Just two hours southwest of Washington, D.C., the city of Charlottesville maintains a strong link to the architectural legacy of Thomas Jefferson. Home to his "architectural laboratory," Monticello, this city continues to embrace the sights, sounds, and flavors of its Jeffersonian heritage, while fostering a culture of curiosity and innovation. Full of southern hospitality, Charlottesville welcomes visitors seeking to engage the senses in all that this design destination has to offer.
• Historic Downtown Mall: This idyllic brick pedestrian mall at the heart of the city, designed by American landscape architect Lawrence Halprin, is home to more than 120 shops and 30 restaurants, as well as coffee shops, theaters, an ice skating arena, and the first LEED Gold-certified municipal building in Virginia, the Downtown Transit Station.
• Live music: Charlotteville's thriving music community attracts artists and bands, large and small, to its many venues, including four on the Downtown Mall. Gather outdoors beneath the soaring white tent of the nTelos Wireless Pavilion; enjoy the luxury and Greek-Revival style of the historic Paramont Theater; dance with friends surrounded by the meticulously restored architecture of the Jefferson Theater; or opt to get up close and personal with your favorite artist in the more intimate space of the Southern Cafe and Music Hall.
• First Fridays: On the first Friday of each month, gallery spaces throughout Charlottesville welcome visitors to explore new artists on showcase. Spend the evening wandering from space to space, enjoying wine and snacks, and chatting with other art lovers.
• Look 3- Festival of the Photograph: The annual Look 3 Festival invites photographers and lovers of photography from around the world to join in a celebration of the art through exhibitions, on-stage appearances, outdoor projections, workshops, and interviews.
• Monticello Wine Trail: With over 20 vineyards dotting the rolling hills around Charlottesville, make plans to visit more than one location. Walk across the glass paneled floor above the production facilities of Dave Matthew's Blenheim Vineyards, explore the 19th century ruins of the Barboursville Vineyards, catch a Sunday afternoon polo match at King Family Vineyards, or pull up a stool to the hand-carved bar at Pippin Hill Farm & Vineyard (shown above).
• Monticello: There's so much to be said for the design of Thomas Jefferson's 5,000 acre plantation, gardens, and home. But perhaps most telling is its recent inclusion as one of National Geographic's 2012 Top 10 World Wonders. Lovers of design will find no shortage of inspiration touring the house and grounds of this historic site.
• University of Virginia: Continue to explore Jeffersonian design on the Grounds of his Academical Village, surrounded by soaring columns, serpentine walls, and gleaming white arches. Wander through any of the 10 unique gardens before entering the domed room of the famous Rotunda, then make your way to the school of architecture's Campbell Hall, whose its modern, clean lines are juxtaposed with the traditional, Palladian brick academic village.
• Blue Ridge Mountains: Need a break from man-made design? Surround yourself with the awe-inspiring design of nature on the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Shenendoah National Park's Skyline Drive. Just 25 miles outside of Charlottesville, these destinations offer hiking, camping, swimming, and scenic views.
• Rock Paper Scissors: Located on the Downtown Mall, this charming paper boutique offers stationery and unique gifts, as well as custom printing and design.
• Roxie Daisy: A welcome addition to the Downtown Mall, Roxie Daisy provides elegant and rustic housewares, gifts and jewelry. You can find everything from leather trimmed market baskets to hand blown drinking glasses to Edison table lamps in this charming shop. Warning: It is known to cause a case of the "I wants."
• Artful Lodger: Tucked in at the end of the pedestrian mall, The Artful Lodger is a full-service furniture showroom. Most days, you can find owners Caroline and Christopher there arranging the showroom with a their ever-changing inventory. And if you need some one-on-one help, interior designer Laurie is there to help you pull it all together.
• Circa: In the market for something unique and unusual? You will surely find it at the 10,000 square foot antique and vintage store Circa. Set aside some serious time to wander through this treasure of a shop, so you can take in every piece of visual candy, sure to satisfy the high-end design lover and thrift shopper alike.
• Charlottesville City Market: Located downtown every Saturday between April and November, the City Market welcomes local farmers and artisans to what was recently voted the #1 farmers market worth the special trip.
• Zinc: (shown above) Featuring seasonally inspired, locally sourced fare. Try to visit this restaurant on a night when the garage doors of this converted service station are rolled up, opening the space up to the patio surrounded by the herb garden that supplies the kitchen.
• Moto Pho Co: Love Zinc? Owner Vu Nguyen just opened this new restaurant across the street, serving the Vietnamese comfort food pho.
• Tavola: The rustic yet refined Italian fare in this neighborhood restaurant is elevated by local ingredients, a thoughtful wine list, and an attentive staff passionate about the food they serve.
• Mas: Bring friends to share Spanish tapas made with local and organically produced meat, cheese, and produce, perfectly paired with a carefully developed wine list.
• Hill & Holler: Under the tagline "a modern configuration of the farm table," these roving farm dinners bring together local chefs, farmers, and winemakers to produce unique dining experiences, offering 5 course meals under the open sky or in the loft of a barn. Proceeds from these memorable events support local charities.
• C&O (shown above): Venture downstairs to this restaurant's bistro bar, where the old world feel of the dark wood, salvaged from a barn in the 1970's, invites you to cozy up with one of their signature cocktails. Better yet, come on a Tuesday night for the Gypsy jazz of local band Olivarez Trio.
• Beer Run: This pub-meets-cafe-meets-convenience store is a beer geek's heaven. Pull up to a copper topped table and enjoy the constantly changing tap selections, welcoming atmosphere, and knowledgeable staff at this neighborhood bar. And be sure to take a 6-pack or growler home with you.
• Blue Mountain Brewery: Brewer Taylor Smack has been brewing craft beer in and around Charlottesville since 2000, and his skill and knowledge are evident in the award winning drafts being poured at BMB. The brewery, located 20 miles outside of the city, invites you to enjoy views of the hop farm and mountainside while sipping on a classic lager, pale ale, or seasonal brew.
• Shenandoah Joe's: If you are a coffee lover, this coffee roaster and espresso bar is the place for you. Lounge on vintage sofas, enjoying a perfectly prepared organic, fair trade latte, while watching the the staff mastering their craft in the roastery.
• Stay Charlottesville (shown above): The property managers at Stay Charlottesville hold the keys to some of the best residences in Charlottesville. Whether you want to be in an apartment that puts you in the heart of the bustling Downtown Mall or in a house tucked away in the tranquility of a gorgeous mountain side, live like a local and get a feel for what it's like to call this town home.
• Clifton Inn: Nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, The Clifton Inn lives up to its promise to provide guests with "the intimacy of small inns and exquisite comforts and luxuries of world-class hotels." Not to mention chef Tucker Yoder offers up some of the best cuisine around, period.
• The Inn at Court Square: Located in the oldest existing house in Charlottesville, this quaint bed and breakfast has seven uniquely appointed guest rooms. While it's only a block away from the lively Downtown Mall, this restored federal period home sits across the street from Jackson Park and offers guests a cozy place to relax after seeing the sights.
• Keswick Hall: If staying in a 100 year old mansion is more your cup of tea, then look no further than the Keswick Hall. With sprawling grounds and spectacular views, this historic estate boasts a luxurious spa, renowned restaurants, and an Arnold Palmer Signature 18-hole golf course.
Please help us out and add to the guide in the comments - what are your recommendations for Charlottesville?