Richmond is one of those great cities around the country that are just a lot of fun to visit, be it for a long weekend or something more extended. I recently had the great opportunity to revisit the capital of Virginia after an absence of many years, and the vibrant community I discovered has so far been one of the great highlights of the year. I want to share those things I experienced, from fun places to visit to incredible meals, to hopefully inspire your own trip to this dynamic city.
What to do
Since this is a brand new museum, I was especially excited to spend some time exploring the collection, and I wasn’t disappointed. Technically, the museum operates three sites: The Museum and White House of the Confederacy and the American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar in Richmond, and the Museum of the Confederacy–Appomattox, but it was the Tredegar campus where I found myself one summer morning. It only seems appropriate that this new museum, formed from the merger between the American Civil War Center and the Museum of the Confederacy sits in the former capital of the Confederacy, but I think it’s the site that gives the museum such impact. The main exhibit is incredibly well-curated and tells the entire story of the Civil War, from all viewpoints and without pulling any proverbial punches. It sets the context for the war and the deep ramifications that we as a country are still coping with today. It’s a powerful museum and should be everyone’s first stop in Richmond.
T. Tyler Potterfield Memorial Bridge
If you love the outdoors, there’s a lot in and around Richmond to enjoy, from river rafting to a Canal Walk and even visiting this remarkable bridge. The bridge itself links Brown’s Island and Manchester and this pedestrian and cycling pathway sits atop a former hydroelectric dam. Along the way you’ll enjoy unparalleled views of the city, while also getting a workout. It’s a beautiful way to reimagine a part of the city that had been neglected.
Located in the Lakeside neighborhood of Richmond, the Gardens have earned the reputation as one of the best in the country and, as I learned, this accolade is certainly well earned. It’s so much more than just an assemblage of plants, it’s a massive 50-acre facility but more importantly, visiting is an immersive experience. You can go and hang out in the butterfly room as exotic species land on your shoulder for a while or take part in one of the many enrichment activities they run all the time. What really warmed my heart though was seeing so many kids there. In an age defined by the digital experience, it’s amazing to see youngsters getting excited by a botanical garden. They’re learning things about the planet that they’ll remember forever.
For something a little different, I can’t recommend enough spending a little time at the eclectic and fun Valentine Museum. Richmond’s oldest museum, it’s dedicated to collecting, preserving and interpreting Richmond’s history but does so in a way that is very modern and not at all fussy. The Valentine’s permanent exhibition, entitled “This is Richmond, Virginia”, is on display on the main level and tells the story of Virginia’s Capital City along different themes. The objects on display are a part of the Valentine’s extensive collection and use diverse personal stories to tell the larger history of this dynamic region.
Richmond has some fun neighborhoods to explore, including the always-popular Carytown. Located near the Fan District, Carytown is best known for its many shops, restaurants and bars, including the quirky Jasper. Named one of the best new bars in the South, The Jasper only opened in 2018 but already has attracted a legion of loyal fans. They’re best known for their very quirky craft cocktails including the “Eeyore’s Requiem” which has Campari, gin, Cynar, Fernet Branca, blanc vermouth and orange bitters. There’s also the famous Quoit Club Punch, which has rum, brandy, madeira, lemon and sugar. If you get hungry while enjoying these incredible cocktails, then check out their menu which is designed to satisfy that peckishness we all get when enjoying a drink. Some of my favorite items from the menu include a chicken and pork terrine, rabbit rillette and Togarashi popcorn.
What to eat
SB’s Lakeside Love Shack
I truly love quirky cafes and restaurants where the personalities and passions of the owners are on full display. When you add in a love for the band the B-52s, you have a really strange but equally wonderful dining experience. Located in the trendy Lakeside community of Richmond, the Love Shack opened just a couple of years ago and was the dream of owner Sarabeth Hagen, who wanted a neighborhood hangout where folks could go and feel at home. Many of the recipes are inspired by family recipes, even if they have B-52 names like the “Bang Bang on the Door” Benny and the I Got Me A Chrysler Melt. The real theme here though is love and inclusion, and walking into the small space that always seems to be packed with hungry guests, it’s hard not to feel welcome. It’s a brunch only restaurant and closes in the early afternoon, so arrive early, arrive hungry and be prepared to smile throughout your entire meal.
Around the country there’s a growing trend of passionate entrepreneurs getting into both brewing and distilling and one of the movement’s leaders not only in Richmond, but in Virginia is Reservoir Distillery. Founded by childhood friends Jay Carpenter and Dave Cuttino, the goal was to both honor the heritage of southern whiskey while also disrupting the industry. More than ten years later, it seems that the plan has worked. They’re a small batch distillery and their spirits have won more awards than can be respectfully named. They also take pride in their region with the grains sourced within 50 miles of the distillery itself. Today their tasting room is located in the very quickly up and coming Scott’s Addition part of Richmond where they’re one of many creative culinary entrepreneurs changing the landscape of the city.
LUNCH. | SUPPER!
Located within walking distance of Reservoir Distillery in Scott’s Addition is yet another quirky restaurant that I’m almost at a loss to properly describe. With separate dining spaces and menus for lunch or supper, the restaurant’s goal is to create homey but elevated meals that are mostly all inspired from southern cuisine. I think. What I do know is that it’s an incredibly fun place to enjoy a delicious meal with friends and was one of the best evenings I enjoyed in Richmond. Starting off with cracklins and pimento cheese, I migrated on to a delicious pork and spätzle main dish before finishing my evening with a decadent Krispy Kreme bread pudding. All were flavors I knew and loved, but presented in ways I hadn’t expected. I love that and I know my first meal won’t be my last.
Where to stay
It’s safe to say that the luxurious Jefferson Hotel in Richmond, Virginia is not your average hotel. Built by a tobacco magnate in the 19th century, this impressive property has had a decidedly quirky history. From housing alligators in front of the hotel to surviving fires and downtimes, the Jefferson Hotel of the 21st century though has never been better, as I learned during a recent stay. The Jefferson is both historic and luxurious and my time spent there was as enjoyable as I can remember. Whether it was the incredibly friendly staff or just the comfort of the room itself, whatever “it” was made an impression on me and it’s a place that I know I’ll never forget. I feel bad for those people who say that where they spend the night doesn’t matter, because that can’t be further from the truth. If you choose carefully, a great hotel will enhance your trip in ways you could never imagine. It becomes an integral participant in your adventures and for me, I couldn’t have picked a better travel partner than the Jefferson Hotel.