Being from Virginia we are so lucky we live near amazing pieces of history. For the last few years I have wanted to get back to Virginia’s Monticello and experience it as an adult (I have dim memories of my parents taking me as a kid).
A friend and I took a two day trip to Charlottesville, VA with our primary goal being to visit Monticello but we ended up in some other amazing locations. So here is our road trip!
Buy your Virginia’s Monticello Tickets Before You Go
I wanted to do the full Monticello Experience if we were going to go. They have several types of house tours available but the most extensive is the Behind The Scenes House Tour and Day Pass. The tour is only done a few times a day and I was scared if we waited until the day of to buy the tickets they would be sold out. Plus we were able to get the first time of the day. I like being on the first tour possible so in case they run late we aren’t stuck waiting. The tickets were $60 but it included admission into everything.
One of the things I liked best about Monticello was that once you got in your ticket gave you access to just about everything. Other historic houses have cheaper admission but then charge for all kinds of tours. I’ll talk more about the tour below.
The Barbeque Exchange
On the beautiful drive to Charlottesville we decided we would let Yelp reviews pick where we ate lunch. OH MY GOSH. Yelp did not steer us wrong.
It took us a tiny bit out of the way (but the view was so spectacular we didn’t care) to the Barbeque Exchange in Gordonsville, VA. When we drove up you could smell the BBQ from the wood-burning cookers in the back of the restaurant. It was like they were luring us in. Sirens of smell.
When we got inside we found a huge selection of food- along with the meat there were freshly baked rolls, cornbread (SO GOOD) and pumpkin muffins. Homemade pickles, salads, and slaws are served with the sandwiches, and sides include Brunswick Stew, Donna’s Baked Beans, Hushpuppies, Macaroni and Cheese, and even Collard Greens! There were tons of salad items as well- you could make a beautiful salad and eat healthier.
The desserts looked amazing but we didn’t partake because we were going to a wine tasting in a bit. The style of service is quick-counter and take-out but they have tables both inside and out you can use.
We tried all the sauces, the bacon dust and used all the napkins in the place. It has a beautiful, relaxed atmosphere and was a nice stop on our road trip.
After our wine tastings we checked into our Air BnB and went to Downtown Charlottesville. We ate at Citizen Burger Bar which was amazing and just walked around. It’s a wonderful way to spend an evening.
When you arrive at Monticello they have this beautiful welcome center. Parking was free and since we were on the first tour of the morning we parked close to the door. After checking in we wandered around in the exhibits they had set up. You would have to check their website to see what the current exhibits are.
There are two options to get to the house (Jefferson wanted his house built on a mountain top and he did it). You can walk up to the house or take a bus (seen in the back). We decided to take a bus as we were pressed for time. But we did stop to take the obligatory picture with Thomas Jefferson himself. It is quite possibly one of the worst pictures ever taken of me.
The house itself is always amazing to see. But when you get to the top don’t forget to turn around. Jefferson picked an amazing place to build his home and the views are STELLAR. So as we waited for the tour guide we took in the scenery.
For those of you who aren’t too familiar with Thomas Jefferson let me tell you something about him- he wrote EVERYTHING down. With the exception of his relationship with Sally Hemings just about every part of his life is incredibly well documented. It makes for an AMAZING house tour because the guide has so much information.
Here is the description of the tour:
Have you always wanted to go upstairs at Monticello? This exclusive pass takes you behind the scenes: through the first floor of Monticello and up the narrow staircase to explore the private quarters on the second and third floors, including the iconic Dome Room. Along the way, you will see unique architectural features and visit newly restored spaces that reveal the complexities of family life at Monticello. Learn about the Jefferson, Hemings, and Randolph family, as well as other free and enslaved people who lived and labored in the house. The Behind-the-Scenes tour provides a fuller picture of life at Monticello, and a better understanding of the complex world surrounding the man who authored the Declaration of Independence.
You aren’t allowed to take pictures in the bulk of the house but you can on that third floor that you can only see on this tour. The entire house is absolutely extraordinary.
This is the view from the upstairs window.
Jefferson was one of the first men of his time to recognize the practicality of having the kitchen attached to the house.
Other Notable Things about Virginia’s Monticello
If you can please eat lunch at Monticello. The parking lot is close enough you could absolutely pack a lunch to be more frugal and eat at one of the tables. But the food at the Cafe at Monticello was top notch. I’m sad we forgot to take pictures of the food.
We took the Slavery at Monticello Tour (depending on the time of year various tours are offered). It’s free, offered several times a day and included with admission. It takes about 40 minutes and, due to Jefferson’s meticulous record keeping, incredibly informative. There was much about the lives of his slaves I didn’t know.
Inside the Slave Cabin.
Before we went to Monticello I read Saving Monticello: The Levy Family’s Epic Quest to Rescue the House that Jefferson Built (it was at the local library). The Levy family basically saved Monticello from falling into ruin between Jefferson’s death and when it was acquired by the current foundation that maintains it. One of their family members is buried on the property.
Thomas Jefferson, his wife and his descendants are buried on the property. Some very recently. This is not Jefferson’s original tombstone- until the property was secured people would trespass and chip off pieces of his stone to keep for themselves.
The grounds themselves are stunning and we spent a great deal of time just walking around and looking at everything.
Want to plan a vacation on your own? Check out Ways To Save on Family Travel!