29. Richmond, Virginia


Richmond was a city Jake and I had been wanting to visit for a long time, and we finally got there this Memorial Day. I’d seen more than a few articles likening it to other hip, southern cities like Charleston, and I was excited to see just what sparked the comparison.

We started off early–and with an agenda. When we pulled into town, between 8:00 and 9:00 a.m., we drove directly to the Virginia state capitol, a Thomas Jefferson-designed building in the Monumental Classical style. Because it was so early, we didn’t attempt to go inside, but we strolled around the grounds looking at the sculptures and monuments and reading the placards. It’s definitely one of the prettier state capitol buildings I’ve seen (sorry, Illinois–shudder), and as it’s been home to the general assembly since 1788 (the oldest legislature continuously operating in the Western Hemisphere, says its website), there’s plenty of history there. I forgot my phone in the car for this portion of the trip, so you’ll have to go see what it looks like for yourself.

We then drove down Monument Avenue, which featured a series of–you guessed it–monuments paying tribute to Confederate leaders. It’s a pretty street, but I kind of hate anything having to do with the Civil War, let alone the Confederacy, so we glossed over it pretty quickly.

That fact will also explain how and why we managed to breeze through Hollywood Cemetery–a site where you can easily spend an entire day, the elderly staffer at the front gate told us–in about half an hour. It’s home to two dead presidents–James Monroe and John Tyler–and after spending about 20 minutes hunting for their burial sites, a few minutes gazing upon them and a couple more checking out the river view, we were out of there.

By that time, businesses were open, so we stopped by Union Market, a neighborhood grocery store featuring a walk-up window for ordering food. I thought if it had anything in common with DC’s Union Market, it would more than do the trick, and it didn’t disappoint.

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After scarfing some vegetable soup for breakfast (and buying, like…a few chocolate bars), we drove over to James River Park and headed to Belle Island (this page explains how to get there). It’s an area surrounded by large, flat rocks, where we were surprised to find tons of people sunbathing–a river alternative to the beach. There are hiking trails in the area, which we took for a little while, but mostly we just climbed around on the giant boulders and took photos. Voila.




I then dragged Jake to Carytown, a lively, quirky shopping neighborhood, so that I could pay homage to the brick-and-mortar iteration of Need Supply Co., an online minimalist clothing mecca I discovered earlier this year.


To my relief, it was open despite the holiday, and I did some damage while Jake wandered around.


Unfortunately, many of the restaurants we were interested in didn’t share the same holiday business mentality. So many places we tried to go were closed; We were working from this list from Tasting Table and very nearly struck out. Luckily, Lunch was open for lunch (how apropos), so we hit it up.


Even after all we’d accomplished that morning, though, the afternoon’s sites were my favorite. From Lunch, we went to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, which, as an art lover, blew me away. I was so impressed with both the building and the collection considering the city’s size, and the grounds–which featured Chihuly glass–were gorgeous, too. To top it off, the museum had an exhibition about the evolution of flower painting going on, and it was easily one of my favorite I’ve ever seen. I’d highly recommend the VMFA to any Richmond visitor, whether or not it’s the type of thing they’re usually into.

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Next, we drove to Maymont, a 19th-century estate with grounds and gardens that couldn’t have been lovelier. As the sun was beating overhead when we visited, I’m ashamed (but not surprised) to say that my photos largely turned out like garbage, but GO and see the beautiful gardens on your own. Maymont has both an Italian-style garden and a Japanese-style garden, and both were stunning.

We didn’t want to leave Richmond without crossing a new brewery off the list, so in the late afternoon we headed over to Strangeways Brewing. I know being strange–or “exquisitely peculiar,” as they put it–is kind of their thing, but I have to say, it was pretty disappointing as breweries go. There are plenty of other options to choose from in the area if you want to do something similar, though.

Last stop: The Magpie for dinner. A+ choice, if I do say so myself.

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