53 Reasons Why Charlottesville is the Best

Charlottesville Virginia in the AutumnWe all know it’s one of the best places to live; this much has been confirmed by both domestic and international sources. We love it so much we couldn’t limit it to 50 items. So if you happen to land in Charlottesville, keep this master list in mind.

 

#53 The Fall Okay so granted, this one is a little vague. I mean it’s not like it’s the only city with autumn, but property in central Virginia is perfect for watching the leaves change, and there are some truly gorgeous fall days. Other items on our list further prove this point, so read on!

 

#52 Festival of the Book An annual Charlottesville tradition, the Virginia Festival of the Book takes place on the Downtown Mall every March…and has for 22 years going strong! The literary wave brings celebrated authors to be guest speakers and features workshops and book sales. No matter how good this list is, it’s not a substitute for a good book.

 

#51 Secret Societies Secret societies have been a part of student life almost since UVa’s beginning. While the idea connotes an elite aristocracy, groups like the Z, 7 and IMP societies have extensive records of philanthropy and do a lot of wonderful things for the community.

 

#50 Musician-friendly Not every town is guaranteed this, and Charlottesville was recently hit with the loss of maybe its best store a few years ago, when Cville Music closed its doors for good. But there are still great places to grab some gear, scope out some deals or buy a high-quality instrument. There are also a wealth of places offering private lessons, renting out recording studio space, and providing crucial repairs. Stacy’s Music is a great place to get lessons, chat it up with some pros, and especially to get repairs and tune-ups for your instruments with a personal touch (ask for Rob). There is also Specialty Guitars Plus, which has an exhausting amount of equipment, including a land of lore and fable known only as “The Bass Room.” You’ve got Universal Electronics for repairs, Bay1 Studio for recording, and Music and Arts for everything else.

 

#49 Fridays after 5 Held during the warmer months at the nTelos Wireless Pavilion, Fridays after 5 is a weekly concert series featuring local and regional acts from all over the Greater Charlottesville area. The music is free, and local vendors serve up tasty food and cold beer for the duration of the show. TGIF indeed.

 

#48 Morven Farm John Kluge was a businessman and philanthropist who contributed much to city. He donated over 7,000 acres of farmland in Albemarle County to UVa in 2001. The UVa Foundation retains 2,913 acres, called Morven Farm where a variety of programs–from agricultural classes at the Summer Institute to leadership classes at the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders–are held.

 

#47 La Michoacana Authentic Mexican cuisine at extremely reasonable prices? If it sounds too good to be true, you haven’t been to this classic spot on Little High Street, the midpoint between downtown Cville and Pantops. Everything on the menu is good, especially the tacos: $2.50 for chicken, barbacoa, carnitas, al pastor, beef tongue and many choices…topped with chopped onions and cilantro.

 

#46 Bluegrass The land in central Virginia falls smack dab in Appalachia and so bluegrass is the lay of the land in Charlottesville. From local groups like Mando Mafia or the Weedeaters to more established players that pass through town (Sam Bush, the Travelin’ McCourys etc.), Cville is something of a bluegrass oasis.

 

#45 Monticello Thomas Jefferson’s historic home at Monticello is located a few miles outside Charlottesville, on land in the Piedmont region. It’s been restored and rebuilt for more than 40 years and you can tour everything from Jefferson’s house, to the gardens to old slave quarters year-round.

 

#44 Atlas Comics Every town needs a solid comic book store and Atlas claims to be the premier brick-and-mortar comic book store in central Virginia. They’ve got over 75,000 comics in stock at one time, and employees who can answer virtually every question about your favorite super hero, sci-fi series, or conspiracy theory.

 

#43 The Brew Ridge Trail This self-guided stretch of hoppy highway is in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains. A scenic drive includes some of Charlottesville’s favorite local beers: Blue Mountain Brewery, Starr Hill, Devil’s Backbone and Wild Wolf. Bring a driver.

 

#42 Bike country While we aren’t quite as bike-conscious as our neighbors to the east in Richmond, Charlottesville is taking steps to integrate the cyclist into its road plans. There are already bike racks on city and UVa buses and plans to address bike corridors on some of the more crowded roads. There are also some spectacular bike trails, like the Rivanna, O-Hill, or Walnut Creek that can be challenging for even experienced bikers.

 

#41 CLAW The Charlottesville Lady Arm Wrestlers (or CLAW) are a fierce group of femme fatales who engage in friendly competitive arm wrestling. It started out as a joke league between some friends and took off in 2008. The inception was held at Blue Moon Diner and that’s still the headquarters as far as we know.

 

#40 Shenandoah Joe Every town has their coffee merchant. Shen Joe is near-ubiquitous in Charlottesville, sold in many stores and restaurants in addition to having three locations on the Corner, on Ivy Road, and on Preston Avenue. Each batch of sludge is individually roasted with meticulous care, and you can bring home several different types of coffee from the world over. Many of these are fairtrade and organic certified.

 

#39 Live Theatre The Ville has a couple of places to enjoy live theatre, and you really get to enjoy the range of performers, from students putting on shows at UVa’s Culbreth Theatre to locals producing shows at Live Arts downtown or at the newly-established Gorilla Theatre. The material is also pretty varied, from student-written and produced plays to some of the classics.

 

#38 The Lighting of the Lawn A more recent UVa tradition, “Lighting of the Lawn” is a celebration of the winter season. In early December, a student-written holiday poem is recited and around 22,000 lightbulbs are hung around Grounds, lit up each night until the end of the semester.

 

#37 The Lawn Especially with the Rotunda undergoing perpetual restoration, the Lawn is perhaps UVa’s most prominent symbol. It’s the site of graduations, commencement speeches, and other events. There are also 47 rooms available for fourth year students, and living on the Lawn is one of the highest honors a UVa student can have. Tradition also designates the Lawn as the place where inebriated college students go streaking…thanks Jefferson!

 

#36 Virginia Film Festival The Virginia Film Festival (this year Nov. 5-8) has been held in Charlottesville since its inception in 1988. Put on by the College of Arts and Sciences, the festival does a good job of bringing the school and community together. It also gives film fans in the the Ville a chance to catch unreleased and limited release films at many different venues.

 

Charlottesville Vineyards and Wineries#35 Wine country Charlottesville is something of a Mid-Atlantic wine mecca. There is a rich viticultural tradition in the area, in no small part due to Thomas Jefferson’s passion for the beverage. Monticello American Viticultural Area is located on land in central Virginia and provides ample terroir for some excellent vineyards including Blenheim Vineyards, Jefferson Vineyards, Trump Vineyards and many more. Drink up.

 

#34 Burgers Charlottesville is consistently lauded for its stellar cuisine, and there are many different types of food here. But there is a seemingly endless stream of burger joints: Citizen Burger Bar, Rapture, Miller’s and Jack Brown’s, Boylan Heights and the White Spot on the Corner, Riverside near Pantops and probably about a dozen others that we missed. Hungry yet?

 

#33 First Fridays On the first Friday of every month, various art galleries in Charlottesville open up their doors and showcase featured artists for First Fridays. It’s generally more crowded during the warmer months, but the truly dedicated can enjoy original work at least once a month. Participating galleries include the McGuffey Art Center, UVa’s Fralin and Ruffin Galleries, 2nd Street Gallery and many others. Wine and food are usually standard.

 

#32 Walnut Creek A veritable outdoor wonderland, Walnut Creek sits on 525 acres of land in Albemarle County, specifically North Garden. The park has everything…canoes, fishing (with a healthy supply of channel catfish and largemouth bass), 15 miles of trails for hiking and biking, and a disc golf course with 18 holes! You’ll never want to go back inside.

 

#31 Fireworks at McIntire Park You can always count on a beautiful, bombastic fireworks display at McIntire Park on the 4th…Cville definitely does this right. Watching from different spots in the downtown area, literally thousands of people can bask in the revelry, completely free of charge.

 

#30 The Quarry Cliff-diving has never been this close. Located 30 minutes south of Charlottesville, off of 29 South, the quarries have jumps of various heights. Some of these quarries are tough to get to and some are literally in people’s backyards, so be discerning. Some of the jumps are 40 feet high! But don’t worry, there are baby jumps too, and we won’t tell anyone you got scared when you did the 15 foot jump.

 

#29 Late-night grub Call it a perk of living in a college town but for a city this small, Charlottesville has a surprising number of places to grab a late night bite. There are old standbys on the Corner like the White Spot, Christian’s Pizza and LittleJohn’s N.Y.-Style Deli (which is open 24-hours and has a severely underrated breakfast menu). Then you’ve got options like Jack Brown’s Burgers, Benny Deluca’s giant pizza, Waffle House, Wings Over Charlottesville (delivery chicken wings until 3am on weekends??) and more.

 

#28 Local chains Definitely not unique to Charlottesville, but still pretty cool. There are a handful of restaurants around here that are littered in different spots around the city. This has a very unique effect…you get your small-town, hyperlocal feel, but you can get it at multiple places. And each location does it a little bit differently, so everyone has their favorite spot. There are three incarnations of Bodo’s Bagels, Christian’s Pizza, Sticks Kebab, and Shenandoah Joes, four places to get Mudhouse Coffee, and two Little John’s locations.

 

#27 The Paramount Theater The Paramount is a diverse, flexible venue where anything is possible. On any given night you may go see a contemporary bluegrass group like the Punch Brothers or a jazz legend like saxophonist Wayne Shorter. The next morning you could go in to catch a UVa basketball game or Virginia Film Festival screening. One of the older venues in the city, it was recently restored and has a diverse cultural offering.

 

#26 Farmers’ Market With its proximity to so many central Virginia farms, Charlottesville offers a quality farmers’ market 7am to noon in the warmer months and 8am to 1pm in the colder times of the year. Fresh, organic produce, pork, poultry and provisions as well as handmade arts and crafts and live music. It’s a great start to the day, and a reason to hop out of bed on Saturday morning. If you’re an early riser, it’s the place to be.

 

#25 “Ethnic food” If you cruise through Charlottesville expecting BBQ, fried chicken, burgers, and subs….you got ‘em. But you also have half a dozen Indian places to choose from. You can pick up some green curry or pad see ew from Pad Thai, Lemongrass, Monsoon or a host of other places. There are even a few places with the Vietnamese soup pho,Caribbean cuisine and even Ethiopian. Dig in.

 

#24 Lampo Noun. Italian for “lightning”; also the name of an authentic Neapolitan pizzeria, certified Vera Pizza Napoletana. The owners shipped in a 3-ton brick oven from Italy and serve up pizzas at a rapid-fire, using only wood to get the oven up to 1,000 degrees. You can’t go wrong with this level of dedication.

 

#23 Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar In a land where coffee is king, the Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar is a refreshing alternative. Browse a huge selection of teas: aged teas, blooming teas, white teas, Chinese and Japanese greens, black teas, house blends and yerba mate. They are also one of the town’s only hookah bars, and a site for several kinds of alternative music. They  help host a month hip-hop showcase that features several underground rappers. Cool spot for sure.

 

Hiking in Charlottesville#22 Hiking It’s our belief that the rural land in central Virginia is some of the most beautiful on Earth. The area’s has so many spots in which to disappear for a weekend, and many are very accessible. Check out Walnut Creek, St. Mary’s, Sugar Hollow, Shenandoah National Park, and a host of other scenic spots.

 

#21 Fried Chicken Central to our love of this city. It boasts a wide and delicious selection of fried chicken joints scattered throughout the city. Yes, some of them are gas stations but eat before you judge. The Shell station on Preston Avenue, the Trading Post south of town, Brown’s Chicken on Avon street, Wayside Chicken on JPA, the GoCo and BlackJack’s Soul Food Kitchen on Cherry.  Venture out to Madison County and try the Wolftown Store’s Chicken or in Nelson, the Chicken Coop…are we forgetting any?

 

#20 Music Resource Center The MRC is a unique accession for the town; a recording studio/practice space available to anyone between 7th and 12th grade who has a passion for music. It was started in 1995 in the old practice space for the Dave Matthews Band and lets many kids live out their musical aspirations at a young age, with help from some experienced staff.

 

#19 UVa Basketball UVa’s basketball team has started to heat up in recent years, becoming a serious powerhouse in the ACC and a nationally-ranked squad known for their tenacious defense. Coach Tony Bennett has mentored stars like Joe Harris and Justin Anderson while helping the team grow as a unit. It hearkens back to the days of heavy hitters like four-time College Player of the Year Ralph Sampson, or more recently explosive point guard Sean Singletary.

 

#18 Farm-to-Table The farm-to-table movement is big in Charlottesville. It’s the marriage of talented chefs, enthusiastic restaurateurs and patrons to acres of central Virginia farmland and a multitude of small, sustainable organic farms. The result is a culinary aesthetic centered on locally sourced food and healthy, open relationships between restaurants, farmers, and customers. Wouldn’t you like to know where your food comes from?

 

#17 IX Art Park Located in Belmont (affectionately known as the “Brooklyn of Charlottesville”), this open air sensory oasis is rife with sculptures, murals, gardens, exhibitions, and eye-catching crafts. It’s free to walk around and a great place to bring kids. At night there are shows at Henley’s Auction House. Great slice of culture.

 

#16 Skyline Drive Beauty is beauty no matter where you’re from. Spanning a transcendent 105 miles, Skyline Drive is the crown jewel of the Shenandoah National Park. For most of the drive, it follows the ridges of the surrounding mountains east of the Shenandoah River. The views are majestic year-round, but Skyline Drive is especially inspiring during the fall, when the leaves are changing. A smattering of bright orange and rusty red hues tumble down from the boughs as if meandering drops of rain, coloring the Blue Ridge terrain in kaleidoscopic visages. A great place to bike or drive.

 

#15 Carter’s Mountain This is a must for Charlottesville newbies and remains one of our favorite spots, despite its popularity. It’s a good hike with some nice views of Charlottesville, and it has fruit. Like tons of it. Fruit for all seasons. Apples are the flagship, and they make delicious treats like apple butter, salsa, fritters and cider. They also have peaches, pumpkins, and more depending on time of year.

 

#14 Community Supported Agriculture The land in and around Charlottesville and Albemarle County is home to a plethora of small, organic farms tended by hard-working, dedicated farmers. The best way for these farmers to bring their crops to us and keep money coming in year-round is to start up a CSA program where the consumer gets cheap produce in exchange for paying a wholesale price at the beginning of the season, when a farmer’s expenditures are high and their funds are low. Farms like Bellair and Radical Roots offer CSA’s and most times you can come to the farm and literally pick your own produce. Now that’s fresh.

 

#13 Dogwood Festival Started in 1950, the Dogwood Festival has been going strong in Charlottesville for a while now. The entire month of April is a celebration Charlottesville’s beauty including carnivals, parades and breakfast benefits. Next year will be the 67th annual!

 

#12 Mix of Local and Corporate Grocery Stores. Charlottesville is at a great place right now with regard to its mix of homegrown and chain businesses. The city has all your beloved big chains. You can grab some Chipotle or Starbucks or patronize inside joints like La Michoacana and Shenandoah Joes (included on this list). We have the mega grocery stores like Whole Foods, Costco, and Wegmans (coming soon!) but you can also pick up some locally-sourced meat and produce from places like Integral Yoga or Market Street Market. It’s a have-your-cake-and-it-eat-too kind of feeling.

 

#11 The Main Street Arena/The Ante Room We combined these two establishments since they technically share the same building, although they are pretty different places. The arena is maybe the only ice rink in Charlottesville proper and features ice skating, curling, hockey and anything else you can do on the frozen water. On the other side of the building facing Water Street, the Ante Room is one of Charlottesville’s up-and-coming music venues. They look to cover underrepresented ground in Charlottesville, taking a chance on the goth, punk, noise, metal and hip-hop shows that the mainstream venues are reticent to host. And they offer delicious Haitian cuisine, which is something else you don’t really see too often.

 

#10 UVa This one almost goes without saying. Founded in 1819 by the country’s third president, UVa is Charlottesville’s premier institution. It’s responsible for most jobs in the city, provides reliable healthcare, and helps direct a lot of attention to the area. The steady revenue and influx of new students also helps insulate Charlottesville from less-than-favorable economic climates. That’s not to say Charlottesville doesn’t have its own cultural identity, because it does. But Mr. Jefferson’s University is a big part of what makes this town so great.

 

#9 Jazz scene Jazz music is alive and well in Charlottesville, with young players emerging from UVa’s program as well as from some of the local high schools. There are also plenty of seasoned vets in town, people who have been playing for decades. The hour drive from Richmond probably has something to do with the level of talent in this town. “Like” the Charlottesville Jazz Society on Facebook; they do a great job chronicling the different gigs around town.

 

#8 Observatory Hill Ever wanted to see the stars real close? Observatory Hill is located in Albemarle County, just outside of Charlottesville and on the peak of Mt. Jefferson. It’s home to the Leander McCormick Observatory and a telescope that, at the time was tied for the largest overall telescope and second-largest refractor. The observatory is generally used to teach classes and inform the public about astronomy and its history in Charlottesville. It’s open to the public on the first and third Friday of each month for a couple hours.

 

#7 Spudnuts Potato bread doughnuts. Really, that is the only explanation necessary, but we’ll go on and tell you a little more about Spudnuts, located just over the Avon bridge in downtown Charlottesville. Get there early because this place tends to sell out before noon. Their delicious fluffy disks of cake come in cinnamon, blueberry cake, glazed, chocolate.

 

#6 Record stores Records may be archaic now, but it was never just about the vinyl. It’s also about community. With their big, bulky presentation and trademark crackle, vinyl records once tethered the music lover to the physical plane. It put her/him next to other music lovers, and in a position to learn something about what they love. Sure, we have the Internet for that, but the brick-and-mortar record store has a special place in the heart of the music lover. Sadly it’s generational. Fortunately, Cville keeps one of the oldest American musical traditions alive with some quality record stores, all of which offer different things. Go to Plan 9 for the range and the deals. Sidetracks has cool folks that’ll talk your ear off and some pretty good bargains as well. Melody Supreme has  some rarities and a bunch of new releases (yes people are still putting music out on vinyl). And finally Low, (which is also a vintage shop) has those hidden gems of which you’d never heard.

 

#5 Proximity Sometimes the best part about home is your ability to get away. It makes coming back home all that much better, and really lets you appreciate the things that make your home special. Living in Charlottesville means you’re only an hour away from Richmond, two and a half hours (tops) from D.C., and pretty close to Raleigh, Asheville, and other Southern cities. There’s a bus that takes you directly from Cville to New York City as well as direct flights out of the Charlottesville Airport. So many other hangout spots makes Charlottesville that much better to come home to.

 

#4 WTJU We thought about making this category “Local Radio.” After all, there are a wealth of options across the dial, covering many different genres including (mostly country) sports, talk radio, and others. But WTJU is one of the best radio stations this writer has ever come across, in any city, and the fact that it’s completely user-supported means you don’t get any of the annoying ad spots that make the radio so unbearable and drove humans to invent mp3 players in the first place. They have a diverse, varied offering: jazz, funk, folk, classical, punk, noise, electronic…really anything you could think of. And the DJs know their stuff…they’ll surprise even the most discerning listener with choice gems from forgotten eras or new and invigorating tracks.

 

#3 Accessibility Getting around this place is a cinch. People get by using bikes and public transportation, so you know a drive through town will never take you more than 15 or 20 minutes (traffic notwithstanding). Every city has its rush hour hangups, but the land in Charlottesville is only about 10 miles across. It makes life in the country that much easier when going into the city doesn’t take all day.

 

#2 Bodo’s Bagels Quite possibly the supreme realization of Jeffersonian ideology, Bodo’s is a veritable mecca for the bagel enthusiast, an oasis for those expatriates who maybe once called New York City home. Founded in 1988, the franchise has three locations: near downtown Charlottesville on Preston Avenue, on the Corner near right across from UVA Grounds, and on Emmet Street. Open at 6:30 am during the week, Bodo’s is known for schlepping an incredible amount of coffee and bagels of all different varieties. They feature authentic, NY-style “water bagels,” which are boiled just before baking to make them moist and delicious. These bagels are made several times daily, completely from scratch. Despite the incredible taste and texture, Bodo’s does not use fats or preservatives. Their flour is always unbleached and unbromated, for health and taste reasons. Their wheat bagels will make you feel better about your choices, and they actually taste great. This quick, fast-casual restaurant boasts many offerings, from breakfast fare to cold cut sandwiches, soups, salads, and dinner omelettes. Grab a pastrami and onion bagel and some cold lemonade for lunch, or a bacon, egg and cheddar and a cup of joe if you’re racing off to work in the morning.

 

#1 Good people Save the best for last, right? People in Charlottesville are awesome, and that’s the best part about being here. It mingles everyday small-town Southern charm with metropolitan sensibilities and a thriving sense of culture. People will stop and talk to you, but it might be a conversation about a local organic co-op or the Stevie Wonder show coming up. Bottom line is they’ll talk; people here are free of that brisk, big city way of interacting. They have the time to converse. And so do we. If you have any questions about farms or homes in Charlottesville, food, music, or any of the items on this list…talk to us!

Violet Crown Cinema

Charlottesville's Violet Crown CinemaEat Your Dinner at the Movies at Violet Crown Cinema

When Vinegar Hill shut down a couple of years ago, it prompted reactions ranging from mildly disappointment to utter devastation. It was one of the most unique institutions to land in the Charlottesville area, with its penchant for art house films and first-runs. It looked like our only options were the Regal Cinemas on the Downtown Mall and at Stonefield (multiplexes with all of the latest Hollywood flicks) or digital streaming services that kept us at home. Were we doomed to consume big-budget blockbusters for the rest of our days, or else wither and atrophy in front of the Netflix screen?

Not so! Violet Crown Cinema has opened up in the building where the Regal used to be, downtown on some of the best real estate in Charlottesville. This is the third Violet Crown location (the other two are in Santa Fe and Austin). It’s save to say that, compared to multiplexes like the Regal chain, this new theater offers a completely different cinematic experience. The open, inviting space has deep purple walls and invigorating light. Walking past it on the Mall, you can see clearly into its open bar and cafe-style restaurant. That’s right, the cinema has a full bar, featuring a couple of novelty pun-ridden cocktails like the Bloody Carrie (a take on the Bloody Mary named after the 1976 film Carrie, whose star Sissy Spacek owns a farm in Albemarle County).

The establishment also has a restaurant that aims to use locally-sourced ingredients from Charlottesville farms and other area farms in central Virginia. Right now on the menu you can get beer brats and hotdogs made from Wagyu beef, as well as fries and pizza with more culinary innovations to come. They’re also working with Albemarle Baking Company for fresh bread and Feast! for delicious cheeses and charcuterie and aim to reach out to many other Charlottesville businesses, incorporating the town’s local food ethos.

The cinema itself has 10 screens; three smaller screens tucked away behidnd the bar and seven larger ones upstairs. Each room seats between 60 to 160 people at a time, and all the seats are pretty solid, (even those annoying front row seats that you get when you’re seeing a crowded film…you know, the ones where you have to crane your neck to get a good look). As far as films go, the cinema offers substantive films, many of them independent art house flicks or foreign films. These are the types of pictures celebrated at the film festivals in Tornto, Berlin, or Cannes…so naturally they are not the types of films you could see at the Regal. This writer’s favorite offering is Jafar Panahi’s Taxi, a 2015 documentary-like portrait of the city of Tehran. But there are several other great films to check out, and you can enjoy a drink and a bite all at the same time. Your one-stop-shop for dinner and a movie!

Don’t Miss the Virginia Film Festival!

18930870259_0f5a2cf8b8_zThe Virginia Film Festival is coming up! Throughout the entire weekend of November 5-8, you can immerse yourself in a wide range of cinematic pursuits, from original short films to some of the oldest classics, documentaries, dramas and everything in between. Created in 1988, the Virginia Film Festival is one of the most enduring recent traditions to land in Charlottesville. If you live in Albemarle County, you probably know firsthand how disparate the interests of the University of Virginia and the interests of the rest of the city and especially the county can be; but the film fest always does a great job with community integration.

The festival screens films from all over the world, spanning multiple genres. Some of them, like The Maltese Falcon or Murnau’s Faust are classics, but there are also many recent pictures, some of which haven’t been widely released. One of the biggest features of the festival is its inclusion of actors, actresses, directors, and other personnel who worked on the featured films. Oftentimes these figures will provide commentary and answer questions before or after the screening of the films which really does make seeing a film at the fest a unique experience. We’ll talk here about some of the things we’re most excited for, from individual films to program events and workshops.

I Saw the Light is one of the first on our list. An appreciation for country and folk music is definitely the lay of the land in Charlottesville and central Virginia, and so a biopic about the legendary Hank Williams is especially exciting. Directed by Marc Abraham, and starring Tom Hiddleston as the iconic country pioneer, this picture is scheduled to be released next March. Presumably in the tradition of films like Ray (about singer/pianist Ray Charles) or Walk the Line (about Johnny Cash). I Saw the Light spans 29 years, the length of Williams’ life. The film covers his humble beginnings, ascension to fame and turbulent relationships. Writer-director Marc Abraham and actresses Cherry Jones and Maddie Hasson (who plays his mother and second wife, respectively) will be present for discussion. Playing Thursday, Nov. 5 at 7pm, at the Paramount Theatre on the Downtown Mall.

Mercy Street is an upcoming PBS Civil War medical drama, produced on land in central Virginia, mostly in and around Richmond. It’s a character-based series whose first installment will play at the festival. Beginning in the spring of 1862, it follows the lives of two volunteer nurses on either side of the war. They collide at the Mansion House, a luxury hotel in Alexandria that has been converted into a Union Army hospital. Due to its location in Northern Virginia and its proximity to the capital, Alexandria was considered a border town…indeed it was the longest Confederate-occupied city of the war. Since several properties in central Virginia are colored with Civil War-era history, this is a fitting accession for the film festival. There will be a panel with actresses Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Tara Summers, and Hannah James, co-executive producer Lisa Wolfinger, and UVa history professor Gary Gallagher as a moderator. The series premieres on PBS on January 17, but the first episode is screening at the film festival 6:30pm on Friday Nov. 6 at UVa’s Culbreth Theatre.

Ithaca is Meg Ryan’s directorial debut. She also acts in it, alongside Alex Neustaedter, Sam Shepard, Tom Hanks and others. Neustaedter plays Homer Macauley, a determined bike telegraph messenger who sets out to be the fastest and most reliable member of his field. His older brother is out fighting in the Second World War and so the 14-year-old Homer is left to help care for his widowed mother and his younger siblings; he assumes responsibility for them while also dutifully delivering telegraph messages all over his hometown of Ithaca, California. Set during the spring of 1942, the messages young Homer delivers are replete with the wartime sentiments of love, longing, and despair, all of which echo his own personal struggles as he comes of age during this uncertain period. This is another film that was shot and produced on land in central Virginia, this time in Petersburg, VA. It is based on The Human Comedy, a novel by William Sayoran. Director Meg Ryan will be around after the screening for a panel discussion with producer Janet Brenner, and actors Alex Neustaedter and Lois Robbins. 7:00pm, Friday November 6 at the Paramount Theatre downtown.

Born on the Fourth of July is a critically-acclaimed and commercially successful film that originally debuted in 1989. It’s directed by Oliver Stone and co-written with Stone and a fellow Vietnam War veteran Ron Kovic, on whose autobiography the film is based. It stars Tom Cruise in his first Academy Award-nominated role. Cruise plays Kovic, a young, idealistic American man who enlists in the Marines and fights in the Vietnam War. The film depicts Kovic’s struggles with reconciling his principles and vaguely Christian morality with the horrors of the war. He makes mistakes, sustains injuries, (both physical and psychological), and has to come face to face with himself and the people he has harmed. His disillusionment with both the war and America’s reasons for taking part, crops up steadily after he returns to America, to the youthful dissatisfaction and societal upheaval of the late 60s and early 70s. Born on the Fourth of July is considered part of Stone’s Vietnam “trilogy” along with Platoon and Heaven and Earth. Stone himself will be in attendance at the film festival, and he will be part of a discussion with UVa history professor Robert Toplin. 1:30pm, Saturday Nov. 7 at the Paramount Theater.

Faust is probably the oldest film that will be shown at this year’s film festival. Debuting in 1926, the German film was directed by F.W. Murnau. It’s an adaptation of Goethe’s Faust. The demon Mephisto makes a bet with an archangel, contending that he can corrupt the soul of a pious man. Satan inflicts a village with a terrible, sweeping plague and the righteous alchemist Faust is filled with despair at his inability to stop the destruction. Mephisto swoops in to tempt Faust, offering the alchemist youth a cure for the plague, in exchange for his eternal soul. This timeless story is depicted with hazy, somnolescent surrealism by Murnau who directed films like Nosferatu. In a unique, interdisciplinary offering, this silent film will play along with an original score, written by local trumpeter John D’earth and performed by the UVa faculty jazz band The Free Bridge Quintet. 8:00pm, Saturday in Old Cabell Hall on UVa Grounds.

In addition to many other films, (some old, new, borrowed and blue) the Adrenaline Film Project has been an integral part of the Virginia Film Festival for awhile. 10-12 teams of three filmmakers are given 72 hours to write, cast, shoot, edit, and screen a short film (3-5 minutes in length). Everything (except for music) must have been generated during this 72-hour period…meaning no found footage or B-roll from previous sessions. They are supervised at each of these stages by “mentors” who work in the film industry. The process ends with a competitive screening of the selected films at UVa’s Culbreth Theatre on Saturday, November 7, 2015, at 9:00 p.m.

If you’ve got some younger film critics in attendance, it’s good to know that Saturday, November 7th is Family Day at the Virginia Film Festival. This segment of the festival takes place during the day on Culbreth Road, between Rugby and University Avenue. Some of the events include a free screening of Pixar short films. If you’ve ever seen a longer Pixar picture, you’re likely aware of some of the innovative short films that have preceded films like Up! or Wall-E. The screening includes Pixar short films from 2007-2012; it’s completely free and unticketed. There are also some free workshops led by UVa faculty and students and community members. They go over topics such as audition techniques, music in movies, make-up and style, etc. There’s also a “Musical Petting Zoo,” put on by the Cville Symphony and UVa Orchestra, and a host of other events. We hope you’re as excited as we are about one of Charlottesville’s most exciting annual events!

Skyline Drive

Beauty is beauty no matter where you’re from. Spanning a transcendent 105 miles, Skyline Drive is the crown jewel of the Shenandoah National Park.

For most of the drive, it follows the ridges of the surrounding mountains east of the Shenandoah River. The views are majestic year-round, but Skyline Drive is especially inspiring during the fall, when the leaves are changing. A smattering of bright orange and rusty red hues tumble down from the boughs as if meandering drops of rain, coloring the Blue Ridge terrain in kaleidoscopic visages. The sight is like something out of a Walt Whitman poem.

The road boasts over 70 different outlooks, through which you can soak in awe-inspiring views of the encircling valleys. There are entry points to numerous trails including the Appalachian Trail. It’s a great place for an extended bicycle jaunt or for some horseback riding.

Far from simply some of the most beautiful land in central Virginia, it’s one of the most gorgeous spots in the country. It attracts over 2 million people a year and has been designated as a National Scenic Byway, merely a testament to its sweeping effulgence.

Visit www.visitskylinedrive.org to find an interactive map and recommendations for popular stops and places to stay!

Brew Ridge Trail

When almost two hundred and fifty years ago our third president cast eye and hand upon the land of his new central Virginia property, among the rugged, rolling shapes and verdant hues of the land in the Greater Charlottesville area, he envisioned many things, certainly. A university, to serve the community’s intellectual needs, Palladian architecture for grace and, of course…a 40-mile beer-fueled drive through the scenic byways of land in central Virginia, from the ridges of Nelson through Albemarle County and into historic Charlottesville.

If that last one seems odd to you, you’re probably not hip to the Brew Ridge Trail, an informal, “self-guided” brewery tour that spans some of the hottest beer makers in Virginia (they may be offering official tours by now). If this is the Age of the Craft Brew, this stretch of land through central Virginia is your local Mecca. The area, long celebrated for its vineyards, has a burgeoning microbrew scene. Note: We at Gayle Harvey Real Estate DO NOT in any way condone or encourage the operation of an automobile after consumption of alcohol. Designated drivers are your friends. Here is a list of drivers in the area.

 You can start at either end or in the middle, but for simplicity’s sake, we’re going to start in Charlottesville proper with the newly-renovated South Street Brewery, on Water Street. This brewery, just footsteps away from the Mall, is sitting on some prime Charlottesville real estate. It’s a brewery with a full bar! Since being purchased by Blue Mountain Brewery last year, South Street has cultivated more of a sports bar vibe with its vast array of television screens. Their flagship beer is the Satan’s Pony, a solid amber ale with a dark red color, a sweet smell of toasted malt and caramel. It’s fairly well-balanced between malt and hops, perhaps a little on the sweeter side. Perhaps their most interesting beer at the moment is a Russian Imperial Stout called Anastasia’s Chocolate Fantasy, which has a big taste to match the name. This beer is quite dark as expected, with a couple reddish-brown glimmers and a sandy-colored head. Aroma-wise, it smells of dark fruits, chocolate, and a hint of roasted coffee. At a whopping 10%, it may be a one-and-done if you are to continue the tour. Fitting in with the sports bar atmosphere, South Street has typical bar fare…wings, burgers, club sandwiches etc. They also have quite a few incarnations of mac-and-cheese. $2 Tuesdays

Next up, we get to the Starr Hill Brewery out in Crozet. It’s a pleasant jaunt on Rt. 250, and as you pass through various pieces of property in Albemarle County, you ditch the city feel and start to grasp at the beauty of the surrounding areas. We’re not even in Nelson yet. Starr Hill is a straightforward brewery with a tasting bar. Their tours are more frequent than South Street, and they don’t serve food. However there are usually food trucks parked outside, most of them quite good. They will sometimes get a live band (there have been some killin’ jazz trios) but beer is what’s on the menu: it’s a bottling/packing plant with a couple beers on draft. The Northern Lights is probably the most consistent beer and it’s a solid little IPA. Smells of pine, maybe flowers. Pours a dark golden brown with suggestive hints of grapefruit and other citrus. Very drinkable if you’re not a huge fan of IPAs, but if you are, we’d go with the Double Platinum, an Imperial IPA. Considering the fact that it comes in at 8.6%, its flavor yields a pretty even blend of  citrus and hops, and the smell is quite subtle. The Love is a Hefeweizen which, like the other two is offered year-round. It’s a cloudy, wheaty brew, brimming with coriander and banana. If it were a little lighter it’d make a great session beer, but either way it’s pretty easy on the load. Pick up a sixer while you’re here and hit the road (with a sober driver, of course).

The trail takes us next into the scenic byways of Nelson, one of the most beautiful places in the state. Nestled in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the sweeping views can’t be beat, and with your beer goggles on, you’re in a great position to enjoy the effulgence of land in Nelson County. Blue Mountain Brewery is arguably the powerhouse of the Brew Ridge, serving up the most consistently delicious beer in the most picturesque location. Their commitment runs so deep that they farm their own hops on two fields in Afton and small yard in Arrington. They’ve also got a second, newer location where they work with special, more time-intensive beers: the Blue Mountain Barrel House is technically a part of the tour but we may skip it…for functionality purposes. Blue Mountain’s undisputed flagship beer is the Full Nelson, a golden American Pale Ale, slightly cloudy hoppier than you’d expect. Its aroma gives out notes of citrus, toasted grain and definitely some caramel, but again it’s far less sweet than you have reason to believe. Taste-wise, the citrus comes on at first, with a bitter finish almost like grapefruit rind. Almost tastes more like a watered-down IPA than a pale ale, but it’s delicious nonetheless. The Kolsch 151 is an impressive contribution, if for no other reason than the fact that it’s impressive for an American brewery to pull this one off. It is pale yellow, with a light and unobtrusive bread smell…crisp and clean, very German. All their food is also made from scratch; they’re known for their specialty pizzas and a gluten-free menu that’s pretty good considering their main export is beer.

 A casual couple of miles, past some breathtaking vistas and altogether idyllic rolling hills, and we’re at Wild Wolf Brewery. It’s a great spot for sure, and their heated auxiliary tent structure makes it a viable option at different points in the year. It’s more of a restaurant than a brewery; they prize the farm-to-fork ideology, and it really works for them. Their pulled pork nachos (appetizer) and tacos (main course) are two fun, creative dishes that really highlight the local fare. The shrimp and grits dish is absurdly good, and the grits are quite local (from the nearby Woodson’s Mill). But this is the BREW Ridge Trail. The Blonde Hunny is an interesting brew indeed. It’s almost polyamorphous…the “blonde” and “honey” aspects are readily apparent. If you like wheat beers you’ll probably dig this…it comes out golden amber, slightly cloudy as wheat beers are, and its smell is unassuming. But the full body and 6.8% ABV make it a formidable winter companion as well.

 And our last stop…Devil’s Backbone. Like Wild Wolf, this gives off a “restaurant-turned-brewery” vibe. Most, if not all of these breweries have a seasonal pumpkin offering, but the Pumpkin Hunter from Devil’s Backbone is worth mentioning. It doesn’t overdo the pumpkin thing, and the smells are aromatic without being overwhelming. You get the bread, the warm malt flavors and of course pumpkin, vanilla, a little clove and cinnamon. Taste-wise, the vanilla and pumpkin waft up through the toasty bread vibes and balance everything out. Truly a pumpkin beer worth checking out.   And of course you can’t mention a brewing company without mentioning one of its year-round beers. The Vienna Lager was a big hit for Devil’s Backbone and it still delivers. Its dark, amber-colored appearance belies the toasted caramel flavor. There are hints of bitterness, nuttiness, suspended between the fruity finishes and slight caramel bite.

So there you have it…by now the only drink we’re contemplating is a tall glass of Alka-Seltzer. But throughout the course of human history, there have been graver sacrifices made in the name of research. So we would do it all again…for science.

Thursday Nights at Miller’s

John D’earth is a local jazz trumpeter and UVa professor. He plays at 11pm every Thursday night at Miller’s on the downtown mall in Charlottesville, usually with a quintet including tenor saxophone, electric piano, upright bass and drums. The quintet plays beautiful, truly innovative originals and inspired interpretations of standards. Staples of the Charlottesville music. The great thing about watching musicians who play together every week is that you can feel the ways in which they interact as one unit, how they feed off of contributions from the other members and how that feeds into their own statements. Drummer Devonne hears pianist Butch play a certain pattern or two-bar phrase and grabs on to it; together they roll out a rhythmic carpet for John, or exploratory tenor saxman J.C. Kuhl (sometimes replaced by local powerhouse Charles Owens) to float over. These guys exhibit tremendous range, bouncing between somber, earnest ballads to unrestrained, avant-garde arrangements at the drop of a hat. D’earth’s piercing trumpet lines slice through the shroud of $2 bourbon drinks and chili-cheese nachos, finding you in your high or low places. This is a collection of some of the finest musicians in Virginia playing some of the most beautiful music ever written. Their timing and intuition are supremely next-level, and they play this music at Miller’s which is probably the most authentic dive bar in Charlottesville. If you’re up late on the Mall, drop by to hear this must-see quintet. Did we mention it’s free?

Favorite tunes: “Sarah’s Bracelet” (D’earth original) and “Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise” (by Sigmund Romberg and Oscar Hammerstein II).

La Michocana

“> LaMichoanaOh, so you’ve eaten at Chipotle, eh? You like the way they throw some cilantro in with the rice? You like the different salsas with their varying spice levels? Very good. If you ever find yourself in Charlottesvile–heck, if you ever find yourself in the Greater Charlottesville area, do you yourself a favor and stop into La Michocana on East High Street. This is true, authentic Mexican cuisine. It’s a real family joint, run by folks who hail from Michocán in Western Mexico. The food is amazing. Most of it is cooked to order, and they offer a bunch of delicious options. You can walk in there and spend as little as $5, or you can sit, stay and enjoy a feast of house-made corn tortillas, carne asada, marinated chicken, chorizo, pureed pinto beans, guacamole, al pastor, lingua (yes, that’s beef tongue), and so many other delicious options. The “sauce bar” by the counter has tomatillo salsa, pico de gallo, guacamole, and a pretty hot blend of pickled carrots and onions. Though there is a handful of booths and a few places to sit down outside, the place seats around 40-50 people. I’d never encountered the torta before eating here; it’s essentially a Mexican sandwich with avocado, sour cream, cheese and thinly-sliced marinated meats. It’s pretty quick though, great for takeout. I’d never encountered the torta before eating here; it’s essentially a Mexican sandwich with avocado, sour cream, cheese and thinly-sliced marinated meats. Wash it down with a real Mexicola, a bottle of cold Coke with real cane sugar.

Favorite orders: #1 Tacos al pastor – Mexican style #2 the burrito michoacana

Walnut Creek Park

walnut-creek-webThis outdoor paradise will appeal to the nature enthusiast in anyone, even you jaded city dwellers with your widely accessible public transportation and your skyscrapers. Located in Albemarle County just outside Charlottesville, Walnut Creek sits on a sprawling 525 acres of bucolic splendor. 45 of these are water acres, where any U.S. Coast Guard-approved boat is welcome. There’s also plenty of fishing to be done, with catfish, sunfish, and largemouth bass in healthy supply. Enjoy some lazy swimming or some adventurous jumps…the cold blue waters are perfect on a hot summer day. The picnic shelters provide ample accommodations for you and all your friends to chow down (although no grills are provided). There are stunning views of the water and the air is fresh and clean. There are also 15 miles of vigorous bike and hiking trails, giving you the chance to immerse yourself in the beauty that land in Albemarle County has to offer. Walnut Creek also boasts one of maybe two disc golf courses in the area, and it’s a legitimate one. It’s got 18 holes, some uphill, some downhill and some wooded. It’s actually a fairly difficult course, with water in play on some of the holes.

Fridays After Five

Fridays After Five is a late spring/summer concert series hosted by the Sprint Pavilion (formerly the Charlottesville Pavilion). It’s held–you Sprint Pavilionguessed it–on Fridays at or after 5:30pm, so everyone has time to get off of work and stash that tie somewhere until Monday morning rolls around. It’s also free of charge, which makes it a popular destination for younger people. Normally, the Pavilion is a popular attraction for nationally-touring acts like the Avett Brothers, Modest Mouse, and Crosby, Stills, and Nash. But on Fridays, local and regional bands ascend the stage, taking advantage of the top-notch tech crew and wide, diverse turn out to expand their listening base. There is a breadth of attendees at this event: disaffected high schoolers enjoying the weekend; middle-aged folks gettin’ down to the music, glass of wine in hand; wide-eyed toddlers soaking in their formative live music experiences; to attentive 20-somethings scoping out some local Charlottesville music. In addition to great tunes by some great regional acts, there are also several different vendors and carts. The Pie Guy serves up Australian interpretations of some of your favorite sweet and savory pies. Or grab some quick, tasty tacos from the Morsel Compass food truck…fish tacos with beer-battered cod, or Jamaican jerk chicken with mango salsa and black beans…yum. Not to mention Carpe Donut, with its potato bread doughnuts and refreshing lemonade. There is also a plethora of beer and wine vendors, most notably Starr Hill (the big local), Goose Island, and Fat Tire. This is a great way to kick off a weekend in Charlottesville. The event is on the Mall so you’ll be able to meet some friendly people and get a jump on your Friday night festivities, all while enjoying some great tunes in a breezy open-air environment.

Favorite act: Gina Sobel & the Mighty Fine
Favorite snack: Carpe Donut’s “The Frodo”: a heaping scoop of frozen yogurt sandwiched between two halves of a delicious cinnamon doughnut.

Charlottesville Farmers’ Market

No town is complete without a quality farmer’s market. And Charlottesville, with its proximity to the open pastures of central Virginia, has a fine one every Saturday morning from 7 am to noon. It’s at the right downtown, a few blocks off the mall in the Water Street parking lot. It’s a great way to start your morning, browsing crisp, ripe produce and fresh, healthy meat from around the Greater Charlottesville area. Local favorites include The Rock Barn, a butcherie located in outside Cville in Nelson County. They source their pork from Timbercreek Farm (located five miles from the Barracks Road Shopping Center in Albemarle County) which means it was raised without hormones, synthetic fertilizers, or pesticides… and you can taste it. Get you some bone-in pork belly or Mexican Chorizo fresh off the pig. Ivy Provisions serves up some of the best sandwiches around. Some of the produce offerings are unbeatable, like the wares from Bellair Farm, a sprawling 853-acre farm in Albemarle County. They have a huge collection; anything from basil and cilantro to bell peppers, heirloom tomatoes, fennel, kale, watermelon…really whatever is in season. What’s more, the farm has been around since the 17th century! Many of these vendors are pretty enthusiastic about community-supported agriculture; the Rock Barn has a pork share and Bellair has a great weekly produce pick-up that operates for at least 22 weeks out of the year and keeps locals well-stocked with fruits and veggies for well below market price. There’s a bunch more at the farmers’ market, with over a hundred different vendors. Hungry Hill’s 100% raw honey is delicious when they make the occasional appearance. Artisans bring a variety of handmade crafts; Hawksbill Pottery with their intricately embossed stoneware, is a personal favorite of this author. If you’re doing more than just visiting the area, it’s also a great way to get to know some hardworking local business people. Information from as far back as 2012 indicates that gross sales from all vendors was over 2 million dollars!