One of the best parts of travel is its ability to make you look at home with new eyes. But when you stop vacationing it becomes a lot harder to hit refresh on life in the States. So thank goodness the Indie Travel Challenge is forcing writers to think outside the box about our hometowns.

Travel is a skill and the most practiced travelers are able to get past the surface of a place and truly experience what life is like there.

So what special spots in my hometown do visitors miss?

Picking your own cherries requires keeping an ear close to the ground. Spring Valley Orchard only opens for a few weeks a year.

Picking your own cherries requires keeping an ear close to the ground. Spring Valley Orchard only opens for a few weeks a year.

Fruit picking

Spring, summer, and fall all have something to offer in the way of pick-your-own fruit. Apples and peaches are the best known, even among locals, but it’s surprisingly easy to steer clear of the Carter Mountain crowds. Spring Valley Orchard near Batesville has cherries in May, Wenger Grapes past Waynesboro has Concord and Niagara grapes in August, and The Berry Patch in Free Union has blueberries and raspberries in June and July.

Dining

Charlottesville has a booming restaurant scene, most of it confined to downtown neighborhoods and UVA. There are a lot of great places that get well-deserved attention from locals and visitors alike. But when I want a good meal that’s out of the way, I head north up Route 29. Lime Leaf serves some of the best Thai food in town, while Timberwood Grill skillfully walks that fine line between comfy family establishment and classy night out.

Drinking

When our favorite cozy neighborhood pub was bought out and renovated beyond recognition, regular weekday hangouts seemed to have taken an irreparable hit. Enter The Livery Stable. The horse-themed menu may be a little goofy and the food isn’t the best in town, but this hole-in-the-wall joint always has my favorite locally brewed beer on tap or a creative cocktail to end rougher days on.

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Pippin Hill is gorgeous, but don’t forget to also stop by smaller boutique wineries.

Wine tasting

On the other end of the drinking spectrum, Virginia wine country is already a little off the beaten path for most outsiders. When wine-lovers do road trip down from D.C. for our surprisingly good Bordeaux-style blends, they usually hit up large operations like Barboursville, Veritas, or Pippin Hill, forgetting that the charm of a wine region like this is the smaller, family-operated vineyards. A good mid-sized spot, and perennial personal favorite, is Cardinal Point Winery. I don’t think I’ve ever disliked anything I’ve tasted there, but it’s strongest suit is its creativity. Who else would ever put cascade hops in Chardonnay and make it work?

Foggy days might obscure your view, but Spy Rock is an enjoyable enough day hike to keep you smiling.

Foggy days might obscure your view, but Spy Rock is an enjoyable enough day hike to keep you smiling.

Hiking

Last, but certainly not least, hiking in central Virginia has an international reputation. Most visitors will head straight for Skyline Drive or perhaps another part of the Blue Ridge Parkway on a sunny fall day. Humpback Rock, Old Rag, and Crabtree Falls are also heavily frequented day hikes. A fairly easy alternate option is Spy Rock, which gets its name from its Civil War lookout status and can be completed round trip within a few hours.

 

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