Living in Charlottesville
Having lived in the vicinity of, or in Charlottesville, for the majority of my life, I know a fair amount of what it has to offer in terms of recreational activities and dining. Everyone in the area knows about Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. If you Google “what to do in Charlottesville” that’s always number one. Of course, there are various other touristy things in Charlottesville that’ll capture your attention. Charlottesville also has its fair share of chain restaurants. Whenever I go on vacation I always ask the front desk clerk at the hotel we’re staying in or the waitress at the first restaurant we eat, what the locals like to do and where the locals like to eat. Whether you’re a local yourself, visiting family and friends, or taking a vacation, this is a day in Charlottesville that the entire family will enjoy. If you aren’t on vacation, you’ll feel like it.
Dining in Charlottesville!
Many studies have repeatedly found that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Even if they didn’t, I’d still say it is. If not the most important, it’s certainly my favorite. Bodo’s Bagels is “the legendary bagelry that has become a Charlottesville institution” according to The Hook. With locations on Emmet Street, Preston Avenue, and University Avenue, there’s a convenient location no matter which direction you’re coming into town. Bring a small cooler and some ice. I’ll explain shortly. Obviously, with the name Bodo’s Bagels, you know the staple menu item. Bodo’s makes, boils, and bakes all their New York style bagels fresh and continuously throughout the day so you’re safe knowing nothing stale will be for sale. My personal favorite: Egg Bagel with Bacon. It doesn’t have to be fancy to melt in your mouth. Don’t leave empty handed, however. Take home half a dozen or more and make sure you purchase at least one tub of their homemade cream cheese spreads. It’s hard to choose between Blueberry, Honey Pecan, Jalapeno Lime, Strawberry, or Walnut Raisin. That’s what the cooler is for, by the way.
Now that we have some energy, it’s time to burn away some of those bagel calories. The Rivanna Trail is great for biking, hiking, jogging, or walking and offers paved and unpaved portions. About twenty miles in length, it encircles the entire City of Charlottesville. Admittedly, I’ve yet to do the entire trail. I prefer to park at Riverview Park and head north. Riverview Park has restroom facilities and a full playground with play equipment for the youngest in your family to the eldest. It’s perfectly acceptable for adults to act like a kid again. The entire portion of the Rivanna Trail from Ridgeview Park to the Virginia Rugby Football Field is flat, mostly paved, and follows the path of the Rivanna River. The “out and back” from Ridgeview to the rugby field is four miles.
That shouldn’t have worn you out too much, so it’s time for a little more physical assertion. A short three-mile drive will take you to Rocky Top Climbing. If it’s your first time, purchase a day pass, listen to a few instructions, and get on the wall. Rocky Top Climbing facility utilizes bouldering, which doesn’t require the use of a rope and harness. You can climb up thirteen feet and work your way around the angular walled room. But don’t worry, if you fall the crash pads will break your fall so you don’t break a bone. If you spend a few hours here (which you’ll want to), you’ll work up an appetite, which is great, because lunch is next.
More to do Downtown
Head on over to the Water Street Parking Garage for an easy two-block walk to South Street Brewery, “the rebirth of Charlottesville’s longest-running brewery and pub.” They have snacks, salads, burgers, and pizzas. I’d recommend going on a Tuesday for $2 drafts until 9pm, because that’s the real reason we’re going to a brewery anyway. As an avid biker (motorcyclist), I have a hard time getting past Satan’s Pony. A deep amber style ale with Scottish yeast and U.K. Hops, it’s my kind of beer anyway. South Street Brewery has a diverse selection of tastes, almost as distinct as some of the names of their beers. No doubt you’ll find something that suits your fancy with names like Acoustic Kitty, Anastasia’s Chocolate Fantasy, or Slippery When Wit. I recommend a light meal here because after a few more fun stops, you’ll have your fill at our dinner location.
Just a few blocks from South Street Brewery is Charlottesville’s IX Art Park (pronounced -icks), a “walk-through, sculptural, mural-festooned wonderland.” Operating as a 501(c) non-profit, the outdoor park is open dawn to dusk and entrance is free for everyone. Special events including concerts and art shows are frequently held at the IX Art Park. If you have a little one, in the fall, The Montessori School of Charlottesville holds an annual truck touch fundraiser at the IX Art Park. Children can climb in ambulances, cement trucks, cranes, delivery trucks, fire trucks, policy cars, tractors, utility trucks, and more. An individual pass is $5 and a family pass is $20, which includes all the vehicles and several art, face painting, and sensory stations.
Now, it’s time to make our way to The University of Virginia area, via the Gordon Avenue Library, a branch of the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library. JMRL holds an annual Spring and Fall Book Sale. If you prefer paper books over digital, or just want a box of books for cheap, this is a must stop. Pick up a shopping basket and map as you enter. Yes, a map. The entire basement of Gordon Avenue Library is transformed into a mall for book lovers. Several different rooms stacked with books contain categories such as children’s, fiction, history, hobbies, nature, non-fiction, romance, science, travel, young adult, and even rare specialty books. Most books can be purchased for $2 and less. We usually fill up more than one basket and end up with a thirty or forty-pound box of books for $25 or so. Each book sale runs for one week so check their website and mark your calendar.
I’d recommend walking due to limited parking, instead of driving to the Raven Room, Edgar Allen Poe’s dorm room during his attendance of The University of Virginia. Also known as the Edgar Allen Poe Room, the dorm room is located in The West Gardens, a short fifteen-minute walk from Gordon Avenue Library. To get there, you’ll walk past the famous Rotunda, designed by Jefferson, and the University Chapel. Poe’s room has been restored with proper period furniture and the necessities he may have had during his one year stint at UVA in 1826. While you cannot actually go into the room, a glass door provides the ability to peer in and an audio display allows you to hear the story of Poe’s life.
Many consider Poe’s writings works of art. Charlottesville is also the home of “the only museum in the United States dedicated to indigenous Australian art.” The Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Museum is open to the public six days a week and free. Exhibits include bark paintings, prints, sculpted works, women’s fiber art, woven animal skins, and informational exhibits detailing the history and people of Aboriginal origins. In a partnership with The University of Virginia, the museum has an artist residency program where an Indigenous Australian artist is brought to Charlottesville to work on projects with UVA students and faculty. Rotating exhibits means there’s always something new. If you’re visiting with small children, check out their activities for young ones such as scavenger hunts and hands-on creations.
It’s been a pretty busy day and by now you’re most likely ready for dinner. We’re heading back towards part of UVA’s campus and across the street from John Paul Jones Arena to one of our favorite restaurants. Since Charlottesville is a very diverse city, there’s plenty of opportunities for foreign cuisine, and Afghan Kabob is one of our favorites. Afghan Kabob is suitable for a date night or an evening out with the family. Also, the owner, chef Mirzai, who was born and raised in Afghanistan, brings Afghan authenticity to every dish. The Charlottesville 29 rated Afghan Kabob in its top five restaurants. While their menu offers a lunch buffet, appetizers, combinations, and kabobs, we rarely stray from the Complete Dinner For Two (which is actually enough to feed our child as well). Pastries stuffed with meat, vegetables, and spices, chicken kabobs, and Qabuli Palow- traditional Afghan brown rice over lamb topped with raisins and carrots, naan, and baklawa for dessert is hard to pass over.
While it’s occasionally fun to do touristy stuff, I like to find things a little more off the beaten path. Sometimes that requires a little research, but in this case, it’s already done for you! If you participate in any of the activities or dine at any of the locations I’ve mentioned, I hope they more than exceed your expectations, because they certainly mine.