The "Brainiest" Town in America: Charlottesville

Published: June 21st 2014
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The RotundaThe RotundaThe Rotunda

Autumn foliage on the Lawn.
No other city in America has had more U.S. Presidents as residents than the quaint town of Charlottesville, Virginia. Located in the western part of the state surrounded by the scenic Shenandoah Valley, it was the home of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe. With so many great minds and leaders living within its borders and the nation's top public university (University of Virginia) situated here, it's no surprise that the neuroscience research company, Lumosity, called Charlottesville the "brainiest" town in America. But forget its IQ because a stroll through "C-ville" offers more than just neurons; Monticello gives you a piece of history, Carter Mountain draws you back to nature, Foxfield brings out your inner prep, and the Corner revives your youth. Whatever piques your interest, this intimate town has it and will pull you back time after time, whether for an extended stay or just a quick daytime getaway.

Whenever Kristina and I are wary of Richmond--the city I've spent the last 6 years of my life and Kristina the last 2 of hers--and need a change of scenery, Charlottesville is a stone-throw away from the capital of Virginia. A mere hour drive away, it offers us a temporary escape from the urban landscape we're accustomed to so we often find ourselves in Mr. Jefferson's town. Our first time in Charlottesville together was in the Fall of 2013 for apple-picking at Carter Mountain Orchard. This family-owned attraction is a great date idea for your significant other, especially during Autumn when the foliage turns red and the town at the foot of the mountain changes shade. The high vantage point affords you beautiful views of the Blue Ridge Mountains while the dropping temperatures offer you the opportunity to snuggle up in a blanket on grass or at a picnic table to enjoy their famous apple cider donuts with some simmering hot cider. Other specialties available include pies, cookies, butter, jams, and countless apple novelties that would make Johnny Appleseed proud. Before you make the slow and winding drive back into town, make sure to do some apple-picking and pluck one straight off the trees for a bite. These apples can't be found in grocery stores and are a powdery, starchy snack that are worth a try. Even if you hate apples, or in Kristina's case, allergic to them, the experience of picking your own apples is a fun weekend activity everyone can partake in.

Our second visit to Charlottesville was to attend the Foxfield horseraces, an annual tailgating extravaganza that provide an excuse for fraternities and sororities to binge drink all day, with the occasional sighting of horses. These races have the most seer suckers and Lilly dresses per capita, so unleash your preppy side and learn how to knot your bowtie because you're going to need it. Preparation for this event starts months in advance because Foxfield is a homecoming of sorts, where UVa alumni return to their alma mater to compare their new Mercedes and boast about their inherited trust funds. But for the rest of us commoners, we came to catch up with high school friends, grill out, and even watch a couple of races. After a day full of boat shoes, good food, and even better company, we packed up our cornhole and remembered to leave our pants creased for next year.

For our third trip, we spent some time on the Corner. This is my favorite place in town because it's reminiscent of the undergrad days when alcohol was still appealing and the bar meant something other than a licensing exam for lawyers. The Corner also houses the best places for cheap eats in town. It's here that you'll find the best New York-style bagels outside the Empire State at an eatery called Bodo's (1609 University Ave). What makes these bagels special is that they're boiled then baked for a long period, allowing the core to be moist and soft while the outside is crunchy. I ordered a bacon, egg, and cheese bagel while Kristina got the whole wheat everything bagel with jalapeno lime cream cheese. The jalapeno lime cream cheese has added honey which makes it the greatest blend of sweet and spicy you'll find anywhere, and is arguably the most delicious cream cheese we've ever tasted! While on the corner, also stop by Marco & Luca Dumplings (112 W. Main St). There's also another location at the Downtown Mall, but whichever one you choose, order the dumplings and ask for extra dipping sauce, which is a perfect mix of sweet and tangy soy sauce poured over crispy, fried dumplings. After tasting some, take a short walk through the UVa campus and enjoy the landscape that Thomas Jefferson built from the ground up. Maybe it's the fertilizer they use but the
Downtown MallDowntown MallDowntown Mall

One of the longest outdoor mall in the country.
grass here feels softer and fresher, so take a moment to decompress on the Lawn where students relax with a book or throw around the ball. On the north end of this vast expanse of grass is the Rotunda, a building designed by Jefferson himself and inspired by the Pantheon in Rome to "represent the authority of nature and the power of reason," while on the south end lies Old Cabell Hall. Spread a blanket and bring your pup--as we did--and people watch while playing fetch with your four-legged friend. Whatever you feel like doing, the Lawn exudes academia nostalgic of Ivy-League schools without the hautiness. Once you're tired of the "college experience", take a drive to the Downtown Mall.

This is one of the longest outdoor walking mall in the nation and is very dog friendly so don't hesitate to bring a companion. The mall is quite charming with its brick roads, boutique shops, and European-style lamp poles. Walk leisurely and pop into whatever store intrigues you. Recently, our favorite activity while traveling is discovering new treats to satisfy our sweet tooth, particularly ice cream. The best parlor to get some around here is Chap's Ice Cream (223 E. Main St), so drop by and grab a cone for your stroll around the mall. A good hour or two is sufficient to explore this area so we headed back to Richmond after finishing our ice cream.

As for other landmarks to visit in Charlottesville, don't forget to see Monticello, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the former home of Jefferson. Kristina and I have yet to come here but we hope to someday. Our return to Cville is inevitable, but until then, we'll have to settle for the hectic and congested cityscape of Richmond.

Additional photos below
Photos: 8, Displayed: 8


Bodo's Bagel on the CornerBodo's Bagel on the Corner
Bodo's Bagel on the Corner

New York-style bagels, crunchy outside while moist inside.
Marco & Luca DumplingsMarco & Luca Dumplings
Marco & Luca Dumplings

A sweet and tangy dipping sauce makes these dumplings.

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