You don't have to bring your own-- Chris Green Lake and Walnut Creek offer canoe rentals (no. 11).
The 1912 Swannanoa stands as a tribute to the gilded age.
file photo by Hawes Spencer
Every good townie knows his or her stuff when it comes to summer sunning and funning. Looking for live music? Stop by the nTelos Pavilion for the free Fridays After Five show. Craving a relaxing afternoon with friends? Head down to Scottsville's James River Runners to tube the day away. Want kid-friendly joy to include in your summer repertoire? The Downtown Mall's Discovery Museum always has an action-packed summer schedule.
But you know all this, as trendy attractions such as these are already on your calendar and have been, summer after summer. What about events that don't advertise themselves? We decided to break down 25 must-dos for the ultimate warm-weather Charlottesville experience. Welcome to a summer where you can really live off the beaten path.
1) The Blue Ridge Tunnel
Originally conceived as part of the Blue Ridge Railroad and built in 1856, the Blue Ridge Tunnel currently lies unused– but that doesn't mean adventure-seeking hikers aren't antsy to check out all 4,263 feet of it. The tunnel's two entrances pop out in Waynesboro and Afton, giving C'villians access no matter which direction they're headed. To use the tunnel's Waynesboro entrance, insiders recommend parking either alongside Route 250 at the train bridge between Waynesboro and Rockfish Gap, or at the animal hospital just off 250 after you pass Interstate 64. A dirt trail off the overpass leads up to the tunnel, although at times it's overgrown. In Afton, take a right on Afton Depot Lane before reaching the train tracks. Follow the road until there's a spot to park (after passing the old train station on your left). Walk along the dirt path until you reach the tunnel
TIP: Make sure to take a flashlight if you plan to go deeper than the tunnel's entrance. And stay away from the nearby tunnel that still has train tracks, or you could get squashed by a coal train.
2) Drive-Ins– at Fork Union, Goochland, and Lexington
The drive-in is such a nostalgic summertime activity, and for good reason. It makes for the perfect date night, family movie outing, or evening with friends– and with three (count 'em) in the Central Virginia area, the options are plenty.
Fork Union's 180-car capacity drive-in has been running since 1953 and is the smallest of the three. Route 612, Fork Union 23055. 434-842-3624.
Goochland's Drive-In features family-friendly and current releases. Sundays are pet nights, so Fluffy and Spike can enjoy the experience too. 4344 Old Fredericksburg Road, Hadensville 23067. goochlanddriveintheater.com.
Hull's Drive-In outside of Lexington plays a mix of children's features, popular PG-13 releases, and classic films. Also pet-friendly. 2367 N. Lee Highway, Lexington 24450. 540-463-2621. hullsdrivein.com.
3) Second Sunday Ciders at Albemarle Ciderworks
Following in the tradition of Thomas Jefferson's apple experiments, the family-run Albemarle Ciderworks cultivates an artisan cider label with apples from the Vintage Virginia Apple Orchard. Opened in 2009, the label produced four ciders in 2010, available in restaurants and stores throughout the area. Second Sunday Ciders combines local music (with bands playing from 5 to 7pm) and food from The Lunchbox (Cville's "mobile restaurant," that features kabobs and all-American favorites such as hot wings and burgers). Bring a blanket and lawn chair and relax in the orchard with a chilled bottle of Jupiter's Legacy or Ragged Mountain cider. Rural Ridge Orchard, 2545 Rural Ridge Road, North Garden, 22959. 434-297-2326. TIP: Wondering which ones your kids will like best? The answer is "none," as these are alcoholic ciders. vintagevirginiaapples.com/AlbemarleCider/index.html.
4) The Batesville Store
"The heart of Batesville," as it dubs itself, is more than just a longstanding general store. Making the trip down Plank Road is well worth your while Thursday through Sunday, when the store plays host to live local music from favorites such as Eli Cook, SGGL, and The Pollocks. The Thurs-Sat shows start around 6:30pm, and shows on Sunday start at 1:30pm. The store also features "comfort" food, local wines, and free wifi, so take a break from your usual perch at one of Charlottesville's many coffee shops and think of the Batesville Store as your new weekend hangout. TIP: Drive there from 250 West along Burchs Creek Road to ford an actual road-covering creek. 6624 Plank Road, Batesville, 22924. 434-823-4752. thebatesvillestore.com.
5) The Griffin Discovery Room, Monticello
When Monticello built its swanky new visitor's center in 2009, it added an extra way for young historians to get in touch with Thomas Jefferson's world. Tucked away on the bottom floor of the Smith Education Center, the Griffin Discovery room miniaturized Jefferson's Monticello and allowed kids of all ages to interact with TJ in a hands-on way. From a mini-version of the Sage of Monticello's bed and an interactive polygraph machine to a model of slave's quarters, the Griffin room is Monticello's best-kept secret. Open daily, this is an easy way to keep little ones– and yes, you too Mom and Dad– entertained. Because who doesn't want to jump on Jefferson's bed? TIP: Get to the Griffin Room straight away when Monticello opens at 9am, when it's less crowded and little ones can take over the whole room. But if you plan on touring the big kid house, get that done first, so kids can feel rewarded for not touching anything. 931 Thomas Jefferson Parkway, Charlottesville, 22902. 434-984-9822. monticello.org/site/visit/griffin-discovery-room.
6) The Rivanna Shooting Club
Yes, it is a private club– but its ranges are open to the public a few times a month for classes or events (such as "youth shooting"). With multiple outdoor ranges and an indoor range, there's yards and yards of available space to let off some steam or perfect your shot. The club is available to members seven days a week, from 8am until sunset for the outdoor ranges and 8am until 10pm for the indoor range– with special events peppering the summer calendar. For those of us who don't have access to friends with estates and have that summer craving for the feel of cool steel and the smell of gunpowder, this is one investment worth looking into. 1570 Old Lynchburg Road, Charlottesville, 22903. 434-977-5482 or rrpc.org.
7) Karting in Waynesboro
For those daredevils who long to feel the wind in their hair, feel adrenaline pumping through their veins, and taste the coppery tang of fear while whipping around a curve– take your kart to Wayesboro's Eastside Speedway. Or take the family for a voyeuristic outing and watch the fun for $5-25. In the past, the Speedway has hosted demolition derbies– so keep your eye on the schedule for such special events. Got a kartless kid who wants to drive? Then try Fastrax, which is like Charlottesville's defunct Planet Fun with arcade games, miniature golf, and– unique in these parts– a greased oval and a frictioned figure-eight track where kids can drive go-karts for a few minutes for just $4. Eastside Speedway: RR3, Waynesboro, 22980. 540-943-9336. eastsidespeedway.com. Fastrax: Route 340, Waynesboro, 22980. 540-949-5278. fastraxfun.com.
8) Nelson Rocks
Yes, it's a bit of a drive to get to the Nelson Rocks Outdoor Center– all the way to West Virginia. But it's worth it for the adventure-seeker and daytrip lover, especially as it offers some of the most diverse ways to climb rocks in the country. Aside from the normal guided rock climbing course, Nelson Rocks features one of a handful of via ferrata courses in the US. One of the most dangerous ways to climb, and highly popular in Europe, via ferrata is an "iron road": a fixed ladder system that allows climbers to scale rocks with little or no ropes, cables, or harnesses. The one at Nelson Rocks is 3.5 miles long and was the second via ferrata course to be built in America. Still not convinced? Nelson Rocks also offers a new zip line/canopy tour this year– a surefire way to satisfy your daredevil side while staying budget-friendly and in the area. 141 Nelson Gap Road, Circleville, WV, 26804. 877-435-4842. nelsonrocks.org.
9) Charlottesville Derby Dames
A distant cousin to the Charlottesville Lady Arm Wrestlers, the Charlottesville Derby Dames are the only flat track roller derby team in the area. And for those who enjoy cheering on hardcore, confident, and athletic local women, the team has a series of home games at the Main Street Arena this summer to show off their skills against teams from Charlotte, Richmond, and Roanoke. Fresh off a win against the Valley's Rocktown Rollers, these girls are some of the fiercest skaters and competitors in the state– and they hold recruitment periods every few months to look for fresh talent to join their ranks. Support the local ladies at their June 4, June 18, or July 17 matches and hit up the Main Street Arena during open skate hours to practice making tight turns (and throwing elbows). charlottesvillederbydames.com.
10) Charlottesville Area Mountain Bike Club
Just what it sounds like– CAMBC is a club bringing together local mountain bikers. Combining racing, trail work, and social rides– and offering rides for all levels– CAMBC is a one-stop-shop for mountain and trail riding in the region. Check out the calendar of social rides– women's social rides happen every Tuesday, for example– to get a feel for the crew, then join in on races and get on the club's email list for first notice of trail maintenance or closures. The club rides everywhere, but O-Hill, Walnut Creek, and Preddy Creek are favorites. Whether you're new to the pastime or an old hand at navigating local trails, getting connected with the larger community should be on your to-do list this summer. Membership fees range from $15-50. cambc.org.
11) Canoeing in County lakes
Itching to get out on the water, but can't make it out to the beach with your sailboat? Try the next best thing and increase your cardio factor by renting boats at one of Albemarle's own parks. Yes, you've been there for frisbee golf or picnics or general frolicking, but this summer head to Chris Greene Lake or Walnut Creek Park prepared with your waterproof shoes and take a canoe or kayak out for a spin for $5 an hour. While other area lakes may allow you to bring your own boat or vessel, these two gems provide boats. So for those sea rats jonesing for some waves at a reasonable price, don't overlook local lakes just because you don't have a boat. Chris Greene Lake: 4748 Chris Greene Lake Road, Charlottesville, 22911. Walnut Creek: 4250 Walnut Creek Park Road, North Garden. 22959. www.albemarle.org.
12) Chiles strawberry patch
Most Cville moms know Chiles for their juicy local peaches– but the real star of the Crozet orchard has undoubtedly become the humble strawberry, as families, students, and friends have started swarming Chiles with a gusto for strawberries in the past few months. May through June are peak times for ripe strawberries, while peaches, nectarines, and some apple varieties start ripening in late June through August. Chiles experts also go for the sumptuous farmer's market as a convenient way to supplement your fruit and veggie stockpile from Charlottesville's weekly farmers market. Pack your car with kids, girlfriends, or a date and spend a sunny afternoon picking through the patch– and then hurry home to start baking or make a picnic on the parkway with fresh strawberries as your dessert. The strawberry patch is open Mon-Sat 9-6 and Sun 10-5. TIP: Combine your trip with a stop by longtime favorite, Crozet Pizza, and then pop in the neighboring consignment shop for a true Crozet experience. 1351 Greenwood Road, Crozet. 434-823-1583. chilespeachorchard.com.
13) Plane Rides at Gordonsville Airport
Aviation aficionados and novices alike can satisfy their aircraft cravings with a jaunt to the Gordonsville Municipal Airport and its Bluebird Aerodrome hangar. A well-known grassroots aviation community center, the place showcases vintage aircraft, light sport aircrafts, and "experimental" airplanes. Obviously, you won't be booking any overseas or cross-country flights out of this rural runway, but swing by the hangar, which dates back to 1933, to chat with the local aircraft experts, enjoy a snack, and get hands-on with the planes. If you're lucky, you'll find a pilot willing to take you up for a spin. 18123 Airport Road, Gordonsville, 22942. 540-903-6624. bluebirdaerodrome.com.
14) Crabtree Falls
Locals looking for a family-friendly hike often assume Humpback Rock is their best bet, and adventure-seekers looking for a splash head over to Blue Hole to satisfy their cravings. But how could we forget about the highest vertical waterfall this side of the Mississippi? If you're heading up to Shenandoah National Park (#15 on this list) or Graves Mountain Lodge (# 24), don't forget to extend your travels to Blue Ridge Parkway milepost 27. The Forest Service charges a fee of $3 per vehicle.You can reach the falls, which boasts five cascading falls, after a mere one-mile hike, then continue on to get three or four more good looks. TIP: Climbing over the guardrails to get a closer view is strongly discouraged– apparently it's a little too slippery for the mere mortal to maneuver, as friends of the 27th recorded fatality learned the hard way just last November. 11581 Crabtree Falls Highway, Route 56, Montebello, 24464. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crabtree_Falls
15) Shenandoah National Park's 75th Anniversary
There's no need to make the trip West to get your national park on– a quick trip to the Shenandoah National Park will give you approximately 200,000 acres of forest, trails, and campgrounds to help you spice up your summer plans. We know it's easy to overlook the major attractions in your own backyard, but don't let Shenandoah slip past your radar this year, especially with the park celebrating its 75th anniversary this summer. A rededication ceremony takes place Saturday, June 25 and the Shenandoah National Park Trust has organized a Hundred Mile Club to promote hiking this year. TIP: The quickest way for Cvillians to make the trip to Shenandoah is through the Park's Rockfish Gap entrance. US Route 250 and I-64 Exit 99. 540-999-3500. www.nps.gov/shen.
16) Rivanna Rowing Club
Okay, this one might take a little more pre-existing skills than merely trying out the erg at ACAC– but for those who have ever rowed or even those athletic types who have always wanted to try rowing, there's a place for you this summer. The Rivanna Rowing Club– yes, there really is a club for all cool things– provides a central location for local rowers to gather, practice, and brush up on skills or learn new ones. And with the gorgeous Rivanna Reservoir as a home base, the RRC teaches all levels and ages 13 and up. The membership prices may be a little steep (around $200), but for those looking for an active summer, the RRC is one place you might not have thought to look. 676 Woodlands Road, Earlysville, 22936. 434-978-2092. rivannarowing.org.
17) Bluegreen Resorts at Shenandoah Crossing
For those looking to see Virginia through fresh eyes and not just through a two-person tent in the backyard, the Bluegreen Resorts at Shenandoah Crossing up the road in Gordonsville is a swanky-but-rustic way to get your vacay on. Rent a cabin or pull up your RV and take a dip in the pool, take a candle-making class, go on a themed hike, and then pick out your horse for a trail ride. Not in the market for vacation property? Shenandoah Crossing is open to daytime visitors, but call ahead to make sure there are openings– priority is given to resort occupants. 174 Horseshoe Circle, Gordonsville, 22942. 540-832-9400. shenandoah-crossing.com.
18) Biking at the Saunders-Monticello Trail
It's one thing to grab a bike and a friend and roam around the rocky trails of O-Hill. But for those looking for a kid-friendly ride that allows your tots to rip, ride, and roar without running into car traffic, toss your bikes in the car and head up to this peaceful crushed gravel path (with occasional boardwalks). The trail is 2.4 miles long and inclined– so be sure junior is up to the task! Often overlooked in favor of its neighbors– Michie Tavern, Carters Mountain, and oh, yeah, Monticello– the trail is a refreshing way to hone your bike skills while enjoying Thomas Jefferson country. TIP: Make a day of it by packing a picnic to enjoy in Kemper Park and make sure to bring plenty of water for the youngsters– as nothing spells meltdown like a dehydrated child. Route 53 (near intersection with Route 20) 434-987-9877. monticello.org/site/visit/overview-saunders-monticello-trail.
19) The Flying Circus Aerodrome & Airshow
You don't have to be a barnstormer to enjoy this retro, family-fun activity. It happens on Sunday afternoons in Bealeton, a little over an hour north of C'ville. Parachute jumpers, wing walkers, vintage biplanes (which you can ride in before and after each show)– oh my! Plane rides can be as exciting or basic as you'd like, with pilots looping and spinning or just letting you sit back and enjoy the view. Rides are priced between $40-130 depending on level of acrobatics or number of riders. Shows begin at 2:30pm and last about an hour and a half. 5114 County Road 644, Bealeton, 22728. 540-439-8661. flyingcircusairshow.com.
You could fly the family to Tuscany, or you could gas up the car and head to Afton Mountain for a tour of Swannanoa, the early twentieth century architectural masterpiece modeled on Rome's Villa Medici. It took eight years to build due to its immense– 52-room– size and the exquisitely rare materials its creator insisted upon including white marble and a 4,000-piece Tiffany window that reportedly cost $3,500 in 1912. If it was the ultimate in luxury living for the time– the first house in Nelson County with an elevator or electricity– its current state is troubling to those who've studied it. "I'm worried about the property," says UVA architectural historian Richard Guy Wilson, who calls it "one of the most important and impressive" in the state. The history includes 50 years as home to Walter and Lao Russell's University of Science and Philosophy, a New Age-y organization that won fans in celebrities including Shirley MacLaine as well as the late Cary Grant and John Denver. Even if there are broken stones and collapsed garden trellises, and even if the unique auto/horse livery building has become a literal dump, Swannanoa's views and architectural glory still make it well worth the 30-minute drive from downtown.
Current majority owner Phil Dulaney, who inherited the property from his father, has long promised that repairs are on the way. Perhaps that's finally happening, as this summer's tours feature 10 rooms– two more than Dulaney offered last year. Swannanoa will be open between 11:30 am and 5:30pm on these weekends. June 4-5, July 2-3, Aug 6-7, 13-14, Sept. 3-4, Oct. 1-2, 8-9, 15-16 and Nov. 5-6. Adults $6/under 10 free. 540-942-5201
21) Blue Ridge Swim Club
With a new owner and new programs starting up for the summer, the Blue Ridge Swim Club is a throwback to old Charlottesville. It gives off an exclusive feel with its location in Ivy and only 48 memberships remaining this summer, but with a fourteen-acre property, a creek-fed pool, and weekly activities– yoga, live music, holiday parties– it offers a diverse mix of fun, fitness, and learning for kids and adults alike without the hustle and bustle of other area clubs. Musical performances this summer include Old Calf, the Honey Dewdrops, and Miles Pearce, while each Wednesday you can take a vinyasa yoga class to re-energize and practice mindfulness. On Saturday afternoons, the club will host a swim program for kids ages 6 to 14. $300/individuals; $400/family. 1275 Owensville Road, 22901. 434-977-3937. blueridgeswimclub.org.
We know you've heard rumors about the Stonehenge replica located somewhere out past Lexington, and maybe you're skeptical about the coolness factor of a field of foam. But trust us– if you're going to be out in Lexington anyway doing the Natural Bridge thing or checking out a drive-in at Hull's (fun item #2), take an extra thirty minutes to seek out this tribute to the mysterious rock cluster in England. Built by Lexington sculptor Mark Cline, it is the only American replica of Stonehenge, and while it might not attract the swarms of visitors like the original, it's a must-see for any true Cvillian. TIP: There's no gate or guard around the site, so go in the evening when it's getting dark. Trust us, it's much more creepy that way– just remember to bring a flashlight or keep your car lights on. Rt. 11 (it'll be on your right if you're heading towards Natural Bridge), 24578.
23) Groovin in the Garden
If you haven't made the trek to the 40-acre Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden (which features a rose garden, a conservatory, a children's garden, a perennial garden, and an Asian garden) or the 100-acre Maymont Park, adding in live music is a good excuse to take I-64 to Richmond. The Groovin in the Garden series is the perfect way to get back into the live music scene for locals who tire of Fridays After Five. Hosted each Thursday (May and July at Lewis Ginter, June at Maymont), the series includes performers such as Emmylou Harris and Nanci Griffith. Don't they say that singing to your flowers makes them grow faster? Lewis Ginter: 1800 Lakeside Avenue, Richmond. 804-262-9887. Maymont Park: 2201 Shields Lake Drive, Byrd Park. 804-358-7166. groovininthegarden.net.
24) Horseback Riding at Graves Mountain
There's lots to do at Graves Mountain Lodge, but this summer you're going for the stables. If you're a horseback riding fanatic who doesn't own their own stable or a novice looking to try it out, the lodge offers guided trail rides for any level. Go for an hour, a half-day, or a full-day and camp overnight– according to stable master Eddie Birckhead (a former rodeo rider– this guy knows his stuff). He'll even cook you steak over a fire in Big Meadows and have you back at 5:30pm the next day. The stables hold approximately 100 horses, so pick out your favorite and carouse around Shenandoah National Park. Expect stream crossings, bear sightings, and mountains. Rides start as early as 9:30am and as late as 5pm. Rout 670, Syria, VA (stables will be on your right, approx. 100 meters past the Lodge entrance). 540-923-4231. gravesmountain.com.
25) Cherry Picking at Spring Valley Orchard
Chiles has expanded– and another stop for your fresh fruit-picking experience is the Spring Valley Orchard in North Garden. Cherry pie, cherry ice cream, fresh cherry garnishes in your Shirley Temples. Cherries are ripe for picking from early June through July. TIP: After working up an appetite manhandling cherry trees, stop for lunch at Dr. Ho's Humble Pie on your way back into town. 3526 Spring Valley Road, Afton. 434-960-9443. springvalleyorchard.com.