CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – It’s summertime in Virginia, and daytrips, long weekends, and short-hop vacations seem like a better and better idea. One very good short hop is a trip down to the Charlottesville area, home of many fine wineries, fine dining, beautiful scenery, and the University of Virginia, founded by Thomas Jefferson himself. Not coincidentally, our third president’s famous home, Monticello, is situated in the rolling hills just south of Charlottesville proper and that’s a worthwhile visit in and of itself.
The last time we remember visiting Monticello was probably upwards of fifteen or twenty years ago. The quirky, intelligent, inquisitive brilliance of Jefferson was on display in nearly every room, even though the house itself seemed surprisingly small, at least where the living quarters were concerned. But that was before we got to take a look at the huge, lower level structures that housed the business side of Jefferson’s once-vast plantation. It’s like a storage house, restaurant, tailor shop, farm implement garage and horse barn all wrapped into one ingenious and contiguous structure.
We remembered from our earlier trip that the site was terribly crowded with visitors during the summer. But this is something that has changed considerably since our last visit. Dropping into Monticello last week with some visiting friends, we were amazed and delighted that the whole Monticello experience has been vastly improved.
Entering the site now, you can leave your car in the generously sized parking lot and take a short walk to an impressive new welcome center, new being a relative term as our last visit was so long ago. That said, the attractive, rustic structure—formally known as the Dominion Welcome Pavilion at The Thomas Jefferson Visitor Center—houses a small museum; a modest, relatively inexpensive café carrying decent, usually nutritious light snacks, beverages, and lunch-style items; the inevitable but tasteful museum shop; and a modest theater facility that presents a film overview of Jefferson’s life and times.
You can also purchase tickets at the visitors’ center, where you’re directed up the stairs to a bus kiosk. To better control the crowds as well as access to Monticello proper, your tickets carry a time stamp, and that’s when you’re supposed to catch the bus. Monticello now has a small fleet of them, and they shuttle visitors to and fro quite frequently throughout the day.
Once at the site, you can tour the home and grounds. Special tours of the gardens and of slave quarters and buildings are also included in your basic ticket price. The latter, once a touchy subject at Monticello, is completely out in the open now, and the private foundation that owns and runs the site has begun to give the Hemings clan its due as well, right down to the curated information posters in the working quarters below the house.
The easiest way to visit Monticello is by purchasing a Monticello Day Pass and House tour. According to the Monticello website, advantages of this ticket are:
- Daily, year-round
- House Tours run throughout the day.
- Spend a day on the beautiful grounds of Monticello and get an intimate look at Thomas Jefferson.
- Included in the pass, in addition to the visitors center pavilion facilities are guided tours of Monticello including:
- First-floor Tour of the House (upstairs living quarters are extra and by arrangement)
- Guided Slavery at Monticello Tours (April-October and weekends in February)
- Guided Gardens and Grounds Tours (April-October)
- Summertime Archaeology Walks to Sites 6 and 8 (Monday-Friday, June 4-July 12)
- Seasonal Mountaintop Activity Center
- African American Graveyard
- 50% off regular admission to Thomas Jefferson’s retreat, Poplar Forest, near Lynchburg, VA
Ticket prices for the day pass are currently $24 for adults, $16 for children 12-18, $8 for children 6-11, with children under six visiting free.
Other ticket packages are also available that include more of the Presidential treasure trove located near Charlottesville, including the former residences of two more Virginia presidents, James Madison and James Monroe. These packages include:
- Presidents’ Pass - A discount combination adult ticket to tour Monticello, Ash Lawn-Highland, and Michie Tavern’s Tavern Museum.
- Presidents Passport - Plan your next visit to Charlottesville and Albemarle County, and Alexandria, VA, with insider travel tips and with more than 50 special offers.
- Presidential Itinerary -Discover three Founding Fathers within 30 miles.
- A Fun-filled Day with the Kids - When was the last time you touched a mastodon jawbone (well, a model of one, at least)?
- Wine Weekend Getaway - A toast to the good life, the weather is perfect for this trek through Virginia wine country.
Independence Day 2013 Special Event with Dave Matthews
On the Fourth of July this year, singer-guitarist Dave Matthews of the Dave Matthews band will appear as the featured speaker at Monticello’s 51st annual Independence Day Celebration and Naturalization Ceremony. Matthews is a good choice to headline this year’s event. Born in South Africa, he became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1980. He currently owns and runs a farm and vineyard—Blenheim Vineyards—in the central Virginia area.
The entire Independence Day event starts at 9 a.m. July 4. According to Monticello, tickets to the ceremony itself are free and open to the public. You can reserve your ticket online at www.monticello.org/july4 or at the Dominion Welcome Pavilion at The Thomas Jefferson Visitor Center.
For general information on Monticello, click here.
Getting there: For visiting hours and directions to Monticello, visit this link.
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