25 essential Charlottesville experiences for real locals

25 essential Charlottesville experiences for real locals

Dome Room at the Rotunda

At the risk of sounding cocky, C-VILLE knows a little something about what it takes to be a true resident of this here city. After all, we’ve been Charlottesville insiders for 20 years now. Some of our staff were born and raised here, others were transplanted long ago, and some of us graduated from UVA and then couldn’t bear to leave. We think this gives us carte blanche to publish our ideas about what constitutes a real local. But, ever humble (no, that wasn’t a typo for ingenious), we invite your feedback as well. What experience made you feel like you finally belonged to this community? Was it disputing an outrageous parking ticket at City Hall (#21)? Was it making out with a first date at the Fork Union Drive-In (#24)? Or maybe you still feel like an outsider who wants to be in. In that case, follow our lead and take on the following 25 classic Charlottesville endeavors. Even if you don’t feel like a local when the list is complete, we guarantee that each Saturday Spudnut will bring you one step closer to feeling right at home.

1. Play hooky in the Dome Room at the Rotunda
In the words of this very paper, the “Dome Room of the Rotunda is a bit like the sunglasses you can’t find because they’re on top of your head.” Sometimes the most spectacular tourist destinations in Charlottesville get short shrift by locals. And we’re not talking about Historic Michie Tavern. Like Daedalus (#5), the Rotunda’s public Dome Room encases both books and light, but it also boasts an unbeatable view of the Lawn, explaining why Mr. Jefferson found it his favorite place from which to admire his Academical Village.

“We pledge allegiance to the flag…” Each year Charlottesville releases a fledgling group of citizens to the nation at Monticello’s Naturalization Ceremony. Go forth and multiply!

2. Attend the Naturalization Ceremony at Monticello
It’s no surprise that our list features Monticello. Without Thomas Jefferson, Charlottesville would be unrecognizable as the progressive haven it is today. And one of the most moving displays of Mr. Jefferson’s democratic principles is the annual Independence Day Celebration and Naturalization Ceremony on the mountain. For 46 years more than 3,000 immigrants have pledged their loyalty to this country while their fellow citizens look on. Last year George W. Bush spoke at the ceremony, and other honored guests have included Carl Sagan, David McCullough, Colin Powell, Madeleine Albright, and Christo and Jeanne-Claude. This year’s speaker will be rookie Congressman and Ivy native son Tom Perriello. Every year this ceremony reminds Charlottesville that a community stays stagnant unless it welcomes new additions. Remember to bring your American flags and your tissues to the ceremony: Your tears and patriotism will surely overflow. And the pomp of citizenship might just inspire you to attend a City Council or a Board of Supervisors meeting. Nationality might begin on the mountain, but it’s preserved on the ground floor.

3. Tailgate a UVA football game
Charlottesville without UVA would just be Waynesboro. Not that we think there’s anything wrong with Waynesboro, but can that town fill a 60,000-person capacity venue with screaming fans clad in orange jerseys and sundresses? Say what you will about drunken frat boys, but opening a full cooler in the parking lot before a Scott Stadium football game is pretty great. At a Cavalier tailgate the students are under the influence of hope for a win, the out-of-towners are intoxicated by the thrill of rivalry, and the 21-year-olds are just plain inebriated. One of these days our local sports fans will learn moderation; in the meantime we need those people who lack inhibition to start “the wave.”

And if you like UVA football, try taking in some winning, albeit lower-profile sports. Spread a blanket on the grassy knoll of Klockner Stadium while the university’s championship soccer and lacrosse teams rule the turf. These athletes might not take to the field with galloping steeds and exploding fireballs, but they certainly know how to play their game.

4. Walk to work
Charlottesville’s bike lanes might not have the greatest reputation, but our sidewalks leave little to be desired. Pedestrian pavement wends through city neighborhoods whose demographics and landscapes are forever changing, making a walk to work as variable as the numbers on a paycheck over the years. We’re also a city where many fortunate people live close to where they work, whether they’re crossing Avon Street Bridge from Belmont to do their shift at the Mudhouse (see #24) or walking down JPA in scrubs on the way to UVA Hospital. This town hosts an abundance of comfortable shoe stores for a reason. We get around.

5. Visit City Market
O.K., City Market. It’s time to give the bragging a rest. We all know that you’re the hottest gig in town on Saturday morning. All the savvy locals buy your flowers, herbs, strawberries and rhubarb pies. You’re the place for couples to walk complacently hand in hand, parents to push double-wide strollers, and singles to meet someone who loves John Coles’ raw milk goat cheese (available for a “donation”) as much as they do. We get it, City Market vendors. We want what you’re selling.

6. Post a comment on Cvillenews.com
Waldo Jaquith’s Cvillenews website has always been on the cutting edge. Jaquith launched it in 2001, and since then he has never lowered the bar for highbrow Charlottesville information. A hyperlocal news site before hyperlocal was a buzz word in the news industry, Jaquith covers real topics of real concern to locals. When commenters finally graduate from spurting BS on shifty blogs, Cvillenews is where they go to grow up.

7. Hang out Thursday night at Miller’s
John D’earth and Dawn Thompson have been playing jazz on Thursday night at Miller’s since the late ‘80s, and no regular Charlottesville gig can compete with that kind of history. What has kept D’earth, Thompson, and their rotating band of smooth characters at Miller’s all these years, through the bar’s change of ownership and change of menu, not to mention its infinite clouds of cigarette smoke? Perhaps it has something to do with the intimate setting and the stage that turns the performing band into a window display for passersby.

A local rising star in the Charlottesville music scene is Wednesday night at the Blue Moon Diner. Hump-day festivities and sweet potato fries have something to do with the gig’s success, but mostly it’s Jim Waive’s sweet crooning that brings the audience.

8. Visit the poetry room at Daedalus Bookshop
C-VILLE and its readers have a certain bias for all things poetic. They’re in good company with Sandy McAdams, owner and chief shelving administrator of Daedalus Bookshop for more than 30 years. Daedalus, described by the Washington Post as a “temple of secondhand lit, a bibliophile’s church,” has three extraordinary floors, and it’s on the top story where you’ll find the poetry section. The dusty light, the floor-to-ceiling mazes of bookshelves, and the literary mystique all combine here to create a poetry lover’s paradise. Like the volumes that circulate through Daedalus, great poetry is meant to be passed from person to person. The next time you’re downtown, run your fingers over some of these recycled pages.

9. Wake up early Saturday morning for Spudnuts
Since the donut chain’s Belmont shop opened in 1969, Spudnuts has routinely sold out its potato flour pastries on Saturday morning. Now known for being the only East Coast branch of the Spudnuts franchise, the store does donuts in a way that would make Idaho proud. In fact, they do them in a way that would make most C-VILLE readers balk at calling them donuts.  Nothing makes a Saturday morning like a cup of coffee and a half dozen Spudnuts (blueberry, coconut, chocolate-covered, cherry cinnamon, glazed, and whichever one you ate on your walk from the Spudnuts counter to your car) from the Belmont confectionery that’s been satisfying our early morning stomachs before brunch was the weekend hotness.

10. See the city from the air
This one is on everyone’s wish list, but airborne paradise is actually more accessible than you think. This might be your year to splurge and finally see the city and surrounding countryside from a hot air balloon. Ricky Behr, who runs his Bear Balloon Corporation from the Boar’s Head Inn, has logged more than 4,000 flight hours in his inflatable aircraft, and he hosts his “aerial nature walks” almost every day of the year. But Boar’s Head Inn isn’t the only company with hot air appeal. Blue Ridge Balloon and Monticello Country Ballooning also make it their business to elevate locals from the grass to the treetops. A wicker basket hugs the earth more closely than an airplane seat does, and balloon infrastructure is easier to wrap your head around than jet aerodynamics. Perhaps the hot air balloon should be Charlottesville’s trademark mode of transportation in the same way the sea plane is Alaska’s. We might not have whales and glaciers, but we still have a pretty sweet view of the Blue Ridge.

The Charlottesville Ten Miler: What athletes do when the alternative is running around a track 40 times.

11. Run the Ten Miler
Although ACAC treadmills have toned a lot of legs in Charlottesville, the annual outdoor Ten Miler still attracts a fit crowd of thousands. Once a year local feet pound the city pavement in the name of charity, running from U-Hall and JPJ to Downtown and back again, with plenty of entertainment and Gatorade-funneling along the way. Started 34 years ago by Ragged Mountain Running Shop’s Lorenzoni family and now directed by Dan and Alice Wiggins, the Ten Miler takes over the streets each spring with its magical combination of sweat, muscle and pain, not to mention the exhilaration of beating one’s neighbor in a foot race. And judging from the pink bumper stickers around town, another fundraiser, the Charlottesville Women’s Four Miler (begun in 2000), has its own avid following of sweaty musketeers.

12. Tube on the James River
If “cooler tubes” and “dog lifejackets” aren’t enough to get you on board with James River tubing expeditions, the meandering river should be enticement enough. The James River runs the length of the state, but nearby Scottsville holds the key to one of the most scenic, rapid-free stretches of recreational floating. Back in the day, tobacco and produce were transported down the river, but these summers you are more likely to see tubing parties and beer flotillas make their way from Warren to Hatton Ferry. James River Runners and James River Reeling and Rafting are the two main enterprises that bus you upriver with your supplies (fried chicken and cans of Budweiser are popular choices), but if you’ve got enough designated drivers and inner tubes you can play Lewis and Clark by exploring your own quiet stretch of river.

13. Attend the Live Arts Gala
Each fall the no-budget Live Arts Gala kicks every other party’s butt by harnessing a perfect storm of hot revelers, hot local celebrities (see #16), hot trapeze artists and the hottest dance floor of the year. In the earlier portion of the evening big spenders watch actors in their acclaimed roles and follow mimes or other unexpected guides through the building before sitting down to dinner, a live auction, and, of course, more booze. For the after-hours crowd the Gala opens a bar and a dance floor to a vortex of performers and party dresses. Volunteers make the whole night happen (see #14), donating their time and creative energy both out of abounding love for Live Arts and out of more general love for carousing.

14. Volunteer
In a town like Charlottesville volunteering is just as rewarding for you as for those you help. The community service that began as a court order might just turn into the highpoint of your week. Charlottesville hosts hundreds of benevolent organizations (just ask the Center for Nonprofit Excellence) in our neighborhoods like CASA, SARA, Habitat for Humanity, school mentoring programs, literacy programs and arts organizations, as well as a fleet of young athletes who need coaches. And let’s not overlook the Madison House, a UVA organization that has donated over 110,000 volunteer hours to the community since its inception. If you want to translate that time into cash money, it’s over $2 million worth of service. Every week 1,300 students volunteer their time to making Charlottesville better, and they didn’t even have to get arrested to find their motivation. To track down volunteer opportunities that suit your talents, visit the websites volunteermatch.org or beavolunteer.info.

15. Call the C-VILLE Rant Line, 817-2759 ext. 55
What’s up, C-VILLE? I just want to say…um…the Rant Line is one of our last phone-based forms of free expression, and um…we live in a democracy…Hold on, my other line is beeping. I’m back. You guys seriously need to publish this because I…well, I took issue with a rant last week about…I mean the Free Speech Wall is, like, always out of purple chalk. God, have you ever noticed how good Pringles are? This is one Rantalicious potato chip. Can you pick up what I’m throwing down? And by the way, if I ever get the time or money I’m going to change the pedestrian crossing beeping noise to the song “White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane. Peace out.

16. Spot a local celebrity
Nothing makes us feel more metropolitan in our Blue Ridge enclave than a celebrity spotting. Sure, the longer we live here the more nonchalant we try to appear when standing in line behind Grisham, Matthews, Spacek or Dove at the grocery store, but we can still gush privately when we get so lucky. Although we’re all aware that Charlottesville is a happening place, it’s still comforting in a tabloid journalism sort of way to know that big-shots like The Rock (can you smell what he’s cooking?) think it’s special, too. We won’t be selling Charlottesville star maps anytime soon, but we can disclose that the Downtown Mall has been rich in celebrity sightings lately. That being said, we rarely get to wander farther than two blocks from our downtown office.

You can still put meat platters under the tree on Christmas morning, but Reids Super-Save Market has pork products and other essential groceries all year round. Meanwhile little Jace Wright wishes he was at the toy store.

17. Shop at Reid’s
Known for its central location, its unparalleled meat department, its killer sales prices, and its expanding selection of organic and local produce, Reid Super-Save Market is one of the most socioeconomically diverse shopping experiences in Charlottesville. In a city that’s been clamoring for a pretentious downtown grocery store for years, Reid’s has been quietly doing the job of a Giant, a Whole Foods, and a convenience store wrapped in one. Swing by for a lotto ticket, a can of soda or your week’s worth of groceries. This unassuming Charlottesville market has a little bit of everything.

18. Attend a fringe/DIY art or culture event
Although local art and cultural events like the Virginia Festival of the Book, the Virginia Film Festival, and LOOK3: Festival of the Photograph are now fairly mainstream, the Charlottesville art community still stirs the pot every year with creations like outsider circuses, female arm wrestling extravaganzas, and new gallery spaces to challenge the status quo. The gutted sections of the Ix Building have now hosted two celebrations of weirdness: Wunderkammer and Shentai. The Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative in Belmont holds fundraisers where animal sounds and fake mustaches are mandatory. The Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar and Dust help ensure that obscure bands always stop through Charlottesville on their way to Indie-ville. And the Blue Moon Diner has been taken over by the Charlottesville Lady Arm Wrestlers more times than we can count. The fact that the line for last year’s CLAW Smackdown wrapped around the block should tell you something about Charlottesville’s enthusiasm for all things fringe, and we’re not just talking about leather jackets from the ’80s. Read about all art events in the C-VILLE calendar listings, in Arts Editor Brendan Fitzgerald’s weekly highlight reel Feedback, or on the Piedmont Council of the Arts calendar: http://charlottesvillearts.org/calendar.

Before gentlemen scholars there were barber statesmen. Ken Staples reigns over his sideburned dominion at the Staples Barber Shop in Barracks Road Shopping Center.

19. Get hair cut at Staples or Jokers
Plenty of tributes have been paid to the barber shop mystique. For instance, Ice Cube’s film Barber Shop comes to mind. Also Barber Shop 2: Back in Business. But Charlottesville has its own haircutting establishments worthy of the Hollywood treatment: Staples and Jokers. The barber pole beside the door of Staples in Barracks Road makes the shop instantly recognizable as a place to get trimmed. The trademark helix of red, white and blue stripes has been turning since 1923, first downtown, now caddy corner to Ben & Jerry’s—convenient for parents who want to reward their little boys with ice cream after their first haircuts.

Jokers Barber Shop resides on Commerce Street in the historically African-American neighborhood of Starr Hill. It remains central to a community that has seen a lot of changes over the years including the closing of Jefferson School, the opening of Is Venue and the demise (we hope) of the trend of shaving jersey numbers and zigzags into young men’s hair.

20. Drop off recycling at McIntire
Despite the irony of burning fossil fuels to drive to a recycling facility and then idle in your car while you wait for a parking spot (500 customers a day!) so you can dump some old newspapers in the name of the environment, the 35-year-old McIntire Road Recycling Center is a paradise of good intentions. It’s where your cereal boxes, New Yorkers and Diet Coke cans begin the next phase of their long lives while you free up room in the trunk of your car. And fortunately for this literary city, the Recycling Center is also home to the McIntire Library, a.k.a. the Rivanna Solid Waste Authority’s Book Exchange Bin. Here you can deposit books that have worn out their welcome and load up on new-to-you volumes. As the old saying goes, one man’s Tuesdays with Morrie is another man’s Gravity’s Rainbow.

21. Fight a parking ticket
We’ve all been there. You’re just running into a store for a minute but the Downtown Mall sucks you in and by the time you return to your car some overzealous cop has given you a parking ticket simply for doing something illegal. Maybe you were an inch over the white line, maybe you had a tire or three on the sidewalk, or maybe you forgot that yield lights do not constitute a parking spot. Whatever your excuse is for the parking transgression, City Hall does not want to hear it. But that doesn’t stop you from taking your grievance downtown. A little white ticket is just a reason for our voices to be heard, right? A persuasive letter, a few tears, a killer outfit: We all have different tactics for contesting a ticket. But let us not forget the lesson taught by John Grisham in 2006 when his Porsche was unceremoniously towed from a parking lot adjacent to Feast and he very vocally disputed the action: No one is above the law, but our vehicles are always worth fighting for, even the non-Porsches in our midst.

22. Dabble in graphic design, writing, or architecture
If you’ve lived in Charlottesville for over five years and haven’t headlined an art opening or a book signing, you’re in the minority. Our city must be built on some kind of creative bedrock, because here artistic pursuits are the norm and not the exception. We could estimate how many trust funds have been directed toward amateur hobbies, but you can’t put a price on personal fulfillment.

In Belmont the soy lattés are in walking distance, the tapas are around the corner, and the houses are out of your price range.

23. Shop for and reject a house in Belmont as being too expensive
Belmont remains Charlottesville’s own little Brooklyn, and like Brooklyn, its prices have only climbed higher over the past few decades. But property values are not the only factor responsible for gentrifying Belmont over the years. Its restaurants, parks and proximity to downtown continually make the neighborhood hipper to home buyers. But start saving your pennies if you want to live there: In 2007 the average house price in Belmont was $192,000. There’s no harm in window shopping though. Who doesn’t want to check out the closet space in a renovated Victorian and fantasize about the abstract art that will hang over the mantel? Sadly, the nearest most of us will get to these fabulous Belmont homes is when we collect the good candy while trick or treating on Halloween. If we can’t live there, we at least deserve that much. So what if you have to rob a kid to get your consolation prize?

24. Complain about living in Charlottesville, move to Brooklyn, return, then get your old job at Mudhouse back
Although everyone has a few good-natured complaints about living in Charlottesville (i.e. it’s a fishbowl existence, it’s impossible to be naughty without everyone knowing it, it’s still bragging about its number one city status from 2004), eventually the complaints reach a climax and then it’s off to Brooklyn. If you haven’t driven a couch down the New Jersey Turnpike at some point during your fraught relationship with Charlottesville, we speculate that perhaps you are an untested lover. But for whatever reason, the Brooklyn layover never lasts. Charlottesville’s siren call eventually summons the neo-New Yorkers home. What’s the secret? Unlike Brooklyn, somehow we’re able to maintain our small-town charm with the big-city advantages of great theater, non-Starbucks espresso (barrista’d by just about everyone at one point or another) and vintage clothing shops that put the secondhand stock at Urban Outfitters to shame.

25. See a double feature at Fork Union Drive-In Theatre
When the Fork Union Drive-In opened in 1953, the owners couldn’t have predicted that one day it would boast 1,723 Facebook fans (at press time) and show a movie about a teenage undercover rock star named Hannah Montana. But the movie theatre has adapted to the times while still preserving its old-fashioned roots, namely the idea that movie theatres themselves are immaterial. Hannah Montana doesn’t need brick and mortar to entertain audiences. Every summer Virginia’s smallest drive-in boasts a multitude of grade-A movies, and you can watch them all from the comfort of your own vehicle, which is great if your vehicle is a BMW or a conversion van, not so great if your vehicle is frequently used to carry compost. 

 

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