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So much to do:
Year-round fun awaits newcomers

BY MARY ESSELMAN [email protected]

When my husband accepted a job offer in Charlottesville, back in the summer of 2003, I was 41, pregnant with our first child, and hormonally woeful about leaving Washington, DC, the city I’d lived in and loved for 20-odd years. We had two weekends to find a house we could afford-- two rainy, dismal weekends-- and I remember sitting in the back seat of our real estate agent’s cavernous SUV, crying behind the rain-streaked windows as we drove past strip malls and through what looked like one generic suburban neighborhood after another.
         To be honest, the tears had started on the way down from DC, when we passed the “Guns, shooting range” signs, and pretty much intensified somewhere between the Outback's “Bloomin’ Onion” billboard and the Wal-Mart. Where were all the people? I wondered. Where was the damn city, with its alleged Jeffersonian charm? What the heck did people do here?
          Maybe your newcomer experience hasn’t been quite the snobby sobfest mine was, but still, in case you’re wondering if there’s life beyond the corridor of hell that is Rt. 29, here are a few words: Downtown Mall. First Fridays. The Grounds and the Corner. Blue Ridge Mountains. Ivy Creek Natural Area. Virginia Film Festival. Farmer’s Market. There’s so much to do in this active, vibrant town-- from shopping, strolling, and dining downtown to berry-picking, winery-hopping, and sight-seeing in the country-- that you'll be barely able to keep up with the options. 
            My favorite outings so far? Saturday mornings at the City Market; the Dogwood Festival parade; seasonal treks for berries, pumpkins, and Christmas trees; the Rivanna Trail from Riverview Park to the Free Bridge; skating with Santa at the downtown ice rink; lazy vineyard picnic afternoons; the Boar’s Head Thanksgiving Turkey Trot; touch football at Darden Towe Park; Halloween on the Lawn; meeting friends for tapas at Mas (and doughnuts at Spudnuts, and sopes at Aqui es Mexico); local fairs and festivals, and weekend walks around the neighborhood. 
           And there’s so much I still haven’t done: eat dinner at Mel’s Cafe, have a drink at the fancy-schmancy bar at Keswick, visit Clifton Inn and pretend I’m a guest, hike Humpback Rock, run the Women’s Four Miler, pull my oar with the Rivanna Rowing Club, tour Montpelier, spend a day at Graves Mountain Lodge, check out a show at the Paramount, do the Albemarle-Charlottesville Historical Society downtown walking tour, picnic at Friday night polo, crash Free Union’s Fourth of July parade, audit a UVA course through the Community Scholars program, get involved with my neighborhood association, volunteer with the Legal Aid Justice Center, take a hot air balloon ride, explore Waynesboro, Scottsville, and all the other nearby places that seem to constantly offer festivals, parades, markets, and outdoor fun.
          Yes, this formerly blubbering Miss City-Pants finds herself humbled by and beholden to Mr. Jefferson's favorite town and its lovely, sophisticated, down-home delights. Get out, knock around, live it up-- you’ll love it here, too.

Monticello- Numero uno Charlottesville's history site. Home of Thomas Jefferson, this house is depicted on the reverse side of the nickel. Draws about half a million visitors a year. Even if you've already seen the house, the new Visitors' Center is a fun interactive museum unto itself.
Entrance fee: $22 adults ($17 Nov-Feb); $8 children 6-11; children under 6 free. Tours conducted every day of the year except Christmas Day, 9am-5pm. Tips: Arrive when it's not crowded or get a "line-release" pass. Summer is the busiest time; September and spring are sublime. 984-9822

If you're a local resident, and you bring a friend from out of town, you get in free! Lovers of all things Thomas Jefferson should see Rob Coles at least once. Complete with bright red hair and stirring words, his famous Jefferson reenactments make you feel like you're in the presence of Charlottesville's favorite son. What's Coles' secret? He's a blood relative of the third President.

UVA Grounds- Widely considered the most beautiful college campus in the world. Free tours depart from the Rotunda basement by UVA's famous Lawn. Designed by Thomas Jefferson as the heart of his so-called "Academical Village," the Lawn's centerpiece is the Rotunda.The man himself lived to see it open in the summer of 1825. Seventy years later, the Rotunda burned to its brick shell, then was "restored" by architect Stanford White, and restored again to Jefferson's essential design in time for the American Bicentennial in 1976. Free guided tours of the Rotunda and Lawn include a peek at Edgar Allan Poe's room, #13 of course. Tours meet daily (except during the winter when students are on vacation) at 10 and 11am, and 2, 3, and 4pm at the Rotunda entrance facing the Lawn. 982-3200 / 924-0311

Parking around UVA- Enjoying UVA is easy once you've found a map and a place to park. That used to be easier said than done with parking decks at 14th Street, on Emmet Street, under the UVA Bookstore by Memorial Gym, and at the UVA hospital. However, if you happen to be going to Grounds in the evening or on the weekend, the multi-deck parking garage at the Culbreth Theater, near Beta Bridge, is free to visitors after 5pm, and all weekend long. If nothing's available in any of the lots, the best bet is to check the open lots in and around the Corner, or look for street parking.

The Corner- At this enclave of shops, bars, and restaurants surrounding the university, parking is tighter than anywhere else in town, but the streetscapes are lively, and the shops are eclectic.

-->>See our special section on UVA.

Downtown Mall- One of the few pedestrian malls in America that actually works, it's the commercial and artistic hub of the city. An eight- or nine-block stretch of bricks with about 50 restaurants and lots of shopping, it's the place to see and be seen. The new Charlottesville Pavilion (245-4910) at the Mall's East End plays host to all sorts of musical entertainment, from B.B. King, to Willie Nelson, to Wilco, to David Byrne, to the Flaming Lips, to Fridays After 5. The business group that seems to run the Mall is the Downtown Business Association of Charlottesville. 295-9073

Walking tours of downtown are offered at 10am Saturdays from April to October by the Albemarle-Charlottesville Historical Society at 200 Second St. NE. $5 suggested donation. 296-1492

Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society has a small museum in its foyer at 200 Second St. NE (the marble-columned building facing Lee Park). Mon-Fri 9am-5pm; Sat 10am-1pm (office closed). 296-1492

-->>See our special section on Shopping.

Main visitors center- It's operated by the Charlottesville/ Albemarle Convention and Visitors Bureau, and it's located at the east end of the Downtown Mall (293-6789), in the new Transit Center near the Pavilion, largely a brochure-distribution spot. Mon-Sat 10-5, Sun 11-3. Ditto for UVA's visitors center on Ivy Road. 924-0311.

>>See Kid Stuff section for more.

>>See Art Galleries section for more.

Montpelier- Located just north of town in Orange County, James Madison's home just re-opened in 2008, after a five-year effort to restore James Madison's home to its original 19th Century conditions. To learn more about this Fourth President and "Father of the Constitution," there are mansion tours offered between 9:00 and 5:00 (or until 4:00 between November and March) every day of the year except Thanksgiving and Christmas. Adults $16, kids 6-14 $8, kids under 6 are free.

Ash Lawn-Highland- Located anywhere else in the country, the home of President James Monroe would be the town's biggest claim to fame. Standing here in the shadow of Monticello (and Montpelier), it's often omitted from the big tours. But as fans of foreign relations doctrines can attest, this "Era of Good Feelings" president was an important one. Tours 9am-6pm Apr-Oct, 11am-5pm Nov-Mar. $10 adults, $5 kids ages 6-11. Locals get in for $5, or free with full-paying nonresident visitors. 293-8000

Michie Tavern- An actual old tavern that dates from the 1700s, this building was moved 17 miles from Earlysville at about the time Monticello re-opened in the 1920s and offers a traditional Southern fried chicken lunch served by staff in Colonial garb. Open 9am-5pm daily with free tours for locals (lunch served 11:15am-3:30pm). Located just this side of Monticello on Rt. 53. 977-1234

Environment- It may not be in the heart of the Rockies, but Charlottesville has more than its fair share of outdoor and environmental opportunities. The Rivanna Trails Foundation, as part of its campaign to build a footpath around the city, sponsors all sorts of hikes and work days (923-9022), as do the folks at the Ivy Creek Foundation (973-7772). If you're looking for a little more action and adventure, the Outdoor Adventure Social Club of Greater Charlottesville sponsors outdoorsy trips all over the Blue Ridge and beyond. 760-HIKE

-->>See our Sports and Recreation section for more.

The Miller Center- Studies and informs the national and international policies of the United States with a special focus on the American Presidency. Offers frequent 11am free weekday forums with leading scholars and policymakers such as former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford. 2201 Old Ivy Road. 924-7236

Revolutionary War- British General Banastre Tarleton camped here for a while after almost capturing Jefferson, but a speedy 27-year-old horseman named Jack Jouett heard about the plan at Cuckoo Tavern in Louisa and hustled to Charlottesville to warn the Governor. Jefferson, after waiting for his horse to be shod, sped to safety at Blenheim (estate of Champe Carter adjoining Monroe's home, Highland). There was no southern Longfellow to give Jouett the Paul Revere treatment, so except for Monticello and a few houses here and there, there's not much to see locally except a plaque honoring Jouett in Court Square and a middle school named after him.

Civil War- Charlottesville had just one little skirmish in the "recent unpleasentness," at Rio Hill (now a shopping center), when George Custer burned down a bridge over the Rivanna River. Charlottesville does have a few monuments, including equestrian statues of Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee in the middle of their namesake parks downtown-- not to mention the obligatory pair of cannons at the County Courthouse.

Wineries galoreSee our Wine Section.


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