This story, which ran in our December issue, is part of a series about great college towns to visit.
The Town: Harrisonburg
The School: James Madison University
Drive Time from NoVA: 2 hours, 10 minutes
What Makes it Great
In the heart of the Shenandoah Valley, Harrisonburg offers the best of both worlds: a base camp for outdoor pursuits like rock climbing, fly fishing and hiking, and a thriving downtown main-street community with welcoming locals, inventive cuisine and craft beers. Iconic to the region is the 105-mile Skyline Drive within Shenandoah National Park, with gorgeous views and hikes ranging from the leisurely to the challenging. The area is also a recognized bronze cycling destination (a designation bestowed by the International Mountain Biking Association), with Hillandale Park offering 13 shared-use trails and Massanutten Mountain Bike Park providing access to beginner, intermediate and advanced lift-served trails. Originally founded in 1908 as the State Normal and Industrial School for Women, James Madison University today enrolls just under 20,000 students (42% of whom are now men). Basketball and tailgating are big parts of the campus culture, and other attractions include Forbes Center for the Performing Arts; the John C. Wells Planetarium; and the Edith J. Carrier Arboretum, a 125-acre space with miles of trails. Downtown, five microbreweries, including Restless Moons Brewing Company and The Friendly Fermenter, participate in the Shenandoah Spirits Trail and the Beerwerks Trail, and the town recently welcomed its first cidery, Sage Bird Ciderworks. The town has more than 200 restaurants and is home to Virginia’s first Culinary District, and among the many must-hit shopping destinations is Agora Downtown Market, with local artisans like leather goods purveyor Lineage selling their wares under one roof. The thriving art scene includes numerous murals and a year-round First Fridays Art Walk.
• Lunch on a creative sandwich at Grilled Cheese Mania, like a Mama Mania with mozzarella, basil, tomato and sriracha or a Jersey Boy with pork roll and a fried egg.
• Avoid the crowds and hike a secluded trail in Riven Rock Park uphill to Fire Tower Lookout.
• Order two scoops of the flavor of the day at the original location of Kline’s Dairy Bar, which has been doling out frozen happiness since 1943.
Where to Stay
The Joshua Wilton House has five rooms located in a restored Victorian house, all of which include breakfast; an on-site restaurant offers cuisine with French flair, like rainbow trout, moules-frites and chicken liver mousse. Located in the Central Shenandoah Valley with easy access to the Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah National Park yet accessible to Harrisonburg, By the Side of the Road Getaway Lodging has five intimate cottages; an apartment; and a five-bedroom, five-bathroom circa-1789 Manor House on 9 acres with a fishing pond and deck. Amenities include spa tubs or multi-faucet shower rooms and mini kitchens.