Today’s story takes place once upon a June, in a Virginia far, far away. Now, I know what you’re thinking, and no, I’m not talking about the big city of Richmond, or the sandy beaches along the Atlantic Ocean. I’m not even talking about the capital city of Roanoke. It’s a small town to the west that I assume much of the population of Virginia doesn’t even know exists, let alone the rest of the county. That’s right, it’s Staunton.
Now I really know what you are thinking: How the hell did you settle on visiting there?? Well, it’s an age old story, really. My wife and I stayed there randomly one night on a drive back from Florida because it had two things: 1) a reasonably priced hotel room and 2) a gluten-free friendly restaurant. The latter of which was less easy to come by several years ago when that fateful trip occurred. It turned out to be a great little town and the salad that my wife had was good enough to warrant making a return visit. And so, on our return trip from Indiana, we once again found ourselves in a reasonably priced hotel room in this sleepy little Virginia town.
I’ll bet you’re now thinking: “Well, Mr. smartypants, what are we thinking now??” The answer is actually pretty obvious: “Hey, Bill, what the hell is there to do in some little town in Virginia that most of the world…and probably half of Virginia…has never heard of!? It’s true this is no New York City, but there is still plenty to do!
For starters, there’s the great little glass blowing studio, and not just for its beautiful selection of hand-blown glass, but also because you can see and participate in its creation! The owner-operator clearly has practiced a few times as he made it look effortless. The ovens operate at a couple thousand degrees though, so there’s no need to bring an extra jacket.
While you’re walking around, you’ll also want to check out the Trinity Episcopal Church. You don’t even have to go on Sunday because what you’ll really want to see are the incredible stained glass windows that line the walls. This church was built in the 1800’s and is even on the National Registry of Historic Places!
Speaking of history, did you know this is where Woodrow Wilson grew up? Nether did I until a friend who has chosen Mr. Wilson as his favorite president told me so! His birthplace and childhood home have been turned into a museum and tours are conducted regularly. You first go through his house which is filled with period correct furniture, furniture, and tools. You get to see the kitchen (which doesn’t quite look the same as a modern kitchen), living quarters and sleeping quarters for both the family and the servants. The tour is led by guides who clearly have a passion for what they do and no question went unanswered. After this trip through (someone’s) memory lane, you are taken into the actual museum. In here are many rooms filled with things. Some were small like his campaign buttons and tea sets. Some were large like his desk or his beautiful Pierce Arrow presidential limo. In the basement is a WW1 display with many of the guns used by both sides of the fight and some replica bunkers to give visitors an idea what the soldiers of the war went through in what was most assuredly not the “good ‘ol days”.
Another option is to just spend your time waiting for a freight train to come through. I know we have those here in Vermont too sometimes with like 30 or 40 cars on them!! But down here, while standing at a very old train station, we watched…ahem……………………. ONE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY SIX cars go by…on ONE train!!!! Don’t believe me? Well, the several minute video below will, if you don’t doze off, prove it!
There’s even a car museum!! And can you believe I didn’t even go to it!!?? How ridiculous is that? There’s a very good reason for that though – and it’s not that my wife would’ve been bored. It had everything to do with the fact that it was Tuesday and the museum is only open on Friday and Saturday. There are supposedly around 50 cars on display and for sale houses in an old Ford dealership right in the middle of town. Maybe next time we visit I’ll time it a little better.
The town center itself is great to walking around, lots of neat little shops, huge old banks and other buildings. It was an easy place to visit, much like many of our towns – clean, safe, and with lots of nice people around! While we were standing outside the old bank building, a local asked if we were looking for anything specific. When we said we were just looking at the old building, he said, well you should see it from the inside! Go ahead, no one will mind! He was right, totally worth it! Also, even if you don’t care all that much about antiques, the consignment/vendor based store here in the middle of town is enormous and full of pretty much anything you can imagine!
For food I’m sure there are other great places to eat, but since the Mill Street Grill was about 75% of our reason for visiting, that was the only place we had dinner! There’s great food, a cool atmosphere, and an impressive selection of food that doesn’t contain gluten. One word of caution though: if you order the nachos as an appetizer, you better be sharing it with all of the neighboring tables too or you won’t be able to eat the main course!
On top of Staunton itself being a great little town, there’s also plenty of exploring to do all around it. If you make your way west on route 250, you’ll wind your way up and down some of the twistiest and best driving roads in the country. One word of caution though, wait until you get to West Virginia before doing too much speeding, despite how the local people drive in Virginia, it’s not a state that takes speeding lightly. On the plus side, the road is so twisty that half the time you can’t reach the 55mph speed limit anyway!
To the east is even more fun and excitement! A few miles down a twisty little back road gets you to the entrance for Shernado Lake with its lovely beach and mountain backdrop. We lounged on the beach for a while to soak in some sun! However this does seem to be about the only beach around, so I imagine it gets extremely crowded!
Even more fun is a few more miles east where you’ll find the Blue Ridge Parkway. This incredible piece of road winds along a ridge for hundreds of miles, opening up every couple minutes to spectacular panoramic views of the valleys below. It’s almost too much to take! I mean, as beautiful as each stop is, after about the 10th one you start to lose focus on it, they start to blend together so you don’t stop at the next one and maybe you just start to admire the views as you drive by them. Sensory overload is what it is. Too many huge views at once!
However, for the one view to rule them all, find the entrance to the humpback rocks trail. The trail is only an eighth of a mile, but it’s a very steep and rough hike, but rather than try and describe what you’ll see from the top, just have a look at this:
And then, you climb between them onto the ledge to find this:
For icing on the cake, you have to take a brave pill and climb to the top of the rocks on the right. That’s where you come up with this:
The views here would’ve been worth a grueling five hour hike, let alone “just” a grueling one hour ascent. Actually, that last view all on its own is probably worth driving to Staunton, Virginia. At least you know when you come back down off the mountain and get a shower, there’s plenty else to do.
I’ll bet you’re now thinking “hey, honey, maybe we should go to Virginia for our summer vacation!” Go for it! Just rent something nicer than a Nissan Sentra!