GETTING THERE: Charlottesville is about 115 miles, or a 21/2- hour drive, from D.C. From the Beltway, take I-66 west to Route 29 south (Exit 43) at Gainesville. Route 29 is a pleasant, if sometimes crowded, rolling four-lane highway that leads you right onto the U-Va. campus.
WHERE TO STAY: The downtown mall is the center of Charlottesville's music scene, and the only hotel on the mall itself is the Omni Charlottesville (235 W. Main St, 888-444-6664, www.omnihotels.com), which has a glass atrium, as well as indoor and outdoor pools. Rooms start at $129 a night double.
On Charlottesville's historic town square, only two blocks from the mall, sits the Inn at Court Square (410 E. Jefferson St., 866-466-2877, www.innatcourtsquare.com). One of the inn's two buildings dates to about 1785 and has antique furniture (for sale, if you're interested). Double rooms range from $99 to $289.
WHERE TO EAT: Charlottesville's mall is teeming with hip restaurants. Stroll around, pick one, then follow up with gelato at Splendora's Gelato Cafe (317 E. Main St., 434-296-8555).
Off the mall, Bang! (213 Second St. SW, 434-984-2264) is a trendy Asian fusion tapas/martini bar with a bright-red color scheme, good-but-pricey cocktails and a pleasant outdoor patio. Tapas plates $4-$10. C&O Restaurant (515 E. Water St., 434-971-7044) offers French-accented fine dining in a cozy building, its entrance marked by gaslights. Entrees $15-$29.
Along the Corner, the commercial center of student life, Michael's Bistro (1427 University Ave., 434-977-3697) has an international menu, but I went there for the Belgian beer list and second-story balcony -- nice for people-watching. Entrees $8-$16.
MUSIC: A huge number of Charlottesville's bars and club offer live music. To see who's playing, pick up the Hook (www.readthehook.com) or C-Ville (www.c-ville.com), widely available free weeklies. Covers/tickets range from free to $20 or more for shows at bigger clubs; the middle range is roughly $5 to $15. Venues include:
* The Starr Hill Music Hall (709 W. Main St., 434-977-0017, www.starrhill.com) is about halfway between the mall and the Corner, above the Starr Hill Restaurant and Brewery. Starr Hill books touring bands and the biggest local acts, generally leaning toward the fun, folksy and funky.
* The Satellite Ballroom (1435 University Ave., behind Michael's Bistro, 434-293- 7005, www.satelliteballroom.com) is on the Corner. It hosts wedding receptions and other events in addition to booking indie acts of all stripes.
* Gravity Lounge (103 S. First St., 434-977-5590, www.gravity-lounge.com) is an intimate venue for touring and local musicians, especially those with a folk or acoustic bent. On a side street off the downtown mall, it's worth visiting for the bookstore/art gallery/music venue.
* The Prism (214 Rugby Rd., 434-977-7476, www.theprism.org) evolved from a 1960s college coffeehouse to a well-regarded venue for "acoustic, folkloric and traditional roots music from around the world," according to its Web site. Ani DiFranco, Alison Krauss and Tim Reynolds, among others, have performed here. No smoking or alcohol; most shows on weekends.
* Miller's (109 W. Main St, 434-971-8511, www.millersdowntown.com), where Dave Matthews used to tend bar, is a great place to hear jazz or just sit outside and drink beer. The Thompson D'earth Band, a jazz act featuring local legend John D'earth, plays Thursdays.
* The Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar (414 E. Main St., 434-293-9947, www.teabazaar.com) is one of the coolest places in Charlottesville, with decor from around the world and a golden tree whose branches crawl across the ceiling. It's worth a stop even when they don't have music, which ranges from "Indian classical to extreme noise," according to co-founder and "tea missionary" Matteus Frankovich.
* The Charlottesville Pavilion (800-594-8499, www.charlottesvillepavilion.com, east end of downtown mall) and the renovated Paramount Theater (215 E. Main St., 434-979-1333, www.theparamount.net) are large venues that cater mainly to touring acts.
INFO: Charlottesville/Albemarle County Convention & Visitors Bureau, 877-386-1103, www.SoVeryVirginia.com.
-- Ben Brazil