Charlottesville, a charming little city surrounded by the hazy Blue Ridge Mountains and acres of rolling farmland, bears the mark of Thomas Jefferson. The third president built his home in the hills nearby and founded the University of Virginia located here, which has continued to flourish over the intervening centuries. This Central Virginia town now ranks on many "best places to live" lists due in part to the influence of UVA and the mixture of arts, education and other college-town pluses it inspires. Expect to find here an active populous, increasingly green and at home in the Shenandoah peaks a short drive west.
One of the highest rated state universities in the country, UVA's classic buildings were designed by Jefferson, including the Rotunda which was styled after the Pantheon in Rome (tours are available). Nearby Bayly Art Museum presents works from the 15th-19th centuries, but for the real fine arts action head to Charlottesville's historic downtown (technically speaking there are two downtowns - the other is northwest up Main Street and fronts UVA campus), the Mall, a pedestrian- only area that runs from ethnic restaurants and street vendors to ecclectic shops, galleries and a children's museum (Virginia Discovery Museum). At the east edge of the Mall there is a small ampitheater, that plays host to a range of concerts and festivals, particularly during spring and summer. A few streets away in an old school buiding is the McGuffey Art Center, which puts on regularly changing exhibits by some of the 50 artists in residence (often studios are open to visitors) and other regional talents. Also of note in the area is the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Museum, which showcases an exceptional private collection of art and artifacts by Austrailian Aborigines.
From coffeehouses to fine cuisine, Charlottesville has a unique University town mix of dining opportunities. Southern Culture offers "upscale, down-home cooking" while Blue Moon Diner has a classic diner menu; neither is the nightlife ever boring, with many offerings from the Charlottesville and University Symphony Orchestra. From jazz to hip hop, the club and bar scene here covers many musical genres (incidentally the university town is the home of the Dave Matthews Band).
Most tourists come to the area to visit three presidential homes. Located three miles southeast of town, Thomas Jefferson's former home, Monticello is set on 1,000 acres of restored gardens and is open daily (guided tours only of the house itself).
Montpelier, one-time home of third president James Madison is located just south of the town of Orange (the residence itself recently restored), while Ash Lawn-Highland, the home of James Monroe, is located near Monticello and Michie Tavern, built in 1784.
Nearby Wintergreen Resort offers 19 ski slopes in addition to golfing, tennis, pools, a lake, biking and a 30-mile trai; there's also a spa to recover in when weary visitors are done with aforementioned activities.
Not to be overlooked between mountain scenery and the downtown scene is the long list of regional wineries - tours are available for those short a designated driver.
Located in Central Virginia, Charlottesville is about 70 miles northwest of Richmond, VA off I-64.