Before his death in 1826, Thomas Jefferson—the former president, vice president, secretary of state, minister to France, and governor of Virginia—wrote a simple epitaph, soon to be inscribed on his tombstone at Monticello. “Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and Father of the University of Virginia.”
It’s fitting that Jefferson made prominent mention of the university he founded in 1819, a banner accomplishment for a man who had accomplished so much. He had realized his vision of an academical village in which students and teachers lived together, based on the daring idea that the university should be centered upon a library instead of a church. Today, the University of Virginia maintains its place among the best (and most beautiful) universities in the country, and beats as the heart of Charlottesville, the vibrant and charming city it calls home.
In the centuries since Jefferson built Monticello on a hilltop overlooking the city, Charlottesville has blossomed into a star of Virginia cuisine, wine, art, and music. With the student-centered UVA Corner to the west, the artsy Downtown Mall to the east, Shenandoah National Park to the north, and Monticello to the south, Charlottesville offers endless escapes for students, locals, and long weekenders alike.
So, if you find yourself in this central Virginia city, here are some budget-friendly ways to get the most out of your three days.
Ace In The Hole
In the interest of getting this weekend started off right, make a beeline to chef Brian Ashworth’s little piece of meat-and-butter heaven, Ace Biscuit & Barbecue. Since 2012, Ace has been turning out Charlottesville’s most sinful breakfast sandwiches—think oak-smoked pulled pork, buttermilk fried chicken, or house-ground chorizo and southern-style sausage—all served on freshly-baked biscuits (711 Henry Avenue).
And with a long day of driving, hiking, and nature-loving ahead of you, don’t leave the city limits without first packing a picnic lunch from Feast!, the gourmet grocery and sandwich shop less than a mile down the road. Thanks to its carefully curated selection of artisan food products, you’ll have your choice from the region’s best meats, cheeses, and prepared dishes to enjoy on the trail (416 West Main Street).
The Skyline’s The Limit
From downtown Charlottesville, it’s a scenic 30-mile drive to Shenandoah National Park, Virginia’s awe-inspiring stretch of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Using the Swift Run Gap entrance west of Ruckersville, head north on the spectacular Skyline Drive, exploring the countless trails and overlooks near Lewis Mountain, Big Meadows, and Skyland. And no, it’s not your imagination—those mountains in the distance really do appear to be blue, thanks in part to the isoprene the trees release into the atmosphere.
Ignore This Advice At Your Own Risk
There are several things you can always count on in Charlottesville. Fantastic restaurants. Jam band enthusiasts. Endless references to Thomas Jefferson. And on Friday nights, the fact that there’s no better place to be than Más.
The brainchild of chef Tomas Rahal, Más brings the vigor of Spanish cuisine to the quiet residential neighborhood of Belmont. Although the menu of traditional and seasonal tapas changes daily, keep your fingers crossed that the tortilla española, grilled yellow fin tuna, bacon-wrapped dates, and broccolini bathed in sherry have made the day’s cut. Reservations aren’t part of the game plan, so be prepared to enjoy a pitcher (or two) of sangria while you wait (501 Monticello Road).
Back To School
Ease into the morning with a leisurely stroll around the grounds of UVA, The Long Weekender’s alma mater and the only American college designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Begin your visit at the Rotunda, UVA’s most famous landmark and the former home of the university library. On the ground out front, take notice of the signature markings of some of the school’s many secret societies, namely the Zs, IMPs, and the super-secret Sevens—the members of which are revealed only upon death.
From the Rotunda’s south front, you’ll have your first magnificent glimpse of The Lawn, the beautiful quad home to a select group of professors and fourth-year students. But the prestige of a Lawn room comes with a price—keep your eyes peeled for the bathrobed undergrads scurrying outside to reach the cold, communal bathrooms around back.
Down On The Corner, Out In The Street
When lunchtime rolls around, make your way back to The Corner to sample the city’s most beloved house dressing at Take It Away Sandwich Shop. The sandwiches are served on freshly-baked breads—but don’t bother asking for lettuce and tomato here. It’s sprouts and cucumbers all the way (115 Elliewood Avenue). And for those who digest best with a microbrew and a prime outdoor seat, walk a block down University Avenue to Michael’s Bistro and Tap House, home to one of the best (and smallest) patios on The Corner (1427 University Avenue).
A mile down the road, the pedestrian-only Historic Downtown Mall is home to more than 120 shops, 30 restaurants, and several outstanding art, music, and theater venues (Main Street between McIntire Road and Ninth Street). Whether you stop for coffee at Mudhouse, browse the darling stationery at Rock Paper Scissors, or check out the home goods, jewelry, and handbags at O’Suzannah, you’ll have plenty to keep you busy until dinner. Just don’t forget to peruse the upcoming schedule at the Charlottesville Pavilion, the outdoor venue that consistently draws some of the nation’s best musical talent.
Zou Bizou Bizou
With prime outdoor seating on the Downtown Mall and a quirky French diner interior, where to sit will be the first of many tough choices you face during an unforgettable dinner at Bizou. Succulent roasted chicken or comforting homemade meatloaf? Grilled banana bread with caramel sauce or decadent molten chocolate cake? Do yourself a favor and order one of each (119 West Main Street).
For after-dinner drinks, try the basement bistro at C&O, a rustic local favorite for intimate fine dining or a late night bourbon. With wooden planked walls and a bar constructed from a dismantled Albemarle County barn, C&O’s bistro is also home to the city’s best late-night menu—if you’re not stuffed to the gills already (515 East Water Street).
Blue Moon, You Saw Me Standing Alone
If it’s Sunday morning, it’s brunch at Blue Moon Diner, a funky Main Street breakfast joint serving coffee in mismatched mugs, homemade corned beef, and a selection of delicious egg dishes. So sit down, enjoy the homey atmosphere, and resist the urge to rush—it’s not part of the drill here (512 West Main Street).
Ain’t No Mountain High Enough
In 1769, a 26-year-old Thomas Jefferson began construction on his first design for Monticello, the hilltop plantation he had inherited just outside Charlottesville. Following an extensive redesign, the year 1809 saw the completion of the house as we now know it—a museum of early American artifacts, a renowned library, and a family home. Today, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation manages the estate and offers excellent tours of the rooms where Jefferson lived and died, as well as the grounds where he grew tobacco and other crops, owned slaves, and was eventually buried in 1826 (931 Thomas Jefferson Parkway).
The Barbour Of Barboursville
With 210 wineries scattered across the state of Virginia, the greater Charlottesville area has no shortage of vineyards ripe for an afternoon of scenic wine-tasting. One of the loveliest spots is Barboursville Vineyards, which has been occupying the hillsides 20 miles north of Monticello since 1976. Today’s vineyard grows on the site of the historic Barbour family plantation, complete with the ruins of an 1822 estate house designed by Thomas Jefferson for his friend James Barbour. But before admiring the grounds, stop by the tasting room to sample more than 15 award-winning wines (17655 Winery Road, Barboursville).
Stuck In The Middle With You
After a day on the outskirts of town, end the evening—and the weekend—at Lampo, one of Charlottesville’s newest and brightest culinary stars (205 Monticello Road). The focus at this Belmont neighborhood eatery is (outstanding) Neapolitan pizza, yet the menu is also full of delightful surprises. The roasted cauliflower appetizer and the Tuscan kale salad are so well-balanced and flavorful that you’ll almost forget to leave room for the Margherita D.O.C. … Almost.
TITLE: Más | FRIDAY: Charlottesville farmland; Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park; the tortilla española at Más | SATURDAY: The Lawn at UVA; a pavilion on The Lawn; the Rotunda; the UVA Corner; the Downtown Mall; Rock Paper Scissors | SUNDAY: The Blue Moon Diner; Barboursville Vineyards.