Each time I return to my hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia, I’m amazed by the quality of life enjoyed there—natural beauty, excellent dining and an interesting, intellectual community supported by the University of Virginia. When I went home this Christmas, husband and two-year-old in tow, I discovered a new side of the town that’s great for traveling families. Parents with young children should start their morning at C’ville Coffee, a cheerful café near historic downtown with a play area for children to scamper while tired moms and dads caffeinate in (relative) peace. We went almost every day and couldn’t get enough of their homemade cookies. We also returned, as we do every time we’re visiting, to Ash Lawn-Highland, the estate of President James Monroe and the lesser-known neighbor of Jefferson’s Monticello. My husband and I were married here, and our toddler loved roaming the expansive grounds and visiting the sheep, cows and peacocks that live on the working farm.
We had two great nights out, one at a local brewery and the other at a legendary restaurant. For a casual evening, head to South Street Brewery to try their local beers, brewed on-premise. Arrive early and they’ll take you on an impromtu tour of where the behind-bar facilities where the seasonal ales are made. (Call ahead to confirm as this may be difficult when the restaurant is very busy.) South Street does not bottle their beer or sell kegs elsewhere, so this is the only place in the world to get your hands on a $4 pint of Satan’s Pony, a pale ale so popular they struggle to keep enough on tap. The menu is typical pub grub but the burgers are great, and children are very welcome.
For a child-free evening, book a table at the C&O, an utterly charming and romantic restaurant across from the old train station downtown. Open since 1976, the eatery has been hailed by Food and Wine, Bon Appetit and the Washington Post, and I absolutely second their recommendation. Gas lanterns mark the entrance to the restaurant, and diners can choose between the bustling downstairs bistro, mid-level mezzanine or the more formal upstairs. I’d eaten upstairs growing up, but for a couple and in cold weather, the cozy mezzanine is the place to be. Although the menu changes frequently to reflect seasonal offerings, dishes like the decadently rich sweetbreads, served with a creamy green peppercorn and Marsala cream sauce and homemade brioche, have been on the list forever—and with good reason. We ate almost every part of an animal you can imagine and were waited on by helpful and friendly servers who seemed as knowledgeable about the food as a chef. A meal here will now be tradition every time I’m in town.
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