Literary City Guide | Charlottesville, VA

I cannot live without books: but fewer will suffice where amusement, and not use, is the only future object.
— Thomas Jefferson (Jefferson to John Adams, June 10, 1815, The Adams-Jefferson Letters)

Tour Guide: Lindsey Hepler

Lindsey is the creator of The Next Course. Though she grew up in Texas, she calls Charlottesville “home.” An official resident for the past 2 ½ years, Lindsey loves to take in all Charlottesville has to offer, from the Saturday City Market, to the many great restaurants and nearby vineyards.  (All photos by Lindsey Hepler.)


Relationship to Charlottesville: Adopted native; Official resident for 2 ½ years + 4 years of college

Writer you'd like to invite to dinner: Ruth Reichl

Chef you'd like to prepare the meal: Local chef, Tucker Yoder

Writing soundtrack: Zoe Keating, Yoyo Ma, Bach, and Erik Satie

Pen or Pencil: Pen

Coffee or Tea: Depends on my mood… I used to be exclusively a (green) tea drinker, but lately I prefer coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon and evening.

Paperback or Hardback: Hardback

Good Reads


Used bookstores on the Downtown Mall: Though it runs for only 10 blocks, Charlottesville’s downtown mall is home to at least ten bookstores. Highlights include:

  • Daedalus Bookshop —The largest and oldest used bookstore in town, Daedalus specializes in fiction and stocks its shelves with upwards of 100,00 books. The Washington Post called it “a three-story temple of secondhand lit.”
  • Read it Again, Sam— Perfect when you have some time to kill before or after dinner. I love to browse the carts they have on the mall, outside the door.
  • Blue Whale Books – My favorite of the used bookstores, Blue Whale features gently used books as well as rare books, original prints, and antiquarian maps.

UVA Bookstore. Don’t be distracted by all of the UVA paraphernalia—the book selection is excellent, with a section devoted to recent works from UVA faculty. Also a great spot for art supplies.

New Dominion. The oldest independent bookstore in Charlottesville, this Downtown Mall shop often participates in Charlottesville’s First Friday art openings, with their lovely lofted gallery space at the rear of the shop.


UVA Libraries. As a public university, the UVA libraries are open to anyone and everyone. Fun to explore, each library offers its own distinct character. My favorite space is the McGregor room in Alderman library, AKA “The Hogwarts Room.”

Jefferson Madison Regional Libraries. Many locations in and around Charlottesville, including a brand new addition in Crozet. The Gordon Avenue location hosts a great used book sale every April.


Virginia Festival of the Book. Held every year in March, this five-day festival features over 100 seminars, readings, and panels. Something for everyone and not to be missed!

University of Virginia: Consistently ranked as one of the top MFA programs in the country, the UVA Creative Writing program hosts readings with alumni and other notable authors throughout the school year.

Writer House: A volunteer-run nonprofit that provides a space for aspiring writers to gather and work, leads classes and workshops, and hosts speakers and readings.


Special Collections Library at UVA. Contains more than 16 million objects, ranging from manuscripts and archival records to photographs and video recordings. This library is home to a vast collection of William Faulkner first editions, publications, and audio recordings.

Edgar Allen Poe’s room. Room #13 on the West Range. Poe was a student at UVA for 11 months in 1826, a fact of which UVA is very proud. His room has been maintained by The Raven Society since 1907, and was renovated in 2011.

Rare Book School. An independent non-profit based at the University of Virginia, the Rare Book School offers courses in multiple east coast locations on old and rare books, manuscripts, and special collections. Last year, RBS led a very cool project focused on “Why Books Matter.”

Good Eats


Para Coffee. On the UVA corner, Para coffee features regular poetry readings and concerts, plus they make their own nut milks!

Shenendoah Joe. There are two SJ locations in town—a roasting house and an espresso bar. They have the best selection in town, and turned my tea-drinking husband into a coffee connoisseur.

Shark Mountain Coffee. A relative newcomer, this off-the-beaten path coffee bar has high aspirations of turning Charlottesville into a hub of American coffee culture. They infuse their own syrups, nut milks, and chai, serve omelettes and pancakes on weekends, and roast their own cocoa beans. Worth the trip, for sure.

Calvino. If you want a meal to go with your coffee, this is the place. Located a Main Street Market, they serve delicious paninis and smoothies all day.


Feast! When I lived downtown, stopping here on my way home was my guilty pleasure! This specialty food shop in the Main Street Market offers local produce, artisanal cheeses, and delicious sandwiches and salads for lunch.

Commonwealth Restaurant and Skybar. Great food, great drinks, great location and ambience. Commonwealth serves brunch and dinner in the restaurant, plus bar snacks and small plates at the Sky Bar upstairs. I have never been disappointed with my meal.

Clifton Inn. A quaint bed and breakfast just outside of town, the Clifton Inn is the perfect place for a special occasion dinner. Much of the produce is grown on site, and chef Tucker Yoder is one of the best in town. Savvy foodies know to plan ahead to reserve the chef’s table in the kitchen.


Paradox Pastry Cafe. Run by a Le Cordon Bleu trained personal trainer–turned–bakery owner, Paradox offers gorgeous cakes, cookies, and more. Start your weekend off right with a cup of coffee and a chocolate croissant before heading over to the City Market.

Cappellino’s Crazy Cakes. While their cookie and cupcakes are delicious any time, this downtown mall cupcake shop is known for their lemon drop cupcake, which is said to induce labor. It’s become somewhat of a local legend, and many pregnant women eat one on their due date, hoping it will speed things along.


Lindsey's 5 Favorites

1. Favorite bookstore: Blue Whale Books. Although it has a smaller selection than some of the other nearby shops, but I always find something to pique my interest. I love the dark wood paneling and the low lighting.

2. Favorite place to write: At home – if I’m typing, I’ll be sitting at my desk in its sunny nook, but if I’m writing by hand, I’ll be curled up on the couch or sprawled out on the floor.

3. Favorite museum: Monticello. Thomas Jefferson’s home, just 15 minutes outside of the city, is always an inspiring place to visit. From the orchards, vineyards, and gardens; to the incredible house; to the lovely views, we never get tired of visiting.    

4. Favorite coffee shop: Para Coffee. My home-away-from-home for meetings and “special” coffees. I like the shabby-chic atmosphere, the friendly, knowledgeable baristas, and the homemade nut milks.

5. Favorite thing about Charlottesville: It’s a college town plus a small city, surrounded by rural areas – there’s history and culture, urban life and nature, all in one great package. The food scene is excellent, the arts scene, vibrant, but it’s a small enough place for everyone to know everyone—it’s a place to put down roots and call “Home.” 


“Read, read, read. Read everything -- trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You'll absorb it. Then write. If it's good, you'll find out. If it's not, throw it out of the window.”   William Faulkner