At various times, Staunton has been called “the best small town in Virginia,” one of “the 20 Best Small Towns in America,” and “one of the country’s best-kept foodie secrets.” These and other accolades contribute to the city’s informal title of “Queen City of the Shenandoah Valley.”
Founded in 1747, the town developed into a manufacturing and trade center, bolstered by the coming of the railroad in 1854. Today, the city has become a vibrant mix of arts, culture, music, parks, dining, history, shopping, and outdoor adventure.
The best-known venue in the arts community is Blackfriars Playhouse, the world’s only re-creation of Shakespeare’s original indoor theater. Here, the American Shakespeare Center troupe performs Shakespeare’s works on a simple stage, without elaborate sets, and with the audience sharing the same light as the actors.
Artistic Director and Co-Founder Jim Warren said, “The American Shakespeare Center has shown that Shakespeare and his contemporaries knew what they were doing 400 years ago, and we’ve learned from them how to create fresh, engaging theatre for 21st-century audiences. By daring to throw away a few more of our 21st-century theatrical norms, we hope to create an even more intense bond between performer and audience– and an even greater level of fun and excitement.”
Performances of a different kind can be seen at the Frontier Culture Museum. Devoted to telling the story of rural life in the Valley, the museum is a living history of settlers from Native Americans to early Europeans and other immigrants. Traditional buildings, tools, and implements from England, Ireland, Germany, West Africa and America are on display, as well as demonstrations of fading arts like coopering, blacksmithing and sheep shearing.
More recent history can be experienced in the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum. Our 28th president was born in Staunton, and guided tours of his birthplace illuminate what life was like in the mid- to late 19 century. Don’t miss the President’s restored 1919 Pierce-Arrow limousine, or military memorabilia from WWI in the museum.
Outdoor recreation options abound near Staunton. The annual Fall Foliage Bike Festival now draws over 700 peddlers for two days of cycling for all levels of experience. Staunton is a stone’s throw from Shenandoah National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway, but it’s also a short drive to more secluded designated Wilderness areas such as Ramsey’s Draft and Saint Mary’s. Both offer miles of remote hiking trails, superb mountain views and scenic streams or waterfalls.
Another nearby attraction is Grand Caverns, about 20 miles northeast of Staunton. A National Natural Landmark discovered in 1804, Grand Caverns is the oldest continually operating show cave in the United States (although it has operated under other names).
In between the plays, museums, hikes and cave exploration, time must be found to explore Downtown. “For those who are interested in history and architecture, nothing beats a walk through downtown Staunton,” said Sheryl Wagner, Staunton’s Director of Tourism.
Where to dine afterwards? Locals and tourists alike swear by Zynodoa but countless other choices await you. Many Staunton restaurants pride themselves on serving local produce and meat. Beyond that, Wagner offered, “Craft beer tourism is a big deal in Virginia, and beer-cations are booming. Staunton, with its four craft breweries, is the perfect home base from which to explore the Shenandoah Beerwerks Trail – our newly launched regional beer trail with 13 breweries.”
Wine lovers will want to investigate vineyards like Barren Ridge, and enjoy spectacular scenery as well as superb wines.
Lodging in Staunton offers the gamut of choices. The Stonewall Jackson Hotel and Conference Center, which is a member of “Historic Hotels of America,” is in the heart of Downtown. A business center, meeting space for 400, a pool and fitness are among its features. Should you prefer to stay a bit outside of town, The Buckhorn Inn is about 12 miles west, and has been providing hospitality for 200 years. The secluded Cabin Creekwood is about 30 minutes from downtown, and near Sherando Lake, Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway.
In addition to all its charm and history, Staunton embraces new technology as well. Wagner explained that, “One of our most exciting new tourism developments is the Traipse app. Downtown Staunton is the first location in the entire country where people can try this new fun brain-challenge game.” When visitors arrive they can download the free app–a game that makes use of things like signs, plaques, public art, and other elements to present users with fun puzzles to solve while learning a bit about where they are. The app’s slogan is “Take Your Brain for a Walk.”
For more information, contact the Staunton Convention and Visitors Bureau.