Out in Richmond's Outdoors

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After landing on Forbes’“10Coolest Cities to Visit in 2018,” earning the #2 spot on TIME’s2017 ranking of the“25Cities Where Millennials are moving,” and joining Trivago’s list of“10Under the‘Gaydar’LGBTQ Cities,” it’s safe to say that Richmond’s secret is out.

If anything could outshine this historic capital city’s national acclaim for its buzzworthy art and restaurant scenes, it would have to be its robust network of outdoor offerings. In 2012, Outsidemagazine named Richmond America’s“BestRiver Town.” There are dozens of parks, hiking trails and other recreational spots along the river within city limits and more amazing scenery nearby, from the Dutch Gap Conservation Area and Point of Rocks in Chesterfield County, to Echo Lake Park in Henrico.

Just two hours south of Washington, D.C. and situated between Shenandoah National Park and Virginia Beach, the Richmond region’s convenient location means you don’t have to go far if getting outdoors is on your adventure agenda.

David Shannon, James Beard Award nominated chef and owner of the award-winning L’opossum restaurant in Richmond’s Oregon Hill neighborhood, embraces the city’s natural wonders.“Mostof my kitchen guys love to go fishing along different sections of the river from Texas Beach to Brown’s Island,” Shannon says.“Idon’t get down as much as I want, but my boyfriend is always down there. He is always rowing with the Virginia Boat Club or kayaking without me.”

Visitors are sure to have riotous fun at Shannon’s celebrated L’Opposum—described by Condé Nast Traveleras resembling a collaboration between Liberace, Andy Warhol and Nick Cave—or the ever-popular drag brunch at Godfrey’s. But good food and creative culture are only a few of the lures that bring first-timers in and convince repeat visitors to return again and again.

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Part of being inRichmond is being outsidein Richmond. Whether you’re up for rafting the nation’s only class IV urban rapids, conquering the James River Park System or Pocahontas State park trails on a mountain bike, wandering through the Historic Hollywood Cemetery(hometo the final resting places of six Virginia governors and presidents John Tyler and James Monroe) or strolling Richmond’s Carytown shopping district, the city and surrounding counties have something for everyone. Whether you’re planning a weekend trip or looking to lay down roots, there’s plenty to fall in love with here.

Locals talk about the city’s boomerang effect. Plenty of young urbanites move away only to return after they find everything they’re looking for is right where they left it. For natives such as Ayana Obika, a U.S. Army veteran, a permanent return to the area was not always inevitable. But ultimately, the city’s energy kept pulling her right back in.“Iraised my children here and still find myself in awe at just how beautiful Richmond is,” she says.

A member of the board of directors of Diversity Richmond and founder of Gratitude Rising Events, Obika grew up crisscrossing historic Bryan Park in the city’s Northside where she admired the landmark’s hundreds of thousands of azaleas. The spot, like so many of the Richmond region’s beautiful attractions, has a complex history. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the site where Gabriel Prosser, an enslaved blacksmith at a nearby farm, planned a slave insurrection later dubbed Gabriel’s Rebellion.

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The city’s challenging history is not lost on Obika, who launched a walking tour of historical architecture she calls“BuiltBy Blacks,” after a book by Selden Richardson.“Thearchitecture is just so amazing in every neighborhood,” Obika explains.“Youjust have to look past the unloved parts and imagine what it might have been. It’s gorgeous, and if you don’t get out of your car you miss that stuff.”

Unofficial Richmond ambassador Shannon Timberlake always finds time to unwind outside. That can mean powering through downtown adjacent trails in Forest Hill that connect to the Buttermilk loop or seeking a quieter escape to Pocahontas State Park or Henricus Historical Park in Chesterfield County. Timberlake plans her adventures around the season.“Iprefer the river when it’s quiet, so my favorite time to go is around wintertime. During the fall and summer, I love to get out on the water rafting and water boarding. Finishing any day out with any one of the amazing restaurants we have around town is another great way to enjoy the region.” Timberlake also likes to take visitors on a stroll through Carytown’s picturesque shopping district. Carytown is home to Babe’s, a Richmond LGBTQ icon that bills itself online as the city’s“Everybody’sbar.” They host some of the best drag nights in Richmond and even have an outdoor volleyball court.

When it comes to sports, Richmond houses a professional soccer team, the Richmond Kickers, and a minor-league baseball team, the Flying Squirrels. It’s also home to the James River Women’s Rugby League and the River City Rollergirls, a badass group of women any one of whom could probably make John Cena cry.

Lance Johnson, a sports therapist, notes that Richmond hosts“eventsand championships across every sport and level, and it says a lot that they chose the Richmond area.” The city was on international display three years ago when Richmond played host to the 2015 UCI Road World Cycling Championships, which drew about a half million people to the region. Almost 800 representatives from 76 national federations and 40 trade teams registered for the events, which took place over nine days in September.

The city has gone out of its way to embrace a longstanding bike culture, installing a bike share program last year with more than a dozen locations across the city where anyone can rent a ride 24/7. Take a spin through the city then head over to the Virginia Capital Trail, a beautiful and scenic 52-mile trail connecting Richmond and Williamsburg along the historic Route 5 corridor. Guided bike tours launch from all points around the city. Check out visitrichmondva.comfor contact information.

When the sun goes down and you’re ready for something different, you’ll quickly realize there is a reason Richmond’s dining and arts scenes are so prolific. The abundance of so many amazing options has led to restaurants collaborating instead of competing, building off one another and working to create a better overall dining experience for locals and visitors.“Thefact that we have an incredible concentration of talent and energy, and so many options have contributed to my success,” Shannon shares.“Themore creative people you have, the more cool and unique dining there will be.”

Male brewer with a metal beer barrel on the background of the brewery

Beer aficionados will appreciate the region’s 33 craft breweries, made easy to locate and visit thanks to the Richmond Beer Trail. Recently garnering accolades from both Hop Cultureand Vinepair, Richmond’s #1 status as a craft beer destination comes naturally. Stone Brewing Co. calls Richmond its East Coast home and Hardywood Park Craft Brewery just opened its second location on the far west end of the region just past the Short Pump Town Center.

No matter what you’re looking for, Richmond probably has it. Kayaking, rafting, hiking, urban adventures, biking, rec leagues and tons of parks. The best part of living here is discovering your favorite spot. Unlike other areas that sell themselves on their outdoor activities with little to offer otherwise, the Richmond region has an incredible history, world class beer and dining scenes, and more murals and art galleries than you could visit in a weekend. It's no surprise most people who leave always come back and those who come to visit tend to stay.

Justin Ayars