A Rival’s Guide to Game Day Tailgating in Charlottesville

Football season is back, and if you’re a Florida State fan like I am, that means a lot of Saturday nights with your head in your hands, alternating between tears, outrage, and bewilderment.

It’s been a while since I’ve been able to go to a game – the last one I attended was the season opener in Orlando when we snuck by with a win over Ole Miss.

So this year we decided to make the trip to Charlottesville to see the Seminoles play UVA (also, what even is a Wahoo?). I am obviously not an expert, but decided to put together a quick out-of-towner’s guide to game day based on what we learned during the weekend.

Where to stay

We had a larger group (6 people), so we decided it would be easier and cheaper to find a place on Airbnb than booking separate hotel rooms. I’m not sure if that actually turned out to be true, but we did find a perfectly charming mountain house about 20 minutes outside of town. It was drizzly most of the day Friday, but quite nice on Saturday, and the idyllic setting would have probably been relaxing if we actually spent any time at the house.

Where to go

We got into town early in the afternoon on Friday and decided to brave the dreary weather to explore some wineries. Our first stop was the unassuming Gabriele Rausse Winery. Rausse himself is Italian and apparently well known as the “father” of the Virginia wine industry. It’s a tiny modern but rustic cabin with only two tables inside and small bar to congregate around, so I don’t recommend this for a group. It would be perfect for a wine tasting day date. The service was lackluster. We did a full tasting and barely learned anything about the wines. Our server struggled to answer questions and was intensely distracted (I think they were understaffed). While we were trying to pay, his iPhone rang and he walked away from us to take the call while we were in the middle of giving him our credit cards. So the wine was decent but the experience overall was not. Also – none of their wine glasses were branded!

After that, we drove to Blenheim Vineyards, owned by Dave Mathews since 1999. Fun bit of trivia: the Blenheim Vineyards winemaker Kristy Harmon actually studied under Gabriele Rausse. Blenheim boasts a large complex, with a variety of outdoor seating options and an impressive indoor bar area where you can see the wine barrels and enjoy a scenic view of the vineyard. The wine was good, the server was very nice and eager to share his knowledge, and overall we very much enjoyed it. Had the weather been sunny, I’m sure the setting would have been stunning. Even with the drizzle it was quite picturesque.

On Saturday we enjoyed a quick excursion to Carter Mountain Orchard, an admittedly well-executed tourist trap complete with hayrides, pick-your-own fruits and veggies, and cider tasting. It sits atop a hill with panoramic views of Charlottesville so it’s a very pretty destination if you can put up with the crowds. We spent less than an hour here, enjoying one drink each and taking in the scenery. It’s also pet-friendly, so it was the perfect place to do some dogspotting.

Where to eat

I knew I wanted to find a good breakfast place for Saturday. We ended up at Moose’s by the Creek, right on the outskirts of the city. Driving up, we almost thought we were at the wrong place. The restaurant is seemingly in the middle of a construction zone and shares a parking lot with a U-Haul rental store, but once you get inside the local flare is abundant. There’s a giant moose head on the wall and plenty of UVA regalia. Aside from our brief wait to be seated, service was quick and friendly and my breakfast sandwich was delicious.

Where to tailgate

The easiest place for outlanders to tailgate is the Fontaine Research Park. It’s free and spots are first come, first serve. We found a great enclave of fellow FSU fans and felt perfectly at home. We dropped our car off early to reserve our spot because we were afraid there wouldn’t be any left when we arrived later in the afternoon since the game didn’t start until the evening. Even though it felt like we were staying in the middle of nowhere, we were able to take a Lyft from our Airbnb to the game, and our Lyft driver turned out to be a former FSU football player from our championship team in the 90s! Since we’d parked the car in the morning, we were able to drive home after the game. The research park is about a 20-minute walk to the stadium, but it’s a popular route and well patrolled by police officers to help direct traffic and facilitate road crossings. At night, it was well lit and it’s a straight shot to the stadium, which makes it difficult to get lost.

Drinking at the stadium

One thing that’s new is the alcohol policy at college stadiums. Several schools have decided to sell alcohol, but it’s not as easy as that. At UVA, beer is sold in two locations – one on each side of the stadium. First, you wait in line for the ID check where you’ll be banded. Then you wait in a second line to get into the beer tent. It’s small, crowded, and unorganized and there is ONE TV available to keep you updated on the game while you wait. Because you can’t just purchase your drinks and go back to your seat to enjoy them. All of the alcohol has to be consumed in the tent where it’s purchased.

Overall, we had a good weekend in Charlottesville, even though we lost in embarrassing fashion. All of the UVA fans were nice and kept the rivalry to a friendly level. 


Compulsive snacker. Bleeding heart. Unhealthy obsession with Tom Hanks and cats. Florida State and Syracuse University alum.

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