There was a time, not too long ago, when the Fredericksburg region was considered little more than a stopover between the state capital of Richmond and the big-name tourist attractions of Washington, DC. That time is in the past.
These days, the region, consisting of Stafford to the north, Spotsylvania to the south, and Fredericksburg at its heart, has grown into a fully engaging destination of its own, with a burgeoning foodie movement and a well-beyond-burgeoning arts and music scene. The modern Fredericksburg area has a lot to offer — here’s how to make the most of a long weekend.
Get your bearings in town by hopping on the popular trolley tour of historic downtown Fredericksburg. You’ll find that, unlike plenty of other “historic” downtowns, the descriptor is a perfect fit here. This was the home of George Washington’s family, and we’ve got a strong Revolutionary and Civil War past. Tours are 75 minutes long and depart twice daily from the Fredericksburg Visitor Center.
Your first introduction to the ‘Burg’s food scene has gotta be good. One always-solid recommendation among the sea of options is a stop at Soup & Taco for fresh tortilla chips, authentic pupusas, empañadas, tostones, and maduros. Their eponymous soup is an amazing rendition of sopa de tortilla, complete with chunks of avocado, corn, chicken, and queso fresco.
The original restaurant is a tiny hideaway on Caroline Street barely wide enough for two tables, but they recently expanded to a second location less than a mile away on William Street.
Free bourbon? Yes, please. The A. Smith Bowman Distillery hosts free one-hour tours between 10am and 3pm (led by distillery workers who can fondly refer to the stills by name: “Mary” and “George”). They’ve been operating since 1935, building a reputation for high-quality, super-smooth bourbon and whiskey, and they’ve recently branched out into small-batch rum, vodka, and gin. Be sure to have your camera ready for the jaw-dropping barrel room, which holds countless barrels of aging bourbon (a treat for the eyes and nose). Tours include (free!) samples, but you’ll more than likely want to pick up your own bottle, too.
After that, it’s time to check in. A stay at a local B&B is the best way to steep yourself in the region’s long history and modern Southern hospitality. All of these belong on your list:
- In downtown Fredericksburg, the award-winning Richard Johnston Inn was constructed in the late 18th century by architect John Taylow, and served as the mayor’s residence in the 1800s.
- A five-minute drive from downtown will take you to Braehead Manor, an estate within the 27 acres of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. It survived Union Army occupation and use as a Civil War hospital; today, the 6,200-square-foot manor is a favorite for an eclectic group: wedding planners and history buffs.
- If 87 wooded acres, a small pond, and preserved Civil War trenches for exploring sounds more like your bag, look to Stevenson Ridge. You can choose between restored plantation homes, log cabins, and even an old tobacco barn or post office to spend the night in.
Do yourself a favor and stop at kybecca for happy hour before dinner. The modern restaurant is one giant box of surprises. During happy hour (M-F, 4-6pm), there’s $5 appetizers, wine and cocktails, and $1 hand-shucked oysters. If you catch sight of the house s’mores — an impressively fluffy ice-wine marshmallow atop a hefty chunk of chocolate ganache and graham cracker cookie — don’t blame yourself for caving.
If you have any room left for an actual meal, head to Orofino for authentic Italian like you’d never expect (outside of Italy, anyway). While the regular menu is full of reliable, simple favorites like spaghetti carbonara and caprese panino, the real treat is the rotating menu — it highlights flavors of different Italian regions, depending on what’s in season. Between detailed regional descriptions and the dual-language menu, Orofino is determined not just to make good Italian food, but to leave you knowing a little more about Italian culinary heritage than you did on the way in.
Top off the evening with a stroll through the city’s art galleries and independent shops, many of which are open late on Fridays. On the first Friday of each month, there’s special events, food, and more. Local favorites include PONSHOP Studio and Gallery, LibertyTown Arts Workshop, and Art First (a narrow gallery with monthly exhibits showcasing talented community members).
It’s Saturday morning, and that doesn’t just mean brunch — it means brunch by the river. Amy’s Cafe in Stafford has an outdoor deck and a screened-in porch, which somehow makes their fare taste even better — when was the last time your english muffin was topped with brisket and sautéed veggies, or crab with a cream cheese fondue? Grits on the side, obviously.
Next, it’s time to work off those carbs. Schedule a stand-up paddleboarding class (optional: with your dog) or a kayaking course on the Rappahannock with River Rock Outfitter. You’ll have views of historic Chatham Manor to one side and downtown Fred to the other. Or keep your feet on dry land courtesy of Fredericksburg’s yoga scene — Dragonfly Yoga Studio, Fly Fitness Inspiration, and the Yoga Foundation of Fredericksburg have different classes throughout the day.
If you find yourself close to the Rappahannock with time to spare, head over to George Washington’s childhood farm, known as Ferry Farm. Stop into the visitor center, check out the hiking trails or the archaeology lab (archaeologists are onsite M-F), and walk down the old ferry road to the river — just like good ol’ #1 did as a kid.
Vacations are about eating, right? Grab a quick bite between activities at Goolrick’s Modern Pharmacy on Caroline Street. In addition to running a fully functioning pharmacy, Goolrick’s houses an old-school diner counter with sundaes, sandwiches, and the best malts and shakes in town. Or in the country — this is the oldest continuously running soda fountain in the States.
The Fredericksburg region has experienced a recent boom in local breweries, and the best way to experience them all is to book tickets for the FXBG Brewery Tour, a craft-beer odyssey that takes in seven Fredericksburg brew companies, including 6 Bears and a Goat, Strangeways, Red Dragon, Spencer Devon, and Adventure Brewing. You’ll nab tastes of at least 12 local beers and plenty of take-home souvenirs, including tasting glasses.
6 Bears and A Goat is more than just a brewery and a brilliant name. It’s also a restaurant — the seven founders teamed up with chefs Beth Black and Joy Crump (you may recognize her from her time on Top Chef) to add to the duo’s list of successful restaurants. And with Matthew Deaton as the pitmaster, they now also do a wicked barbecue. His brisket has become semi-legendary — try the brisket burger for the best of both worlds.
Ready for dessert? Ice cream chain stores have come and gone in Fredericksburg, but the tiny, neon-crowned Carl’s has endured since 1947. The family-owned shop still pumps out classic flavors of frozen custard (vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, and pineapple) from its original Electro-Freeze Machines! Remember to bring cash, and don’t be intimidated by the crowd — though it’s not uncommon for the line to stretch around the building on a summer’s night, it always moves quickly.
On the quiet end of Caroline St, just before the stately Central Rappahannock Regional Library, you’ll find a small but elegant cream-colored church. Open the doors to reveal Eileen’s Bakery and Café, an always-buzzing spot that serves hefty wraps and sandwiches, delicate quiches, and a host of fresh pastries. The 12-inch-thick walls of the church, built in 1833, have housed a Civil War hospital, granary, schoolhouse, and bingo hall. During your meal, be sure to gaze up at the stained-glass windows (dating back to 1900) that still adorn the building.
The rest of today’s itinerary will take you a little ways out of town, so be sure to check out of your B&B before heading out. Stafford and Spotsylvania were the sites of a few significant battles during the Civil War, and you can get a glimpse into this history with a customizable tour with Hallowed Ground Tours. They’ll take you on in-depth visits to Chancellorsville Battlefield, Wilderness Battlefield, or Ellwood Manor, just to name a few.
Afterwards, stop by Battlefield County Store to pick up a picnic lunch, then head to one of Spotsylvania’s fine local wineries like Mattaponi, specializing in fruit wines (think blackberry, strawberry, and chocolate-covered-strawberry wine); Wilderness Run, which houses both a vineyard and brewery onsite; or Potomac Point, which offers walk-in tours for groups on Saturdays and Sundays. Breweries aren’t the only boom in the ‘Burg!
Take your time before heading out of town (you’ll be a couple glasses in, after all), and use this R&R to make a mental list of where you need to stop on your next trip. Just know that when you come back, there will be even more to explore.