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Plan a Charlottesville getaway to Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia home that is steeped in history, foodie focused, nature inspired, beer and wine infused, or better yet, all of the above. Charlottesville and Albemarle County Virginia offer a wide array of active and laid back pursuits, perfect for a vacation getaway or a brief escape from Washington DC. We’ve rounded up things to do, eat, drink, and places to stay so you can build your own custom Charlottesville getaway.
Things to Do on a Charlottesville Getaway
Albemarle County preserve the homes and history of three US Presidents—Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe—and includes one of only 10 UNESCO World Heritage cultural sites in the United States. The small city of Charlottesville (aka Cville) is also home to one of the largest pedestrian malls in the US, many tasty spots to eat and drink local, and the beautiful University of Virginia. Scenic roads and surrounding towns showcase Jefferson’s passion for agriculture, food, wine, beer and cider.
Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, Charlottesville
Monticello was Thomas Jefferson’s home and plantation for much of his life, both before and after he served as America’s third President. The mountain top home was designed and modified by Jefferson throughout his life, with influences from his time serving in France.
Tours of Monticello highlight Jefferson’s life as scholar, inventor, and founding father. Docents also discuss the conflicting reality of his devotion to American freedom, and his role as a slaveholder. The slave quarters on Mulberry Row highlight the difficult life of the enslaved people, including many families who lived and toiled for generations at Monticello. Visitors can also explore the grounds and gardens; and dine, shop, and learn at the large Visitor Center.
James Monroe Highland, Charlottesville
Nearby Highland is close to Monticello for good reason—Monroe selected the site so that he would be near his mentor, Thomas Jefferson. James Monroe was America’s fifth President, and the last from the Founding Fathers. He served with George Washington at Valley Forge, studied law under Jefferson, and served 50 years in public office as Senator, Ambassador, Secretary of State, and President. Author of what came to be known as the Monroe Doctrine, he established America’s policy of opposition to colonization in the Americas, and non-intervention in European countries and colonies.
Visitors to Highland learn about Monroe’s life in public service as they tour a building once thought to be his home. In 2016, experts discovered a foundation of Monroe’s original home, changing their understanding of the existing buildings and opening a new archeological effort.
The University of Virginia, Charlottesville
The University of Virginia, along with Monticello, is a designated UNESCO world heritage site, and a National Historic Landmark. Founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819, UVA preserves many of the buildings and tenets of Jefferson’s original design. Students and faculty still gather at the Rotunda and the Lawn of the Academical Village, conceived by Jefferson as a way to encourage interaction and learning. The Rotunda underwent extensive renovations in 2015 and 2016, and the reopened space should be part of any architecture- and history-lovers Charlottesville getaway.
Take a Hike in Town and Beyond
The Rivanna Trail circles the city of Charlottesville, following a mix of parkland, streets, and greenways for 20 miles. For an easy, pretty walk, we like the segment along the river in Riverview Park.
Add a hike on the 2 mile Saunders-Monticello Trail to your Monticello visit. Park at the bottom of route 53, and follow dirt paths and boardwalks that climb Carter Mountain and lead right to the ticket office.
One of our favorite hikes west of Cville is at popular Crabtree Falls, in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Crabtree is the longest vertical cascade in the East; a series of several waterfalls cascading a total of 1200 feet. From the lower parking lot, it’s a steadily uphill but not too challenging 1.8 mile climb to the top of the falls. At the top, a viewpoint looks out over the Tye River Gorge filling with color in Autumn.
Lewis & Clark Exploratory Center, Darden Towe Park
Another fun history stop with a short hiking trail is the Lewis & Clark Exploratory Center in Darden Towe Path. The Center promotes the skills of exploration, creativity, and discovery from a new building and surrounding exhibits. Visitors can climb aboard a keel boat like the one Lewis and Clark used to explore the Missouri. Jefferson wanted to establish a river route from Virginia to the Pacific, and he worked to deepen the Rivanna River here. Lewis was born in Albermarle County, and Clark’s family lived on land adjacent to the Exploratory Center site. A dirt path leads through the woods to river overlooks.
The 8 block pedestrian mall, one of the largest in the US is a fun destination for shopping, dining, and people watching. Kids can take a ride on the small carousel, and adults can visit the galleries or catch a concert at the pavilion and smaller venues. Charlottesville operates a complimentary trolley that visits the pedestrian mall, the University of Virginia, and other downtown areas.
LOVE the Views
If you visit the small town of Crozet, make time for a stop at Montfair Resort Farm and it’s wonderful LOVEwork. The LOVE is made with woven branches and twigs and it makes a fun or romantic picture spot.
On the way to Monticello, up a steep side road, you’ll find Carter Mountain Orchard and beautiful views of the surrounding countryside. The apple orchard is hopping during fall picking season, but it’s a fun stop from April through late in the year. Vineyards and fruit trees cover the hills, and you can stop for cider, wine, or a treat in the barn’s porch and yard. The apple cider donuts are decadently delicious, and so popular that they run out on busy days.
The small town of Crozet packs a lot of fun into it’s lovely spot at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Start your visit at the Albermarle Tourism Center to pick up maps, book adventures, and shop locally made goods from over a juried collection of 70 artisans. Visit on Second Saturdays to enjoy book signings and other entertainment.
James Madison’s Montpelier, Orange
James Madison, America’s fourth President, spent much of his life at Montpelier, as a boy, a family man, and a founding father. Often referred to as the Father of the Constitution, Madison prepared at Montpelier for the coming role in the Constitutional Convention, where he advocated for the form of democracy we know today. Madison co-authored the Federalist Papers, helped frame the Bill of Rights, and helped to define the role of a limited Federal government with a system of checks and balances.
Tours of the mansion at Montpelier interpret the life of James and Dolley—the first American power couple—after he was elected President. The building underwent extensive restoration to bing it back to the time when James entertained the nation’s founders, and Dolley defined the role of First Lady. Visitors can also explore the extensive grounds and hiking trails, archeological digs and the recreation of the slave quarters, interesting galleries and shops, and the Exchange Cafe, serving excellent sandwiches.
Eat Local in Charlottesville Virginia
Thomas Jefferson has been called “America’s First Foodie,” and his devotion to local agriculture is reflected in an excellent range of dining options. There are so many different restaurants in Cville and throughout the county, that we’ve only had time to enjoy a small sampling.
In the downtown pedestrian mall, Citizen Burger Bar is one of our favorite stops on the mall for excellent, locally sourced burgers. Draft Taproom is another good burger spot, and the owner also operates the busy Commonwealth Restaurant across the mall. We’ve also enjoyed the buffet menu at Himalayan Fusion and pizza at Vita Nova.
A short drive from the downtown mall, Mas Tapas serves excellent Spanish tapas in a very busy space on Monticello Road. Ace Biscuit & Barbecue is a favorite for tasty ribs and their famous biscuits. To the east, Shadwell’s Restaurant offers American cuisine in a comfortable space named for Thomas Jefferson’s birthplace. Known for their seafood, we recommend the delicious fried oysters and tasty crab cakes.
At the northern end of Charlottesville, you’ll find several local and chain restaurants in outdoor malls. Travinia Italian Kitchen and Wine Bar, a chain with locations throughout the southeast, is a good bet for pasta and hearty meat dishes. The space is large and comfortable, and there is outdoor seating available when the weather is good. In the same mall area, ROCKSALT is a good choice for fresh seafood.
National Geographic included Crozet Pizza on their “Best in World” list, and Fodor named the casual restaurant both “Best in State” and “Best in USA.” We absolutely loved The Hittie, a rich pie covered in sausage, onion, and peppers.
Drink Local with Cville Hop On Tours
Albermarle Counties growing brewery and winery scene should be on the itinerary of any craft beer and wine lover. The Charlottesville area also boasts the most cideries in Virginia, so add a few to your tasting mix. A unique, fun, and safe way to explore all that local sipping goodness is with CVille Hop On Tours.
Hop on and off the rotating shuttle on several different routes, with pick-up at Three Notch’d Brewing and select hotels. The comfortable buses provide snacks and water as they safely shuttle you to your next stop. If you have a group in town, schedule a private tour that includes transportation, tastings, and behind the scenes access. Weekend tours frequently sell out, so book early to ensure your spot.
Where to Sip Local Wine, Beer, and Cider
Whether you’re exploring the region with Cville Hop On Tours or on your own, you would need several days to visit all of the local drink spots a Charlottesville getaway has to offer. With 30 wineries in a 30 mile radius, Charlottesville has been cited as one of the top wine regions in the eastern US.
Here are a few of the breweries and wineries we’ve enjoyed during a Charlottesville getaway.
The names of Three Notch’d Brewing‘s six flagship and many seasonal beers are inspired by Virginia history. The popular Ghost IPA pays homage to Confederate raider John Mosby and delivers a nicely balanced light hoppiness. Citrusy 40 Mile IPA references Jack Jouett, known as the “Paul Revere of the South,” who travelled Three Notch’d road to warn Thomas Jefferson about the approaching British calvary.
Star Hill Brewery, the second oldest craft brewery in Virginia, occupies a former ConAgra plant in nearby Crozet. Keep an eye on beer production from the open space as you sample from a long list of core and seasonal brews. We ordered Barrel Aged Belgian Tripel to go—absolutely delicious and fun to watch the crowler machine in action.
Beer lovers who want to sample a broad range of craft brews should check out Draft Taproom in the downtown mall, with 60 pour-your-own taps featuring local and imported craft brews. Build your own flight, try an ounce or two of several local offers, or just enjoy a pint of your favorite. You control the tap and pay by the ounce. The Draft Taproom also serves delicious burgers and other bar staples.
Jefferson Vineyards is the perfect stop for wine tasting after a visit to Monticello and Highland. The land was first planted with vines in 1773, on land provided by Thomas Jefferson to encourage the development of a Virginia wine. While the original vines were destroyed within a few years, the vineyard returned in the 1980s and has been serving wines in a pleasant tasting room and large patio ever since. The Petit Verdot is a popular choice, and the 2014 Meritage is a gold medal winner. Take a glass out to the Adirondack chairs for lovely views of Mt Alto.
To the west in Crozet, King Family Vineyards features a large tasting barn next to a polo field. The 327 acre farm was started as a place to train and breed polo ponies, and you can watch polo matches on the field on summer weekends. Sip along with a glass or two of Croat, a dry Rose which has become the “official” polo wine.
Pick up a map of the Jefferson-inspired Monticello Wine Trail, and check out McCool Travel’s write-up of Charlottesville area wineries to find more of the wonderful wineries to visit during your Charlottesville getaway.
Where to Stay on a Charlottesville Getaway
We’ve become fans of the Hyatt Place brand. They offer spacious, comfortable rooms with an L-shaped sofa ideal for relaxing or working. The new Chalottesville property is located in the north end of town, next to several good restaurants and stores in the Shops at Stonefield.
Oakhurst Inn, Charlottesville, Virginia
Tucked away on a quiet residential street, but only steps from the UVA Lawn, the Oakhurst Inn offers 27 comfy rooms that make a good in-town base for a Charlottesville getaway. While it’s not a B&B, Oakhurst has it’s own gourmet cafe offering delicious breakfasts and lunch, with indoor and patio seating.
Inn at Sugar Hollow Farm, Crozet
Hidden at the end of a quiet country road, the Inn at Sugar Hollow Farm offers several rooms in the main house and the nearby farmhouse. The Wildflower Room, which features a four-poster bed, window seat with mountain views, double whirlpool tub, and wood-burning fireplace is a spacious yet cozy spot to enjoy.
Keswick Hall, Keswick
A luxurious home base for exploring the Charlottesville area, Keswick Hall takes pampering and cost up a few notches. Built as a private residence in 1912, the estate became the Keswick Country Club in 1948, with the mansion as it’s clubhouse. Today Keswick Hall boasts 48 sumptuous rooms, a full spa, award-winning restaurant, golf course, and infinity pool.
There are many more excellent lodging options in town, and the Visit Charlottesville website can help you find the right home base for your Charlottesville getaway. When major events are in town lodging can be tight, and overflow crowds spill into nearby Waynesboro and Staunton in the southern Shenandoah Valley.
Whether your focus is history, food, drink, activity, or just the chance to kick back and relax, you’ll find a lot to love on a Charlottesville getaway. The historic small city is a year-round destination, filled with blooming orchards in the spring, green mountains in the summer, vibrant foliage in the fall, and cozy spaces in winter. If you’re a Charlottesville regular, please share your tips on where to play, eat, drink, and stay in the comments below. Thank you and happy travels!
Portions of our Charlottesville visit were hosted by the Charlottesville Albemarle Convention and Visitors Bureau.