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Why Charlottesville, VA Is One of America’s Best Places to Live

Two presidents called Charlottesville, VA home — Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe — but that doesn’t mean you have to be a history buff or a politician to take advantage of all this diverse city has to offer.

By Livability on September 26, 2022

Charlottesville VA
Charlottesville / Photo Courtesy of University of Virginia

Set in the rolling green hills of a cherished historic landscape, home to one of the nation’s great universities, Charlottesville, has become a favorite home in recent years for young professionals, families and retired people, who are drawn to its college-town energy, excellent restaurant scene, vineyards, history and celebrated intellectual and cultural life.

With a population of just over 45,000 and an enviable location two hours’ drive from Washington, D.C., two or three hours from Atlantic beaches such as Virginia Beach and the Outer Banks, or the Amtrak to other East Coast cities. Charlottesville offers convenience, a tempting array of entertainment and arts options, shopping, and enough bustle to keep things interesting.

“First and foremost, though, it’s the people in Charlottesville that make it a great place to live,” says former City Manager Maurice Jones. “We have people from all kinds of backgrounds, from all kinds of places, and they contribute to the quality of life here.”

Exterior shot of the Dairy Market, a repurposed building in Charlottesville, VA.
Sanjay Suchak

Adventures Galore

No. 22 on our list of 2022 Top 100 Best Places to Live, Charlottesville ranked high in nearly every measure of what makes a great community but especially shone in the areas of amenities, education, health and infrastructure.

The city is proud of its amenities, from free downtown trolley service and a comprehensive bus system to well-maintained streets, roads, hiking trails, parks and recreational facilities. Charlottesville maintains 26 parks, including several popular “spraygrounds,” four swimming pools and four fitness centers, all part of the city’s commitment to community well-being.

“Our residents are committed to health and wellness and making sure that everyone has a chance to take advantage of these amenities,” Jones says. “We have scholarship opportunities and lots of free programs for people who may not have the means to use our facilities without assistance.”

The city’s opportunities for entertainment and recreation are plentiful, too. The rich experiences provided by the presence of the University of Virginia can’t be overstated, from music to film festivals to theater and more. Charlottesville’s Historic Downtown Mall is a fixture of its dining, entertainment and retail scene and has become perhaps the city’s most popular meeting place for students and non-students. More than 120 retail shops and numerous restaurants keep the mall bustling, as do venues for music, theater and film. In addition, the city has partnered with various organizations to foster the arts, from the Ting Pavilion to the restored old Paramount Theater.

“Charlottesville has without question become the cultural center of our region,” Jones says. “We have a thriving, healthy arts community that we continue to try to support. It’s very involved and growing, and we have recognized not only the enhancement of the quality of life that happens with a good strong arts community but also how important it is in contributing to the economy of the area.”

Pedestrians in Historic Downtown Mall in Charlottesville VA
Sanjay Suchak

Investing in Education

Education, too, is important to the long-term health of the area’s economy, Jones believes. In addition to opportunities for higher education through UVA and its outreach to the community, Charlottesville maintains a highly rated public school system that non-residents are willing to pay tuition to attend. Moreover, the system is intentional in its efforts to meet the differing needs of students, offering plenty of Advanced Placement classes for high schoolers and preschool programs for 3- and 4-year-olds to prepare them for kindergarten. The city also has significantly invested in the future of STEM education; in 2016, the school system put forth $4 million on upgrading STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) facilities in its middle and high schools.

“We recognize the need to promote and educate our kids when it comes to STEM, and we are putting our money where our mouths are,” Jones says. “Every single student will have access to the science labs – it’s not just for high achievers, it’s for every kid in our school system. We really do see it as an investment in our future, in our community.”

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