One of the first things I like to check out in any new city I visit is the art scene (especially its street art!), and as a lifelong resident of Charlottesville, I’ve long wondered why its art scene doesn’t have a bigger profile. Charlottesville has a surprising amount of arts and culture for a city its size — so much you could fill an entire weekend itinerary just with artistic activity! This recommended 2-day, 3-night itinerary for the Charlottesville Arts Excursion is perfect for solo female travelers on the hunt for a beautiful and offbeat weekend getaway.
Disclaimer: While I have not been compensated directly for this post, I am a full-time employee of the IX Art Park, one of the sponsors of the Charlottesville Arts Excursion. All opinions are my own.
Friday Evening: Kick Off Your Weekend in Charlottesville with a Live Show
Since the Dave Matthews Band hit it big in the ’90s, a robust music scene has blossomed in Charlottesville. Check the calendars at The Jefferson Theater or the more intimate Southern Cafe & Music Hall for touring acts.
For live music closer to home, join locals at the Sprint Pavilion‘s wildly popular Fridays After Five free concert series, held during the warmer months. You can also find several live acts in many of the bars and restaurants lining the Downtown Mall — Charlottesville’s pedestrian-only Main Street.
For entertainment beyond the music sector, check what’s on stage at local community theater Live Arts. The historic Paramount Theater also has a wide range of events spanning music, comedy, ballet, film screenings, and livestreams of the Met Opera and National Theater productions.
Where to Stay in Charlottesville
Quirk Hotel is a must-stay for art lovers in Charlottesville. This unique boutique hotel takes weekend getaways to the next level with artistically designed rooms, an onsite gallery hosting exhibitions and artist talks, and a killer rooftop bar.
Saturday Morning: Spark Your Imagination at IX Art Park
The IX Art Park is one of Charlottesville’s most unique destinations. Housed in a former textile factory, the once abandoned warehouse is now a mural-festooned wonderland for all ages. The outdoor park is free and open to the public daily, with murals, sculptures and a few interactive installations.
IX (pronounced “icks”) particularly comes alive on Saturday mornings with its weekly farmers market, featuring over 50 local vendors.
Inside the building, The Looking Glass is an arts experience like no other. Virginia’s first immersive art museum, The Looking Glass is a 3000 square foot enchanted forest handcrafted by over a dozen local artists with a mix of upcycled materials and cutting edge technology. Relax in a jungle hammock, travel through a 50-foot caterpillar, greet golden goddesses, explore the home of forest gnomes, solve twisted puzzles and more.
When you’re ready for lunch, there are a number of dining options nearby. The farmers’ market is typically open until noon or 1pm and has several prepared food vendors. Next door to The Looking Glass, North American Sake Brewery is one of the only sake breweries in the US and has a bangin’ pan-Asian kitchen. The upper floor of the building is home to Three Notch’d Brewing Co. where you can taste flights of local craft beers and nosh on classic American fare.
Saturday Afternoon: Explore Murals and Galleries in Downtown Charlottesville
Spot street art beyond the IX Art Park on the Charlottesville Mural Project’s interactive map. The Public Art Central loop is a 2-mile walk or bike ride circling IX Art Park and the Downtown Mall, making it a conveniently focused tour of Charlottesville’s street art. If you have time for a longer exploration, try the 7-mile Public Art Bike Ride or the 2-mile Mural Mile Hike, which will take you from the Belmont neighborhood to the University of Virginia’s Grounds.
There are a handful of galleries and artistic retail storefronts along the pedestrian Downtown Mall. Spot higher end contemporary exhibits at Second Street Gallery, unearth hidden gems at Chroma Projects‘ micro-gallery, or pick up locally made artisan gifts at Cville Arts.
Just off the Mall, McGuffey Art Center houses galleries, a gift shop, and a warren full of artist studios. Local creators frequently hold open hours where you can get a peek at works in progress and learn about the artistic process.
Between Downtown and UVA’s Grounds, the Jefferson School African-American Heritage Center provides a critical look at local history with a permanent historical exhibit and a rotating contemporary art gallery.
Where to Eat in Downtown Charlottesville
There is no shortage of dining options on and around the Downtown Mall, but these are some of the best options for solo female diners.
For something fast and cheap, grab dumplings and sesame noodles from Marco & Luca or a slice at Christian’s Pizza.
If you want to treat yourself to a fancy dinner out, Zocalo has a big patio and really friendly staff. Their menu bears a mix of Spanish, Mexican and South American influences. There are also plenty of places you can sit at the bar and still have a great meal — chow down on Southern staples at The Whiskey Jar or graze Asian-inspired tapas and fancy martinis at Bang. (Note: Bang is not on the Downtown Mall, but is very close by.)
Finally, you’ll find Charlottesville does the “bougie-casual” thing very well. Tilman’s is a great wine bar that serves sandwiches and small plates. The Fitzroy is a little heartier but still in the upscale American fare arena.
Sunday Morning: Learn Local History Through the Arts
Charlottesville has long been known for its presidential history, but not many visitors realize how powerful a lens the arts can be for telling the full story of a place.
Monticello is the area’s most famous attraction and, together with UVA Grounds, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Some highlights to start your morning on Grounds include the Rotunda, the Chapel, the Pavilion Gardens with their serpentine brick walls, and the Fralin Museum of Art — and don’t miss the new Memorial to Enslaved Laborers!
Then make the 15- to 20-minute drive to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. A Self-Guided Pass will grant you access to the first floor of the house, the garden and grounds, outdoor stations and exhibits, where you can learn about the lives of Jefferson and the 400 enslaved laborers who lived and worked on the plantation.
On your way back into town, you can stop for lunch at Michie Tavern, serving authentic 18th century fare. It’s super touristy but very convenient to Monticello.
Sunday Afternoon: Broaden Your Horizons at Kluge-Ruhe
Your final stop before heading home is the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection. This unique attraction is the only museum of Indigenous Australian art in the United States! Your visit will show you so much about the world’s oldest continuous tradition and about the oft-overlooked contemporary art movements by Aboriginal artists. You’ll see just how sophisticated, diverse, and continually evolving the practice is. Admission is free, but reservations are required.
Your weekend in Charlottesville has come to a close. Drive home Sunday evening, or stay one last night at Quirk Hotel for a Monday morning departure.
When is the Best Time for an Arts Weekend in Charlottesville?
The Charlottesville Arts Excursion features all of the attractions mentioned here. In September and October 2021, many will be offering promotional discounts to tourists to make your arts and culture visit fun and affordable. Stay tuned for future details!
Interested in a longer stay? Check out my list of free things to do in Charlottesville.