Spending a Weekend in Fredericksburg, Virginia
For obvious reasons, your college town will always have a special place in your heart. It's the first place you ventured out into with brand-new friends, got taken out on a "real" date, and flashed your I'm-finally-legal-to-drink ID. Picture perfect or not, it's where big changes happened in your life and you're not going to forget it. Lucky for me my college town is pretty beautiful and it's always a treat to head back and see what's new.
My college is located in Fredericksburg, Virginia about four hours from where I grew up. This proved to be just far enough to gain some independence but still get home easily over the holidays. Fredericksburg itself is the perfect suburb: quaint bungalow houses mixed with historic mansions on tree-lined streets, a quiet downtown with antique shops and little boutiques, and a budding restaurant scene. Fredericksburg is a little over an hour south of Washington, D.C. and a little over an hour north of Richmond right in the I-95 corridor. When I started there ten years ago (!!!), Fredericksburg was just starting to transform from this quiet Southern town into a more modern city that attracts artists, D.C. commuters, and young families. Fredericksburg is still proud of its historical roots; it's the childhood hometown of none other than George Washington and it's rolling hills are where the Civil War battle of Fredericksburg went down. While it still retains its historic sites and charm, it's trying to bring in more art and culture to attract a younger audience. I'm really excited to see that it has become more than a dusty historic downtown and now has amazing restaurants and bars to visit.
Nick and I headed down two weeks ago to visit my alma mater for homecoming and took the opportunity on a rainy Sunday morning to snap a few pictures of the downtown. It is awesome to see some beloved spots from college years have stuck around and other new spots have started to fill out the downtown area.
I honestly can't believe how much has changed in the six years since I graduated! What I love about this town is that, while it still appeals to history nerds (raise your hand along with me), it has opened its doors to restaurants, bars, shops, and industry that make it a place I would happily move back to. Now for my recommendations...
Where to eat (breakfast + coffee):
Hyperion Espresso, 301 William Street: If there's one place you have to visit in Fredericksburg, it's got to be Hyperion. Maybe I'm a bit biased because, well, coffee is a college student's diet staple but Hyperion is out of this world. It's located in the best corner location downtown and is just so cozy. Iced coffee in the summer, hot coffee in the winter, or any of their coffee, espresso, or tea drinks: you must get something at Hyperion.
Sugar Shack Donuts, 801 William Street: When college friends started posting about this fabulous donut chain that opened in an old gas station a block from campus, I was intrigued. Then Nick and I knew we were on to something good when we squeezed like sardines along with other patrons to try some of their house special donuts. My favorite was their fresh from the oven caramel sweet coconut but that is followed closely by the cinnamon sugar, lemon rosemary, red velvet, glazed, and pretty much anything else they have behind the glass. Nick's favorite? The chocolate frosted with Count Chocula cereal on top.
Where to eat (lunch + dinner):
Sammy T's, 801 Caroline Street: fantastic Fredericksburg institution that has unique sandwich and entree offerings with a heavy nod to vegans and vegetarians. I recommend the black bean quesadilla but you can't go wrong with anything on the menu!
Capital Ale House, 917 Caroline Street: sadly this restaurant and bar opened my senior year so I didn't get to take full advantage of this Virginia chain. This is the spot to meet up with friends for a burger and a beer, though their extensive draft list with 66 beers on tap might be overwhelming! Something I've never seen anywhere else and thought was GENIUS is a strip of ice along the bar where you can rest your beer and keep it cold.
Sunken Well Tavern, 720 Littlepage Street: One of my absolute favorites, a hop, skip, and jump away from the university. This teeny tavern located on a quiet corner in a Fredericksburg neighborhood has decent beers and can't-go-wrong dishes. On a rainy day (which there are a lot of down there!) cozy up on the bench along the wall with their famous three cheese grilled cheese sandwich and a bowl of tomato soup.
J. Brian's Tap Room, 200 Hanover Street: This is my favorite place in Fredericksburg, hands down. It's not on the main drag so it's a bit quieter and the restaurant is split into an eclectic dining room on one side and a cozy narrow bar on the other. My mouth is salivating thinking about their pizza and their wine selection. Of course, their beer list is killer as well, with plenty of local Virginia options, but I must have a glass of sauvignon blanc when I'm there. When the weather's nice, which in VA can be until mid-November, you can sit on the patio with your pet.
What to Do:
University of Mary Washington, main campus: My alma mater! This has easily been voted one of the most beautiful campuses in Virgina and even the mid-Atlantic region. You can't come to Fredericksburg and not stroll down Campus Walk, the brick-paved walkway that runs the length of the campus. I am insanely proud of the way the university is growing from the small public university in a small town to an educational leader in the D.C. area. While I am a bit sad that many things have been transformed to make way for a larger student body and more technology, you can still take your picture in front of classic buildings like Lee Hall and Ball Hall (my old dorm) and Seacobeck. Mary Washington started as a women-only teacher's college so you can still see some of the ballrooms and parlors where the ladies entertained their gentlemen callers. It's a tiny campus but fun to explore with all of its hidden historical gems.
Kenmore Plantation, 1201 Washington Ave: this colonial plantation house is a few blocks south of downtown and north of campus. During my junior year, I worked on completing the restoration of one of the main parlor's plaster ceiling and I can vouch for the incredible care and work they've taken to bring this house back to its former glory. It was built by Betty Washington Lewis, the sister of George Washington, and bullet holes in the rafter beams are from the intense Civil War battle of Fredericksburg. Take a walk through the neighborhoods surrounding the plantation to see the great mix of architecture that again reinforces that this town was built for us history nerds.
Visit a brewery: Spencer Devon Brewing, 106 George Street + Blue and Gray Brewing Company, 3300 Dill Smith Drive: you know a town is experiencing hipster transformation when not one but two breweries open up within the city limits. Unfortunately my trip was too short to head to either location but I did try Blue and Gray's Fred Red amber ale at the homecoming tailgate. Love at first sip! Spencer Devon is located right downtown, Blue and Gray is only a short ride out and both offer food.
The Fredericksburg Area Museum, 1001 Princess Anne Street: If you want to know more about the history of the town from its colonial roots to present day, this museum is the perfect place to start. Located on the corner across from Hyperion, the renovated museum space has great exhibits for adults and kids. Across the street is also Market Square where the museum often hosts weekend programs and live music.
Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, 120 Chatham Drive: Fredericksburg makes into the history books for its bloody Civil War battle. While the fighting extended into the downtown area, this battlefield is where most of it took place and historic buildings act as interpretation centers. It is gorgeous in the fall but interesting to visit any time of the year. Also great for a spooky night drive, not that I know from experience or anything...
All in all, I love my college town. Even though it wasn't the big city or a college-centric, Fredericksburg is the kind of town I know I'll visit again and again.