic meal that evening at Posto, “a modern Italian restaurant.”
The next morning, well rested, we merrily drove onward. My husband is a graduate of UVA and it had been quite some time since visiting his alma mater. For the rest of us, it was our first time wandering these hallowed grounds. There’s lots to learn about the university and the town. And, I am happy to say, lots of fun to be had and good things to eat too! Here’s our list.
- In honor of the title of this post, take a hot air balloon ride! We had a “blast” on our sunrise ride with Monticello Country Ballooning. I booked with owner Mandy Rossano who also served as our pilot. In addition to being super knowledgable about her craft, Mandy is as fun and friendly as you can imagine and she’s great at working with young kids. She even found and mailed back our lost mitten! Thanks Mandy!
- Take the free guided tour of the Rotunda on the UVA campus. Tours meet daily at 10, 11, 2, 3 and 4. For more information call 434-924-7969.
- Eat at least once at Bodo’s Bagels, now with several locations.
- Enjoy shopping, eating and people watching on the pedestrian mall on Main Street. Although not exactly bustling with activity especially during the week, there’s plenty to check out. Our 8 and 6-year-old loved Alakazam’s Toy Store. For “funky, campy, kitschy” bric-a-brac go to Cha Cha’s. Lots of great eye candy for fashionistas in Darling Boutique, specializing in new and consignment clothing and accessories. If you are vintage junkie like me, you won’t want to miss Low at 105 5th Street, SE, right off of Main.
- We’d read the reviews, we spoke to the locals and based on the mixed reviews, we were reluctant to try Citizen Burger Bar, but we are so glad we did! The airy lofty space and festive, laid back vibe immediately draws you in. After waiting 45 minutes for a table with two young kids, we were grateful for the big booth and noisy atmosphere. The food is really good and honest and they’ve got an impressively large selection of beer. Being a former New Yorker, I couldn’t help but think the Citizen folks pretty much cloned the Bareburger of NYC acclaim. Nice work.
- Other places worth the wait are Bluegrass Grill & Bakery (breakfast), the amazing dumplings at Marco and Luca’s (quick, delicious and cheap) and the Spanish inspired Zocalo for dinner where everything is good and if it’s cold outside you can sit near the cozy fireplace. To satisfy your sweet tooth, we recommend Splendora’s Gelato, Cappellino’s Crazy Cakes and the Spudnut Shop on Avon Street – a Charlottesville institution.
One final word to the wise. It’s a good idea to make sure you bring along cash, or at least have your ATM card ready. A lot of these places accept greenbacks only. And nobody likes to do the dishes on vacation.