College football season is upon us and no matter what team you root for, the region has so many great college towns with plenty to offer beyond the campus. This guide comes from Charlottesville, Virginia, one of the nation’s oldest college towns, dating back to its establishment by Thomas Jefferson in 1819. Inspired by the universities of England, the University of Virginia is considered to be one of the “Public Ivies,” or some of the finest public universities in the United States. Its alumni include eight NASA astronauts, eight Pulitzer Prize winners, and 53 Rhodes scholars, more than any other school in the region. Don’t let the headlines completely inform you about this friendly college town: Cville has so much love, which you’ll see in art installations around the region. This guide assumes that you’ll spend your time decked out in orange and navy, cheering on your team, but will be looking to get away from campus to explore the city.
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Things to Do
Fans will spend plenty of time on campus, so in addition to admiring the Rotunda and onsite features like Edgar Allan Poe’s dorm. Charlottesville is also a good base for exploring Shenandoah National Park and the mountains.
Ash Lawn-Highland– This nearby home is on the site of the one that James Monroe lived with his wife. While their home is no longer standing, the tour also informs visitors on the other residents of the property.
Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of UVA– No place outside of Australia boasts a more extensive collection of Aboriginal art and artifacts than this UVA-affiliated museum. It contains the combined collections of a local businessman and a professor.
Taste of Charlottesville Food Tours– Enjoy the three-hour tour of Charlottesville’s best eateries with this food tour operator. Samples include locally produced beers and ciders, Southern dishes, and the finest chocolates around.
Virginia Private Custom Wine Tour from Charlottesville– Visit the area’s incredible wineries with a designated driver on the custom tour that leaves from Charlottesville.
Skyline Drive– Located to the north in Shenandoah National Park, this scenic drive is a must-do when in this part of Virginia. You’ll have to pay entry into the park, so purchasing a national parks pass is encouraged.
Where to Eat
It’s hard to stay entirely away from campus and its eateries, so we’ve included a few favorites as well as those in surrounding neighborhoods.
Bodo’s Bagels– Students and locals alike love the boiled bagels at this restaurant that has a few locations around town. Enjoy a breakfast sandwich or get your bagel topped with one of their cream cheese varieties.
Mudhouse Coffee Downtown Mall– Get your locally roasted coffee fix with fresh daily baked goods at one of three area locations.
Bluegrass Grill & Bakery– Start your day off right with what the New York Times has called “hearty Southern comfort fare.” Expect favorites like biscuits, egg dishes, and corned beef hash.
Citizen Bowl Shop– If you’re in the mood for something healthy, Citizen offers a variety of bowl options with various proteins, including some veggie-friendly, or you can create your own.
Michie Tavern– The historic tavern is a popular stop for visitors to nearby Monticello, but their dishes like biscuits and fried chicken are worth the wait.
Brazos Tacos– This trendy taco spot offers more than just standard Mexican fare. Their breakfast tacos are favorites, along with vegetarian and fish options.
C&O Restaurant– Open in Charlottesville for over four decades, this restaurant serves both casual dinners and late-night fare with the best local and regional ingredients.
The Whiskey Jar– It almost goes without saying in Charlottesville, but this restaurant also focuses on what is local and seasonal. Their chef is also the farmer that produces much of what goes onto your plate.
Crozet Pizza at Buddhist Biker Bar– While it originated in nearby Crozet in 1977, this pizza spot came recommended by many. Choose from the house pies or create your own.
Where to Drink
College towns are all about their watering holes and Charlottesville has more than a few. You’ll find trendy cocktail bars and dives as well as spots for live music which launched the careers of acts like Dave Matthews Band. Don’t forget about the nearby wineries and breweries!
Blenheim Vineyards– If you mention Charlottesville, you can’t forget one of the most famous native sons, Dave Matthews, who owns this winery.
Starr Hill Brewery– Originally a popular live music venue, Starr Hill is one of the state’s most successful breweries. In addition to the Crozet taproom, they have a second space in Roanoke.
Bold Rock Hard Cider– While the craft cider is produced in both Virginia and North Carolina, they have tasting rooms at Carter Mountain and Nellysford.
Continental Divide- Go for the Southwestern food, but stay for the margaritas, which have been a Charlottesville favorite since 1994.
Boylan Heights– Every college town needs a sports bar and Boylan Heights fills that void with burgers, draft beers, and TVs playing every game. Most beers are local or regional.
Miller’s Downtown– Catch live music at this downtown bar that hosted Dave Matthews Band in the early days. You never know what act will hit it big next.
Where to Stay
Book your accommodations early so that you can stay in your preferred neighborhood instead. Choose from one of downtown’s hotels.
Graduate Charlottesville– The chain of college town boutique hotels has a UVA outpost, which, like the others, is decorated with details unique to its location. It’s a short walk from campus and has a popular rooftop restaurant.
Clifton Inn– The stunning historic property is tucked away from the noise of the Downtown Mall. It overlooks the Blue Ridge Mountains with 100 acres of grounds and has an onsite restaurant.
200 South Street Inn– This bed and breakfast is steps away from downtown and features amenities like private baths, parking, and Internet.
Omni Charlottesville Hotel– For a luxurious stay, the Omni is your best bet with a stunning lobby, onsite dining, and deluxe rooms.
Airbnb– Groups can stay in one of the city’s lesser-known neighborhoods.
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This post contains affiliate links and was produced with assistance from Virginia Tourism.