Why Richmond, Virginia, Is a Must-Visit Design Destination
From food to art, here’s everything you need to know about the River City.
Published Aug 22, 2017 5:00 PM
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With its hot culinary scene, indie boutiques, and contemporary art galleries, Richmond, Virginia, has evolved into a vibrant, cultural city. Virginia Commonwealth University’s thriving arts program, the much-anticipated Institute for Contemporary Art (slated to open spring 2018), new CURRENT Art Fair, and community art centers and galleries have transformed the River City into a hub for creativity and design.
From strolling down Monument Avenue and admiring the beautiful architecture to meandering along the James River’s wooded nature trails, the River City is a feast for the eyes. Street artists have turned the city into their canvas, bringing lackluster building facades to life with their vibrant murals. Art galleries, boutiques, and restaurants have reinvigorated the downtown. And, since it’s just two hours south of Washington DC, the city is easily accessible.
Whether you’re just passing through or staying for a few days, there’s no shortage of beautiful places to see and exciting things to do. Here are our favorites.
Where to Stay
Quirk Hotel, 201 West Broad Street
This hip new boutique-hotel-meets-contemporary-art-gallery is the perfect home base for your Richmond getaway. With a rooftop bar, restaurant, coffee bar, gallery, and gift store on site, you don’t have to wander far from your room to be part of the action. Beautifully decorated guest suites are appointed with modern furnishings, and the art and decor is all by local makers.
The Jefferson Hotel, 101 West Franklin Street
Downtown Richmond’s The Jefferson Hotel is a River City institution with its Beaux Arts-style architecture and swanky interiors. After a long day of sight-seeing, unwind at the hotel bar’s popular happy hour with a cocktail and bite to eat, and then retire to one of the recently renovated guest suites.
What to Do
Virginia Museum Of Fine Arts, 200 North Boulevard
The Branch Museum Of Architecture and Design
, 2501 Monument Avenue
While driving down Richmond’s cobblestone Monument Avenue, you can’t miss the magnificent, 27,000-square-foot 1919 Tudor Revival. Built by architect John Russell Pope for prominent banker John Kerr Branch as his winter home, the sprawling mansion is open for architectural tours, while also playing host to both permanent and rotating exhibits.
The Valentine, 1015 East Clay Street
If you want an exciting visual narrative of the city, The Valentine museum’s exhibits and tours explain Richmond’s 400-year history. Tour the neighboring 1812 John Wickham House, grab lunch at the onsite Garnett’s Cafe, and scope out the museum’s latest design exhibit: Our Hearts on Our Sleeves, an ode to Richmond’s fashion and fiber arts scene.
T. Tyler Potterfield Memorial Bridge And “The Path Untraveled” Sculpture, Brown’s Island
Venture down to Brown’s Island and walk across the new 1,600-foot-long stainless steel pedestrian and bike bridge. It traverses the James River and connects with Manchester, a gritty industrial area that is on the up and up.
And while your gaze may be transfixed on the river and skyline, be sure to stop and read the historical markers for the bridge’s “Three Days in April 1865” installation—it tells the tale of how the Confederate Capital fell during the Civil War. On the south entrance of the bridge, you’ll also find “The Path Untraveled:” eight 17-foot-tall weathered steel rings created by Colorado-based artist Joshua Wiener.
While the First Fridays art walk is a year-round event, it kicks into high gear come fall. Scope out the galleries in the downtown Arts District—1708 Gallery, ADA Gallery, Candela Books + Gallery, and Quirk — or explore West Main Street’s art offerings at Glave Kocen Gallery, Page Bond Gallery, Reynolds Gallery, and the Visual Arts Center of Richmond.
Where to Shop
, 4903 West Leigh Street
Class And Trash, 1720 Altamont Avenue
Need Supply Co, 3100 West Cary Street
The internationally recognized fashion e-tailer Need Supply Co.’s Richmond headquarters recently expanded its brick-and-mortar to include a curated home goods section that showcases a range of interesting items, from confetti glassware by Hawkins New York and pottery by Brooklyn-based artist Helen Levi to locally made candles by Richmond’s very own Square Trade Goods Co.
Gather Home And Garden, 2704 East Marshall Street
In this pint-sized plant shop, owner Melissa Roberts channels her art background into curating a jungle-like display of greenery that showcases sculpture, texture, and color. You’ll also find handmade macrame plant hangers, terrariums, and gardening supplies for city dwellers. She also makes sure to stock Pan Natural Goods handcrafted soaps, as well as essential oils by Suzy Brockmann, who makes her products onsite.
Quirk Gallery Store
, 207 West Broad Street
After viewing Quirk Gallery’s current exhibit, mosey on to the back of the gallery and peruse the gift shop’s fabulous offerings of ceramics, wearable art, and stylish housewares. Frequent popups and trunk shows promise new, exciting inventory by both makers and artists.
Studio Two Three, 3300 West Clay Street
Tucked in the hip Scott’s Addition neighborhood, this nonprofit, printmaking studio hosts an array of workshops and events. But it’s also home to a fabulous gift shop that sells quirky prints and textiles made in-house by artists Brooke Inman, Alyssa Salomon, Elizabeth Cogar, Natalie Kohlhepp, and Studio Two Three’s executive director, Ashley Hawkins.
, 2415 Jefferson Avenue
If you’re looking for a thoughtful present (or even something special for yourself), be sure to pop into this new Church Hill gift shop—it offers jewelry, leather goods, handmade housewares, and cheeky cards. While you’ll find an array of beautifully-designed goods from around the world, it’s the wares by local designers that shine bright—Na Nin candles and fragrances, Rabbit Foot Fern paper goods, Holly Francis ceramics, Marleigh Culver prints, Huerta cutting boards, and owner Kristy Cotter’s Drift Riot line of jewelry and accessories.
Where To Eat and Drink
, 3200 Rockbridge Street
The folks behind RVA’s revered Metzger Bar & Butchery just opened their much-anticipated second eatery, Brenner Pass, which has an interior that is just as exciting as the food. An Alpine-inspired menu and tasty craft cocktails pair perfectly with the space’s bright and airy industrial chic surroundings.
Secco Wine Bar, 325 North Robinson Street
Whether it’s for happy hour or a nightcap, grab a drink at Secco Wine Bar’s bigger, better, and boozier location.Its patio is the perfect place for people watching, sipping wine, and sharing a cheese and charcuterie spread with friends.
, 2100 East Main Street
Fuel up for a day of sightseeing at this cheery bakery in Richmond’s Shockoe Bottom neighborhood. Pair your espresso beverage with a savory croissant bread pudding—it’s the best.
Sen Organic Small Plate
, 2901 West Cary Street
Grab lunch at this new, rustic chic Vietnamese restaurant—it uses organic and all-natural ingredients. Choose from bahn mi, pho, or noodle dishes. And if you’re feeling like a quick snack, simply feast on several of the small plates.
Shagbark, 4901 Libbie Mill East Boulevard
Mark Your Calendar For
CURRENT Art Fair
, September 28-Oct. 1, 2017
Now in its second year, CURRENT Art Fair will feature 14 local contemporary art galleries presenting works by local, national, and internationally recognized artists. The fair is free and open to the public Friday through Sunday, but if you’d like VIP access to the preview party on Thursday evening, you can snag a ticket for $50. The weekend is an exciting opportunity for new and experienced collectors to see and purchase art, and this year, some new exhibitors will also be displaying 3D work.
, November 3, 2017
From 7pm to midnight on November 3, 1708 Gallery’s 10th Annual InLight will take place along Broad Street, in Richmond’s downtown Arts District. This year’s light festival will take its cue from the 1901 Electric Carnival that illuminated the same downtown stretch with thousands of lights.
Craft+Design Show, November 17-19, 2017
Now in its 53rd year, the high-end craft show has more than 120 artists coming from around the country to sell their contemporary crafts in the historic Main Street Station’s newly-renovated train shed. A special Made In Virginia section will showcase beautiful wares created by local artisans, such as North End Bag Company, Shockoe Atelier, and Molly Virginia Made.