A canal cruise on the James River. (Photo: Richmond Regional Tourism)
By Jennifer Ceaser
Add Richmond, Va., to the list of cities — New York, Madrid, Hamburg, to name a few — whose once-neglected waterfronts are being reclaimed.
During the past five years, a 2¹/₄-mile stretch alongside the James River—mere blocks from the historic, red-brick downtown—has undergone a revitalization, beginning with the restoration of the canal walk which, in turn, attracted restaurants, bars, boutiques, condos—even beach volleyball courts open for summer.
Here’s a guide to exploring this burgeoning side of Virginia’s capital city.
Winding through downtown Richmond, along the banks of the Haxall and Kanawha Canals and the James River, this 1¹/₄-mile path takes you on a scenic stroll of Richmond’s canal system, which was originally commissioned by George Washington in 1789. (Or do a 40-minute narrated boat tour with Riverfront Canal Cruises, $6, 804-649-2800.) Once you’ve finished your history lesson, stop for tasty Mexican fare and sample some of the 120-odd tequilas on offer at the canal-side Casa del Barco, set in a restored 1890s Italianate building that was once part of an aluminum-processing plant. On the canal’s opposite side is Haxall Point by F.W. Sullivan’s, with a prodigious selection of local and regional brews on tap and plenty of TVs for game days.
(Brunch at The Boathouse at Rocketts Landing.Photo: Vance)
Just a stone’s throw from the James River, the cobblestone-and-red-brick-rich Shockoe neighborhood is technically composed of two areas—Shockoe Slip and Shockoe Bottom—but the terms are often used interchangeably. The Slip is where you’ll find swanky boutiques like the bespoke selvedge retailer Shockoe Denim, where jeans can run as high as $400, and the custom men’s shirt store Ledbury. Though not the least bit new, The Tobacco Company, a combo resto/bar/music venue, is a 30-year-old neighborhood stalwart that’s also worth a visit. Head a few blocks east to Shockoe Bottom to check out one of the city’s most colorful drinking spots: The Halligan Bar & Grill is distinguished by its firefighter decor—including a full-size fire engine behind the bar that’s been converted into a keg dispenser. It’s also where the 17th Street Market holds court Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays, selling fresh produce, handmade goods and antiques.
This waterfront development, about 1¹/₂ miles east of Shockoe, first opened in 2007, creating a new residential neighborhood where there was once just industrial blight. Set on a cliff overlooking the James River, The Boathouse at Rocketts Landing is a brunchtime favorite, with several stories of indoor and outdoor dining and great views of the river, the cityscape and hunky, swimsuit-clad players on the beach volleyball courts below. The kitchen’s ever-rotating, hyper-local menu includes unique twists on Southern favorites, like fried quail atop red velvet waffles and crab cake benedict.
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