Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy, may still look the part thanks to its historic buildings, statues, and monuments, but this 274-year-old city hardly feels colonial. Thanks to a booming dining scene, an urban waterway with Class III and IV rapids, and one of the best outdoor festivals in the country, Richmond deserves recognition as the modern cultural capital of the South — and the perfect place to spend a long weekend.
While plenty of major American cities sit along a waterway, few can boast having a river with raging rapids perfect for kayaking or rafting. The James River cuts a seven-mile swath right through Richmond, welcoming kayakers, swimmers, fishermen, and standup paddleboarders to do their thing in the shadow of the city. Swimming spots dot the banks of the city at Hadad's Lake, Texas Beach, 42nd Street, Belle Isle, and Brown's Island, giving runners, cyclists, and anyone else relief from the heat. Gear up at Riverside Outfitters or River City Adventures for canoes, rafts, kayaks, mountain bikes and more. And if you find yourself in RVA May 20 to 22, sign up for the annual Dominion Riverrock Festival, three days of adventure sports, a half marathon, whitewater kayak races, a 5K mud run, and dog jumping — not to mention free concerts from the likes of G. Love & Special Sauce and Keller Williams.
If you're looking to start your day with a quick-grab bite, you can't go wrong with a brined, battered, and fried chicken biscuit or Neuske's bacon, local egg, and cheddar biscuit from Saison Market. For a more leisurely option, sit and stay at Millie's, a tried-and-true Richmond institution in Shockoe Bottom. Don't skip the soft scrambled eggs with lobster, bacon, and puffed pastry or the Castro Mess, three scrambled eggs with Cuban spiced pork, black beans, and crispy tortilla strips. For lunch, hit Mama J's and choose from fried chicken, smothered pork chops, fried catfish, mac and cheese, greens, and homemade sweet tea. Or pop into Garnett's in the Fan neighborhood for a variety of sandwiches that are either cold, grilled, or served hot with gravy. The eclectically kitschy L'opossum is your best dinner option. James Beard–nominated chef David Shannon's French-meets-Southern menu offers playful menu descriptions yet delivers serious food like les escargots a la ham biscuit; Swanky Mac is Back (butter poached Maine lobster tossed with white truffle mornay cream, asparagus, and pasta shells); and filet mignon of beef "swellington" (a tender beef wellington prepared with truffled mushrooms and duck butter). Looking for a little 'cue instead? Two solid offerings include Alamo BBQ, for Texas-style beef brisket, and Hogshead Café for Memphis-style dry-rubbed baby back ribs and fiery-hot spice-rubbed crispy-fried wings.
Opened in September of 2015, the Quirk Hotel raised the bar for local hotel accommodations. The beautiful hotel, set in the former J.B. Mosby & Co. department store built in 1916, has high-arched ceilings, original maple floors, and plush, modern pink-hued rooms. The hotel, which is attached to a three-floor art gallery of the same name, has the Maple & Pine restaurant, a coffee bar serving local Blanchard's Coffee, on-site bike rentals, and a rooftop bar that should be open for late spring of 2016. If you want something a bit more historic, the Jefferson Hotel is the grande dame of Richmond. Opened in 1895, the five-star, five-diamond property with a soaring bi-level marble-clad lobby has gone through numerous restorations to bring it back to its original splendor and has hosted 13 presidents from Harrison to Obama, Ray Charles, Sinatra, and Elvis. The hotel boasts an indoor swimming pool and solarium, two Southern-inspired restaurants and bars, and you can even charge up your Tesla.
If you're in Richmond any Thursday between early April and late October, hit Hardywood Brewery's weekly Food Truck Court. Chow down from a variety of trucks each week with food options ranging from tacos to wood-fired pizza and Mediterranean fare to handmade ice cream while sipping Hardywood's seasonal craft beers like the Singel Belgian-abbey-style blonde ale and the summertime dry-hopped Capital Trail Pale Ale. And if you're into whiskey, head to Big Whiskey Grill in the Fan and sample through about 1,000 different whiskies from around the world (including a massive bourbon selection), or raise the stakes while sifting through another 1,300 options of rum, tequila, cognac, and more. It might be a long night.