When most Washingtonians think of Charlottesville, they think of blue, orange, football, and the frat boys of UVA--not exactly ideal for a relaxing beginning-of-summer getaway. But school is now officially out, making this easygoing college town an ideal destination for a last-minute Memorial Day trip. And good news: There's plenty to do off-campus, particularly in the buzzing, brick-lined downtown, where restaurant seating spills outdoors and onto the main drag and the shopping is seriously, surprisingly good. Our suggestion: Spend Sunday and Monday sipping at some of the nearby breweries (we hear good things about Blue Mountain and Wild Woof) or vineyards, but reserve Saturday--the day of the not-to-miss farmers market --for some retail therapy at this impressive collection of stores.
On-Trend and Affordable
Graduate students keep coming back to Bittersweet for its budget-friendly prices. Total coincidence, but on our last visit, every sweet sundress and ikat skirt that caught our eye was an ultra-reasonable $64. The clothing and accessory mix veers boho-chic, and boutique bestsellers like BB Dakota, Aryn K, and Mink Pink can be found in abundance. Also great: the back wall filled with Toms shoes. 106 E. Main St.; 434-977-5977.
Mimicking the Museum District
Taking the "clothing as art" concept very seriously, long and skinny Verdigris welcomes visitors with a display of half a dozen eclectically clad mannequins suspended in mid-air. The clothing racks along the wall opposite this mini exhibition are stuffed with similarly arty yet surprisingly wearable finds--blousy tops, pretty Nicole Miller dresses. Verdigris also stocks an extensive selection of hard-to-find but perfect for summer Swedish Hasbeen sandals and the brand's even-trickier-to-locate leather bags. 107 East Main St.; 434-293-4747.
Derriere de Soie is everything we dream of in a lingerie boutique. The bras and panties are pretty and feminine without being overly frilly (brands include Stella McCartney and La Fée Verte), and robes and rompers (Josie Natorie, Mimi Holliday) come covered in big, bold florals and fresh polka dots. Just in time for summer, the retro-meets-modern swimsuits by Zinke make a sweet poolside statement. 105 E. Main St.; 434-977-7455.
Something for Every Style
If Georgetown boutique M29 carried more clothes than gifts, we imagine it'd look a lot like Eloise. Bright and airy, the shop carries Anthropologie-esque items such as easygoing dresses and separates from Steven Allan, Virginia Johnson, Milly, Rory Beca, and so much more. There're also Claire Vivier pochettes, Southwestern-style Vanessa Mooney bracelets, and plenty of giftable knickknacks and beauty potions. Don't be too proud to rummage through the $10 bin--there are finds to be had if you're willing to dig. 219 W. Water St.; 434-295-3905.
Recharge your batteries with a cappuccino at Mud House, where you're just as likely to see someone painting on a canvas as tapping away at a laptop. High ceilings, big leather armchairs, and a handsome chess set encourage patrons to linger long after their coffees are finished. 213 W. Main St.; 434-984-6833.
Quick Gift Stop
The four-month-old Compliments makes picking out bridesmaid favors super easy. Fill a Baggu leather coin purse with mini Deborah Lippmann nail polishes, cloth hairties, and a pretty pair of sparkly gemstone earrings, and you're set. 209 Second St. W.; 434-295-6108.
Stylish but Not Snobby
The Charlottesville answer to Cady's Alley boutique Relish is absolutely EG (109 South First St.; 434-979-2888), where the sophisticated mix of Rag & Bone, Corey Lynn Calter, Harvey Faircloth, and Current/Elliott comes off equal parts intelligent, creative, and unassuming. Major accessory scores like Billy Reid espadrilles and Fleabag totes round out the selection in the casual-chic space, which connects to children's boutique Petit Bebe (115 S. First St.; 434-244-9500). This mommy-blogger dream come true is packed with tiny peasant blouses and striped dresses by Petite Bateau, Rickshaw Design, Splendid, and more.
Vintage lovers will adore sifting through Low, a spacious basement-level vintage shop just off the main downtown drag. Racks filled with '80s fashions and prairie-style dresses begging to be re-hemmed share the floor with cowboy boots and men's varsity jackets; there's also a sizable collection of retro homewear and old vinyl. 105 Fifth St., SE; 434-293-9082.
Pick up something for Mom and Dad (or your more domestic couple friends) at Roxie Daisy, an almost-year-old home design and gifting emporium. Inside the three-room space, vintage wooden cabinets and tables are stacked with sublimely simple ice tea pitchers, antique bird cages, and plenty of patterned linens and pillows. Decadent candles and Lollia bath products round out the homey yet stylish collection. 101 E. Water St.; 434-202-8133.
Charlottesvillians love to soak up the warm weather at the rooftop "skybar" at newcomer Commonwealth (422 E. Main St.; 434-202-7728). Out with your girlfriends? Get the party started with a Ladies' Night cocktail, made with Ciroc Red Berry, Patrón Citronge, POM juice, and simple syrup. Also fun: the back-to-basics Whiskey Jar, where old wooden barrels sub in for front porch tables, and brown liquors are served in Mason jars. 227 W. Main St; 434-202-1549.
Off Downtown but Still Worth Checking Out
Footwear and accessory haven Scarpa (Italian for "shoe") breaks up the monotony of chain-store-filled Barracks Row with colorful options from Sam Edelman, Botkier, Will Leather Goods, MZ Wallace, and Stuart Weitzman. 2114 Barracks Rd. #A; 434-296-0040.
Halfway between Downtown and the Corner lies the Main Street Market, a cool complex home to nine locally owned and operated small businesses. Our favorite shop is the gorgeous Sustain (406 West Main St.; 434-244-0028), which stocks environmentally friendly women's clothing and accessories by Annie Griffin, Lara Miller, Alkemie, and more. Upstairs you'll find a small paper goods shop and a pretty little patio.
All store photographs courtesy of the shop.