20+ ways to make the most of summer in Charlottesville

Photo: Jack Looney Photo: Jack Looney

Consider this your summertime bucket list. With only 93 days to enjoy the heat and fend off the cicadas, you’d better get started. Here are our suggestions, from driving a convertible and grilling the perfect steak to indulging in homemade peach ice cream and taking a dip au naturale. Whatever you do, don’t let the summer end without…

…starting a bonfire
Flame on
A bonfire party? Isn’t that just for really cool people who ride motorcycles and put cigarettes out on their boot heel? Nope, you can do it too. But first things first—not within Charlottesville city limits. Fire Marshal Gary Whiting would be on you like a brush fire if you tried that.

Once you’re safely into the jurisdiction of Albemarle County Fire and Rescue, throwing a bonfire party is just a matter of securing the land (preferably private property) and a permit. Have the department out to your site. They’ll make sure you’ve got proper clearance (50′ on all sides), means of extinguishment (a hose, extinguishers, or buckets of water), and the right size fire (no more than 5’x5’x5′ feet).

Permit in place, have fun with your fire. The county’s assistant fire marshal, Elie Jones, says he’s seen teepee-like structures and wood stacked like a log cabin. Just don’t burn anything other than natural products like wood or brush, unless you’re planning a quick getaway on your Hog.

Photo: Jack Looney
Photo: Jack Looney

…watching a ballgame
Boys of summer
Rumor has it that when William Faulkner lived in Charlottesville, he spent much of his time wandering around in search of a good ballgame. Were he here today during the UVA off-season, he’d likely find his way to the all-star tournaments hosted by the Lane Babe Ruth League on steamy nights from late June through the middle of July. The league, whose roots go back to the 1958 union of the Lane and Lambeth leagues, plays in the shadow of the old high school on McIntire Road on a perfectly kept field, and features talent that emerges from the surrounding area’s Little League and Cal Ripken youth baseball setups. Want to know what summer felt like in the ’50s? Pack a picnic and a seat cushion and watch 13- to 18-year-old boys play ball like grown men. Like Skip said in Bull Durham, “This is a simple game. You throw the ball. You hit the ball. You catch the ball. You got it?” For schedules, visit lanebaberuth.org.

…playing badminton
What’s that racquet?
Once called “Battledore and Shuttlecock” (we can’t make this stuff up), badminton as we know it today is a summertime classic originating from 18th century British India when it was created by British military officers. Similar to tennis, players volley the shuttlecock back and forth until one side wins the rally. The game ends when 21 points are reached. Grab your own set at Target for $19.29. Cheap and easy? That’s just what we like in a shuttlecock.

…listening for cicadas
Music in the trees
Close your eyes. What do you hear? Drumming or singing? Both, actually. The particular thrumming sound of summer is the result of a natural orchestra, featuring some 100-decibel daytime solos by the 17-year cicadas, which create their particular rattling call differently than many other singing insects. Instead of rubbing body parts together like crickets and katydids (an act called stridulation), the male cicada instead tenses and relaxes muscles in specialized sections of the thorax called tymbals. To those string and percussion sections, a number of frog species lend their voices, pushing air through their voice boxes in an act that approximates singing. Go somewhere quiet, close your eyes, and see if you can pick one layer of sounds from another. For more information about insect calls, visit insectsingers.com.

Photo: Jack Looney
Photo: Jack Looney

…driving in a convertible
Ride in style
The open road, the wind in your hair, the top down on your…Jeep Wrangler? Well, that just won’t do. Throw a silk scarf in your hair and hop in a 1978 Alfa Romeo or, better yet, a 1959 MGA. Batesville-based Sports Car Rentals offers one- to two-day rentals of those classic rides and more—plus 200 free miles per day for optimum exploring (and showing off).

File photo.
File photo.

…crashing a wedding
Your absence is requested
I’ve seen a few crashers in my day (including one at my own wedding) and, as a wedding photographer, I’ve been to over 100 weddings over the past few years. With these experiences in mind, here’s a small manifesto for wannabe-crashers.

Be committed. Wedding crashing is a larger task than Hollywood would have you believe. You will have to spend a fair amount of time and maybe even some money preparing for it. You will have to do a fair amount of research. And there is a high likelihood that you will be busted (which could be part of the fun for you).

As if it wasn’t obvious by their general disregard for social niceties, crashers are often rude. So be nice. Be super nice—even if you get busted. A simple “So sorry, we were just having a little silly fun” is way better than a stream of expletives. And less likely to end in handcuffs. If you are happy, fun, and generally polite, you will blend better.

Speaking of blending, this is the hardest part. Most weddings in the area are between 100 and 250 people. That sounds big, but start thinking about how many people you know, starting with your family, and pretty quickly you’ll realize you know well over 400 or 500 people. Now, imagine you’ve spent time figuring out which of those people to invite to your shindig. You now have some idea of what the average bride and groom goes through while planning their wedding. They’ll be taking note of every face they see that night.

There are a few ways to best avoid getting caught. The best one is to pick a huge honkin’ wedding—500-plus guests. The bigger the reception, the easier it will be to go unnoticed. This will take some serious research, as this type of wedding is more rare in our area.

Dress nicely, but not too nicely. Most weddings are not black tie affairs. If you wear a dapper jacket and a tie, or a nice dress, you will likely fit right in. If you walk into the room and everyone is in a tux, it’s probably best to tuck your tail and run.

Bring a date, not a partner in crime. There are very few singles at weddings—most have dates, partners, or spouses of some sort, so don’t crash expecting to score. Instead, make it a date with your significant other. It will be more fun, and you’ll blend much better as a pair.

Come late, and leave early. Grab a drink or two at the cocktail hour and then fade into the mist instead of attending the ceremony. The cocktail hour is generally when the bride and groom are having their portraits taken. Everyone else is less likely to notice (or care about) your presence.

Speaking of presence, bring a present. The truth is no one likes a wedding crasher, but if you bring a token of good tidings, it might help balance out your social karma.—J.R.

Photo: Jack Looney
Photo: Jack Looney

…learning to golf
At home on the range
Ah, the serenity of the golf course. Green grass. Bucolic ponds. The occasional call of the whip-poor-will. …If only you didn’t have to actually hit the golf ball.

To really enjoy the links, you’re going to need someone to help you swing less like Charles Barkley in traction and a spot to practice without fear of humiliation. Fortunately, Charlottesville is a good place for both.

“I’ve taken a lot of lessons [around Charlottesville], and I can honestly say I’ve never had a bad one,” said Philip Seay, executive director of the First Tee of Charlottesville, a program designed to teach young people life lessons through golf. “The most important thing is finding a pro who can understand your swing and get to know you.”

C’ville is home to two instructors who consistently make the national “best teaching pro” lists: Rob McNamara of Farmington Country Club and Kandi Comer, who runs Kandi Comer Golf out of Old Trail Golf Club. McNamara’s schedule is mostly devoted to the Farmington membership; nonmembers have to be sponsored by a member in order to work with him. Comer is more accessible, offering one-on-one sessions and group lessons to all types of players. Seay also recommends Rion Summers or Dan Knop at Meadowcreek Golf Course, Scott Ezell at Birdwood Golf Course, or Kevin Daughtrey at Dick’s Sporting Goods. If you’re a beginner or intermediate player, Seay says to inquire about the Get Golf Ready program when you contact a pro.

Seay said the best place for beginners to practice is McIntire Park Golf Course, a sand-green track where you can play all day for $5. As for driving ranges, Seay recommends Old Trail and the Highlands Golf Park in Ruckersville “if you want level terrain so you can see what the ball is doing.” Now who would want that?

Photo: Andrea Hubbell
Photo: Andrea Hubbell

…eating your weight in ice cream
I scream, you scream
A perfect summer experience can crowd out a hundred hours spent in a dark, un-air-conditioned house waiting for the power to come back on after a storm. In your memory, it’s the sweetest, most fleeting moments that last longest. Nothing is quite as sweet or as fleeting as peach ice cream. When the peaches at Chiles Peach Orchard are perfectly ripe, the Crozet Lions Club volunteers roll up their sleeves and make all-natural, old-fashioned peach ice cream during the dog days of summer, giving you about a minute to gulp down your two scoops before it melts in your cup. The 24th annual Peach Ice Cream Days run August 3-4 during the orchard’s regular hours on Saturday (9am-6pm) and Sunday (10am-5pm).

Photo: Jack Looney
Photo: Jack Looney

…paddling the Moorman’s River
High water
You gotta wait for it. Only a big summer storm can supply the water you need to run the Moorman’s River, but it’s totally worth it for an adventure that can be wrapped under four hours start to finish and get you places you can’t get on feet or wheels. The Moorman’s is a scenic and shallow trout stream that runs parallel to Garth Road. Ditch a car on Free Union Road, and then continue up to the bridge at Millington Road, where there is a path to the put-in area. If the water’s good, you can run the stretch back to Free Union in a couple sweet hours that take you down a section of the river parallel to Ridge Road, along some of the most beautiful private land in Albemarle County. About halfway down, the river makes a hairpin left turn and there’s a sandy beach with a perfect swimming hole. Stop and soak in it.

Publicity photo.
FUN, coming to the nTelos Wireless Pavilion September 26. Publicity photo.

…breaking a sweat
Groove to the music
The only way to combat the wet, wooly humidity of Central Virginia is to revel in it, accompanied by a strong backbeat to help you get down. Summer brings the music outside with many opportunites to get your groove on.

Fridays After Five (at the nTelos Wireless Pavilion through September 13) is the best way to shake off the week, get cold beer spilled on you, and practice your hula moves.

Tease your bangs and take in the air-conditioned splendor at Aquanett’s ’80s cover show at The Jefferson Theater (June 8).

Forty-five years later, the progressive rock stylings of Yes (at the Pavilion on July 23) are still blowing the minds of its devout fan base—and the flashbacks are free.

Trombone Shorty opens on a high note before Grace Potter & the Nocturnals (at the Pavilion on August 14) lay down some badass rock.

The Beach Boys (at the Pavilion on August 28) serve no other season as well (even without Brian Wilson) and are the epitome of summer fun.

If slow motion is your speed, The XX’s hypnotic vocals and honey-thick beats presume to rock you with restraint at the Pavilion on September 20.

And self-described FUN (at the Pavilion on September 26) is…well, it’s sold out, so you’d better have your ticket.

Whether you’re a twirling dervish, a skipping hippie, or a head-nodding marathoner, the area’s music festivals let you do your thing. The Steel Wheels host the Red Wing Roots Music Festival (July 12-13), and Floyd Fest (July 25-28) is in its 11th year. New to the circuit, the Interlocken mega-fest in Nelson County will round out the summer and The Festy (October 11-13) officially closes the outdoor music season.

Photo: Will Kerner
Photo: Will Kerner

…watching a movie outside
At the dive-in
Drive-in movies are so last year. Local photographer Will Kerner, who frequently hosts movie nights in his backyard, says you really only need two things for a successful movie night: a good quality projector with high lumens (he recommends Panasonic) and a large white fabric (his is a 9’x21′ from a theatrical supply house in New York City). Barring the latter, use what you have. “Sometimes we just project on the wall surface, which is 6’x14′,” Kerner said. And another tip: “Care must be taken about the wind!” Never try to put up a screen on windy days or nights—and make sure your sound system can be protected or moved if it rains.

…having a picnic
Basket case
When people say “fun in the sun,” what they’re really referring to is a picnic (we’re guessing). With that in mind, here’s a list of treats—both savory and sweet—to make the most of your outdoor dinner.
Barracks Road Shopping Center, 295-6037
Sesame noodles ($6.49/lb.)
Crab cakes ($12.99 each)

416 W. Main St., 244-7800
Fruit salad ($10/lb.)
Baby spinach salad ($12/lb.)
Herb hummus ($6.95 per 6.5 oz. container)
Crostini ($5.95 a bag)
Blackberry and rhubarb jam by Jam According to Daniel ($9.50 per jar)

Market Street Market
400 E. Market St., 293-3478
Egg salad sliders ($1 each)
House pasta salad ($3.50 per package)
Tuna salad ($9.99/lb.)

Trader Joe’s
Stonefield Shopping Center, 974-1466
Sliced Tuscan pane (Italian Bread baked in stone ovens) ($2.49)
Happy Trekking trail mix with almonds, cashews, pistachios, chocolate, cranberries and cherries ($5.49 for a 15 oz. bag)
Marinated Cilieginie mozzarella ($5.99)

Whole Foods
1797 Hydraulic Rd., 973-4900
Seasoned grilled vegetables (in wet bar) ($7.99/lb.)
Multigrain tabbouleh ($6.51/lb.)
Mac-n-cheese (from smoked bar) ($8.49/lb.)
Chocolate parfait (chocolate cake with chocolate sauce and whipped cream) ($4.99 each)
Watermelon slices (price depends on weight)

…skinny dipping
When I dip, you dip, we dip
Skinny dipping goes hand in hand with cheap beer, fake IDs, and balmy summer nights. Here are a few of our favorite places to bare it all.

The beach at Darden Towe. The little-known sand dunes on the banks of the Rivanna will make your sprint to the water feel like the opening credits of “Baywatch.”

Walnut Creek Lake. The gates are locked at night, so it’ll be a bit of a hike in. But it’s secluded and the water is always warm this time of year—perfect for your buff backstroke.

ACAC’s rooftop pool. This is the Ph.D. level of skinny-dipping. It would require some James Bond-type skills (and maybe a misdemeanor or two), but imagine the view (and not just of your dipping partner’s bare cheeks)!

…running through a sprinkler
Shower the people
The spray of your neighbor’s sprinkler may be an unwelcome shower, but at our local parks, playing in the spray is a summertime ritual. Greenleaf, Belmont, and Forest Hills parks have all been renovated in recent years and gussied up with modern geysers of chlorinated rain. Kids dig the gushing whimsical animals and mushrooms that pump out continuous sprays of water and the ’rents can relax and chat while supervising the soaking.

File photo.
File photo.

Bright lights, no city
The old country saying goes that “The stars shone on Alabama.” And while that may be true, they currently shine on Central Virginny. Charlottesville is one of the most romantic (and best) places to look at the stars. In fact, UVA’s Fan Mountain Observatory in Southern Albemarle was established here because of the low levels of light pollution. Here are some of our favorite places to get your (star)shine on.

Devils Backbone Basecamp Brewpub. It’s a bit of a hike, but the stars (and brews) make the trip well worth it. Magnificent mountain backdrops show you your place in the universe. With a few beers, and the right partner, you may just find the meaning of life.

Carter Mountain Orchard. There’s light pollution in scores here, but that’s half the point. Not only do you get the sense of being two steps closer to the heavens, you’ll feel godlike when looking out over all of Charlottesville. Also an amazing spot to watch a summer storm roll in with your honey (thunderbolts set the mood).

O-Hill. Fan Mountain’s little brother can hold its own and is much more accessible to us townies in the summer. While there are occasionally public nights, it’s much more charming on a quiet evening. On top of O-Hill, you’re wrapped in the warm blanket of the cosmos. Is there a better way to spend an evening with your loved one?

…grilling the perfect steak
How it’s done well (and not well-done)
Start by selecting a quality-grown steak with a fair amount of clean, white fat marbelization. The New York strip, rib-eye, and hanging tender are all cuts with a tasty balance. Remove the steak from refrigeration about one hour before cooking. This allows the meat to come to room temperature, and makes for a more evenly cooked result.

For the finest flavor, the grilling should be done over an all-natural charcoal fire with no gas or chemicals, as they can impart a subtle, “off” taste in the beef. Spread the coals out evenly to avoid hot spots, and when they reach the point of glowing embers (no flames) and are too hot to hold a hand over, your heat is ready.

Season the steak well with kosher salt, a course ground pepper, and a light sprinkle of sugar (a steakhouse secret that produces a gorgeous caramel sear on the outside), then lay it on a hot grill.

Be careful to avoid flare-ups from the coals, and move your cut around as necessary so that flame never touches the meat. Let it cook approximately six minutes on each side to achieve the optimum sear outside and a medium rare center, using a quick touch test to check that the meat is slightly soft, but springs back.

Remove the steak from the grill and transfer it to a rack to rest for eight minutes. This allows for carry-over cooking and the redistribution of the juices as the temperature starts to come down. The juices should drip away from the meat to preserve the bronzed crust. Glisten the meat by brushing a teaspoon of melted butter on top, and serve with a bold red wine.

Photo: Jim Hall
Photo: Jim Hall

…visiting the Corner
Come back soon
When class is in session and the seasonal population is too high to allow for any useful anthropological observation, most fully realized adults regard the Corner as some distant planet that may or may not host intelligent life, posing too great a logistical challenge to bother exploring. Nowadays, with space to move around and the latitude to stand in one spot without being trampled by an army of Dockers-bepanted, blue-blazered Darden hopefuls with bangs, the Corner can be a rather enjoyable concentration of drinking holes and snack bars.

Descending a narrow stairway off of Elliewood Avenue, a reveler could get a speakeasy vibe arriving at the door of Coupe’s, the self-declared “Cheers of the South.” Inside this cozy rathskeller I asked for what they considered to be their signature cocktail. Bartender Matt Oster made me what he said he makes for anyone ordering a drink they can’t get anywhere else, his Muddy Water Mai Tai. A dash of grenadine was splashed with coconut-flavored Malibu rum and the glass filled with Shock Top wheat ale, with a little tilting room left. Oster laid that concoction on the bar alongside a shot of orange-infused vodka (Virginia ABC laws prohibiting the serving of a mixture of high-proof liquor and beer in a bar). I dumped the vodka into the beer cocktail. It goes down quite smoothly, this bursty, refreshing MWMT. Plus, Coupe’s menu is compact and solid with tacos, sliders, a chicken wrap, and meat-laden salads. Their backyard-comfort outdoor seating backs up to trees along the train tracks. It’s a nice little sneak away.

Michael’s Bistro is another offseason Corner sweet spot. The bottle beer menu is pages long with offerings from Chimay to Humboldt Red Nectar Ale. The draft beer list, under the chalkboard heading “I’d tap that,” is equally exciting, with options like PBR and Delirium Tremens (another Belgian). If there’s not a beer for you at Michael’s, then go back to Canada. Plus, on my visit, there were grown-up folks overheard having conversations about the finer points of Kierkegaard and the moral quandary of investing in domestic drone futures.

If the Charlottesville geography police will permit it, I’d put the bar at the Courtyard Marriott at West Main and 12th Street in the Corner zone. I miss the days-gone-by preponderance of dim hotel lounges and this place has a Euro-’80s motif that encapsulates so many quaint and quirky elements of a lost age haven for travelers of impossibly disparate origins to gather in gleeful cacophony. But, most enticingly, there’s a huge-screen TV propped a few feet in front of a long sofa in a place that’s mostly empty and weird enough to feel like you’re anywhere but home.—P.L.

Photo: Courtesy Montpelier
Photo: Courtesy Montpelier

…taking a tour
Lost in a forest
Sun too hot? Find shelter in 200 acres of old-growth timber at Montpelier’s Landmark Forest. Virtually undisturbed for two centuries, the rich Davidson soil provides a foundation for five varieties of oak that grow alongside massive tulip poplar and hickory trees, some of which are 200-300 years old with diameters approaching 5′. The deciduous forest canopy is visited by more than 100 bird species each year, from colorful buntings, orioles, and tanagers to imposing hawks, woodpeckers, and owls. Starting from the Visitors Center, begin your walk on a gentle one-mile loop or carve your own path through the forest in the footsteps of James Madison. Access to the Landmark Forest and the wider grounds of Montpelier is free to all visitors. Open Tuesday-Sunday, 9am to 5:30pm. Bird info at montpelier.org/mansion-and-grounds/montpelier-birds.

File photo.
File photo.

…climbing a tree
Come on, get higher
Tree climbing: It’s not just for kids anymore. In fact, it’s become a fairly serious recreational sport, with folks using rope systems previously used only by professional arborists to scale the branches. We reached out to the Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards for some local recommendations, and while many were hesitant to recommend climbing public trees (it’s not only dangerous, but potentially harmful to the tree itself), a few of the Stewards suggested the tulip poplar trunk at Kemper Park. Not really trees anymore in the truest sense, the hollowed-out trunks once stood as full-grown trees at the West Front of Monticello until they were removed in 2008 due to old age.

Other suggestions? The big Sycamore along the river at Riverview Park and, more generally, a white pine. Said CATS president Phil Stokes, “It puts out a single whorl of new branches each year as it grows and it tends to keep its lower branches.” The view is limited because of its dense outer foliage, but if you want height, there’s no better option. White pines are the tallest tree in Virginia.

File photo.
File photo.

…scoring big at a yard sale
Make me a deal
Choose wisely. That’s a lesson that can apply to all aspects of yard saling—from the area of town you visit to the time you go. Said self-professed “yard sale queen” Ellen Shevella, “The first person there usually has the best selection, but also the highest prices.” Toward the end of the day, sellers are willing to let things go for cheaper (if not free!) to avoid dealing with them any further. “I find that they’ll take almost any offer on large piece they don’t want to have to store or heave around again,” Shevella said.

Other tips? Organize your route to maximize sales. Shevella scours listings on Craigslist and in local papers and hits neighborhoods with the most sales first. (She said Downtown sales—from Locust all the way to Rugby, in fact—are the most fruitful.) If you’re looking for something specific, ask! It’s possible the seller may be holding on to something but needs that extra push.

And when you’re about to buy, use small bills. “If you’re trying to bargain with a seller and you finally get them down to $10 off of $40, don’t hand them a 50 dollar bill,” she said. If they’re not into haggling, leave your name and number. If they don’t sell what you want that day, they might be willing to take your offer tomorrow.

If it sounds like hard work, it pays off. Shevella, an antiques dealer, has made some pretty big scores: an antique Iranian tribal for $25 that ended up being worth $400; an antique double bunny chocolate mold bought for $5 which she resold for $200; and a $500 14k gold pocket watch for $25. Happy hunting!

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