Trip Summary: About an hour’s drive from DC, Fredericksburg’s walkable, historic downtown of quaint streets lined with shops and restaurants is a good place to spend a weekend afternoon.
Like many historic towns in the Mid-Atlantic region, Fredericksburg has an old historic district that is separated geographically from a suburban strip mall district surrounding it. After going through a decline in the 20th century due to suburbanization, Fredericksburg’s old downtown, about the same size as it was during the Civil War, has undergone a successful revitalization in the last few years. Most storefronts on Caroline Street, the city’s main drag, are now occupied and the streets were crowded with residents and tourists alike. On my last visit, two or three years ago, I don’t remember Caroline Street being as lively.
Fredericksburg has a lot to offer for the history buff. The city’s compact core has about 350 buildings dating back to the 19th and 18th centuries. One I thought was especially interesting was the Hugh Mercer Apothecary Shop at 1020 Caroline Street. This was the city’s main pharmacy dating back to the late 1700s. It was closed on the day I was there but I thought the exterior was worth a look.
Another site of interest was the Fredericksburg Town Hall and Market Square, a historic town hall and public market space in the heart of downtown. There’s no town hall or market there anymore but this open space is the site of concerts and art festivals now.
I also walked down to the Rappahannock River, only two blocks away from Caroline Street. Fredericksburg owes its existence to this river. This watery highway allowed the city to become a hub for trade in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Fredericksburg is located where it is on the river due to the Fall Line, a geological feature marking the boundary between the Atlantic Coastal Plain and the Piedmont region. All along the East Coast of the United States, this boundary is marked by a slight elevation change. When rivers such as the Rappahonock cross this boundary, they turn into rapids that eventually run down into a wider tidal estuary. The city is located at the base of the rapids, marking the spot where boats could arrive up the calm and non-rocky part of the river to drop off their goods.
Along the river, I found a restaurant called The Happy Clam, and sat outside with Ollie to enjoy my lunch. This was a short trip and I didn’t go in any shops, but I got a good feel for the city. I can’t speak for the dog-friendliness of the shops, but I bet most of them would allow dogs.
- The Happy Clam, 1017 Sophia St – A seafood place on the Rapphanocck River in downtown Fredericksburg. Has an extensive menu and good beer list and a good outdoor seating area. There are probably cheaper places to grab lunch, but I thought the food was really good and fresh. They also got the hushpuppies just right–most of the time restaurants dry them out.