During my 10 years living in Richmond, Va., I used to refer to the River City as Hotel California — as in, you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave. And really, who would want to? It’s a city that gets under your skin in the best possible way. It’s tough to beat that winning combination of Southern charm, funky fashion, history, great shopping, cutting-edge art and music everywhere and, perhaps most importantly, amazing food. (FYI: Richmond’s dining scene gained a ton of attention over the past few of years, but it has always been great. People are just finally noticing.)
Have I convinced you to hop in the car — or, better yet, catch a train — and head south yet? If so, here’s how you can make the most of your getaway:
Where to stay:
If you book someplace in the ultra-suburban areas of Innsbrook or Short Pump, you’re not really staying in Richmond. That’s for people attending conferences. If you want to experience this vibrant city to the fullest, I highly recommend the newish and thoroughly gorgeous Quirk Hotel smack dab in the middle of a quickly revitalizing area of downtown and surrounded by fantastic restaurants. It’s filled with modern and yes, quirky artistic touches from local artists, with the resulting vibe of a cross between a Kimpton and an Ace Hotel — yet wholly unique. Be sure to check out the hotel’s glam rooftop bar at night and the gift shop by day. For something more traditional, try The Berkeley Hotel or the super-luxe Jefferson Hotel, both of which are surrounded by walkable restaurants.
Where to eat:
I could fill an entire book about where to eat in Richmond, but in the interest of keeping things from getting too overwhelming, let’s start our 24 hours with coffee and a breakfast sandwich at one of Lamplighter Roasting Co.’s three locations. For lunch, a trip to 8 ½ for some penne carbonara and a white pizza is a must. Since it’s to-go only and wait times for food can be surprisingly long (it’s worth it!), call it in 30 minutes before you’re hungry and drive your prize over to Maymont for a picnic on the public lawn in the shadow of a gorgeous turn-of-the-previous-century mansion. For pre-dinner drinks and snacks, head to Pasture for cocktails and outstanding versions of steak tartare and pimento cheese with Ritz crackers.
As for dinner, my last trip revealed a gem of a place called L’Opossum garnering tons of attention from locals, visitors, and even the James Beard Foundation, which named chef-owner David Shannon a semifinalist for Best Chef Mid-Atlantic earlier this year. You’ll find cheeky dish names and descriptions, such as the polyamorous hippie three-way (that’s Shannon-speak for toasted papadoms with black-eyed pea hummus, “tomatoganoush” and quinoa tabbouleh) or the coq au Morocco with the hilarious subtitle: “A Succulent Young Chicken’s Exotic Journey From the Rough Trade Markets of Marrakesh to the Sublime Discovery of Savory Cous-Cous with Harissa, Raita & Other Forbidden Carnal Delights.” Among the current menu offerings, we loved the escargots served with a ham biscuit; the “swanky mac” — a bowl of pasta studded with lobster in a white truffle mornay sauce; and the Swashbuckling Bundt Pirate Drenched in Hot Buttered Rum, an amazing dessert that may or may not be served on a vintage Aquaman plate. Trust me: What sounds kitschy on the menu delivers 100 percent on the plate.
For brunch on your second day, lazy folks will be happy to learn that the Quirk Hotel’s lobby restaurant, Maple & Pine, puts on quite a good one featuring an excellent house-blend coffee and welcoming service. Order a heaping seasonal brunch salad and something stick-to-your-ribs, like the Korean-inspired eggs benedict that we adored.
What to do
If you really only have 24 hours, we recommend hitting the aforementioned Maymont. History and art buffs can tour of the historic mansion; gardeners will appreciate a stroll through its Japanese and Italian gardens; while kids and animal lovers will delight in watching otters dive and play at the nature center. Later, drive through the historic Fan District to peep at the colorful rowhouses and work in a shopping trip to Carytown, where you can find eclectic gifts and housewares at Mongrel, sift through vintage clothes and baubles at Bygones, flip through records and CDs at Plan 9 and even grab a second-run movie at Richmond’s historic movie palace, The Byrd Theatre. By the time you leave the city, you’ll be planning your next trip back for visits to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, a walk through the historic Hollywood Cemetery, a hike around Belle Isle and — of course — more eating.