To be fair, Charlottesville has really only boomed in the past decade or so, and most neighborhoods are still purely residential. Most of the best food and entertainment is concentrated in the small downtown area, but there’s so much to see and do outside of the city limits that you’d be doing yourself a major disservice to keep your visit confined to one ZIP code. While you’ll enjoy hanging out downtown, your lodging options are limited until you get more into the suburbs and rural outskirts. Here are just a few of the areas you'll likely find yourself visiting.
When locals refer to downtown Charlottesville, they’re talking about the seven-block long pedestrian mall known simply as the Downtown Mall. It’s near UVA, but this is where the locals tend to hang out. Hands down the hippest part of C-ville, a visitor could spend a whole vacation in this tiny stretch of town and get a rich and varied taste of Charlottesville (but don’t do that!). It’s almost always a great time to check out the Downtown Mall—in fact, you’ll want to visit several of the restaurants here, so one visit won’t suffice. If you’re around on a Friday afternoon in the summertime, join the whole town in a party on the mall during the spring and summer months for Fridays After Five. There’s a free concert each week at the Charlottesville Pavilion, as well as beer, wine, and snacks. Shops do tend to close around 5 in this neighborhood, but most people go downtown for the food and the atmosphere rather than the shopping. Definitely check out the street vendors, though, peddling crafts, jewelry, and other accessories.
US-29, known as Emmett Street in town, is the main drag through most of Charlottesville. It’s mostly chain restaurants, hotels, and stores, but you’ll find the occasional local gem among the strip malls and stoplights. You can’t really avoid 29, and it’s convenient to most everything in town, but it’s certainly the most commercial part of Charlottesville, with the worst traffic. It’s not congestion that’s the problem, but dozens of traffic lights. Toward the north end of town, you’ll find Fashion Square Mall—not a large mall, but with some decent shopping. You might prefer the shopping at Barracks Road Shopping Center, which is right before you get to UVA on 29 South. For dining in this part of town, try Copacabana in the Shopper’s World Shopping center (aka the Whole Foods shopping center) for yummy Brazilian cuisine, or the Ming Dynasty just south of the ramp to US-250, for delicious vegetarian and vegan Chinese food. They serve meat dishes, too, and have an amazing lunch buffet.
On the east side of Charlottesville, near downtown, you’ll find Pantops Mountain (more like a hill). Ten years ago, everything out here was old and run down, and it had little to recommend it. But Pantops has been through some aggressive gentrification recently, and it’s the fastest-growing part of Charlottesville, with lots of brand new restaurants, high-end hotels, and luxury housing. The Rivanna River runs through town at Pantops, and the trail at Riverview Park is ideal for a walk, jog, or bike ride by the water. For a delicious lunch on a stick, try Sticks Kebob Shop on Abbey Road, and if you’re around for happy hour, head up to Guadalajara (known in C-ville simply as “The Guad”) on rt. 250 for the best margaritas under $10 in the city.
UVA & The Corner
While most University of Virginia students will tell you that the Corner—a short stretch of bars, restaurants, and shops at the edge of Grounds (don’t call it “campus” here!)—is the heart of Charlottesville, most locals rarely venture to this part of town. It’s just not very convenient to get there, except on foot from nearby student housing. But the Corner is absolutely worth a visit. The Gus Burger, found at The White Spot, a hole-in-the-wall diner on the Corner, is Charlottesville’s signature burger. Pick up UVA souvenirs at Mincer’s, and spend some time walking around The Lawn, just a short walk from The Corner. (UVA can be a little pretentious with its terminology—you’ll see bumper stickers and t-shirts in school colors that simply say “The University.” We admit, it’s obnoxious, but it’s a great school, and a gorgeous one, too. They’ve earned the right to a little pretension.)
This part of town used to be nothing but woods, farms, and the airport. Within the last decade and a half, a few thousand upper middle class homes were built here, and the shops and restaurants soon followed. There are a few new hotels, too, but you probably don’t want to stay up here. It’s mostly chains with very little local flavor, and you’ll have to navigate about 400 traffic lights to get from here to all the best parts of town. Anyone who flies or drives down from the north will pass through this part of Charlottesville, though, so while you’re here, you can check out the Silver Thatch Inn for a romantic upscale dinner.
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