COVER- Summer savings! Cutting cost without cutting the fun
We had high-flying plans for this year's summer issue. We were going to shell out big bucks to jet Dave Matthews to Charlottesville to show us his favorite summer spots. Bearing in mind the rocker's green preoccupations, we were also planning to buy a bunch of carbon credits to offset adverse environmental effects of the trip.
That wasn't all! We were going to have Annie Liebowitz shoot a glossy 3-D hologram cover, and we planned a huge party at John Paul Jones Arena with an open bar and a free DMB concert.
But in view of the declining economy, our accountant, H. Poindexter Pennypincher, said no.
Okay, we said, we'll make it a cash bar.
He still said no.
We were about to offer to book U-Hall instead of JPJ, but then he showed us a little project he'd been working on in his spare time: "Pennypincher's Amusement-Resulting-from-Thrift Yield" (PARTY) index– a mathematical formula to determine which fun ideas are most cost-effective.
With gas prices so high and the dollar tanking, we were skeptical if it's even possible to have fun on a budget, let alone have fun on a budget with ideas from a guy who crunches numbers all day. But lo and behold, the venerable Pennypincher has cut loose and come up with some great ideas.
We hope you have as much fun as he did.
TIP #1: SUNSHINE IS FREE!
Go on foot! Normally, I'm not so fleet of foot. Given my sedentary schedule, I get bunions easily. But the mile-long hike to Humpback Rocks (540-377-2377) ended in breathtaking views without leaving me short of breath– or cash. This day trip has one of the highest scores on the PARTY index! Folks used to hoofing it will enjoy the more strenuous hike to Virginia's largest waterfall, Crabtree Falls (540-377-2066), which also rewards hikers with stunning views of the Blue Ridge.
The view is priceless! Sure, gas isn't cheap, but it's a lot cheaper than tickets for four to the latest summer blockbuster. Take a bright afternoon to drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway (540-943-4716), or dish out some dosh ($10) to ride along the Skyline Drive (540-999-3500). Both wind alluringly along the spectacular crest of the Shendandoah Mountains, 30 minutes west.
COST- Skyline Drive: $10, Blue Ridge Parkway- Free
Catch your dinner! Cost-effective fun, plus the potential for a free meal! That's what I call maximization! Gather up those rods and reels and venture to Walnut Creek Park, Sugar Hollow Reservoir, Beaver Creek Park (all at 296-5844, albemarle.org/parks), or that nuclear-warmed fishing hole, Lake Anna (lakeannaonline.com), for some summer angling while the gittin's good. If you can't catch your dinner, at least if you get frustrated you can jump right over the side of the boat for a dip– or you can motor over to Mint Springs Park (823-5889), Chris Green Lake (973-3790), or any number of other county parks (albemarle.org/parks).
COST- Chris Green, Walnut Creek, Mint Springs: $2 County residents/$3 non-residents. Lake Anna, Sugar Hollow: Free
Build a house! With the housing crisis ever deepening, our local Habitat for Humanity could use your time and energy more than ever, and the many opportunities to help mean you can do some rewarding hard labor and enjoy the beautiful weather at the same time. Warm your heart on the inside and your face on the outside! For more information about Habitat and other service organizations, log on to readthehook.com/discovercharlottesville.
COST- Free, minus the occasional splinter or swollen thumb
Catch some rays! You don't have to go far to see a majestic sunset. It just so happens that there's a gorgeous view of the western sky atop Pantops Mountain, such as from Tip Top restaurant or the bank beside the shopping center across 250, where you can watch the sun set over the Blue Ridge. If sunrises are more your thing, drive up to the seasonally open Dulaney's restaurant at the Afton Inn for a glorious morning view.
TIP #2: SIGHT SEEING DOESN'T TAKE MUCH GREEN!
Brush up on sages! You'd have to be a simpleton to miss a free tour of Mr. Jefferson's architectural masterpiece, the Rotunda and Academical Village (924-7969). On any given Saturday, satisfy your wondering mind on a Walking Tour of Downtown Charlottesville (296-1492). Take an acquaintance to a mansion at James Madison's Montpelier (540-672-2728) or James Monroe's Ash Lawn-Highland (293-9539). Even the grand pooh-bah of presidential estates, Thomas Jefferson's Monticello (984-9822), scored high on the PARTY index!
COST- UVA, downtown tours: Free. Montpelier: $12 for adults, $6 for kids. Ash-Lawn Highland: $10 for adults, $5 for kids. Monticello: free for residents with an out-of-town guest, $15 for adults, $8 for kids 6-11, under six free.
Take the trolley! I know chugging around town on a bus doesn't sound like much of a PARTY, but have you considered just how you're going to get to all the fun places I'm listing? Gas isn't getting cheaper, but Charlottesville presents a wallet-friendly alternative: the free downtown-to-UVA trolley! Running up and down Main Street all day, clanging bell announcing its arrival, this quaint conveyance can take you within walking distance of many of the best sights in the city.
Cheap thrills! Down the road a piece, Professor Cline's Haunted Monster Museum is just the thing for cheap comic relief. This Natural Bridge-area fear-fest looks more like the set of a B-movie than a turn-of-the-century mansion– and proves the perfect tacky antidote to an overdose of Jeffersoniana. Bonus! Fiberglass dinosaurs just next door you can check out for no extra charge! 540-291-2353.
COST- $8 adults, $5 kids
Natural Bridge! Higher than Niagara and centuries old, this 215-foot-tall, 90-foot-wide limestone arch is a mystery of geology and the delight of many an enraptured spectator. Natural Bridge (800-533-1410) also boasts its own Caverns, Wax and Toy Museums, and a "genuine" inscription by George Washington.
COST- $12 adults, $6 kids
Check out the Big Apple! Despite the triple-digit price, this is one of the sweeter deals I scored on the PARTY index. The luxury non-stop shuttle runs to and from the Big Apple just about every day this summer. Even my Wall Street friends say that– when compared to what it costs to travel by any other method– it's the cheapest way to get to Gotham, not to mention the most stylish. 295-0782.
COST- $169 round trip
TIP #3: THE ARTS AREN'T JUST FOR THE RICH
Fridays After 5! This long-running free live music at the Pavilion on Friday evenings still is one of the best parties (and PARTYs) in town. The weekly concert festival is well under way: check out the schedule at charlottesvillepavilion.com.
COST- Free as the sweet Virginia breeze!
Cut costs on books! In nearby Mount Crawford– one hour's drive to the west– the Green Valley Book Fair sells new books at a discount on certain days of the year. I found a biography of my hero, Andrew Carnegie, for just $5– 25 percent of the retail price! That won major points on the PARTY index. It's open now through Monday, May 26, and then June 28-July 13 and August 16-September 1. 1-800-385-0099.
COST- 30 percent of the retail cost, on average for books (though gas to and from adds a bit more)
Drive-in! Being under the stars enhances just about everything, including the movies! Two throw-backs to the old days are the Fork Union Drive-In (842-3624) in Fluvanna County and Hull's Drive-In (540-463-2621) near Lexington.
COST- Hull's: $5/person, 11 and under are free, Fork Union: 2008 rates yet to be announced, but in previous years, $7 for adults, $3 for kids 6-10, free for kids 5 and under
Gallery hop! Fear not, penny-pinching art lovers! You don't need any portraits of George Washington to see works of art this summer. All the local private galleries are kind enough to open their doors to the public each first Friday evening of the month.
TIP #4: CELEBRATE THE FOURTH WITHOUT DROPPING A DIME!
Go for the big boom! The McIntire Park Fireworks display is the town's Big Bang and one of the best PARTYs of the year. Fortunately, celebrating the red, white, and blue here won't cost you any green. Bring a lawn chair or a blanket and– if you'd like to hear the "Star Spangled Banner" later in life– a pair of earplugs. 817-2393.
Welcome your fellow citizens! The Monticello Naturalization Ceremony is one of the most heartwarming displays of patriotism from sea to shining sea. Immigrants take the oath as U.S. citizens atop Jefferson's beloved "little mountain." Past keynote speakers have included former Secretary of State Colin Powell, architect I.M. Pei, and large-scale artist Christo. This year it's über-documentarian Ken Burns. 984-9828.
Carnival in Crozet! Held in Claudius Crozet Park, this event packs the kinds of rides, games, live bands, and general small-town fun that's as American as mom, baseball, and Alan Greenspan. Sponsored by Crozet's volunteer fire department.
Parade through Scottsville! The little river town puts on a big, brassy annual parade. Arts and crafts vendors, food, an antiques fair, a flea market, and live music keep the mood lively into the night, when it's time for fireworks. It's hard to do better than free on the PARTY index.
TIP #5: ONCE-A-YEAR EVENTS ARE PRICELESS!
Albemarle County Fair! At first I had a little trouble figuring out where this takes place. North Garden is neither at the northern fringes of the county nor a garden. I guess I need to get out more. Once you find it down 29 South, however, it offers a fun day full of bluegrass pickers, barnyard bovines, rip-roaring rides, and a chiffon cake contest. For rural fun, nothing beats this annual down-home celebration of Albemarle's rural and agricultural roots. July 29-August 3.
COST- $7, kids 6-12: $3
Gawk at the barnstomers! Sure, there's danger in the stock market, but that's nothing compared to the death-defying stunts of thrill-seeking (and providing!) pilots. Every Sunday, an old-time air show electrifies audiences at the Flying Circus in Bealeton. Then on September 1, take in the Louisa County Air Show at Freeman Field! They're sure to provide an adrenaline-inducing thrill of a good time. flyingcircusairshow.com
COST- Flying Circus: $10, kids 3-12: $3, Louisa: Free
Bounce with big trucks! Normally, I hate to watch perfectly good scrap metal go to waste, but I can't deny that it's a real kick to see junkers crushed by trucks bigger than the biggest steam engines. This summer, not one, not two, but three nights provide the chance to watch (and smell) the smoke-spewing behemoths at Augusta Expoland in Fishersville: Saturday, May 24, Saturday, July 25, and Sunday, July 26. If that's your thing, then it's sure to be a great PARTY for you.
COST- $12/advance, $15/gate, $8 for kids 3-12 (earplugs not included)
Hear the roar of the tractors! A mainstay of the annual Madison County Fair is the big tractor pull– when souped-up tractors race each other while pulling a heavy sled along a track. Bring earplugs, and maybe a mask to keep from toasting your lungs with the fumes, but it's all worth it to feel the roar of the engines in your bones. This year's big event happens Thursday, July 17 at 6:30.
TIP #6: BE A COST-CONSCIOUS GOURMAND!
Get your fill of tasty greens! Turn just any Saturday morning stroll into dinner menus for a week at the City Market (970-3371), where you can stock up on all manner of home-baked, -made, and -grown goods. Stomach grumbling on a Wednesday afternoon? Stop by Farmers in the Park in Meade Park. Pick your own apples at Carter Mountain Orchard (977-1833), or find strawberry fields forever, along with peaches, cherries, and nectarines, at Chiles Peach Orchard (823-1583).
COST- Free admission, pay for your produce by the pound
Scream for ice cream! Have yourself an ice cream PARTY! Charlbemarle is one of the best towns for yummy frozen treats! The Downtown Mall offers two main options for cold sweet treats: at Chaps (977-4139), indulge in custom flavored gourmet ice-cream. Or, do it Italian style with authentic espresso, desserts, and gelato in 24-35 daily flavors at Splendora's (296-8555). If downtown's not your scene, there's always the creamy frozen custard from Kohr Bros. on 29 North near Lowe's– and you can even take a ride on their carousel for no extra charge! Cheap compared to a latté!
COST- Chaps: $3.24/one scoop, Splendora: $3.50/small gelato, Kohr Bros.: $2.75/small cone
Wet your whistle! Nothing like some cold suds on a hot day! Pick out a pint at one of Charlottesville's local restaurants that also happen to be microbreweries: South Street (293-6550) downtown, and Blue Mountain (540-456-8020) in Afton. If those don't quench your summer thirst, Queen City Brewing (540-213-8014) in Staunton will give you lessons on brewing your own batch!
COST- South Street: $3.75/pint, Blue Mountain: $4/pint ($3 pints on Wednesdays!), Queen City: $49.99 to brew two cases of your own creation
TIP #7: HIT THE BALLGAMES WITHOUT A HIT TO YOUR WALLET!
A Valley League of their own! It's still the great American summer pastime (after all, there's no football from February to August). College players honing their skills for the pros migrate from all over to play for the likes of the Waynesboro Generals and the Staunton Braves in this high-caliber summer league. Keep an eye out for Major League scouts in the stands. Last year's World Series MVP, Boston Red Sox third baseman, Mike Lowell, is a Valley League alum, as is the 2006 World Series MVP, St. Louis Cardinals shortstop David Eckstein. The season begins June 1; check out the complete schedule at valleyleaguebaseball.com. This PARTY is one that can last you all summer long.
Watch polo! Each Friday at 5:30 from Memorial Day to Labor Day, polo players saddle up, gallop like mad, lean way over to whack that little ball into the goal– all the while trying not to fall off the horse! Forest Lodge Farm on Old Lynchburg Road. 977-7656.
Run! The Women's Four-Miler is an annual fundraiser for breast cancer research and a perennial favorite among the especially exercise-conscious distaff side of Charlottesville. Run or watch. Info: Ragged Mountain Running Shop, 293-3367.
COST- Run: start training June 14-August 23 at UVa Track (next to Klockner Soccer Stadium). Register to train: $15
Watch for free: Friday, August 29, 7:45am ~ 9:30am along Garth Road near Foxfield.
Fill your need for speed! Around here, nobody goes faster than the weekend warriors at Eastside Speedway. Check out the complete schedule of dirt track stock car and drag races: eastsidespeedway.com. And you thought I was too much of a fuddy-duddy to appreciate stock cars! Details: 540-942-1219 .
Root for brawny ladies! Charlottesville Lady Arm-Wrestling (or CLAW) is exactly how it sounds: competitors like Tragedy Ann, the ChemMistress, and Bruta Liza, plus crazy costumes, and even a whistle-toting referee. The next throwdown is at Blue Moon Diner Tuesday, June 10.
COST- Free, but charitable donations are encouraged
Keep cool while heating up the ice! Not only is it great exercise, but a few laps around the Charlottesville Ice Park at the east end of the Downtown Mall are the surest way to get relief from humid Virginia's "misery index." That alone makes for a high PARTY score. Public skating schedules are available at icepark.com and at 817-1423.
COST- $8, $1.50 skate rental
TIP #8: EVERYTHING IS CHEAPER IN THE PAST!
Ride the tiny train! The most fun kids can have on the rails this summer is aboard the Gypsy Express in Staunton's Gypsy Hill Park. Seats are cheap on this Shenandoah Valley institution that's logged more than 50 years putting smiles on the faces of children of all ages. 540-885-0513.
Live like a pioneer! Lots of people think the Frontier Culture Museum is nothing but churning butter and actors in period dress, but this village of living history speaks to America's greatness as a nation of immigrants. The houses on this Staunton site are not replicas but actual buildings carted here from England, Ireland, Germany and elsewhere. Plenty of friendly animals for the children to pet, too. Check the hours at frontiermuseum.org and 540-332-7850.
COST- $10 adults, $6 kids 6-12, 6 and under free.
Jump for John-Boy! When I watch TV, I'm usually glued to CNBC, so I wouldn't know much about this, but a friend told me that The Waltons is one of the all-time great depictions of rural life. Now, after a brief jaunt to Nelson County, I see why it's such a popular picture show. An era of both television and America gone but not forgotten lives on at this replica of the Walton house across the street from where its creator, Earl Hamner Jr., spent his youth. Learn more at waltonmuseum.org or 831-2000.
COST- $6, kids under 5 free
Go to a yard sale! History is more than names and dates. Summer is the season of the yard sale, and there's many a bargain to be found in a complete stranger's personal history. No telling what kind of values you'll find, but your PARTY score is sure to be high.
COST- How low can you haggle?
Hop on a horse! I'm not usually much for the equines. But, this being horse country, I had to give it a try– and I found the horseback experience invigorating! I had so much fun, in fact, that the cost-benefit analysis of plunking down as much as $75 for a ride actually calculates to be worth it on the PARTY scale. Possible riding locations include Wintergreen (325-8260) in Nelson County, and Graves Mountain Lodge (540-923-4231) in Madison County.
COST- Wintergreen: $60/per person, Graves: $35/person/hour, $75/half-day