Virginia fans may not have their sights set on the College Football Playoffs this season, but still, Charlottesville remains a solid destination for college football fans. Between a thriving food scene, plenty of sights to see away from Grounds, and massive tailgating spaces, Virginia Cavaliers fans know how to do game day right. If you’re a fan of the opposing team and just in town for a day or two, or it’s been a while since you’ve returned on Grounds, how can you take advantage of your next fall weekend in the foothills of the Blue Ridge?
Alright, if you’re reading this message, it probably means that you’re coming into town to tailgate and cheer on the Hoos. It is also possible that you made poor life decisions and therefore are cheering on the opposing team. That’s fine, too, and we accept you for who you are in light of your upbringing.
The Hoos play at Scott Stadium. That’s the giant football stadium in the shape of a football stadium. Can’t miss it once you’re on grounds. But if you’re looking for parking and a spot to tailgate, don’t go anywhere close to the stadium, because that’s where the big wigs park. Instead, point your GPS machine over to John Paul Jones Arena and University Hall, where there’s a ton of free parking on a first come, first-served basis. Fontaine Research Park is also free on a first come, first-served basis, and has a lively tailgating scene.
If you’re looking for a parking garage, there are a few lots you can pay for, most notably the Central Grounds Garage (perfect location for the Bookstore!) and the Emmett/Ivy Garage. You can expect to pay $15, but don’t expect to tailgate inside the garage, because who tailgates inside garages?
There are also entrepreneurial students living nearby the stadium that will sell parking spots on the grass outside their houses. Generally, these roads coming off of Stadium Road (Shamrock, Harmon, for example) close off about 2 hours or so before kickoff, so if you are trying to get one of those spots, might want to plan to come early and be prepared to pay $20-$30.
If you are in need of handicapped parking and have a DMV tag for it, you can park over in North Grounds at The Park, down past the Law School on Massie Road. There will be shuttles from there over to the stadium.
We’re all here for the tailgating at the end of the day, right? Oh and football, too. We’re also here for a football game. But there are generally three popular areas to tailgate, which correspond to parking, really. Because...well if I have to explain it, then it’s fine. I remember my first tailgate, too.
Anyway, the main tailgating spots will be of course, around the stadium. If you’re coming for the Virginia-Richmond game, that’s where you’ll find the Streaking the Lawn Kickoff Tailgate (sponsored by Snowing in Space!)—right in front of the Astronomy Building near the corner of Alderman and McCormick. Please come by and say hello! The other two main areas to tailgate are near the JPJ/UHall surface lots and the Fontaine Research Park. Wahoos are pretty friendly, so if you’re coming into town, feel free to drop into just about anyone’s tailgate. If you bring beer, I can’t imagine anyone turning you away. If you bring bourbon, well, be sure to come by the North E lot and find me (Brian).
A lot of people will bring grills and such, and so long as they’re propane and not charcoal, the University’s pretty cool with it. But if you’re traveling from afar, you might not have the ability to do all that, so you’ll want to know a few good spots to pick up food.
There’s something for everyone. If you’re coming in on Route 29 South and aren’t averse to fast food, “Chicken Row” has Chick-fil-A, KFC, Popeye’s, and Raising Cane’s not too far from the University. Zaxby’s is newer to Charlottesville than any of them and is across the way on 29 North. But if you want to be the most popular person at the tailgate, find your way over to Wayside, which is known in the ‘Ville as the best fried chicken and fixin’s you’ll find. Obviously this is ACC country, so you’ll also find a Bojangles in town, albeit a little further out (Pantops...completely reasonable to swing by on your way in).
Barbecue fans among us will find themselves at home at either Mission or Ace.
Looking to bring some sandwiches for the crowd? Look no further than Bellair Market (OK technically The Market at Bellair), which is located in a gas station. The Ednam, Farmington, and Jefferson are probably the three most popular sandwiches there, but you really can’t go wrong with anything on their menu. You also can’t go wrong with Bodo’s. More on that later.
More Things To Eat
Alright, so if you’re in town for more than just the tailgate, you’re probably going to be looking for a few eating opportunities. A recent Huffington Post article ranked Charlottesville as No. 14 on a list of U.S. cities based on restaurants per capita. There are a lot of options.
We mentioned Bodo’s above. There are three locations—29 North, Preston Avenue, and the Corner (more on The Corner later!). But if you haven’t heard of it, Bodo’s is an unreasonably affordable bagel shop that likely has the best value of any Charlottesville restaurant. In fact, it’s a great conversation starter—ask folks what their go-to Bodo’s order is. Try the deli egg. It’s been said that “The Best Bagels in the World Are in Charlottesville, Virginia.”
If you’re heading down McCormick Road and make a right onto University Ave, you’ll pass by the Rotunda on the right (wave) and then reach a strip of restaurants and bars in an area known as The Corner. There are a ton of great restaurants here, like Mellow Mushroom, Boylan Heights, The White Spot (Eric’s personal favorite), Littlejohn’s Deli, and College Inn—they all make for a filling meal before you head to your next destination. The Virginian has the best mac n cheese you’ll find in the area, and at night, you can dance on top of the tables.
There are also a ton of great restaurants along the Downtown Mall, a pedestrian area that’s nothing but restaurants, bars, and quaint little stores. Spots to hit downtown? Try out Citizen Burger Bar, Bluegrass Grill (Brunch!), or Christian’s Pizza by the slice. Marco & Luca is great for a quick dumpling snack, and definitely do not pass up on getting caffeinated at Grit Coffee.
Things to Drink
If you’re already downtown, you can just swing by South Street Brewery down there...super casual spot with pretty good brews. If you want to stay local, you can either go to, or just keep an eye out on tap for, Starr Hill (Crozet), Devil’s Backbone (Nelson County) or Three Notch’d (downtown Charlottesville). Also consider going to Kardinal Hall for just an outstanding beer hall. Got some free time on your hands? Drive out to Blue Mountain Brewery in Afton, VA, where you can get some pretty decent beers with a pretty incredible, vineyard-type view. (Their food is pretty good, too!)
Speaking of vineyards, this is central Virginia, which means there is wine. a. plenty. If you’ve got an extra half day to spend in and around Charlottesville, definitely hit up some of the staples for some awesome wine, great views, and relaxing environment. King Family Vineyards is one of the most well-known in town, and, bonus, they have polo grounds with matches on Sundays, and a renowned Crozet Rose—hey, this is UVA, what do you want from us? Other vineyards to check out? Veritas, Barboursville, Pippin Hill, Jefferson, and, for those looking for a story to take back home, Trump Vineyards (formerly Kluge Estate Vineyard).
There are a few distilleries nearby too, including Silverback and Vitae Spirits, to name a couple.
Places to Drink and Party
Alright, let’s say the Hoos won. You’re full already and you’re ready to go out. If you’ve only got a day or two in town, and you’re going for classic Charlottesville, you’ve got two choices. The Corner or Downtown.
The Corner spots include The Virginian (a popular—and therefore cramped—bar that iconically has everyone standing on top of tables singing Proud to be an American), Biltmore (drinks are great but also eat some thumbs and toes...yep, that’s what I said), Buddhist Biker Bar, and Boylan Heights (good chance you’ll run into a bunch of student athletes there).
Downtown includes Draft Taproom (approximately a bajillion serve-yourself taps and all the sports you’ve ever wanted on TV...plus a great menu and awesome staff), Miller’s (Dave Matthews used to work and play there), The Whiskey Jar (self explanatory in its name), and The Fitzroy (for something a little more upscale).
At the end of the evening, check out The White Spot with UVA’s signature dessert, the grillswith. Or the ever-popular Gusburger, a cheeseburger with a fried egg on top served 24 hours a day. It’s just about guaranteed to prevent any hangovers. Littlejohn’s is also open late and well worth the wait.
Alright, we basically just spent about 1,000 words on things to eat and drink. Maybe, just maybe, you’re also looking for things to see.
For convenience’s sake, we definitely recommend a stroll around the Academical Village to take in the Lawn rooms that date to the 1820s and the iconic Rotunda. Have you heard that the Rotunda and Academical Village is a UNESCO World Heritage Site? If you don’t have time to see this during the day, check out The Lawn at night, when it’s even more serene as statues of Homer, Jefferson, and Washington stand watch over the heart of the University.
After that, a trip to the bookstore to stock up on paraphernalia or anywhere else on Central Grounds that strikes your fancy isn’t a bad idea.
Monticello is almost a given if you have the time to tour the house, but Carter Mountain Orchard, with its charming country store and a picturesque view of Charlottesville, might be up your alley if fresh apple cider donuts are your thing—it’s fall, after all.
If you picked the right day to come, you might be able to head over to Klockner Stadium, the Turf Field, or Mem Gym to watch the soccer, field hockey, or volleyball teams in action.
Anything we missed? Sound off in the comments below!