Here are my top choices for alternative gifts in the Charlottesville area:
1. Winery Hopping:
There are 23 wineries, cideries, and breweries within easy driving distance from Charlottesville, many of them critically acclaimed, all of them beautiful. Be the designated driver for a friend and let them enjoy tastings at a few wineries, or pick your favorite location and settle down for the afternoon with a cheese plate and a glass of your favorite wine.
Tastings tend to cost around $6-8 and most wineries let you keep your tasting glass as a souvenir. My favorite wineries are Veritas, King Family, and Loft Mountain. Bold Rock is a great choice if you prefer cider. Read more about the local wineries here.
2. Dinner and a Movie at Violet Crown:
Violet Crown is a new theater experience located on the Downtown Mall, a public, pedestrian mall in the heart of Charlottesville. Order food and a beer or glass of wine in the lobby and enjoy it while the movie is playing. I recently went to see Spotlight there with a Chicago-style hot dog in hand. I recommend napkins, both to dry your tears and to get all the mustard off your hands if you choose to partake in that particular experience. Pick your movie here.
3. Skyline Drive at Shenandoah National Park:
There are two entrances to Skyline Drive within 45 minutes of the city. The scenic road spans 109 miles through the Blue Ridge Mountains, but you'll probably want to choose your own adventure and exit the park at a convenient location for getting back home. This trip is great for people who love the outdoors, but don't necessarily have the stamina or the dedication to camp or go on a hike. Prepare to gasp at the beautiful, expansive views. Learn more here.
4. Hot Air Ballooning:
Hot air balloons are a big deal around here. On a calm day, it's not unusual to see half a dozen or more floating above you on your morning commute. There are several places to enjoy a hot air balloon ride, but Boar's Head is the one I hear about most often. It'll cost you around $200 per person for a 1 hour trip, but it will probably change your life, so really, it's cheap.
5. Vintage Shopping:
Here's my ideal day: drive out to Circa and poke through all the weird, vintage and secondhand collectibles and pretty furniture, stop into ReThreads for a quick scan through the racks, then head to the Downtown Mall to scope out the vintage clothing and accessories at Low Vintage and Ike's Underground. Stop by Paradox Pastry for a slice of Almond Pave and some tea, then go home and take a nap. I should be doing that right now instead of writing this post.
There are lots and lots of secondhand shops around town and you'll never get to all of them in one day. Check out my Resources page for more local recommendations.
6. Luray Caverns:
You'll have to drive about an hour out to get to Luray, but it is definitely worth it. Boasting an underground lake, cathedral-sized rooms, and a charming Stalag-pipe Organ (I'm not kidding - someone made an instrument out of the rock formations and it plays eery music), if you like caves, you'll love Luray Caverns.
Admission costs $26 per adult, but there are AAA and other discounts available, so make sure to ask about special offers before buying tickets. Learn more about Luray Caverns here.
Charlottesville is the bomb when it comes to unique, accessible experiences. I recommend that you check online for things to do in your locale if you're looking for alternative gifts this Holiday season. So much of this ethical shopping thing is about learning how to live with less stuff and enjoy life more. Don't be afraid to get out there and explore.