The Ultimate Charlottesville Travel Guide

Charlottesville holds a special place in my heart. It’s where I was born, went to graduate school, got married, was diagnosed with narcolepsy, launched Lysande, and – according to my mom – insisted on mixing apple juice with milk which she forced me to drink after warning me that it was a disgusting idea. The wisdom of three year olds, amiright?

So you’re planning a trip! First question: car or no car? You can get by without a car if you stay downtown and spend your time there, but if you’re interested in getting into the mountains, you’ll need some way to get around.

Music for your (road) trip

Where to stay

  • Oakhurst Inn: Super cute boutique hotel, close to the university, with a delicious breakfast. 
  • The Residence Inn: Within walking distance to the downtown mall.
  • We have a lot of friends who had great luck with AirBNB.

What to do

  • Walk the downtown mall
    • Shopping, food, etc. 
    • Freedom of Speech Wall
    • The Royal Crown Movie Theater
    • Check out the “Friday’s After Five” website (2019 lineup here).
  • Tour UVA’s campus: visit the lawn and the rotunda, see Edgar Allen Poe’s room
  • Monticello
  • Hike
  • Carter Mountain: Pick peaches or apples (depending on the time of year), eat ice cream, and take in beautiful views of Charlottesville from the top of the mountain.
  • Virginia Film Festival: Takes place in October each year.
  • First Friday at the McGuffey Art Center
  • Paramount Theater
  • Vineyards (I love Dave Matthews’ vineyard Blenheim)
  • Breweries (Devils Backbone and Blue Mountain Brewery are our favorites)

Day Hike

Reid’s Gap followed by Devil’s Backbone Brewery for fried pickles and the summit burger.

Where to eat (listed in order of importance)

  • Peter Chang’s: This is the best (and most authentic) Chinese food I’ve ever eaten, and my best friends from grad school head here first when they’re feeling homesick. The seafood in a stone pot, green beans, stir fried duck with hot and numbing spices, and the hot and numbing spices pot are not to be missed. Bring friends or take home plenty of leftovers.
  • Oakhart Social: Anything here is gold.
  • Iron Paffles: This really deserves its own category. I’d never tried anything like this before Katherine opened Iron. Think waffle meets pastry and has a delicious child filled with goodness. Everything on the menu is extravagant and delicious.
  • Bodos: This is THE place for breakfast. The whole experience can be a little intimidating but it’s one of my favorite places in the world. When the line is out the door I know I’ll have my sandwich within 10 minutes. Order breakfast like a local: an egg sandwich on *insert your choice of bagel here* (this is code for “scrambled egg on *your favorite bagel*). Add your choice of toppings, including bacon, avocado, muenster cheese (my staples) and you’re ready to go.
  • Marie Bette: They have two locations. The original is more of a sit-down restaurant and the new location on the downtown mall is smaller with fewer tables and you place your order at the counter. The food is perfect at both. DON’T LEAVE without petit caneles and a financier.
  • Tavola: Seriously delicious Italian food – I usually go for the homemade pasta dish.
  • BBQ Exchange: This is at the end of the list only because it’s a trek. But it’s freakin delicious. 

In its own category: The Charlottesville City FARMERS MARKET!!!!!!!!!!! If you’re in town on a Saturday between April and December, this is your plan for the morning. Grab a cup of coffee from the Shenandoah Joe’s booth (Darrell’s pick) or a pint of ginger kombucha from the Mountain Culture Kombucha booth (my pick) and peruse the vendors.

  • Look out for “You’re in Luck Farm’s” sustainable, plant-based, farm-to-face skin care line (I use Hannah’s “Rose + Aloe Face Wash”, “Apple + Bark Face Toner”, and the “Berry + Sunflower Face Serum” every night before bed).
  • Keep an eye out for Edith, who sells the BEST homemade plantain chips and wet felted wool and silk scarves that are absolute masterpieces. I gave my mom one of Edith’s scarves as a present in 2016 and she still says she can’t wear it without getting a compliment.
  • Get breakfast at the market. Pearl Island Catering is a Caribbean restaurant that serves pork with rice, plantains, and kale salad OMG it’s perfection. 
  • After the market, say hi to Linnea at Darling Boutique on the corner. She has a beautiful curated shop of consignment items and carries work from over 40 local artisans.

Late Night: This isn’t my jam. In fact, one of my dear friend’s (a fellow person with narcolepsy) and I joke about putting together “Late Night? A guide to ‘night life’ for and by people with narcolepsy”. That said, I have a favorite spot: Kardinal Hall. It is a beer garden with bocce, board games, and big screen TVs AND kombucha served on tap.

Where to shop

Where to Mountain Bike 

  • Preddy Creek
  • George Washington National Forest
  • Walnut Creek
  • Rivanna Trail
  • (Email me if you’re new to Charlottesville and looking for a mountain biking crew. I’ll hook you up and be seriously jealous that you get to spend time with my best friends every week while I…don’t.)

What are your can’t-miss spots in Charlottesville? Let me know in the comments below!



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