Chill Out: 24 ways to beat the heat this summer

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In the air

The ground’s the limit

It doesn’t matter how hot it is on the ground, when you’re up in a plane going close to 100mph at several thousand feet, you’ll cool right down. Then, when you leap from that plane and plummet toward the earth at (more or less) 9.81 m/s, the chill factor only increases. Got the guts to do it? Skydive Orange can help make it happen. It’s pricey, sure—a single tandem jump runs close to $400—but you only live once, right?

Around the world

OK, so you’re down with going up, up, up, but not with the jumping out part? An early morning hot air balloon ride could be your ticket to cool down and soak in some views. Three local companies all boast perfect safety records, according to their websites, and send riders up when the weather cooperates:

Boar’s Head Ballooning
Boar’s Head is celebrating 35 years and is offering a special anniversary rate in July and August of $185 per person for certain rides.

Blue Ridge Ballooning
Rides start at $225 per person.

Monticello Country Ballooning
Rides start at $225 per person.

In the water

Tubing down the James with friends and a full cooler? What more do you need? Photo: Tom Daly
Tubing down the James with friends and a full cooler? What more do you need? Photo: Tom Daly

Learn how to swim

Can you swim? Eighty percent of American adults claim they can, but a better question is: Can you swim well enough to save yourself? According to a 2014 report by the Red Cross, 54 percent of Americans can’t perform all five critical water safety skills: stepping or jumping into water that’s over your head; returning to the surface and floating or treading water for one minute; turning around in a full circle and finding an exit; swimming 25 yards to the exit; and exiting from the water without a ladder if you’re in a pool.

So what’s your answer now? If it’s no, it’s time to develop stronger water skills and there are several ways to do that. The City of Charlottesville’s summer group lessons are already well underway, but private lessons are still possible, and if you find a friend or two to do it with you, the per person price drops. (Two people can get five 30 minute lessons for $188; three will pay just $248, and nonresidents pay just a bit more.) 970-3073

You can also check into lessons through ACAC (Albemarle Square: 978-3800; Downtown: 984-3800), and then you’ll truly be ready to enjoy all the water activities this area has to offer.

Swimming holes

Once you’ve learned to swim, you’ll be ready to take a dip in one of the swimming holes located in the Charlottesville area. Short hikes from the base of Sugar Hollow Reservoir will lead visitors to two of the most popular swimming spots in the area: Blue Hole and Snake Hole (and yes, the latter is named that for a reason, so if you suffer from ophidiophobia, you may want to reconsider). Another natural pool can be accessed by a more strenuous hike along Riprap Hollow in the Shenandoah National Park. The prize after a tough 3.4 miles on foot? A 50-foot wide swimming hole, offering a break to hikers hoping to complete the total 9.5 mile trail, or a reprieve from the sun for those wishing to swim.

Tubing (or canoeing or kayaking!) on the James River

Nature’s “lazy river” can be found just 25 minutes outside of Charlottesville in Scottsville, and two companies—James River Reeling and Rafting or James River Runners—offer a variety of ways to travel the river: tubing, kayaking and canoeing. And even though Albemarle County Police have announced a crackdown on misbehaving rivergoers, they’ve promised they’re not going to be busting anyone over 21 for drinking a beer while they float or paddle along. Reservations are required, and check out the overnight camping options if you’re looking to extend the fun.

James River Reeling and Rafting: 286-4386

James River Runners: 286-2338

Row, row, row your boat

The river isn’t the only body of water where recreational activities abound. You can swim of course at all three county lakes: Walnut Creek Park, Mint Springs Valley Park in Crozet or Chris Greene Lake north of town by the airport, but you can also rent canoes at Walnut Creek and Chris Greene for $5/hour. 296-5844


Comic wonders Amy Schumer and Bill Hader get laughs on the way to love in Trainwreck out later this month. Photo: Universal Pictures
Comic wonders Amy Schumer and Bill Hader get laughs on the way to love in Trainwreck out later this month. Photo: Universal Pictures


Summer is blockbuster season, and the big hits keep rolling out through Labor Day. Jurassic World started the summer with a bang, Magic Mike XXL has moviegoers dancing in the aisles, and some of the best is yet to come: Amy Schumer’s sure-to-be hilarious Trainwreck (July 17), the body-swapping thriller Self/less starring Ben Kingsley and Ryan Reynolds (July 10), Jake Gyllenhaal vehicle Southpaw (July 24) and the latest installment of Vacation (July 29). And as summer winds down, there’s Regression, a movie that claims to be turning the thriller genre inside out and starring Emma Watson and Ethan Hawke (August 28).


Had enough movies? Perhaps you’d rather take in your entertainment live. There are theater productions aplenty this summer starting with Live Arts, which brings Xanadu to the stage July 17-August 8. Heritage Theatre Festival presents I Love a Piano, a celebration of the life and music of Irving Berlin, from July 21-August 1; Violet, a story of a young woman with a disfiguring facial scar who embarks on a healing voyage, July 28-August 1; and Almost Maine, a love story set in a town so far north it’s almost Canada, July 23-August 1 (924-3376). Other live performances include the Ash Lawn Opera’s Madama Butterfly on July 10, 12, 16 an 18, and My Fair Lady on August 1, 2, 5, 7, and 8. Tickets are available at or 979-1333.

Cooking classes

With daily temperatures exceeding 85 degrees, the only place you’ll want to turn up the heat is in the kitchen. And the Charlottesville Cooking School in the Meadowbrook Shopping Centre is a fine place to hone your culinary skills. Summer classes include Paella from Spain on July 10, Greek Summer Grilling on July 17.

Other cooking class opportunities abound at Pippin Hill Farm, Boar’s Head Inn and at the Williams-Sonoma store in The Shops at Stonefield (973-2155).


Charlottesville has a handful of great museums to explore, including The Fralin Museum of Art at the University of Virginia on Rugby Road, which has several shows hanging this summer. Over at the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection on Pantops, you’ll find Tony Albert’s “Brothers,” a show responding to police violence against aboriginals. And don’t miss the Night at the Museum events on July 16, August 20 and September 17 from 5-9pm.

Other museums include the three presidents’ mansions:

Monticello: A day and house tour pass gets you guided tours of Thomas Jefferson’s home and gardens, access to the Visitor Center and additional exhibitions.

Montpelier: At James Madison’s home, about 25 minutes north of Charlottesville, you’ll find tours of varying lengths daily.    

Ash Lawn-Highland: James Monroe’s abode is now owned and operated by the College of William & Mary, and tours are offered throughout the summer.

At night

Gaze into the heavens at McCormick Observatory on the first and third Fridays of each month. Photo: Jack Looney
Gaze into the heavens at McCormick Observatory on the first and third Fridays of each month. Photo: Jack Looney


For millennia, man has looked to the heavens for guidance. Although most of us don’t use the stars to get home anymore, they’re still a pretty sight. Enjoy the original night life at the McCormick Observatory, where the public can peer through professional telescopes on the first and third Friday night of each month. Call the Public Night Hotline at 243-1885.

Starry Night

If you’re satisfied to use nothing but your own eyeballs to view the heavens, and you like your ears to get in on the action too, then try Veritas Starry Nights, a once-a-month outdoor event at the Afton winery that features a live musical act, food and, of course, wine if you’re old enough. The next event is July 11 and features Beatles cover band Abbey Road. On August 8, The Dickens take the stage. $15.

Drink it in

Starr Hill Brewery is just one stop on the Brew Ridge Trail. Photo: Rammelkamp Foto
Starr Hill Brewery is just one stop on the Brew Ridge Trail. Photo: Rammelkamp Foto


Hop on the self-guided Brew Ridge Trail to visit some of the area’s most popular breweries this summer. Included on the trail are Blue Mountain Barrel House (Arrington), Devils Backbone Brewing Company (Roseland), Wild Wolf Brewing Company (Nellysford), Blue Mountain Brewery (Afton), Starr Hill Brewery (Crozet) and South Street Brewery (Charlottesville). Most of the breweries along the trail are full service restaurants and family appropriate. A trail map and itinerary is available on, as is a list of transportation services offering brewery and winery tours in Nelson County and surrounding areas.


The question is where to begin when it comes to winery visits in Charlottesville. A good start is the Monticello Wine Trail website, which has links to 32 Central Virginia vineyards from Glass House Winery in Free Union to Prince Michel Vineyards and Winery to Blenheim and Cardinal Point, and lists events including Keswick’s dog friendly Yappy Hours, musical events and more.


If an apple a day keeps the doctor away, it seems pretty clear you’ll feel much better if you down some cold, fresh cider this summer. From Bold Rock Hard Cider in Nellysford to Castle Hill Cider in Keswick ( and Albemarle Cider Works in North Garden, ciders are surging as one of this area’s biggest attractions.


Check out how creative nature gets underground at Luray Caverns. Photo: Luray Caverns
Check out how creative nature gets underground at Luray Caverns. Photo: Luray Caverns

Cave people

As earth’s surface temperature soars, deep underground in Luray Caverns, it remains a cool and steady 54 degrees. Located about 90 minutes from Charlottesville in Luray, the caverns offer numerous spectacular features: Giant’s Hall, a massive calcite formation known as Titania’s Veil, and the world’s largest stalacpipe organ. There’s also the Luray Valley Museum on site.

If you’ve already done Luray but are yearning for a new subterranean exploration, there are a couple that are even closer to town. Grand Caverns in Grottoes (540-249-5705) is about an hour from downtown Charlottesville and has features including the Bridal Chamber and a red-lit space called Dante’s Inferno. You can also check out Shenandoah Caverns in Quicksburg (540-477-3115) or Endless Caverns in New Market (540-896-2283) for more stay-cool adventures.

Cool kids

front view portrait of a boy (10-11) jumping on trampoline

Swimming is always a blast with kids, but if it’s raining, someone’s sunburned or has swimmer’s ear, you need indoor options, so here are a few:

Bruce A. Elder Antique and Classic Automobiles This Staunton museum includes an original Ford dealership that dates to 1911 and boasts rare finds like a 1926 Model T, a Richard Petty race car and a 1968 Mercury Cyclone GT. It’s open most Fridays and Saturdays (call ahead to check), and tours are given throughout the day. 114 S. New St., Staunton. (540) 885-0500

Jump Kids bouncing off the walls? No worries at Jump, a trampoline emporium located in the former Carmike theater. 284-8248

Bounce & Play The littler ones in your life can play safely and mom and dad can chill in a comfortable seating area. Seminole Square. 973-1111

Laser Tag After they outgrow Bounce & Play, kids can head over to the former Office Depot store at Seminole Square for Laser tag. Summer hours are Mondays from 9:30am-1:30pm, and Friday-Sunday 9:30am-1:30pm. 973-1111

AMF Keglers Lanes Keglers’ newly renovated bowling facility on 29N is always cool. 978-3999

Discovery Museum A classic on the Downtown Mall that features a series of rotating exhibits and activities as well as some permanent displays. 977-1025

Up in the mountains

Outdoor summer fun at Wintergreen includes a zip line. Photo: Wintergreen Resort
Outdoor summer fun at Wintergreen includes a zip line. Photo: Wintergreen Resort


Don’t think you should wait until ski season to visit Wintergreen Resort. You’re guaranteed a slight heat reprieve as you gain altitude, and in addition to the Wintergreen Performing Arts Festival, which brings a slew of nationally renowned musicians to the mountain for a series of concerts and events, there are a variety of ways to beat the heat. Summer tubing will send you flying down the hill on inner tubes with special plastic tracks taking the place of snow. A full list of activities and booking options can be accessed on the Wintergreen Resort website.


Not much further away than Wintergreen—about an hour’s drive northwest in McGaheysville—Massanutten is another mountain resort that keeps you busy and cool year round. The biggest non-snow attraction is the Massanutten Water Park, a sprawling indoor/outdoor complex of water slides and other wet and wild activities. And just like Wintergreen, there’s zip lining, a climbing wall and summer tubing.—Timothy DeSimone and Kathleen Smith

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