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View of the Blue Ridge Mountains from atop Crabtree Falls. Photo by Lia Norton

View of the Blue Ridge Mountains from atop Crabtree Falls. Photo by Lia Norton

During our recent visit to Charlottesville, Virginia, where our daughter, Lia, lives and works, my wife, Catharine, and I had the chance to leave the city a bit and explore the attractions of the nearby region.

Since it was our third visit to Charlottesville, we had already toured Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello, and the Jefferson-designed University of Virginia campus, sporting some of the country’s finest architecture. Both are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Now it was time to see some of the nearby cities, take some scenic drives, negotiate some hiking trails, absorb some additional culture, visit some wineries, and even make a pilgrimage to the factory that produces my favorite potato chips. (Special thanks to Lia, her boyfriend, Mike, and their trusty Prius for chauffeuring us around.)

So here are my top six attractions all within an hour’s drive (and change) from Charlottesville — ideal for baby boomer travelers and their friends and families of just about any age:

  • Shenandoah National Park: It takes only a half hour or so driving west to reach the southern entrance to the famous Skyline Drive, which winds through the Blue Ridge Mountains for 105 scenic miles as part of Shenandoah National Park. Allow plenty of time to make the drive itself, because the speed limit on the curvy road is 35 miles per hour. But you don’t have to do the whole drive to enjoy the park — there are plenty of places to get off and take a hike or enjoy panoramic views.
The American Shakespeare Center's production of Twelfth Night includes minstrel music. Photo by Lindsey Walters

The American Shakespeare Center’s production of Twelfth Night includes minstrel music. Photo by Lindsey Walters

  • Bonus: if you head south instead of north, you’ll enter the equally scenic (and equally meandering)  Blue Ridge Parkway, but keep in mind that it continues south for 469 miles.
    • Blackfriars Playhouse: Located in Staunton, Virginia, 45 minutes west of Charlottesville, the playhouse is the world’s only re-creation of Shakespeare’s own indoor theater. The American Shakespeare Center, now celebrating its 15th year there, performs Shakespeare’s repertoire along with a few other plays throughout the year. The talented actors adhere to staging techniques much as they were done in Shakespeare’s day: the entire theater is lit throughout, allowing the actors to see and interact with the audience (and they do); scenery and props are minimal; costuming spans several historical periods; some members of the 15-person troupe double up on roles; and live music plays a prominent role. We saw a clever production of Twelfth Night, and loved it.
    • Richmond: Virginia’s capital, Richmond, is an hour’s drive east of Charlottesville and well worth a visit. Don’t miss Monument Avenue, where century-old  mansions line the leafy boulevard and several monuments honor prominent Civil War figures from Virginia such as Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and Stonewall Jackson (the late African-American tennis star Arthur Ashe, a Richmond native, is also honored). Have dinner at Dutch and Company located in Richmond’s historic Church Hill District (400 N 27th St,), where I had one of my favorite restaurant meals in years — try the tasting menu, which changes based on what’s seasonal and local.
    • Crabtree Falls: Located within George Washington National Forest, a bit more than an hour’s drive southwest of Charlottesville, Crabtree Falls is — in one sense — the tallest waterfall in the eastern U.S., falling over 1,000 feet. But it’s not a single drop — it’s divided into three sections, all of which you can hike along on a winding, sometimes rocky uphill trail that’s one of the most iconic in the entire state. The 3.4-mile round trip hike took us about three hours, including stops for scenery and snacks; I recommend bringing hiking sticks. If you still have energy and leg strength after reaching the top of the falls, you can continue on to meet the Appalachian Trail and climb to Spy Rock, known for its knockout 360-degree views.
The path to the Pippin Hill Farm and Vineyards is lined with hydrangeas. Photo by Catharine Norton

The path to the Pippin Hill Farm and Vineyards is lined with hydrangeas. Photo by Catharine Norton

  • Wineries: A number of wineries dot the countryside around Charlottesville, and some of them come with interesting stories. At the King Family Vineyards in Crozet, just 15 minutes from Charlottesville, you can watch polo matches on summer Sunday afternoons, weather permitting. Blenheim Vineyards, about 20 minutes’ drive southeast of Charlottesville, is owned by musician Dave Matthews. Near Blenheim is Trump Winery — Donald Trump’s only winery whose  ads trumpet its “sophistication, quality, breathtaking scenery, and spectacular award-winning wine,” which is unusually understated for a Trump property. (Ironic fact: Gold Star parents Khizr and Ghazala Khan, whom Trump has famously tangled with, live in Charlottesville.)  For a delicious lunch with a view just 15 minutes’ south of Charlottesville, head to Pippin Hill Farm and Vineyards, where the outdoor patio looks out over mountains and vineyards, the menu changes seasonally, and the wines are good, too.
At the Route 11 Potato Chip Factory. Photo by Lia Norton

At the Route 11 Potato Chip Factory. Photo by Lia Norton

7 Responses to Six Great Day Trips From Charlottesville, VA

  • As an Ithacan, home (more or less, actually 10 miles away) to the tallest *single drop* waterfall east of the Mississippi (c 960 ft), Taughannock Falls, I’m pleased you pointed out that there are 3 drops to the falls you explored (but you know that about Taughannock).

  • Right, they’re different experiences, both well worth seeing.

  • ah, come on, Clark, you only went to Virginia for the Chips! If I had known you were there,I would have told you about another great place to visit – It’s Woodruff Store Cafe’ and Pie Shop, best place ever for home made pie. visit their site on Facebook- David made a 99th birthday card for Mary-the Mom -hope you and Catharine are well- miss you and the kitties! (and Catharine, too!) Lyn

    • As one half of the couple who turned me onto Route 11 Potato Chips, I’m glad to give you and David a major shout out. Catharine will send pix. But serves us right for not doing it on the spot — we missed out on the pie! As for the kitties, they’ve been nosing around the chip bags a suspicious amount…

  • David just pointed out a couple more places we like in the area- In Staunton- Wright’s for Onion Rings, Mrs. Rowe’s for chocolate macaroons and of course in Narrow Bridge you HAVE to see FoamHenge.

  • This definitely gives me ideas for the next post that comes out of Charlottesville and region….thanks! And come to Tucson!

    • Clark- David has a very good friend from his days in radio (a broadcaster) she and her husband built a home in the desert near Tucson and we hope to take a drive out there next Spring and also see David’s uncle that lives in the area. If you send us a way to find you, we will! Catharine should have our e-mails, if not, let me know…
      P.S. going to Small Press Expo in Bethesda in soon, Route 11 is dangerously close…

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According to government and private surveys:

  • Leading-edge baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1955) and seniors account for four out of every five dollars spent on luxury travel today.
  • Roughly half the consumer spending money in the U.S.--more than $2 trillion--is in the hands of leading-edge baby boomers and seniors.
  • Baby boomers (born 1946-1964) travel more than any other age group.
  • When asked what they would most like to spend their money on, baby boomers answered “travel” more than any other category, including improving their health or finances.

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