Home to the University of Virginia and Thomas Jefferson's nearby estate Monticello, the small (population 40,000) but vibrant city of Charlottesville also has a relatively visible gay scene and a high proportion of GLBT residents - it's certainly one of the more liberal and artsy communities in the state. It's also a beautiful, historic city with a lively downtown and miles of rolling countryside around it. Here's a photo tour and guide to gay travel in this engaging city.
For more details on where to eat and socialize in town, check out the Charlottesville Gay Bars and Dining Guide.
Escafe restaurant and gay bar, on the Downtown Mall
Charlottesville's most popular gay nightspot, Escafe is located at 215 Water St. W, just a block from the Downtown Mall. For a more detailed look at this bar and restaurant, see the Charlottesville Gay Nightlife and Restaurant Guide.
Paramount Theater, on the Downtown Mall
One of the more iconic buildings along Charlottesville's charming Downtown Mall pedestrian way, the historic Paramount Theater (215 E. Main St., 434-979-1333) opened in 1931 but eventually was shuttered for about three decades before undergoing a full restoration and reopening in 2004. The elegant space now presents concerts, plays, and speakers (openly gay comic and actress Lily Tomlin had been book when I snapped this photo)
Monticello, the neoclassical estate of Thomas Jefferson
It's hard to know for sure, but one imagines that Thomas Jefferson, had he lived today, would be a fierce adherent of gay rights, given his lucid arguments on behalf of the separation of church and state, his suspicion of overreaching federal laws, and his deep respect for the rights of individuals. It seems only fitting that his vaunted neoclassic home and verdant estate, Monticello (931 Thomas Jefferson Pkwy., Charlottesville, 434-984-9822) lies just a 10-minute drive from arguably Virginia's most progressive community, Charlottesville.
This is one of the state's seminal attractions, and an absolute must if you have an interest in presidential and Colonial American history, architecture, and gardening. Jefferson's estate and 5,000-acre plantation is open daily for both house and garden tours. Additionally, a number of special tours are offered, including the fascinating Evening Tours of the house. Today, of course, this part of Virginia has emerged as a critically acclaimed wine region, and there are several fine wineries within a short drive of Charlottesville, the most famous being Barboursville Vineyards, with its noted restaurant and inn.
Monticello lies in the gently rugged foothills just south of Charlottesville, right by Ash Lawn-Highland, the estate of fellow U.S. President James Monroe, as well as the historic Michie Tavern, a worthy - if touristy - stop for lunch. President James Madison's estate, Montpelier, is also nearby in the town of Orange, about 25 miles northeast of Charlottesville.
Monticello estate's grounds
Another view of Thomas Jefferson's Monticello, which lies just outside the leafy university town of Charlottesville, in which Jefferson established (and designed) the University of Virginia.
Shenandoah National Park, 25 miles west of Charlottesville
About 25 miles west of Charlottesville (to reach the southern entrance), central Virginia's scenic Shenandoah National Park was established in 1935 and offers some of the most spectacular views in the southeast, plus wonderful opportunities for hiking, biking, fishing, and horseback riding. The park is accessed along 105-mile Skyline Drive, a winding park road with numerous turnouts for taking pictures and short hikes. The park also has camping and hotel accommodations, a restaurant, and two visitors centers. A good place to orient yourself is Harry F. Byrd Visitor Center and Big Meadows Lodge - the latter has overnight accommodations and a restaurant serving very tasty home-style regional American food. About 10 miles north, there's a larger complex of hotel rooms as well as another well-reputed restaurant, the Pollock Dining Room, at Skyland Resort, an area that also affords magnificent views of the Shenandoah River Valley to the west, and Virginia's Piedmont region to the east. Aramark, which operates the park lodges, is very gay-friendly and enthusiastically welcomes GLBT visitors.
Skyland Resort, at Shenandoah National Park (55 miles from Charlottesville)
If you make it out from Charlottesville to beautiful Shenandoah National Park, consider spending the night at one of the park hotels. The rooms at Skyland Resort, which is 55 miles northwest of Charlottesville, are fairly rustic and basic (no phones, but some rooms do have TVs with satellite reception), but the views are mesmerizing - all have decks or patios with views comparable to the one shown here. The hotel is open from early April to late November, and rates begin around $100 nightly. Plan to have dinner at the Skyland Resort Pollock Dining Room, which serves tasty country-Southern fare and is especially famous for its blackberry ice cream and cobbler. Shop for the best hotel deals in Shenandoah National Park and the nearby city of Luray
Pollock Dining Room, at Skyland Resort in Shenandoah National Park
Famed for its blackberry cobbler and blackberry ice cream, the Pollock Dining Room at Skyland Resort inside Shenandoah National Park is also a fine place to feast on such traditional and contmeporary Southern fare as sweet corn fritters, corn-dusted catfish, Brunswick stew, and "New Deal Turkey Dinner" with celery-sage dressing, garlic-mashed new potatoes, and cranberry-orange relish. Of course, the views looking west toward the Shenandoah River Valley are another big reason to enjoy a meal at this rustic restaurant about 55 miles northwest of Charlottesville.
Mudhouse Coffeehouse and Espresso Bar, on the Downtown Mall
Situated along Charlottesville's picturesque and always bustling Downtown Mall, and just steps from the gay bar and restaurant Escafe, groovily dapper Mudhouse (211 W. Main St., 434-984-6833) serves stellar, artfully rendered lattes and espresso drinks. You can also nosh on fresh-baked pastries and muffins, and sip herbal teas, fresh-squeezed OJ, and fruit smoothies. In warm weather, grab a seat on the patio and watch the world go by.
Splendora's Gelato, on the Downtown Mall
If your preferred method of strolling along Charlottesville's tree-shaded Downtown Mall pedestrian promenade is with snack-in-hand, stop by Splendora's Gelato Cafe (317 E. Main St., 434-296-8555). Purveyors of the dense, intensely flavored version of ice cream popularized in Italy and becoming increasingly commonplace around the world, Splendora's crafts some particularly tasty gelato and also sells espresso drinks and other sweets. Flavors change regularly but often include stracciatella, coconut, blood orange, pistachio, and malaga (rum raisin).
Downtown Mall, a historic pedestrian promenade in downtown C-Ville
Charlottesville's cultural, culinary, and retail heart and soul is the Historic Downtown Mall, a leafy, redbrick pedestrian promenade that runs for about eight blocks in the city center (it runs along Old Main Street, from 2nd Street West to 7th Street East). Created in 1974 and completely renovated in 2009, the Downtown Mall is lined with some 120 shops and 30 restaurants, most with outdoor seating. It's also home of such gay-friendly businesses as Escafe restaurant and bar, and Mudhouse coffee bar.