Virginia’s small towns are treasure troves of great food, warm hospitality, immense history, and Southern charm. Antiquers and outdoor enthusiasts equally will be at home in these 22 destinations promising all of the above and more. Map out a weekend and see what you’re missing.
Abingdon is surrounded by the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, making it the perfect destination for outdoor activities. The Virginia Creeper Trail begins in downtown Abingdon and is great for biking, walking, jogging or horseback riding. The historic downtown district begs for a walk along the cobblestone sidewalks, and delicious finds aren’t far away. Get pampered with a spa treatment at The Martha Hotel & Spa, dine at a tasty restaurant serving locally-grown menu items, catch a play at the famous Barter Theatre, or grab a craft brew and listen to live music at Wolf Hills Brewing Co.
With its wonderful music heritage — as the site of the 1927 Bristol Sessions, recognized as the “Big Bang of country music” — and its historic charm, Bristol is the perfect destination for music lovers and history buffs. And it will only get better with the opening of the Birthplace of Country Music Museum in August 2014. Bristol’s downtown offers live music every night in a variety of venues, along with many music events throughout the year. As a designated Arts & Entertainment District, Bristol is home to art galleries featuring local artists, live dance and theatrical performances, and numerous arts events. You can also find wonderful local dining spots that you won’t find anywhere else. From the Burger Bar, Brooklyn Grill and Eatz to Alfredo’s and Shang Hai, there’s something for every taste.
Culpeper, a National Trust 2012 Great American Main Street, is home to some great wineries and Virginia’s only legal moonshine distillery, Belmont Farm Distillery. Along with great dining options (It’s About Thyme Markets’ brick oven pizza or Foti’s uniquely inspired farm to fork creations), shop for one-of-a-kind items (global treasures, earth friendly gifts, antiques, original art, and handcrafted-in-the-USA items). Just a short drive out of town, find Culpeper’s well-preserved Civil War battlefields at Cedar Mountain, Kelly’s Ford and Brandy Station for a self-guided or guided tour.
Damascus is known as Trail Town USA thanks to the seven trails that intersect there, namely the Appalachian Trail and the Virginia Creeper Trail, which connects to Abingdon. Damascus is a gateway to the 191,000-acre Mount Rogers National Recreation Area and Virginia’s highest peak. The Damascus Old Mill is a historic staple in the center of town. Located on the banks of Laurel Creek, the mill overlooks the grist mill waterfall, while ducks and geese float peacefully on the mill pond. It serves as an inn, restaurant and local watering hole. Damascus is for vacationers who are tired of sitting in traffic, waiting in long lines, and spending lots of money in crowded, hectic conditions.
In Farmville there are plenty of family fun activities. High Bridge Trail State Park offers hiking and biking while the Appomattox River offers a historical story and a relaxing float. There are outfitters to assist with your recreational needs. Just a few minutes outside of town is the Adventure Park at Sandy River Retreat, a high ropes course with zip lines, perfect for adventure seekers looking for a challenge. Main Street offers antiques, accessories and furniture shopping at the renowned Green Front Furniture, as well as a Belgium bakery, sweet shop, fabrics, bridal stores and more. When it’s time to eat, head to Charlie’s Waterfont Cafe on the river.
Historic Fincastle boasts southern charm and is deeply routed in historical significance. Fincastle is a designated Lewis and Clark community, having ties to both Andrew Lewis and William Clark prior to and after their western expedition. There is a self-guided walking tour that leads visitors to many of the town homes and buildings, some dating back to the late 1700s and early to mid 1800s. Stay in one of the two bed and breakfast’s in the historic district, perfect places to sit back, relax and enjoy the simple comforts of home and southern conversation. Stop in to the Heritage Family Market for fresh deli meats and cheeses, the perfect take-home taste of Fincastle.
When in Gordonsville, spend time walking in the steps of extraordinary history, and then take a stroll down Main Street to enjoy timeless charm and great food traditions. During the Civil War the elegant Exchange Hotel became a receiving hospital for more than 70,000 troops. Today it has been restored to its grandeur. Downtown, find quaint shops and galleries that combine modern styles with antiques and country sensibilities. Don’t miss contemporary gems like Pomme, where acclaimed French Chef Gerard Gasparini has brought a taste of Paris to the heart of Virginia. Looking for a taste of traditional country cooking? Don’t miss the annual Gordonsville Famous Fried Chicken Festival! Gordonsville is recognized as “the chicken-leg center of the universe” because of how the history of the southern staple traces its roots to women serving the treat to 19th century train passengers.
Kilmarnock is a quaint, pedestrian friendly, small town close to the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers and the Chesapeake Bay. Boutique shopping, a variety of restaurants and signature events make it a relaxing, weekend destination and a great jumping off point for enjoying the history of the area, like the Mary Ball Washington Museum & Library, the Steamboat Era Museum or the Kilmarnock Museum. After a day of relaxing or touring, grab an ice cream at Stevie’s – a tiny location but with a large variety of offerings.
Lexington has an exceptional concentration of museums, historic sites, art galleries, music, theaters, and other cultural and outdoor offerings. With strong connections to Civil War and military history, visitors often enjoy carriage rides through historic downtown. Don’t miss a stop at Lee Chapel where General Robert E. Lee is buried. Steps away, museums and historical sites such as Virginia Military Institute, George C. Marshall Museum, Stonewall Jackson House and Memorial Cemetery—where General “Stonewall” Jackson is buried—chronicle stories of the U.S. military. Lexington also features attractive shops, hotels, businesses and top-rated restaurants.
Luray, is a charming small town with BIG prospects for all varieties of travelers. “Choose your Level” is the mantra, referring to the mountains, river valley and underground topography. Home to Luray Caverns, Shenandoah National Park and the Shenandoah River, the area has become a hub of outdoor recreation. Lodging options include a restored Jazz Age-era hotel, a number of B&Bs and hundreds of vacation cabins and country homes, making it the “Cabin Capital” of Virginia. Many dining choices ensure every palate finds its complement. Visitors may relax at the local winery, enjoy live music or theater, or browse Main Street, where shop owners offer locally-made artisan goods, outdoor equipment or bargain-priced estate sale finds.
Known for Civil War history, Manassas originated in 1852 at the junction of two railroads which linked Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C. with the Shenandoah Valley and Richmond. It features a wonderful museum system and charming Old Town historic district, perfect for a day trip. Explore Old Town Manassas where family owned shops and restaurants line picturesque streets. Have lunch at Okra’s Louisiana Bistro for Creole and Cajun with a patio setting. Open year round, the farmers’ market sells seasonal produce, breads and more. Stroll down to Opera House Gourmet and pick up a bottle of wine or visit Creative Brush Studio where you can buy a painting right from the artist.
Home to America’s first automated grist mill, the quaint town of Occoquan is situated on the banks of the Occoquan River. Rich in history, it is just 11 miles from our nation’s capitol and is home to more than 60 boutiques and restaurants. The streets are filled with unique shops from jewelry, art, a Scandinavian spa, to gourmet treats, it offers something for every visitor. Have a Virginia wine tasting at the Olde Dominion Wine Shoppe, then enjoy lunch on the water at Madigan’s. Take the kids to the Pink Bicycle Tea Room to enjoy an afternoon tea-tasting. For Dinner, sip on Belgium brews at Cock & Bowl and hear live music while dining on European fare.
Captain John Smith called the area of Onancock “the Gem of the Eastern Shore” in the 1600s. Budget Travel called it “The Coolest Town in the South.” Others have said its “a town with heart.” Who can disagree? Onancock has a live theater, world class award-winning restaurants, and an old time movie theater that hosts an International Movie Festival. The art scene is unparalleled with renowned artists, craftsmen, sculptors, actors, dancers, musicians, glass blowers … you name it. The natural beauty and wildlife is astounding. Take a kayak trip to a local winery or to the site of an old Indian village to experience the serenity of the shore. Even in a state as rich in history as Virginia, Onancock stands out.
The Town of Orange is a true old-fashioned small town experience, with a few special twists. The Historic Orange Train Station on Main Street is surrounded by an eclectic and historic downtown commercial district with local shops, homes, the 19th century County Courthouse, historic churches and sites, and local restaurants with affordable to fine dining options. Don’t miss the James Madison Museum, the first to commemorate our fourth president, called the Father of the Constitution. Modern amenities mix with home-spun style at places like the stately federal-style Holladay House. Year-round you will find unique experiences in Orange, but whenever you visit, you are sure to be welcomed like a local, fed like a farmer, and sleep like baby in comfort and style.
Scottsville is situated on America’s founding River – the James – and is a town with deep historical roots and an ever encompassing vision for the future. In a return to its agricultural roots, Scottsville offers Thistle Gate Vineyard and James River Brewing, which is located in the downtown district.
Smithfield is perpetually stuck in the weekend. It has a slower pace, there is always something going on, and it constantly smells of bacon. There are plenty of towns that have historic buildings, kooky museums, and unique eateries, but, when it comes to the best of all of them, one needs to look no further. Waterfront dining complete with sunset? Smithfield Station. Regional, national, and international musical acts and performances? Smithfield Little Theatre. Locally grown fresh produce? The farmers’ market on Saturday. Unwind and have a few ham biscuits at the Smithfield Inn, there’s no rush.
Staunton boasts arts, history and fantastic dining. The American Shakespeare Center’s Blackfriars Playhouse offers four of five shows each week and the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum includes Wilson’s Pierce-Arrow limousine. If you love Victorian homes, there are quite a few to admire up and down the streets of Staunton. Many restaurants and coffee shops give you plenty of dining options while a bakery and chocolate shop satisfy your sweet tooth.
Nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Troutville is the only designated Appalachian Trail Community in Virginia’s Blue Ridge. Troutville’s location along Route 11 makes it an ideal choice for thru-hikers on the trail, as well as day hikers. With access to a town park that includes restrooms and shelters, hikers are able to camp within the park grounds. If camping is not a preferred choice, there are more than five hotel properties within a short walk. The Town of Troutville is also home to Botetourt County’s fine dining restaurant, Pomegranate Restaurant and Gathering Place. Offering a wide variety of menu items, from steaks and seafood, to wine, beer and spirits, Pomegranate hosts bands on the weekend to provide entertainment to the entire area.
Warrenton is in the middle of everything you could possibly want. Old Town Warrenton is filled to the brim with local artisans, shopping and restaurants. Not far from town are mountains to hike, caves to explore, Civil War battlefields, wineries, and polo matches. Truly, there is something for everyone. Whether you’re 100 or 10, you’ll feel at home.
The very first Washington is a sweet place indeed, and you may have heard it called Little Washington. There’s no doubt you’ll fall in love with the world-renowned restaurant, superb bed and breakfasts, and a wealth of artisans to delight your eyes and ears. Take in a show at The Theatre at Washington, Virginia or sip fine wines at Gadino Cellars or Little Washington Winery and Vineyards; the countryside and all its awaiting treasures are yours.
Nestled in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley, Woodstock has a charming downtown with interesting shops and good restaurants, and a brewery on the way. Woodstock is the fourth oldest town in Virginia, home to Revolutionary Peter Muehlenberg, and boasts many historic homes and churches, not to mention the County courthouse designed by Thomas Jefferson.
Located at the intersection of Interstates 77 and 81, Wytheville provides the best in small town living and natural beauty. Known as the crossroads of Virginia, Wytheville is home to a regionally known dinner theatre, wineries, scenic drives, a butterfly house, historic B&Bs, museums, and First Lady Edith Bolling Wilson, wife of President Woodrow Wilson. The New River and the Big Survey provide countless outdoor opportunities for nature enthusiasts.
Which Virginia small town is your favorite? We asked that question of our “locals,” who contributed content to compile this list. Feel free to comment with your pick below!
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© Casey for Virginia’s Travel Blog, 2014