by Kate Andrews
One of Richmond’s big selling points always has been its proximity to the water, the mountains and big cities. So before summer comes to an end, let’s make some plans for day trips -- or stretch the fun times over a weekend.
The Rappahannock River has been a longtime favorite escape for Richmonders, but today it has a higher profile thanks to Ryan and Landon Croxton, brothers who started Rappahannock Oyster Company. Sure, you can visit their restaurants on East Grace Street, but there's nothing like sitting at a picnic table in Topping, Virginia, at Merroir, their original restaurant. Order a dozen raw oysters, Olde Salt clams, crabcakes and more while appreciating the river.
While you’re on the Rappahannock, we also recommend a visit to the Dog and Oyster Vineyard, marked by a giant corkscrew on the edge of the property in Irvington. Owned by the nearby Hope and Glory Inn, the winery has its version of the vegetable stand, but with wine and oysters. It’s open through the fall, but like Merroir, the vineyards are perfect for a late summer visit.
The city of Charlottesville sits in the center of Albemarle County, and we love it for the beautiful grounds of the University of Virginia, the Downtown Mall and eclectic array of shops and restaurants.
But have you been out to the rural roads in the county before? Totally worth it. Just south of the city are two homes of presidents: Monticello, home to Thomas Jefferson, and Highland, the neighboring property of James Monroe. They’re both worth a visit, although Highland is the lesser known and much more low-key historic home. Try a peaceful stroll around the grounds, especially the boxwood gardens.
Not far from the plantations is Gabriele Rausse Winery. As you may know, Albemarle and its neighbors have dozens of vineyards, but until recently, the Rausse Winery was closed to visitors. Today it's open -- hooray! -- and you can try Rausse’s wines (we suggest Nebbiolo) on Sundays, Thursdays and Fridays at its tasting room in the middle of the woods.
If you’re exploring western Albemarle or venturing into Nelson County, we suggest the Inn at Sugar Hollow.
Everyone thinks about the Blue Ridge Mountains and surroundings during the fall, but one of my favorite times to visit is during the heat of the summer.
Sherando Lake, in Augusta County, is a perfect spot to visit before it gets too cold. There are actually two man-made lakes, along with camping and recreation facilities, part of the George Washington National Forest. Hiking and picnicking are encouraged.
If you decide you’ve had enough nature for one day (hey, don’t judge), nearby Staunton has a lovely downtown area. We recommend visiting the amazing Blackfriars Playhouse, home of the American Shakespeare Center and the only recreated version of Shakespeare’s indoor theater in the world. If you can’t see a show, you can book a tour.
I used to live in northern Virginia, and yes, there is indeed traffic. But if you time it right, it takes only 90 minutes to drive from Richmond to Alexandria.
And if you’re there during a Washington Nationals home game, you can catch the Baseball Boat from Old Town to the stadium. This seems like an excellent alternative to driving or taking the Metro, which isn’t exactly scenic. Once you’re at the game, we recommend visiting the Ben’s Chili Bowl stand for chili dogs. Can’t get more local than that, unless you also decide to pose for a photo with the big head Teddy Roosevelt mascot.
For dinner, Vermilion and Restaurant Eve showcase locally grown ingredients in simple and elegant dishes, and both are highly recommended. Staying overnight? Morrison House is centrally located, or you may want to check out Airbnb.
Let's hold onto summer as long as we can! Happy travels.
Kate Andrews is a freelance writer and editor who grew up in Richmond and returned as an adult. She's also the Wednesday morning DJ on WRIR-FM 97.3 and a big fan of Richmond's doughnut shops, brass bands and craft beers.
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