Family fun in Downtown Charlottesville VA

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A visit to Charlottesville, Virginia is synonymous with history and culture. Families who love presidential history will certainly love this region, but let’s be real. Even history buffs need a break now and then. For family fun, head to the “mall” in Downtown Charlottesville VA to enjoy great restaurants, shops and activities.

Downtown Mall in Charlottesville VA

Things to do in Downtown Charlottesville VA with kids

I first visited downtown Charlottesville, VA with a friend in 2013, I knew then that I’d be back, the next time with the family!

When the family finally got to join me, we explored Jefferson’s Monticello, Madison’s Montpelier and James Monroe’s Highland. All of them were great for my history loving crew.

After a couple days of history, though, we needed some downtime. They’d all heard me ramble on about how great the walking mall in downtown Charlottesville, VA is, so we headed there for a relaxing afternoon.

When they first saw the Downtown Mall in Charlottesville, they thought it was nice enough. But, they didn’t see the charm I knew was there. In just a few minutes, downtown Charlottesville, VA’s family friendliness registered. And they agreed. The Downtown Mall is great.

Dad and daughter standing next to metal art giraffes outside a local shop in  downtown Charlottesville VA.

Shopping on the Downtown Mall in Charlottesville, VA

The Downtown Mall has a variety of shops, including a charming toy store, a number of book stores, an old-fashioned drug store (that even has a soda fountain at the back), and other boutiques. We strolled the mall, window shopping along the way. Most shops are locally owned, and they welcome families to browse.

Old fashioned soda fountain at a shop in Downtown Charlottesville VA.

Things to do with kids in downtown Charlottesville, VA

Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall between Market and Water Streets is closed to vehicle traffic. The wide, pedestrian mall is lined with shady trees creating a parklike feel. There are lots of places to sit and watch passersby, to listen to street performers or enjoy an ice cream cone. Special art installations and other activities throughout downtown Charlottesville, VA make it a truly family friendly place to spend the day.

The Freedom of Speech Wall

At the east end of the mall, near the Ting Pavilion, is the Freedom of Speech Wall, complete with chalk. Kids, and their adults, can share profound thoughts. Or, they can simply announce “We were here.”

The Freedom of Speech wall in Downtown Charlottesville VA, with the words "we were here."

The Virginia Discovery Museum

Not too far away, the Virginia Discovery Museum in Downtown Charlottesville, VA is the perfect place to let kids “discover” and learn through play. Divided into two galleries, the front gallery focuses on STEM activities. The back gallery focuses on “Little C’Ville,” a kid-sized town where kids can learn about the jobs that keep a town going.

PRO TIP: The museum offers “Date Night” events from time to time. Kids aged 4-10 can spend the evening at the museum while adults enjoy dinner nearby! Check the website to see if it’s offered during your visit.

Decades Arcade

Who doesn’t love a good pinball game? At Decades Arcade on the walking mall in Downtown Charlottesville, VA, get the whole family involved in a pinball challenge! Pay the admission charge, and all games are free to play! Current admission prices are $12/2-hours or $17/all day pass. Children 3 and under are free.

Decades Arcade has pinball games, arcade games and active games the whole family will enjoy in downtown Charlottesville, VA.

Restaurants on the Downtown Mall in Charlottesville

For foodies and picky eaters alike, the many restaurants on the Downtown Mall in Charlottesville are sure to please. With more than 30 restaurants serving a variety of cuisines, the hardest part is deciding where to eat!

My favorite restaurants on the Downtown Mall in Charlottesville offer delicious food and have withstood the test of time!

The Nook

First up is The Nook, which has the unique distinction of being Charlottesville’s first diner. It has been serving the people of Charlottesville since 1951, and it still has the mahogany booths and 1950s style glass block windows.

Ellie Malt The Nook

As to the menu, we highly recommend the mac’n’cheese, which they offer in large or small portions. Of course, it’s a diner and the old fashioned milkshakes are amazing! Make it a malt for no extra charge. Or, spike it — though there is an upcharge for that.

I promise, kids will not complain about eating at The Nook in Downtown Charlottesville, VA!

The Whiskey Jar

Of all the restaurants on the Downtown Mall in Charlottesville, The Whiskey Jar is my favorite. I eat here every time I visit!

They say their food is nothing fancy, just classic southern food and a good selection of whiskey. I’m not a whiskey drinker, but the food is better than “just” classic southern. It’s flavorful and perfectly prepared. I recommend the fried chicken with the bacon and brown sugar collards, the creamed spinach with sweet potato gnocchi, and the pulled pork (with grits and green beans).

Oh dang… just writing about it makes me hungry!

Botanical Flare

If you prefer a plant based menu, Botanical Flare is the place to go! The food is fresh and flavorful, truly satisfying. I enjoy eating here when it’s warmer. I get a salad to go and enjoy it outdoors as I watch the passersby on the mall in downtown Charlottesville, VA.

While I have highlighted only three restaurants on the downtown mall in Charlottesville, there are lots more out there! Check the current listings to find your perfect bite!

Plan your visit to Downtown Charlottesville, VA

Besides the many restaurants, family friendly activities and relaxed, parklike vibe, check out special events in downtown Charlottesville, VA to see if there’s even more to do when you visit! And, while there is ample parking near the downtown mall, it helps to know where to park before you go.

Hanging out on the downtown mall

Events in Charlottesville: We visited on a weeknight in winter, when the Downtown Mall was relatively quiet. Most nights, especially spring through fall, downtown events add to the Charlottesville Downtown Mall’s atmosphere making it even more fun. 

Parking in Charlottesville: The Downtown Mall has two parking garages and a parking lot. While none are free, the rates are reasonable. Also, many restaurants and stores will validate two hours of parking (yep, budget saving tip!).

Where to stay near downtown Charlottesville, VA

Charlottesville is home to the University of Virginia, and has many hotel options from budget to luxury.

Some of the best hotels near Downtown Charlottesville, VA are:

  • Omni Charlottesville Hotel. Located at the west end of the mall in Downtown Charlottesville, VA, this upscale hotel was updated in 2023. It offers an indoor pool, a seasonal outdoor pool, and upscale bedding in each room. Guests like it for the luxurious rooms, friendly staff and ideal location in Charlottesville.
  • Residence Inn by Marriott in Charlottesville. Steps away from the Downtown mall, this is my favorite hotel in downtown Charlottesville, VA. Its spacious suites have family friendly kitchen areas, an indoor pool and a welcoming staff. For comfort and space, look no further!
  • You can also find boutique hotels on the mall, which are great for adult getaways.

When you visit Charlottesville, take a day or two to enjoy all the fun and food that Downtown Charlottesville, VA has to offer. It’s a relaxing place to spend the day. Kids will enjoy the museum, the arcade and the Freedom of Speech Wall. Of course, with so many incredible restaurants on the Downtown Mall in Charlottesville, there won’t be any complaints at dinnertime. And if you want a central place to call “home” when visiting Charlottesville, stay at one of the many hotels near the mall in downtown Charlottesville, VA.

Visiting Charlottesville, VA

What is there to do on the Downtown Mall in Charlottesville, VA?

This pedestrian mall in Charlottesville is home to more than 120 shops, entertainment spaces and 30 restaurants located in historic buildings on and around “Main Street Charlottesville.” The Downtown Mall is a pedestrian only mall with outdoor dining spaces under large shade trees.

How long is the Downtown Mall in Charlottesville?

Stretching eight blocks from the Ting Arena to the Omni Hotel, the pedestrian mall in Downtown Charlottesville, VA is one of the largest pedestrian only malls in the United States.

Where do you have to park to visit the Downtown Mall in Charlottesville?

There are parking garages on Water Street and Market Street just off the Downtown Mall in Charlottesville. On street parking is also available a few blocks away.

Is the downtown mall in Charlottesville family friendly?

The Downtown Mall in Charlottesville is a family friendly pedestrian mall with a children’s museum, a toy store, and many family friendly restaurants to enjoy.