Sometimes in our quest to experience adventure, traveling to far away exotic locations feels like the only way to have new experiences. My first notion that the DC area had more to offer than we sometimes realize was in 2011 and Jon and I took several day trips around the tri-state searching for wedding venues. During these trips we had a great time enjoying each others company and eating at yummy yelp-found restaurants. This past Labor Day (2013) we decided to take advantage of the long weekend and visit a few more close to home spots we never seem to make the time for; Charlottesville, VA and Shenandoah National Park.
From DC you can take route 81 and Skyline Drive down to Charlottesville if you are one for enjoying views. The drive through Virginia was pleasant enough, but Labor Day weekend was a bit too early to enjoy changing leaves and fall colors.We opted for the more direct route on 29 in hopes of stopping at a few wineries on the way. As we approached Charlottesville yelp guided us to the well reviewed Barboursville Winery. By the time we arrived the afternoon sun was high in the sky and it was sweltering. I’m not sure Barboursville qualifies as a hidden gem, because it was crowded. Small groups of people pushed their way down the assembly-line like bar. Half way into our own tasting there was an announcement for a free tour of the winery. We abandoned the bar to join the tour. The tour was nice and well paced, it also gave us an opportunity to talk about Barboursville and the wines which we didn’t have in the crowded tasting room. Most days I might have been disappointed that the tour didn’t take us through the grounds; which were speckled with couples picnicking, however in the scorching heat (which precedes summer storms) it was nicer to stay inside.
By the time we made it to Charlottesville we had just one destination in mind for the evening, Main Street and the Charlottesville Historic Downtown pedestrian mall. On our walk to Main Street the wind started to pick up and droplets of rain began to fall. By the time we arrived at the South Street Brewery, we were jogging with a downpour literally at our heels. We sat down at the wood carved bar just as the rain really hit. The South Street Brewery is where craft beers meet gourmet bar food. We waited out the worst of the rain while enjoying beers and the amazing Pig Wings appetizer.
By the time we arrived at Main Street the threat of continuing rain combined with the a local college football game had deserted the place. We walked up and down the street enjoying the usually quiet ambiance. Although there were many nice bouquet shops, Jon and I have never been ones for shopping; instead we sat outside for a drink and appetizers at Skybar (422 E. Main Street). There were many nice restaurants on Main Street, but finally the allure of the aptly named The Whiskey Jar (227 W. Main Street) drew Jon in. On our way there the rain started (again) and we waited in doorways watching people dash into cafes and shops. While hopping between shop canopies ourselves, we ended up sharing a doorway with a man who kept us entertained by playing with a praying mantis he had found. When we finally made it to The Whiskey Jar we found a laid back restaurant with upscale southern cuisine. The whiskey recommended by the bartender, Caol Ipa, did not disappoint Jon.
Before leaving Sunday morning we briefly walked around The University of Virginia campus. The school has a gorgeous campus with a rich history (none of which we were able to learn as we never found a tour group to join). On our way out of town we got lunch from Little Johns Delicatessen (1427 W. Main St), where it took us 10 minutes to pick from their great selection of interesting looking sandwiches.
We left Charlottesville mid-morning and drove to Shenandoah National Park, where we took a chance at find a ‘first come, first serve’ camp site. The campsite we selected at the Lewis Mountain Campground ($15/night) was one of the surprise delights of our trip. A park ranger recommended the south facing walk-in campsites for bit more privacy and seclusion, and a sunset view. Having never stayed at walk-in campsite before, I was very happy with it. I’d always been disappointed with the close proximity of neighboring campers at driveup campsites.
After setting up our campsite, we spent the afternoon on an easy/moderate hike called Doyle’s Run. Although the morning had been clear, during our hike the rain started for the third time that weekend. Luckily the rain wasn’t a hinderance and helped fuel the waterfall which was our destination. By the time we returned to our camp the rain stopped and the clouds had lifted enough for us to take advantage of the sunset for which our camp site had been recommended.
Monday morning on our way out of the park we followed Skyline Drive until we stopped to hike a short trail called Bearfence. Bearfence was another delightful find! We had heard Bearfence is called little Old Rag which is our favorite longer day hike in the park. It only took us an hour to Bearfence, including a fun 20 minutes of rock scrambling resulting in an amazing 360 degree view which rivals the view from Old Rag. It was a perfect hike to start out the day.
From Shenandoah we drove to Luray, VA and had lunch at the quaint and eclectic Gathering Grounds Patisserie & Café (55 E. Main Street- a yelp find in Luray). Luray Caverns (101 Cave Hill Rd., $24) was our final destination of the trip. At first I was offput by length of the line and the price to enter the caves, but the caves were really amazing and worth the ticket price. Luray may be the best cave that I’ve been in to date and was a nice break from the heat outside. The tour is a longer walk than you’d expect taking approximately about an hour. For us the highlight was the perfectly still water which created beautiful reflections of the cave ceiling.
Looking back, I’m glad we made time to visit some local destinations that we always talk about finding time for. Luray was excellent and Bearfence was a great little hike we never would have found otherwise. Other tips, such as walk-in camp sites or ordering Caol Ipa, will stay with us and help enrich our future travels.
- Barboursville ; Take a free tour of the winery to escape the crowds and chat with winery staff.
- South Street Brewery; 106 South St. Charlottesville, VA. – Create your own flight of beers by ordering 4oz glasses of each, and you must try the Pig Wigs (I can’t say it enough).
- Shenandoah National Park – Before entering the park the gate attendant was nice enough to call campsites and ask if they had availability.
- Horton Vineyard – Recommended to us by a friend, however we got lost and after driving down the same empty stretch of road for the third time, past the location of the pin on applemaps and decided to skip this stop.
- The Corner – If you’re looking for more of a college-town atmosphere go out for a drink in the ‘corner’ near the UVA campus.
- West Main Market – 123 W Main Street, Luray, VA (yelp)
- White Spot – 1407 University Ave, Charlottesville, VA known for their infamous Guss Burger