17 Summer Experiences in Charlottesville

Henley's Orchard in Crozet

Summer is here and so is our list of the top 17 summer experiences in Charlottesville.

Even if you’re just visiting, here’s your chance to act like a local. Take a look at our list and enjoy exploring all of the incredible places that our town has to offer. When in Charlottesville, right?

1. Hidden Treasure: Find the 5th Street Mosaic

Crane your neck to find the Zagar Mosaic, an incredible, block-long work of public art located along 5th Street near the Main Street Market. Created by noted Philadelphia artist Isaiah Zagar in 2000 as a gift from city philanthropist Gabe Silverman upon the grand opening of The Main Street Market, the mosaic features vibrant colors, abstract shapes, and a captivating design reminiscent of Picasso and Gaudi. The abstract shapes and colors are intended to represent “food, flowers, and markets.”

2. Discover the Melodrama of The Raven Room

Calling all Edgar Allan Poe fans! Poe’s dorm room– popularly known as The Raven Room— awaits your meek footsteps! Search out these cramped quarters that remain a scene of midnight initiations by literary student groups. The ominously numbered room 13 West Range displays period furniture, books, and Poe’s original bed. A button on the doorway unlocks an audio history you’ll swear was read by Vincent Price! 

3. Read Among the Roses

Down a quiet alley behind Charlottesville’s Historic Downtown Mall, a hidden rose garden blooms every spring. Tended by the New Dominion Bookshop, this oasis blossoms in late spring and thrives as a natural haven beneath tall power lines and the Mall’s 19th-century brick buildings. There’s no finer place to consecrate your next read!

Blackrock Summit
Blackrock Summit | Photo by Dana Thiele

4. Women at Monticello: Explore the House and Grounds through their Eyes

How did Dolley Madison see things up on the Mountain? How about Sacajawea? This summer take the Women at Monticello tour, a one-hour guided experience that invites you to explore the house and grounds through the eyes of the women, both free and enslaved, who shaped the lives of so many at Monticello and beyond. Admission $42.

5. Kluge-Ruhe Museum: A World-Class Collection

The world’s finest collection of Australian Aboriginal Art awaits you in an elegant Colonial Revival house atop Pantops Mountain. The Kluge-Ruhe Museum houses a collection begun by Edward Ruhe, an English professor from Kansas, that was acquired by billionaire John Kluge, then given to UVA.  Permanent and special exhibits explore the rich and vibrant art of Australia’s Indigenous peoples, with surprising parallels to the American experience. Visit this museum while you still can. UVA plans to consolidate the Kluge-Ruhe with its sister museum, The Fralin Art Museum, in the near future.

6. Lewis & Clark Exploratory Center: Beside a River of Dreams

While the idea of the Voyage of Discovery began above at Monticello, in Charlottesville’s Darden Towe Park along the banks of the Rivanna River below, you can find a museum, riparian hiking trails, a keelboat replica, and the temporary safe harbor of Charles Keck’s 1919 Lewis & Clark (& Sacajawea) statue. Open by reservation throughout the year, this unique interpretive center offers premium experiences tailored to your group: historical artifacts, art, and activities; nature walks; the history of the Rivanna River, and modern skills of exploration, such as photography and video workshops. Email lcecvirginia@gmail.com or call 434-996-7282. 

Editor’s Note: Sacajawea, spelled with a “j,” is the spelling preferred by the Lemhi Shoshone, Sacajawea’s tribe of birth and upbringing.

7. Teddy Roosevelt’s Pine Knot: For Presidential “Rest and Repairs”

Pine Knot is Teddy Roosevelt’s outdoorsy retreat in southern Albemarle County. In 1905 the 95-acre property was reachable from the White House in a day— four hours by train to Charlottesville and another four hours on horseback from Red Hill. Where TR journeyed for “rest and repairs” is now just 20 minutes away down Route 20 into wine country on the way to Scottsville. The peaceful setting entreats reflection upon an iconic American President.

Visiting Pine Knot is by appointment only. The site is owned and managed by The Edith and Theodore Roosevelt Pine Knot Foundation. To arrange your visit, scan this QR code and complete the form. While there’s no limit to the size of your party, groups of 2-12 are ideal. 

8. The Walton Mountain Museum: Find Your Inner John Boy

The Land of John Boy is in Schuyler, a half-hour drive south from Charlottesville. “The Waltons,” the story of a Depression-era family, was the top-rated American television show through the 1970s. Set here in the hamlet of author Earl Hamner, its last vestiges of sets, costumes, props, and photographs are assembled in a half dozen rooms that adjoin the gymnasium of decommissioned Schuyler High School in a museum-experience that refreshingly lacks slick curation. $12 adult admission will transport you down memory lane to a bygone, backroads Virginia.

9. Millers on the Downtown Mall: A Musical Epicenter

It’s late. The Downtown Mall is mostly deserted as you hurry home. But wait. You spy a jazz combo in a fishbowl window, laying it down. Inside, at the bar, you settle in with the night owls and jazz fiends. Since 1980, Miller’s has been the place to go for late-night music. Dave Matthews used to sling drinks behind the bar and trumpet master John D’earth holds court every Thursday night until the wee hours.

Beaver Creek Reservoir in Crozet

10. Henley’s Orchard: A Quiet Orchard with a Loyal Following

Located in the foothills between the towns of Crozet and White Hall, Henley’s is a secret that locals have kept to themselves for years. This hasn’t stopped this family orchard from growing and expanding its offerings, however. When in season, apples and peaches are ready to be picked, but the real treat is stopping in the country farm store, which sells homemade jams and jellies, honey, and other produce. It’s perfect if you’ve got family in tow and are looking for a place to stretch your legs and connect with locals in between winery & brewery hopping. Make sure to stop by the Our Lady of the Angels Monastery before or after (see below) and find a delicious lunch spot in Downtown Crozet if you’re feeling peckish.

11. Our Lady of the Angels Monastery: Homemade Gouda Cheese 

In case it’s not enough that we have an incredible hidden gem of a monastery tucked into the mountains near Charlottesville, add handmade gouda cheese to the list and this secret(ish) spot becomes worth every minute to get to. Located near White Hall, Virginia (about 20 minutes from Downtown Charlottesville), Our Lady of the Angels Monastery boasts fantastic views of the surrounding mountains and farms. The ride there and back does not disappoint either, and once you set foot on the grounds of this monastery we can guarantee an instantaneous feeling of tranquility. The cheese shop is open every day from 2-4 pm (except Sundays), and is a true one-of-a-kind experience for folks looking to pop in before picnicking at one of many local wineries (White Hall Vineyards, Stinson Vineyards, and Grace Estate are all quite close, with Glass House Winery and Moss Vineyards not far beyond). What’s the cheese like? Well, never mind if you don’t fancy yourself a gouda fan, but with its nutty taste and soft texture this cheese is exquisite and perfect for sharing. Make sure to buy an extra wheel because one won’t last long.

12. UVA’s Secret Societies: Is There a Textbook for This?

The University of Virginia is home to more than two dozen secret societies that collectively harbor the student culture and traditions of a venerable institution of higher education. A walk on The Grounds reveals numerous symbols and insignias of these organizations, placed there by members. Ask students on The Lawn for their insights into these mystical entities and follow this link for our blog report.

13. Blue Ridge Tunnel

This sensational rail-trail spans three miles with a tunnel that immerses you in a story of 1850s manifest destiny. The Blue Ridge Tunnel at the western edge of Albemarle County has it all: recreation, exhilaration mixed with sensory deprivation, the legacy of Claudius Crozet, and environmental wonder in the form of Catoctin greenstone as slick as it is thick.

14. The Memorial for Enslaved Laborers: A UVA Reflection

Tucked just below UVA’s Academical Village and across the street from The Corner awaits an elegant and contemplative discovery, The Memorial for Enslaved Laborers (MEL). Opened in 2020, the MEL commemorates the lives of 4,000 laborers enslaved during the building of The University in the 19th Century. The 80-foot granite ring echoes the circumference of The Rotunda above, symbolizing a broken shackle, and is etched with names and inscriptions to share some of the laborers’ stories.

15. Blackrock Summit Hike: Explore the Mysteries of the Blue Ridge Past

If you know, you know. Locals tend to bypass busier spots on the Blue Ridge Parkway in search of this secluded and gently traveled hiking spot. Named Blackrock as a nod to the coloration of the lichen-covered rocks that mound to a natural summit, this locale was once completely under water, and is the perfect place to go if you’re looking for an easy hike with friends or family (of the two or four-legged variety). The views are excellent any time of year, but make sure to wear sturdy non-slip shoes, as the child in you will want to climb every boulder in earnest once arriving at this majestic venue.

Our Lady of the Angels Monastery | Gouda Cheese

16. The Wool Factory: Down by the River

The Wool Factory, located just 1.7 miles down Market Street from the heart of downtown, is a hidden oasis of history and beauty. In recent years, the shuttered clothing factory was transformed into a unique event venue complete with a brewery, coffee and wine tasting, and fine dining. Dating to 1882, The Wool Factory now stands as a stunning example of 19th-century architecture, with its high ceilings, exposed brick walls, and original hardwood floors. The building overlooks the Rivanna River with easy access to hikes along the Rivanna Trail. This is a fine place to cool your heels!

17. The McCormick Observatory

Perched on a hill and nestled deep within Grounds, The McCormick Observatory is an incredible gem in Charlottesville for scientists, children, and stargazers. Open to the public for viewings monthly, we will admit that it is tricky to reserve a spot because they fill up fast. Head here to plan your trip and snag your spot.


Looking for more Charlottesville inspiration? Check out our post on Dining in Belmont!