13. Road Trip 1: Shenandoah National Park and Charlottesville, VA – PART II


Depending on where you are in Shenandoah, Charlottesville can be as close as a 30 minutes’ drive away. Charlottesville is small but a charming landmark.

Driving down to Charlottesville
Driving down to Charlottesville

Charlottesville is one of the 41 independent cities in the United States. In other words, this city does not belong to any part of county. According to Google search, 38 out of the 41 independent cities are in Virginia, whose state constitution makes them a special case. The U.S. Census Bureau uses counties as its base unit for presentation of statistical information and treats independent cities as country equivalents for those purposes.

But aside that, most people will know Charlottesville as the home to two U.S. Presidents – Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe and the home of the University of Virginia, one of the historically prominent colleges in the United States. The mix of classy historical ambiance with young college town became the special ingredient in shaping Charlottesville’s charm. I used to pass here but never took the time to appreciate what the city offered until this trip. This time we did.

What should you do in Charlottesville, VA?

  1. Go to Monticello

Monticello can easily be a few hours’ worth of activity. This UNESCO heritage site was the primary home and plantation of Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States. After inheriting a large amount of land from his father, Thomas Jefferson at age 26 started building Monticello just outside of Charlottesville in the Piedmont region. The House designed by him with neoclassic principles and the 5,000 acres (20 km2) plantation was built from 1768 to 1772. Jefferson continued working on the design and added additional structure to the rooms but there is disagreement to how much was completed.

Me at Monticello, Charlottesville, VA
Me at Monticello, Charlottesville, VA

For history lovers, I strongly suggest you to check out the Monticello Day Pass. For $20 to $25, you get three guided tours and can enter the House. We didn’t plan well enough to catch a tour, so we jealously looked at the groups that stood in line to enter the House as we held our basic entry ticket. Once you get a ticket, you can hop on the mini bus or take a walk towards Monticello. (Or a ‘hike’ depending on how you see the walk.) The actual site is a couple of miles away from the visitor center and the free visitors parking lot so don’t forget to allocate that time when visiting.

With our basic entry, we still got to admire the beautiful gardens and the grounds of Monticello. Weather was on our side. The spring breeze and flowers were welcoming us as if they haven’t seen an old family member in a long time. There were families with their children just hanging out in the garden enjoying their snack and food. We also just sat under a tree to rest our eyes from the blazing sun.

Monticello in Spring
Monticello in Spring

Oh, and don’t forget to really find all the hidden views! If you take a stroll below Monticello, you will see where the slaves lived, the food was prepared, and the swords were sharpen. If you step behind the left side of the House, you will get to see this beautiful view. Monticello no longer has a plantation, but standing there you can imagine what it must have been like if you were one of the owners back in the day.

The side view from Monticello
The side view from Monticello
Below Monticello
Below Monticello
  1. Go to Downtown Pedestrian Mall to dine and take a stroll

The Downtown in Charlottesville may be small but surely not insignificant. Located on Main Street, Charlottesville’s downtown is where you can dine, shop, and enjoy an evening stroll. In the spring and fall season, the mall’s Charlottesville Pavilion hosts musical acts for guests. The historical Paramount Theater is also right here. On the weekend the farmers market also greets you with open arms. For art lovers, you can get lost in the number of art galleries. As a book lover, I was happy to discover bookstores with rare books. Plus make sure to check out the day time and the night view for they are both cute.

Bookstore in Charlottesville
Bookstore in Charlottesville

2014-05-25 10.57.14

There are many restaurant options too. Yelp gave decent reviews for many of them. The few places we tried were all fantastic. Here were the few we tried that we liked.

For fine dining, we loved the Fleurie Restaurant. Tucked away in the side of 3rd street, we had one of the best fine dining experience here. From the service to the food, everything was excellent. We were lucky that we got a seat last minute. Apparently, you have to book way in advance to get a seat in this place. Yelp also gave 4.5 stars.

Fleurie Restaurant, Charlottesville, VA
Fleurie Restaurant, Charlottesville, VA

For brunch we went to The Nook which is in the middle of Downtown. The food was good. Most importantly, it was fun to people watch since you can sit outdoor. Open in 1951, it offers American classic food. It was a popular brunch place for family and friends.

Nook at Charlottesville, VA
Nook at Charlottesville, VA

If you have a sweet tooth, you will like Splendora’s Gelatos or Chaps’ ice cream. For coffee lovers, you can go check out Calvino Bar, Shenandoah Joe Coffee Roasters or Milli Joe Coffee and Gelato. We didn’t get to try each one of them but they were crowded and had good reviews on Yelp. Maybe you can tell us which one you like the best.

  1. Go wine tasting at the wineries

Due to the topography around Charlottesville, there are many vineyards, breweries, and cideries near the city. Go take advantage! For instance, there are about 30 wineries on the Monticello Wine Trail, which was inspired by Thomas Jefferson. You can easily close your eyes and choose something great. We chose a winery last minute and loved our time there. The fun part about wine tasting is that you get a little tour of the facility and learn about the vineyard’s history. And if you are a wine lover like myself, you might be tempted to treat yourself into boxes of wines.

Wine Tasting along Monticello Wine Trail, VA
Wine Tasting along Monticello Wine Trail, VA
  1. University of Virginia (UVA)

And how can I forget University of Virginia? UVA is the key to Charlottesville’s college town. The public university is known for its historic foundations, student-run honor code, and secret societies. The initial Board of Visitors included U.S. President Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe when the school established in 1819. Today it is one of the best universities for young scholars to attend. Even UNESCO honored the site by designating it as a World Heritage Site in 1987. I mean how many universities get to brag about their campus like that?

Even we, who are way pass college tour age, did a quick drive around the campus to get a glimpse of this historical university. The campus was huge and the students were bustling. I get why many enjoy their time here.

Oh that reminds me. Since this is a college town place, do care to book your trip off season to the college calendar. May was the worst time to be since all hotels were booked up due to families coming for weddings and graduation.

Well, that was the end of our first road trip! I hope you have a good trip next time you are in VA area too! More tips needed? Check out HERE and HERE.

At Charlottesville's train track
At Charlottesville’s train track

Copyright © 2015. Monica H. Kang, All Rights Reserved.

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