Series: Planning for 36 Hours in Charlottesville, VA

Planner’s Travel Series

About the series: Welcome to our ongoing travel series. These are all posts written by planning students and professionals about what to do in a given city when looking for Brunch, a Brew, or a good idea on a Budget. To cap it all off, we include a fun planning fact!

About the visit: I lived in Charlottesville for four years during my undergraduate program and was charmed by this sweet Southern town. Coming from a very rural hometown, it offered the best of both worlds: a locale that could maintain strong ties to nature but also constantly delight with events, activities, and interesting places to explore. I return a few times a year to enjoy Charlottesville in each season. The restaurant scene is constantly changing, so no two trips are ever the same. Here are some of my favorite spots and must-see recommendations:


Options abound for brunch at Bluegrass. Photo Credit: Bluegrass Grill and Bakery

My favorite brunch spot is small enough that you can blink and miss it. It’s on the way to the Downtown Mall, a spot of heaven serving up homemade Southern classics. The menu varies on weekdays, weekends, and with changing specials. Their philosophy is summed up here: “At Bluegrass, we love brunch. We love the idea of brunch. We love thinking about brunch. We love talking about brunch, how to make it better and more exciting. We love integrating new ingredients or playing with old ideas to breathe new life into them.”1 If you’re a fan of bacon or biscuits, you’re sure to be satisfied at Bluegrass.


Locations on the Charlottesville Ale Trail. Photo Credit:

Charlottesville is a well-known destination for wineries, and you can’t go wrong between the many spots for wine enthusiasts – most of them have a gorgeous view of the rolling natural landscape and mountains in the distance. (Be sure to ask about discounts on tastings if you’re a student!) As far as brews go, the area is thriving on a new booming craft beer industry.2 The emphasis is on craft beer and particularly local beer. If you can’t decide amongst all of the options, head on the Charlottesville Ale Trail – the walking tour provides a great excuse to sample local pubs and explore the Downtown Mall.


The options are limitless for breakfast and lunch – don’t forget to try the sides and spreads! Photo Credit: David Pierpont, Foursquare.

If you are a fan of bagels, it’s a requirement to stop by Bodo’s Bagels – plus, the breakfast mecca is an ideal meal for anyone on a budget. There are 3 locations; if you are walking, head to the location on University Avenue for a short tour of the “Corner,” where UVA students go to find local food and shopping. If you are driving, head to the Preston or Emmet Street locations that have more accessible parking lots.

Bodo’s is a great stop for breakfast or lunch but expect a rush on the weekend during normal brunch hours. It’s worth the hectic walk-up-and-order environment to try the New York-style bagels. A classic favorite is an egg, cheese, and sausage, but you can create a multitude of combinations for a filling meal around $5.  As a side note – it’s been called the number one thing that University of Virginia students miss about Charlottesville after they graduate!

Hours vary based on location and alignment with the UVA academic calendar, so be sure to check their website before stopping by.

Fun Planning Fact 

rotunda drawing
The Rotunda at the University of Virginia. Photo Credit: The American Cyclopædia, v. 16, 1879, p. 386.

It’s nearly impossible to visit Charlottesville without recognizing the legacy of Thomas Jefferson, who founded the University of Virginia and established his plantation home, Monticello, nearby. The Neoclassic architecture of the Lawn, the focal point of the University’s campus, is renowned and designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

From a planner’s perspective, Thomas Jefferson may not be your favorite historical figure based on his anti-urban beliefs. He said, “I view great cities as pestilential to the morals, the health and the liberties of man. True, they nourish some of the elegant arts; but the useful ones can thrive elsewhere; and less perfection in the others, with more health, virtue and freedom, would be my choice.”3 To put this into context, however, this was a time when the vast majority of the United States lived in rural areas. Thomas Jefferson’s South was a self-sufficient economy that could thrive without dense urban areas.

Potential Jeffersonian anti-urbanism aside, historic preservation and architecture enthusiasts will be thrilled at the abundance of historical sites to visit on Grounds (what UVA students and alumni call campus). The exhibits inside the Rotunda are worth perusing, if only to head to the top floor to see the original university library and read about the tumultuous history of the Rotunda surviving protests, fires, and more throughout the years. There’s even an exhibit of Edgar Allen Poe’s room from his semester as a student at UVA. Elsewhere on the Lawn, find the famous serpentine walls – designed to invite mindful meandering of the gardens next to the Rotunda.

About the Author: Emily Gvino is a first-year master’s student seeking dual degrees from the Department of City and Regional Planning and the Gillings School of Public Health. Her research interests involve how the built environment can address social justice issues and the impact of climate change and the environment on health.  Prior to UNC, Emily earned her bachelor’s degree in urban & environmental planning and Spanish at the University of Virginia.

  1. “About Us.” Bluegrass Grill and Bakery,
  2. Freedman, Emmy. 2018. “Charlottesville Breweries Capitalize on Craft Beer Boom.” NBC29, October 31, 2018.
  3. Eyler Robert Coates, Sr. 1996. Thomas Jefferson On Politics & Government.