Welcome to Charlottesville. Our community is full of activities to keep every member of the family engaged and happy. Below is a list of our favorites by category (alphabetical) – Note: websites are embedded as underlined links. Click the link to access the website.
If you find a jewel during your visit that we don’t include below please share it so we can update our list for future visitors.
- Bounce and Play – Bounce-n-Play offers children a place to crawl, slide, bounce and paint no matter what the weather and a place for parents to relax, visit with friends, catch up on e-mails or get a little exercise on the treadmill. Bounce and Play also has a Laser Tag facility next door in the old Office Depot building.
- Carter Mountain Orchard – Pick your own fruit beginning in mid-April through November.
- Chaps Homemade Gourmet Ice Cream – Chaps offers quality homemade ice cream, donuts and grill service in a delightful 50’s atmosphere.
- Discovery Museum & Carousel – The Virginia Discovery museum brings young children and families together to engage minds, excite imaginations and explore the world around them. While there don’t forget to let the kids jump on the carousel in front of the museum.
- McCormick Observatory – You can observe the stars and planets through the UVA McCormick and Fan Mountain telescopes. You can find the public night schedule by clicking here.
There are many great hikes in and around Charlottesville. Just 20 minutes away you can access Shenandoah National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway. Spanning both parks going North/South is the Appalachian Trail. A couple of our favorites:
- Crabtree Falls – Arguably the most beautiful set of waterfalls in VA. Billed as the tallest waterfalls east of the Mississippi. This is about an hour away and takes you along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
- Humpback Rocks – This is a relatively easy hike on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The views are fantastic. While the trail can be steep at times, you can get to the top within 30 minutes. It takes about 30 minutes to get to the parking lot of Humpback Rocks.
- Ivy Creek – This is a 215-acre preserve bordering the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir. Its rolling hills and diverse habitats make the Ivy Creek Natural Area an ideal site to learn about the rich natural history characteristic of Central Virginia, and is a favorite destination for visitors looking for a peaceful walk in the woods.
- Old Rag Mountain – This is a tough hike and will take most of the day (drive time included), but is worth the effort. Not recommended for families with small children.
- Rivanna Trail – Over the years the Rivanna Trails Foundation has been working to establish a footpath encircling Charlottesville by following the Rivanna River, Meadow Creek and Moore’s Creek.
- Spyrock – This hike is close to Crabtree falls, so you can hike both on the same day. The 360 degree views are spectacular. This is one of our children’s favorites; they love building forts on top of the rock.
Charlottesville is steeped in history, from the Revolution to the Civil War and after. The area was home to 3 presidents and is the location of the University of Virginia.
- Ash Lawn – This was once the home of James Monroe, fifth president. You can tour the home year-round with activities for all ages.
- Monticello – a UNESCO World Heritage site – This was Thomas Jefferson’s masterpiece – designed and redesigned and built and rebuilt for more than forty years – and its gardens were a botanic showpiece, a source of food, and an experimental laboratory of ornamental and useful plants from around the world. You’ll want to plan plenty of time to tour the house and gardens as well as the recently rebuilt visitor center. After leaving Monticello you might consider eating at Michie Tavern for an 18th-century Southern style dining experience.
- Montpelier – This 2,650-acre estate in Orange County, VA was the lifelong home of James Madison, fourth president.
- Poplar Forest – This was Thomas Jefferson’s personal retreat located about an hour away in Forest, VA, and is one of only two homes he designed and created for his own use.
- UVA and The Lawn – The University of Virginia was conceived and designed by Thomas Jefferson and was established in 1819. You can take a tour of the grounds and Lawn, including the Rotunda.
Movies and Theater
Charlottesville has several movie theaters as well as a couple of live theater options.
- American Shakespeare Center – Located in Staunton, VA, the ASC has constructed a re-creation of Shakespeare’s original indoor theatre, the Blackfriars Playhouse, and also has plans to build an open-air replica of London’s second Globe Theatre.
- Four County Players – This is Central Virginia’s longest continuously-operating community theater, located in Barboursville, VA.
- The Paramount – You can check out your favorite band or theater showing at the newly-restored and adapted historic Paramount Theater, located on the downtown mall.
You can pretty much find music any night of the week in Charlottesville. The town is filled with venues and gifted musicians. After all, the Dave Matthews band got its start in Charlottesville!
- Ash Lawn Opera – For over 33 years, the Ash Lawn Opera Festival has produced opera and other musical performances at Ash Lawn, home of our 5th president.
- The Jefferson – Since reopening after extensive renovations, the historic theater hosts over 130 events per year.
- John Paul Jones Arena – Country Music to Taylor Swift, Circus to Disney on ice, the John Paul Jones Arena has it all. Of course, if you are a Cav fan, and are visiting during basketball season be sure to catch a home game in this newly-built, state-of-the-art facility.
- Ntelos Pavilion – Anchoring the East-end of the Downtown Mall, the covered Pavilion hosts various events in an outdoor venue. If you’re in town any Friday night from mid-April through mid-September, you’ll want to check out “Fridays After Five”. The free concerts are always popular and include both local and national talent.
Restaurants, Eateries and Drink (first four selections are a short drive away)
- The Market at Bellair – Where else can you get gas, gourmet and tasty sandwiches at the same place? Tiger fuel has several locations in Charlottesville. The Market at Bellair is the closest to our home, and is a weekly occurrence for our family. You can find their menu here. Our favorite sandwiches are the Farmington, Ednam and the Yogaville.
- Ivy Inn Restaurant – This is Compton’s favorite: the Ivy Inn is located one mile from the University of Virginia and about 3 miles from our house. Enjoy fine dining in a historic house dating to the early 1800s. The award winning chef’s specialty is seasonal American Cuisine. Reservations are recommended as they are a popular destination for those visiting from out of town as well as locals who know where to find the best food.
- Boar’s Head Inn- The Old Mill Room– Just minutes away from our house you’ll find this fine dining establishment at the Boar’s Head. The interior of the Old Mill Room was built from the timbers of an abandoned gristmill along the banks of the Hardware River. The Old Mill Room serves breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week.
- Duners – Neighborhood restaurant, 2 miles West on route 250, very good.
- Mono Loco Restaurant – Located just off the Downtown Mall, Mono Loco serves dinner seven nights a week. Their specialty blends Latin cuisine with vibrant, fresh and local food.
- Bizou – Don’t be turned off by the greasy-spoon appearance of this restaurant. The food is consistently good and affordably priced. They are known for their meatloaf.
- Bodos – You can get sandwiches, salads and freshly baked NY bagels at 3 different locations in Charlottesville. I eat at Bodos several times a week and the food is consistently good.
- C&O Restaurant – This is one of John’s favorite fine dining restaurants in Charlottesville. They’ve been at it since 1976 and have received quite the acclaim ever since.
- Downtown Grille – This is another favorite fine dining restaurant of ours. Located on the historic downtown mall, they serve Midwestern corn fed beef and fresh seafood, including live Maine lobster.
- Thai 99 – We used to live around the corner from this restaurant and it became a favorite of ours that we still visit today. There are several in town; the best is the one on Fontaine Avenue. I could live off their Thai Dumplings.
- Vineyards and Breweries – Charlottesville grape and hop vines thrive in our climate. Wines from the Monticello American Viticultural Area are considered among the best produced anywhere in the Eastern US. Also, Albemarle County is home to small-batch breweries making hand-crafted ales and lagers as well as hard ciders from the region’s orchards. If you are willing to travel a bit outside of Charlottesville you should use the BrewRidgeTrail, which takes you past several local small-batch breweries.
Charlottesville has a very active running community and there are quite a few routes to choose from. Here are a couple of my favorites:
- Our neighborhood loop – This is a casual but hilly loop that begins with running up our driveway, taking a right on Broomley road, right on Tanglewood, left on Flordon Drive and then a left back onto Broomley for the return home. The round-trip is 2.63 miles. You can download a map that includes elevation details by clicking here.
- Charlottesville 10-Miler Course – Every March the Charlottesville Track Club hosts the 10-Miler and donates the proceeds to a local charity. The course travels through historic sections of town, the downtown mall and the University of Virginia. If you are looking for a great course that takes you through the highlights of Charlottesville, this should be at the top of your list.
- Ridge Road – When training for my marathons I ran this undulating gravel country road several times a week. It is an out-and-back run – 4 miles each way. The views are spectacular.
- Rivanna Trail – See above under the Hiking section for details.
If your ideal day consists of shopping from morning till night, you will have plenty to keep you busy. You can find a healthy dose of national brands as well as boutique stores only found in Charlottesville.
- Barracks Road Shopping Center – You’ll find a nice mix of restaurants and boutique shopping at this location located only a few minutes from our house.
- Circa – Just off the downtown mall on Allied Street, you can find affordable antiques and quality used furniture. Don’t let the “Fred Sanford” exterior fool you.
- Fashion Square Mall – This is a Simon property which includes your standard “Mall” storefronts.
- The Shops at Stonefield – This development is a new addition for Charlottesville and includes a mix of grocery, retail, movie complex and restaurants. Our children love the Noodles & Co.
- Boar’s Head Balloon Rides – What better way to see the beauty of Central Virginia than from the vantage point of a soaring bird? Boar's Head Ballooning flies in the foot hills of the Blue Ridge Mountains and it is often possible to see Monticello and the Shenandoah Valley.
Boar's Head Ballooning lifts off each morning at Sunrise from the Boar's Head Inn – 1.8 miles from our home.
- The Corner (restaurants and shops) – Not long after Thomas Jefferson founded the University of Virginia in the final years of his life, a small commercial community sprang up where the main road to Charlottesville intersected with the entrance to the University. This area is known as “The Corner”. The area is so popular it has its own book written by local historian Coy Barefoot.
- The Downtown Mall – This bricked in historic district is filled with live theater, music, cinema and great food. If you are looking for something to do, a safe bet is to start at one end of the mall and walk to the other. Along the way you’ll find plenty to do and eat. A visit to Charlottesville isn’t complete without a stop at the Downtown Mall.
If all of the above is not enough to keep you busy during your stay, you might check out Jenna Bush Hager’s Southern Living article, “A Weekend in Charlottesville