What does it take to be a true local? We think a commenter on Facebook said it best: “The truly quintessential Charlottesville experience isn’t actually available to tourists. It’s having lived here long enough that you can’t go anywhere without running into someone you know, yet still feeling like you live in a decently sized city.” Of course, if you’ve just moved here and want to fit in, that ain’t gonna help ya much. So, in addition to a few (real, tangible) classic Charlottesville experiences, we’ve compiled the quickest ways to earn your Charlottesville cred, some Charlottesville life hacks and, if you’ve been here long enough, ways to gauge your localness. You know what they say: Wherever you go, there you are. Might as well try to fit in.
Earn your Charlottesville cred
Let’s say you’ve just moved to town.
What do you need to know? Where do you need to eat? What should you experience to make like a true local? We’ve got some ideas.
Take your kid to peewee soccer
If you’re the parent of a 4- or 5-year-old, odds are good that you—along with hundreds of your friends and neighbors—will find yourself at Darden Towe Park or Crozet Elementary School on fall and spring Saturday mornings. Yep, we’re talking Hot Shots, the program that introduces wee ones, in their oversized yellow, green, red, purple or teal SOCA jerseys, to the sport of soccer. There are no tryouts, nobody keeps score, and the teams are formed around schools and neighborhoods so friends can play together. Enjoy it while it lasts!
Take in a polo match
Forget what you think you know about polo matches—wide-brimmed hats, sundresses and bow ties belong in Pretty Woman, not at King Family Vineyards, where every Sunday from Memorial Day through mid-October you can watch the Roseland Polo Club duke it out on the 300-yard field while wearing your weekend casuals.
Don’t show up in the afternoon though, newbie. Gather your friends early and park the car tailgate style around the field (pop-up tents encouraged). Thirsty? Flag down the golf cart for a glass of King Family wine to knock off the morning chill. Just don’t get too sloshed. You’ll have to stomp the divots at half-time, à la Ms. Roberts.
Eat at the hot spots
The best way to sink your teeth into a new place? Dine at the oldest, most popular, most talked about and highest praised haunts. Here are four you should know about immediately.
It seems counterintuitive to order a Caesar salad at a bagel joint, but what can we say? It’s a universal favorite. Start there, then experiment with bagel sandwiches until you find your personal favorite combination.
Though somewhat David Lynchian in its décor (think taxidermied foxes and geese in a windowless room), this 29N mainstay produces a perfectly decent Chinese meal—delivered on a rolling cart, even if you only ordered one plate of food—and plenty of fodder for your out-of-town relatives.
The Spudnut Shop
Made from potato flour (get it?), these sticky sweet treats are an early-morning staple. And we do mean early—the Avon Street shop opens at 6am and you’d better believe there’s often a line out the door.
Timberlake’s Drug Store
Make your way through the old-school drugstore up front and take a seat at the back counter. Order a ham salad sandwich and an egg cream and don’t forget to tip the nice ladies behind the counter.
Tube down the James
Sure, the scenery on the James River, which meanders through the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, is something to behold. But views take a backseat to the party once you’ve rented your tube (consider getting one for your cooler too!) at Scottsville’s James River Reeling & Rafting or James River Runners. After you’ve been shuttled to the river, it’s time to, ahem, go with the flow—and enjoy a long, lazy float down the barely moving river with your nearest and dearest (and funnest). Forget your troubles, come on get happy. Just don’t forget the sunscreen.
You can’t properly claim your Charlottesville cred without having experienced the festive splendor of the Foxfield Races. Every fall and spring, Foxfield patrons—all dressed in their best Southern prep attire—are regaled with equine entertainment with the picturesque Blue Ridge Mountains as a backdrop. Dozens of plots are awash in a multitude of bow ties, floppy hats, Lilly Pulitzer dresses, cold beverages, corn hole and infectious laughter (usually brought on by said cold beverages). Heck, if you’re lucky you might even glimpse a horse race or two.
Go to a UVA football game
Nothing generates quite the same euphoric feeling of camaraderie as being a drop in a sea of orange on game day at Scott Stadium. Every ’Hoo down in Hooville gathers after a morning of tailgating in the best of spirits, greeted by the Cavalier Marching Band, and eager to watch Virginia take on whatever team dares step foot on Wahoo soil. Whether you come decked out in blue and orange spirit gear or don “pearls for girls and ties for guys,” the feverish energy will have you singing “The Good Old Song” loud and proud…after every single touchdown scored.
Know your Brad Savage facts
Brad Savage was standing in the control room when 106.1 The Corner launched its initial signal in 2006. Nine years later, he’s helped shape the station’s vision and become the most recognizable voice in local radio (earning high marks in C-VILLE’s annual Best of C-VILLE readers poll as “Best local radio personality”).
Now he’s headed for a bigger market, taking the reins as program director at 91.3 The Summit in Akron, Ohio, but the impression he’s leaving on Charlottesville will be felt long after he’s gone. You’d do well to know a few more things about him.
What will you miss the most about Charlottesville?
Charlottesville greatly outperforms its size and population. The music and touring bands the city receives—amazing! Plus all the arts and festivals and the foodie scene. This is a great town.
What is your least favorite thing about Charlottesville?
Traffic! In the afternoons especially. We’ve outgrown our land area and road system. The city has gotten a lot bigger than its days decades ago.
What are some of your favorite local bands?
So many great local acts around here. This is another space where Charlottesville has more than you would think. Shout-out to Erin & The Wildfire, Sally Rose Band, Lord Nelson, Born Crooked, Astronomers and so many others!
If you could pick any musical genre to describe yourself, what would it be?
I like to think I am “pre-1991 UK indie pop”—the pre-Nirvana/grunge modern rock sound.
What song will remind you of Charlottesville?
I have two. One is the new Dawes song, “All Your Favorite Bands,” because the lyrics mention Charlottesville in the first verse. Second is Michael Franti & Spearhead’s “Say Hey (I Love You),” which is basically the biggest hit song in the history of 106.1 The Corner.
Attend the naturalization ceremony
Tracey Ullman might have said it best during her speech at the 2010 Monticello naturalization ceremony. She told the crowd gathered on Thomas Jefferson’s hilltop estate that steamy Independence Day that she became an American citizen in 2006 because “I realized how much I loved this country.” And she wanted to vote. Turns out she’s not the only one.
Since 1963, thousands of people from all over the world have taken the oath of citizenship at Mr. Jefferson’s house—and, like Ullman, they each have a story to tell about how they got here. “I wish every American could hear and listen to these new citizens, what it means to them to be a citizen of the United States of America,” Governor Terry McAuliffe said last July.
Do yourself a favor and listen to the guv: Get out of bed early next July 4 and head up the mountain to plant yourself on one of the folding chairs set up on Monticello’s west lawn, where past keynote speakers have included architect I.M. Pei, former President George W. Bush and homegrown musician Dave Matthews. You won’t regret showing up for this unique, moving reminder of what it means to be an American. We swear.
Hike Old Rag
In Bossypants, Tina Fey’s 2011 memoir, the award-winning actress-comedienne sums up her time as an undergraduate at the University of Virginia in a chapter titled “Climbing Old Rag Mountain.” Things didn’t go well for Fey when she attempted to scale the mountain, probably because she made the trek at night, with an asshat of a bro she called Handsome Robert Wuhl: “The first leg of our journey was the walk from the parking lot to the beginning of the actual trail,” she writes. “By the time we got to the foot of the mountain, I was already nauseous from overexertion and trying to hide it.” Come back, Tina! You’re older, wiser and fitter, which means you will have no trouble doing the entire nine-mile loop—during the day (arrive early to beat the crowds). And when you’ve finally made it up Old Rag’s granite staircase, we’re certain you’ll have only good things to say after taking in the idyllic view from the summit.
Download the C-VILLE app
Part of being a Charlottesville resident means staying in the know. Download the C-VILLE app to your Android or iPhone to gain mobile access to the latest headlines, Best of C-VILLE results and info on more than 400 places to eat in our area.
Charlottesville life hacks
No matter how long you’ve been here, there are a few tricks of the trade every local should know.
How to: Make a quick trip to Whole Foods
The quickest way to get in and out of Whole Foods in under 10 minutes? Stay focused, don’t get distracted by anything you don’t need (asparagus water, we’re talkin’ to you) and, above all, go early. At 7am, when the store opens, it’s a desert oasis of eco-minded foodstuffs. More of a night owl? The hour before it closes (9-10pm) is a good second choice.
How to: Get the cheapest gas
Running on empty where both your wallet and tank are concerned? You’ll find the cheapest gas at the WilcoHess stations (there’s one on Richmond Road and two on Seminole Trail), but the Kangaroo Express (at 1099 Rio Rd.) and Kroger, Costco and Sam’s Club (if you’re a member) all boast budget fuel, too.
How to: Find parking downtown
With dozens of top-notch and varying eateries, live music on any given evening and a wealth of unadulterated local culture, there are no lack of reasons to head downtown for business or pleasure. But there does remain one big reason not to: the dreaded (and seemingly impossible) task of finding a spot to leave the car. The most obvious options are the two parking garages: one on Water Street and one on Market Street. This is the best choice for ventures that take less than two hours, as more than 100 businesses downtown validate parking. After 6pm, the lesser-known free locations are street parking on Water Street, Garrett Street and a few spaces off East Jefferson and High streets, if you don’t mind walking a few blocks.
How to: Get in to a sold-out show
For those lucky souls working or volunteering at (or cohabitating with someone who works for) one of the area’s entertainment biz outposts, getting a ticket to the hottest show may seem like an inborn right. The common concertgoer, however, still needs a miracle, unless she has the diligence to try these tactics recommended by unnamed industry insiders.
1. Presale/onsale: Tickets are held for both of these sales to the public. Camping out for tickets now means sitting at your desk and clicking repeatedly, while dialing on the phone and getting all your relatives to do the same.
2. Radio station: While you are clicking and refreshing and dialing, you should also be keeping an ear on radio giveaways and checking station websites. There are rules about how many times people can win—and only so many people who like your band. Do the math.
3. Sad face: If, even as a superfan, you find yourself ticketless on show night and are hanging around the venue, giving the sad face to every person in your vicinity will sometimes pay dividends. Be sure to wear a concert tee and have cash in hand.
4. Scalper: Scalpers suck, and are part of the reason you don’t have a ticket, so don’t use them.
You know you’re a local if…
Remember Krishna’s Kitchen? The Mineshaft? The Ridge Drive-in? If you answered yes, you’re a true local. Here are some other ways to measure whether you’re a townie.
…you correct bad pronunciations
When you first move to the area, you learn quickly that Charlottesville has its own language for a lot of things (or you don’t and people constantly correct you). First years not freshmen, Grounds not campus, final exercises not graduation at UVA—those only scratch the surface of our city’s unique lingo. See if you’ve been saying it wrong all along.
Rivanna River (Rye-vanna): The river, a tributary to the James River, was originally named after Queen Anne of England.
Monticello (Mon-ti-CHELLO): Thomas Jefferson first referred to his home as Monticello in his garden book in 1767. The word means “hillock” or “little mountain” in Italian.
Rio Road (Rye-oh): Some historians say the name comes from the fact that railroad stop No. 10 was near the road (written R.10).
Other names to know: Staunton (Stanten), Crozet (Kroh-ZAY), JPA (Jefferson Park Avenue), CHO (Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport).
…you rode the Holly Trolley
Beehive hairdos, Mac PowerBooks—some things are better left in the past. But the Holly Trolley is not one of them. A charming addition to Charlottesville’s holiday scene, the trolley took passengers through some of the most fantastically decorated neighborhoods in Charlottesville. Come late December, you’d get your tickets early and if you couldn’t hop aboard, you’d drive your car behind it.
When the city stopped running the trolley in 2009, Gingerbread Express bus rides took its place. Staff at the Downtown Business Association of Charlottesville say the Gingerbread Express is in the works for this winter, but we know one thing, regardless of the next iteration: It’ll never be the same.
…you’ve taken a selfie with Dave
So you’ve spotted Dave Matthews downtown. What do you do? If you’re a true local, you ask him for a pic. After all, he puts his pants on one leg at a time, too. These 14 folks were gutsy enough to nab a snap with our local star.
…you went to the original Albemarle County Fair
Once upon a time there was an Albemarle County Fair that was not billed as a three-day agricultural celebration that “emphasizes the deep human, natural and agricultural resources of Central Virginia.” It was held on Plank Road in North Garden, and every August white tents went up, and I took a ride on a big ol’ Ferris wheel with a view of, well, everything. If I was feeling especially brave, I’d go for a spin on the Hounddog, which tossed me all over the place while sitting face-to-face with my husband inside a cylinder mounted to a spinning carousel that whipped ’round and ’round. Then I’d head for the Cannonball, where a dude with homemade tats strapped me in for a ride 100 feet up a pole, only to drop me a few seconds later. It was a years-long love affair with fear (and deep-fried batter) that ended when the owners of Bundoran Farm canceled the fair’s $1-a-year lease and it—sans Hounddog—moved to the sedate grounds of Ash Lawn-Highland.
…you’re still asking the Film Fest theme
Ask locals about their favorite arts festival and many tell you that it’s the Virginia Film Festival—they may even add a personal story about running into Jimmy Stewart, Jean Stapleton, Oliver Stone or Will Forte on the Downtown Mall.
And at least once during the lead-up to the annual fall event, a longtime resident will ask, “What’s the theme of the festival this year?”
Rewind to the inaugural days of the fest when the coordinators chose a different programming theme ranging from “Music & the Movies” to “Wild Spaces, Endangered Places” to “Aliens,” and ending in 2009 with the theme of “Funny Business” after the hiring of festival director Jody Kielbasa (now also the UVA vice provost for the arts). Kielbasa came to town with extensive Hollywood connections, raising the international profile and cachet of the fest, along with increasing attendance each year since his arrival and putting C’ville on a map for the stars.
This year’s lineup, sans theme, will be announced on September 29.
…you can point out John Grisham
Dave Matthews may be our most recognizable local star, but relative anonymity is what makes a sighting of John Grisham—the bestselling author who keeps an office on the Downtown Mall—earn you even more cachet.
“Have you ever read The Firm?” you’ll ask of out-of-towners over a plate of grilled banana bread at Bizou. “That’s the guy who wrote it.” Or maybe you’ll see him overtipping a busker (he’s rumored to have once dropped $100 into a performer’s bucket) and you can say, “Oh, he does that all the time.”
…you reject the name “Midtown”
Not long ago a friend suggested I meet her for lunch in Midtown. “Don’t be ridiculous,” I said. “I can’t go to New York on Wednesday.” Long pause, followed by, “Blue Moon Diner isn’t in Manhattan.” And that’s how I learned the stretch of Main Street that runs from downtown to UVA—a section of Charlottes-ville I’ve called West Main for more than two decades—is now referred to as Midtown. Turns out this Midtown has a Facebook page, a business association and an annual street fair. Whatevs—it’s all West Main to me.
…you remember movies before Stonefield
I enjoy watching Daniel Craig on an IMAX screen as much as the next girl. And stadium seating? Bring it. But I also really enjoyed living in a city that had more than one place to take in a movie. Okay, maybe the 29 North Regal and Carmike had both seen better days (shortly before the Regal closed, a chunk of ceiling came crashing down on the seats next to me and they didn’t even stop the film), but my daughters and I saw many a Pixar movie at those two theaters. Then there was the University Theatre, Greenbrier and the Jefferson, where, for a couple bucks, I caught some terrific second-run features. But I think I miss Vinegar Hill and the downtown Regal most of all. Instead of staring at my iPhone while waiting in line to buy popcorn, I’d discuss Beasts of the Southern Wild, A Separation or The September Issue with complete strangers who were as passionate about movies as I. Remember when Charlottesville was flush with independent movies, foreign films and documentaries? Hurry up and open already, Violet Crown!
…you have a ticket stub from Satellite Ballroom
R&B act Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings miss it. Promoter Danny Shea misses it.
And if you’re over a certain age and have a special place where you keep concert mementos known as ticket stubs, you probably miss the Satellite Ballroom, too.
If you are a true fan, you possess a handmade, screenprinted ticket stub. “As a passionate upstart trying to make a splash, tickets for most shows over the first year or so were screenprinted in my garage,” says Shea, who ran the venue since its inception.
The Ballroom, as it came to be known, kicked off in a space renovated by Plan 9 records on the UVA Corner in April 2004 with a live scoring of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and operated through May 2008 when the lease was lost to the CVS drugstore chain. The venue held numerous first appearances, as well as memorable sets by indie favorites.
“There were many real fun nights there,” says Shea. “Peaches with Quintron & Miss Pussycat, Caribou, !!!, Mogwai, Silver Jews, Yo La Tengo (storyteller show) with Kurt Wagner, Girl Talk, Boris, Acid Mothers Temple, Battles and, of course, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. There were many more.“
Shea (now a booker for Starr Hill Presents) was known for multitasking at the venue, from booking the bands to running the door and even providing distractions between sets, as depicted in one of his favorite memories.
“Arm wrestling David Yow [legendary Jesus Lizard frontman, artist, actor and personal hero] on the floor of the dressing room/storage closet and winning,” says Shea. “That was a truly magical moment for me and would have been (probably more) magical had I lost.” And to Shea, we say, “Touché!”
–Samantha Baars, Sherry Brown, Tami Keaveny, Jessica Luck, Susan Sorensen and Caite White