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The pedestrian-only Downtown Mall is a center of Charlottesville social life, lined with shops, galleries, and restaurants. (Photograph by Philip Scalia/Alamy)

Just Back: Charlottesville, Virginia

Heather Brady, digital editorial specialist at National Geographic, recently returned from a long weekend getaway in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Here are some of the high points of her trip, in her own words:

Craveable culinary experience: C-VILLE Weekly named Mas Tapas the best restaurant in town, and it’s pretty clear why. The Spanish-inspired small plates are divine, the sangria roja is strong and sweet, and the ambiance is funky and cool.

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Jefferson’s Monticello (Photograph by Heather Brady)

Standout museum: Monticello. The plantation Thomas Jefferson designed and dubbed “little mountain” in Italian provides insight into his personality and family life. Knowledgeable guides show visitors around the Palladian-style home, grounds, and slave quarters for the cost of regular admission, while an extra fee buys visitors an intimate look at the second story of the house, including the famous dome room. Pair this experience with a tour of the University of Virginia, founded and designed by Jefferson, for a greater understanding of the mark America’s third president left on the young nation he helped to found.

Noteworthy watering hole: The Whiskey Jar is a little piece of Southern heaven. Sip mint juleps out of Mason jars or devour a pulled pork sandwich slathered in vinegar barbecue sauce on the patio at one end of the Downtown Mall, Charlottesville’s impressive eight-block-long pedestrians-only outdoor gallery. When the weather is right, the eatery opens its windows—which compose most of its front-facing wall—to let in the fresh air.

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Humpback Rocks can be accessed from the northern end of the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway. (Photograph by Heather Brady)

Doable day trip: Shenandoah National Park offers wide-ranging hiking opportunities within an hour’s drive of Charlottesville. A little closer to the city, the Humpback Rocks Recreation Area is a popular destination for area residents, with a visitor’s center and a short but steep hike up to an overlook that affords spectacular panoramic views of the mountains and valleys of the Blue Ridge.

Practical tip: Book accommodations well in advance if you’re planning a trip to Charlottesville in the spring, when hotels fill up with parents and high school students making their final decisions about whether to attend UVA. Likewise, try to avoid Family (February) and Homecoming (October) weekends.

Transportation advice: It helps to have a car, especially if you hope to venture into the surrounding mountains, vineyards, and orchards, all of which make for worthwhile side trips. For those visitors with limited time or wishing to focus on attractions in the city proper, you’ll have plenty of options at your fingertips if you follow my lead and splurge on a hotel near the Downtown Mall.

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