12 Unique Things to Do in Richmond, Virginia
Every time I step outside my house and into my backyard of RVA, I swear I stumble upon new restaurants, bars, and places that I have never seen before. Just going out and exploring is one of the best things that you can do in the city, but it can get a little overwhelming when presented with hundreds of options about what to do and where to eat.
Lucky for you (and not so bad for me), I have taken it upon myself to taste, see, and experience as much of Richmond as humanly possible. After much research, some sore legs, and a full stomach, I have compiled a list of my favorite spots in Richmond, Virginia.
Best Places to Eat and Drink in RVA
1. Secret Sandwich Society
I’m going to go ahead and start off with one of my all time favorites. A 100% wind powered franchise, this downtown restaurant is a true engineer when it comes to anything between two pieces of bread. A unique and fun characteristic of Secret Sandwich Society is that all of their sandwiches, burgers, soups and salads are named after famous historical figures; whether you order the Roosevelt or the Eisenhower, you’re sure to enjoy every bite.
Their bar holds a selection of different wines and beers, as well as local ciders and brews. They also create some of the coolest, most wacky sounding cocktails you will ever taste. Ranging from a smoky twist on an old fashioned, to a concoction of beet juice, these drinks will satisfy all of your little hipster needs.
2. Benny Ventano’s
Some nights you just find yourself saying, “I should stick to only one slice of pizza.” This request is more than enough for Benny’s. Grabbing a slice from their 28” pizzas requires more than one paper plate. Let me repeat that… 28” pizzas! That’s a little over 4.27 square feet of delicious pizza per pie. In my experience, ordering a whole pizza and cutting the slices into squares is the best way to feed a party for cheap.
Only $4 for a slice of cheese, and $5 for one with toppings, Benny’s newly opened Richmond location in the Fan is a low cost way to fulfill your pizza cravings and keep you full for the rest of the year. However, with pizza topping specials changing every month, you will definitely find yourself coming back for more.
3. The HofGarden
A great summer hangout is always a rooftop bar. Whether you’re into games, trivia night, happy hours, or a great time, The Hof is one of the coolest rooftop bars in the city to do it all! They have multiple levels, with “The Garden” being on the roof, offering a view of Scott’s Addition and The Diamond. There is a great selection of beers and cocktails, as well as pizzas and german-inspired Bar food. My personal favorite? A nice Froze and a slice of green eggs and ham pizza.
The most attractive part of The Hof (besides the view) is definitely the atmosphere. All of their bartenders are super attentive and great to talk to, and the Hof offers trivia nights, table games, and live music in The Garden! There’s so much to do and always something going on, making it a great place for both millenials and Gen X’s to come together as one.
4. En Su Boca
Craving a little Mexican flair for your next meal? En Su Boca in Scott’s Addition has a Richmond twist on classic soft shelled tacos. You have a variety of tacos to choose from, traditional and new school styles, all made with homemade corn tortillas. This is one of my favorite places to pop in for some good wings, tacos, and happy hour specials.
Local pro tip- Happy hour consists of discounted drinks, like $6 house margaritas, and discounted food, like 75¢ wings, but this little taqueria doesn’t stop there. En Su Boca holds “the happiest of all hours” from 5-6pm, where they dish out $1 tacos on varying days of the week, as well as half-price appetizers on Wednesdays. So stop by for a fiesta any day of the week, y te prometo que sabe delicioso.
5. Proper Pie Company
I recently stumbled upon Proper Pie Co. after biking by it in Church Hill. The savory yet sweet smell is what enticed me to lock up my bike and check it out, and let me tell you I am glad I did. Everything in this bakery is in pie form- savory meat pies, juicy veggie pies, sweet fruit pies, vegan pies, indulgent chocolate pies- the pies are never ending!
This New Zealand style pie shop has everything you could ever ask for wrapped up neatly in a buttery, flaky crust. This the perfect option for a savory lunch on the move with no forks or knives needed. Their menu is constantly changing with limited time flavors appearing and disappearing, as well as come classic favorites that stick around for a while. One of the best things I have ever tasted their chocolate chess pie; an indulgent, rich chocolate filling in their iconic crust. Overall, I would rate this place a 3.141592653… ( I would rate it higher, but I just couldn’t resist.)
6. Charm School
On hot summer days, or anytime really, it’s nice to relax with a sweet cone of cold ice cream. Charm School off Broad Street offers just that, and more. All of their flavors are made in-house using minimally processed dairy from non GMO, grass fed cows, and all of their vegan flavors are made using a cashew and coconut milk mixture.
Because of this, their ice cream and sorbet flavors can change daily as they like to experiment with new and modern flavors. “Cereal milk” continues to be a fan favorite, and the last time I went, they had different flavors with tumeric, rose, and Thai iced tea, all paired with a homemade waffle cone at no extra cost! Whether you want a classic cone of ice cream, or want to try something a little more adventurous, Charm School has a flavor for you.
Right off of Broad Street at the edge of Scott’s Addition is a little Thai restaurant with a huge mural covering the brick outside. When you walk inside, you’re greeted by hanging plants, swinging tables, and the smell of delicious curry. Sabai is my go-to place when I’m in the mood for some Thai food, and with their menu offering a mix of traditional and modern dishes, I can try something new every time. They even offer a pile of fried rice spilling over half of a pineapple shell, but my personal favorite has to be the sweet and savory panang curry with chicken.
To go with your meal, Sabai’s bar offers wines and beers, as well as (some pretty strong) mixed drinks and your traditional Thai iced tea or coffee, all of which are absolutely Snapchat worthy. For a beautiful restaurant with even more beautiful (and tasty) food and drinks, Sabai is definitely worth a visit.
8. Penny Lane Pub
If you take a stroll downtown, after you stop by iconic features like Big Ben and the London Eye, and make your way towards Liverpool… Wait are we still in Richmond? Well, it won’t feel that way inside Penny Lane Pub, an English-inspired pub in the heart of downtown RVA. The first thing you will notice here is the decor; mugs, framed pictures, stained glass, and wooden beams cover the walls and ceiling. As you sit with a mug in your hand and bangers n’ mash on your table, you will find that the atmosphere is almost identical to that of a pub you would find in England.
The best time to go to Penny Lane Pub is during a soccer game. The pub plays all the live games on their TVs, and everyone feels like family as we cheer together with ice cold Guinnesses in our hands.
9. Mama J’s
I was hesitant about mentioning Mama J’s because I wanted to keep this place all to myself. Quietly tucked away in Jackson Ward, this little restaurant is like coming home to Meemaw’s for a nice home cooked meal. I don’t think I could perfectly describe just how good their catfish was; flaky, delicious fried fish with a little cornbread muffin that will fill your southern heart with warmth. It’s also important to mention that Mama J’s is one of the very few places in Richmond that does sweet tea right. Finish off with a slice from one of their many homemade cakes or a piece of peach cobbler and you will truly feel at home.
Just a little local tip- This is one of the places where I recommend ordering your food in advance and picking it up to go. As a smaller restaurant, Mama J’s fills up fast, so avoid the crowds and take the experience of a home cooked meal wherever you go (even if it’s back to your own home!)
Best Places to Visit in RVA
I’m sure every Richmond guide you read will tell you to check out Brown’s Island, which don’t get me wrong, it’s a great place to visit, but there are a few places right off the island that many people don’t know to check out.
If you walk alongside the canal, you will be greeted by huge murals in an open structure- a great place for some Instagram worthy pictures. However, if you keep walking, eventually you will reach a parking lot, which seems like a good place to turn around. Keep walking forwards! Stay on the right side of parking lot floodwall and eventually you will reach some wooden stairs. This is the entrance (or exit) to the Pipeline walkway. Ever wanted to walk on water? This is your chance.
Pipeline is a large sewage pipe with a metal walkway built above it, giving its visitors a one of a kind view of the James River without getting wet! Along the pipeline are little sand “islands” that you can climb down onto as well as massive rapids where you can watch the rafters and kayakers brave the rushing waters. Eventually the metal walkway and you finish the path on top of a narrow (and somewhat scary) concrete path covering the rest of the pipe, which will bring you all the way back to the very edge of Brown’s island.
11. Belle Isle Bike Park
From the footbridge heading towards Richmond’s iconic Belle Isle, you can probably make out some hills of dirt towards the back of the island. Next thing you know, someone is flying down a hill and disappearing into the trees. The bike skills area is a great place for all ages and all skill levels to have some fun on their bikes.
The skills area consists of some drops, bridges, and rock structures. Their biggest feature is their pump track, a small course for advanced bikers to practice their skills on. The goal of pump tracks is to make it around without using your pedals, propelling yourself forward with momentum from going up and down hills. Unfortunately, I have never successfully made it past anything other than the kid’s beginner track…
Across the island, outside of the skills zone, lies an intricate map of mountain bike courses. These courses offer anything from a beginner cruise through the trees to a more advanced rocky path at a higher elevation.
Another few local tips- Off-trail, there’s a hidden dip at the very top of the island, which although requires a little more knowledge, is a little bonus piece of the course to try out. Also, the very back of the island offers some large rocks alongside the water for a true, off-trail experience.
12. VMFA & ICA
There is no question that Richmond is known for its art scene. The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is the city’s most popular destination for art lovers. Located in the Fan, the VMFA contains pieces of art from around the world, ranging from over 5,000 years old to more modern pieces. Each exhibit is an adventure of its own, with must-sees like Fabergé and Lichtenstein, as well as rotating exhibits. Their outdoor sculptures and gardens are an added bonus to their collections of work. VMFA often hosts events such as Fridays on the lawn, Thursday night Jazz, Art and Wine, and InLight, an exhibition of light based performances.
Virginia Commonwealth University recently opened a new art museum in 2018. The Institute for Contemporary Art holds constantly changing exhibits of modern art and performances. They promote their art as pieces intending to prompt discussions, emotional experiences and interactions. ICA also hold lectures, small group discussions, workshops, and screenings through VCU that are open to anyone and everyone. This all inclusive art museum is also a stop during First Fridays, Richmond’s art festival held on the first Friday of every month.
Check out one or both museums for a comprehensive feel for Richmond art.
Starting Your Bucket List for RVA
I hope that I have narrowed down some of your options for where to go in Richmond. If I made things even harder to decide… I dare you to try them all. You will definitely catch me back at any of these places, or maybe even somewhere new. Regardless, one of the best things about Richmond is their surplus of options.
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