It’s hard to travel in any direction in Metro Richmond without running head-long into history. Hence, it would be impossible to put together the consummate weekend getaway for history lovers. Your personal interests would dictate how and where you’d spend such a weekend. But if you asked me how I’d spend my history-filled weekend, here’s what I’d tell you.
The first thing I would do is make reservations for the Jefferson Hotel (101 W. Franklin St.). “Authentically opulent. Eternally relevant.” I stole that apt description from the Jefferson’s website.
You may be tempted to check in on Friday evening and never leave your room, but we have lots to see and do. First things first, let’s get you some dinner. Personally, there’d be no better way to begin than by taking in the Happy Hour in Lemaire, the hotel’s posh restaurant. Having a drink and appetizer amidst the polished-marble columns and the dark-wood furnishings just drives home the fact that you’re embarking on a very special weekend. No one will have to know that you’re taking advantage of Lemaire’s fantastic Happy Hour, which, on Friday nights features $5 Manhattans and Cosmos.
After drinks, Uber over to The Franklin Inn (800 Cleveland St.) on the corner of Cleveland and Franklin. The Franklin Inn opened as a neighborhood restaurant back in 1930. In 2010, new owners decided to restore the inn to very much what it had been in its heyday. Renovation began under the strict guidelines of the federal and Virginia historic commissions. Today, you can enjoy the charm of the Inn as well as a delightful, yet somewhat simple, menu, which you can peruse at TheFranklinRVA.com.
Let’s make it an early night. Tomorrow is going to be a busy day.
As Saturday morning dawns, you’ll be up and ready to hit the streets. But first, a good breakfast is in order. As you descend the grand stairway, you might envision yourself as Scarlett O’Hara (or Rhett) at Tara. Despite rumors to the contrary, the set of Gone With the Wind was not modeled after this stairway. Actually, the Jefferson’s is much nicer. TJ’s, on the lower level of the hotel, opens at 7 a.m. on Saturdays. Choose from an omelet, a Benedict or perhaps something from the griddle.
If the weather cooperates, Saturday morning would be the perfect time to take advantage of one of The Valentine’s (Richmond’s history museum) daily walking or biking tours of Downtown Richmond, historic Church Hill or even Hollywood Cemetery. Did you know that Hollywood is second only to Arlington National Cemetery as the most visited cemetery in the nation? It serves as the final resting place for two American presidents, six Virginia governors, two Supreme Court justices, 22 Confederate generals and thousands of Confederate soldiers.
Check the Valentine’s online calendar to determine which tours are available on the weekend of your visit. Another option is to take a Segway tour of Hollywood. Segway of Richmond typically offers the tour on Sundays. But, you may be able to arrange such a tour for another time. Phone them at 804-343-1850 for more information.
If the weather does not cooperate, visit what may be the city’s number one historical attraction, the State Capitol Building (1000 Bank St.). The Capitol was conceived by Thomas Jefferson and Charles-Louis Clérisseau in France and completed in 1788.
It’s open to visitors from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and from 1 to 5 p.m. on Sundays. Self-guided and guided tours are offered. Go to VirginiaCapitol.gov for details.
Following your morning activities, head for the hills. Church Hill, Libby Hill, Union Hill and Fulton Hill are where Richmond was born. Unless you live here, or really know these neighborhoods intimately, it’s difficult to know where one hill stops and another begins.
Standing on Libby Hill, William Byrd, II, the founder of the city, looked down on what is now known as the James River and realized how similar the view was to the Thames, back in London. Byrd was especially reminded of one area, today a suburb of London, known as Richmond.
The Hill Café (2800 E. Broad St.) would be a great lunch spot. The café — one of the oldest in a section of the city that has seen tremendous renovation, transformation and growth in recent years— offers comfort food in a cozy, casual setting. Of course, there are other wonderful dining options in this area. (Check our dining guide at the end of this piece.)
Walk three blocks west of the café, to 2401 E. Broad, and you’ll be standing in front of St. John’s Church…the “church” in “Church Hill.” It was here, on March 23, 1775 at the Second Virginia Convention, that George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and other important figures in the American Revolution listened as Patrick Henry delivered his famous “Liberty or Death” speech. If you come back on Sunday afternoon, you can hear a reenactment of this stirring speech, which is said to have ignited the Revolutionary War.
Depending upon how much time you spend in Church Hill, you may have enough time to head about 18 miles south of the city to Henricus Historical Park. You’re going to be enjoying a very special dinner near there a little later.
In September, 1611, just four months after landing at Jamestown, Sir Thomas Dale moved upriver and established the colony’s second settlement, Henricus. Sitting high on a bluff overlooking the Powhatan (James) River, Henricus was much more ideally situated than was Jamestown, and Dale confidently expected that it would replace Jamestown. However, an Indian uprising 11 years later put an end to Henricus. It was never resettled. The recreated 1611 “Citie of Henricus,” an outdoor living history museum with 12 recreated colonial structures, demonstrates history through hands-on encounters with period-dressed historical interpreters. Henricus is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.
We told you that dinner was going to be very special. Tonight, you’ll be dining in an establishment that offered respite for the weary traveler between Richmond and Petersburg long before the Revolutionary War. The Half Way House (10301 Jefferson Davis Hwy.) was built in 1760. Even today, the kitchen is housed in a structure that is separated from the quaint manor house, where you can feast on traditional American fare from seafood to steaks. Perhaps the most popular dish is the house special, which features a small filet along with either the jumbo gulf shrimp or the Chesapeake crab cake. Reservations are strongly recommended.
After a full day, it will feel so nice to return to your luxurious room at the Jefferson. As wonderful as your dinner has proven to be, tomorrow you’re going to finish your staycation with one of the city’s most spectacular weekly dining events. Yes, on Sunday, get ready to feast on the Jefferson’s fabulous brunch. This is one occasion when even the foodiest of foodies smiles at the term “all you can eat.” You’ll find such exquisitely prepared items as freshly made waffles with fruit toppings, various egg specialties and assorted Danish pastries. But it’s the lunch items that I’ll be heading for, such as the seafood display with smoked salmon, mussels, scallops, poached shrimp and oysters on the half shell or the chef’s weekly choice of carving stations featuring roasted prime rib, New York strip loin, turkey, lamb or glazed ham. Of course, there’s so much more. But you’ll just have to check it out for yourself.
By the time brunch is done and you’ve checked out of your room, you may want to head home and take a nap, but should you still have a little more explorer left in you, we have a list of recommended attractions below.
One thing is certain. By the time you arrive home, you’ll know you had a Richmond staycation of historic proportions.
The American Civil War Museum and White House of the Confederacy (1201 E. Clay St.)
Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia (122 W. Leigh St.)
Chimborazo Medical Museum (3215 E. Broad St.)
Virginia Historical Society (428 N. Blvd.)
The Valentine (1015 E. Clay St.)
Other Church Hill Dining Options
Alamo BBQ – Texas-style barbecue and tacos (2202 Jefferson Ave.)
Liberty Public House – Sandwiches, salads, steaks and seafood (418 N. 25th St.)
Metzger Bar and Butchery – German inspired cuisine (801 N. 23rd St.)
Nile – Ethiopian fare (306 N. 29th St.)
Proper Pie Co. – Sweet and savory New Zealand-style pies (2505 E. Broad St.)
The Roosevelt – New Southern fare (623 N. 25th St.)
See more in our staycation series:
Staycation with the Kids
Staycation for Foodies
Staycation for Art Lovers