I am a Realtor.
Needless to say, I have a job that sometimes feels more like a Chamber of Commerce member or Walking Tour Guide than someone who sells properties in the area. That aside, I am a lifelong Richmonder (literally born, raised and educated) and I enjoy the ‘What should I do/see while I am in Richmond’ question. The answer has changed many times in my many years here and sure to change many more as the city continues to evolve.
Since there are numerous sources that can tell you Richmond’s history (very intense and not always positive) and spew many statistics (over 1M in the Metro area, home to many Fortune 500 companies and a Federal Reserve), I am going to give you a slightly different take on the insider’s perspective that is either a different way to do the typical things or suggestions that never seem to make the popular lists.
So here is my take on the alternative insider’s guide to Richmond…
See Monument Avenue – Many people outside of Richmond have heard of Monument Avenue and with good reason…it is truly spectacular. The cobblestone streets and grassy, tree-lined median give way to the iconic monuments and act as an homage to much of Richmond’s past. These iron and stone reminders of Richmond’s past are both powerful and enticing, but in many cases, can obscure the spectacular architecture that is the residential component of the avenue. If you are going to visit Monument Avenue, which you should, stop the car and walk. You will not fully grasp the importance of Monument Avenue until stop, stare and try to imagine the craftsmen and architects who built these homes with the tools of the era. Oh, and turn on Meadow Street and find Kuba Kuba…eat there…you will thank me.
Meander Through Hollywood Cemetery – The true history buff will know about Hollywood Cemetery, but the typical non-Richmonder will not. It is the final resting place of two US Presidents along with Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy during the Civil War. It is also, in my opinion, home to some of the most handsome and picturesque land in the region. Overlooking the prettiest parts of the James River, Hollywood Cemetery offers views of the south banks of the James and Downtown from some very special spots. While hanging out in a cemetery may strike some as odd, the power of the place is unmistakable its with stunning vistas and deep history. Pack a lunch, shut off the cell phone and pick a spot along the River…you may never want to leave. Oh, and seek out Mama Zu’s on the corner of Spring and Pine Streets (about 2 blocks from the entrance) and try the eggplant or the carbonara.
Attend a Show at the National Theater and The Modlin Center – I love music and I love performance. I am not smart enough nor cultured enough to understand many of the subtleties of the arts, but I know what I like and both of these venues enhance the experience, mostly due to their intimate nature. The National Theater (‘The Natty’ to many) is a concert venue created from the bones of an old Vaudevillian theater. It is small, loud and mostly a standing venue, but the proximity of the performers to the audience is what gives it its power. The typical acts can be described as mid-major but performers of all success levels have graced its stage.
The Modlin Center, located on the campus of the University of Richmond, is far more of a performing arts venue than the National Theater. It is relatively new and thus, the sound, lighting and other creature comforts are excellent. Artful shows such as Cirque Eloise (my daughter’s favorite) along with lighter musical acts than The Natty and other solo performances are more common there. Once again, the smaller space affords the audience the opportunity to see the performer’s expressions and hear the intonation in their voices. Its location, tucked away on the U of R campus, keeps it somewhat shielded from the public eye and thus, provides a relaxed atmosphere and a truly intimate setting.
Get Lost in the Ginter Park Neighborhood – In the early 1900’s, Major Lewis Ginter sought to create a neighborhood, accessible to Downtown via the trolley system, where a family could live in a home with a yard (as opposed to the connected row homes of the Fan District, Church Hill and Jackson Ward). While the homes in Ginter Park are some of the finest in all of Richmond, Seminary Avenue, in particular, is simply gripping. The diversity of architecture and scale of the homes is unique in our City. Despite some negative impact of traffic in nearby areas (a recurring theme in RVA), Ginter Park and the surrounding neighborhoods of Laburnum Park and Bellevue all offer a true glimpse of Richmond during some of its finest days. As with Monument Avenue, Ginter Park is best seen on foot and a leisurely stroll along many of the streets will give anyone with an appreciation for architecture and design a visual feast of residential architecture from an era we are unlikely to see again.
Spend an Afternoon in Carytown – Thrift shop…upscale boutique…cafe…used book store…spa…$1.00 movies…toys…deli…jeweler…chocolatier…art gallery…wine bar. Welcome to Carytown where eclectic is an understatement. The mix of shops and entertainment is unlike anywhere else in the Metro and the 8 block strip has a little something for everyone. In very few places can you find thriving upscale next door to thriving thrift, but here you can. While probably not as inherantly odd as Washington Square Park, Dupont Circle or Haight-Ashbury, the mix of people walking along the sidewalks of Carytown is pretty interesting. Finding a seat on the outdoor patio of Can Can means a fabulous combination of great food, excellent wine and casual people watching.
Visit Ashland – Most towns in America have a right and wrong side of the tracks. In Ashland, someone deemed both sides to be the ‘correct’ side as the largest and most inviting homes in the town are located right along the railroad. As a Realtor, we are generally taught to accept that the least valuable real estate in an area is located along railroads…but not in Ashland. Home to the small but quaint Randolph Macon College, Ashland boasts walkability to several excellent restaurants and a quirky live music venue. At its core, Ashland is a small, but thriving town whose Victorian homes form a picturesque version of Americana and offer some of the positive features of urban living without many of the negative ones. Catching an up and coming bluegrass band at Ashland Coffee and Tea while seeing and feeling the rumble of the coal and passenger trains on their way to points both north and south is somehow reminiscent of times past.
While there are many reasons to come visit Richmond, these are several of my favorite reasons to stay here.
Born, raised and educated in Richmond, Rick helped found the One South Realty Group in 2008. Having been in and around the real estate business since the early ’90’s, Rick has been involved in brokerage, development, new home subdivisions and renovation projects throughout the Metro. Rick’s blogging can be found in many places including RichmondVaMLS.net, RichmondVaCondos.net and AboutOneSouth.com.