The arts capital of Virginia’s Blue Ridge has a collection of engaging museums, a famous design store, kid-approved edutainment, and a mountain with a star on top.
Travelers to Southwest Virginia can combine the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains with a luxury stay in this historic resort. The hotel opened its doors in 1882, when Roanoke was known as Big Lick, but still feels modern, especially after a multimillion-dollar refresh and a prestigious AAA Four Diamond award. The hotel has always drawn visitors for special occasions, and The Pine Room & 1882 Lobby Bar, with its ceilinged mural of the night sky, provides a lovely backdrop for a casual meal or special event. Relaxation is always on the menu thanks to the Salt Foot Sanctuary, a full-service spa with meditation classes. Guests are also granted access to Roanoke’s private golf club and offered bike rentals for a relaxing tour of the Roanaoke River Greenway or a hardier pedal exploring the Blue Ridge Parkway. Rates from $124 per night. 110 Shenandoah Ave. NW, Roanoke, Virginia, 540-985-5900
Morning: Make a beeline to Wasena, a progressive neighborhood straddling the Roanoke River. Grab a snack and coffee at RND Coffee Lounge, owned by brothers Quincy and Steffon Randolph, and then take a walk in Wasena Park, part of the Roanoke River Greenway’s network of hiker/biker trails. Just across the river is Black Dog Salvage, an architectural design business with two outlets—The Stone House and the Showroom—both crammed with recovered and handcrafted furnishings that will inspire freshening up your own digs. Black Dog Salvage hosts a Sunday morning market and regular concerts in its backyard space, The Dog Bowl. Until recently, the owners of Black Dog Salvage made regular appearances on HGTV, DIY Network, and Discovery Channel.
Afternoon: Drive to the Hotel Roanoke to dine in the 1882 Lobby Bar or The Pine Room. You’ll find craft cocktails made with local moonshine as well as signature pimiento cheese fries. Afterward, walk to Center in the Square, a multistory complex of museums and cultural sites celebrating its 35th year. Depending on the interests of your crew, choose to play arcade games in the Roanoke Pinball Museum, with vintage machines like Pac-Man and Wheel of Fortune. The Kids Square Children’s Museum features a miniature town and Sensory Hallway—fun for all children, but especially designed for the sensory-sensitive. Roanoke Valley Black history is showcased in the Harrison Museum of African American Culture. Kids love the open tank at the Science Museum of Western Virginia for touching fish and crabs, as well as the Hidden Garden that teaches kids to grow healthy food in their own gardens. If you’re looking for live entertainment, check Mill Mountain Theatre’s schedule of events. Each museum has a separate admission.
Evening: Roanoke has a lot of excellent breweries, but Big Lick Brewing Company is the largest, with a 6,000-square-foot beer garden and tap room. Order a taco delivery from Tuco’s Taqueria Garaje, and then settle in to enjoy the live band.
Morning: Sip a smoothie at Hotel Roanoke’s STEAM Coffee & Eatery, or for a heartier start to your day, order an omelet from Scrambled in the City Market Building. This circa-1882 brick market has a number of stores, including She’s International, the exclusive U.S. retailer selling Tulip Handbags made from recycled and renewable resources. Drive up Mill Mountain to the Mill Mountain Zoo, a facility dedicated to the rehabilitation of threatened animals, like their endangered red wolves from North Carolina. Take the Watchtower Trail to the observation deck beside the iconic Roanoke Star, the largest freestanding illuminated star in the world. From this perspective, you’ll see the city below encircled by undulating layers of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The Star, first lit in 1949, can be seen from nearly every vantage point and inspired Roanoke’s nickname, “Star City.”
Afternoon: Head down the mountain to Grandin Village, a quaint hamlet dating back to the early 20th century. You’ve gotten your steps in this morning, so treat yourself to a flaky sandwich at Scratch Biscuit Co.; they’re stuffed with everything from fried Cajun catfish to pork barbecue. Meander past Grandin Theatre, an old-fashioned movie theater showing indie films and the classics. Sniff out the delights inside Urban Gypsy with an apothecary section of aromatic candles, lotions, and fragrances. Finish the afternoon with an old-fashioned soda float at Pop’s Ice Cream and Soda Bar.
Evening: Make a reservation at Bloom Restaurant & Wine Bar. Chef Nate Sloan’s locally sourced small plates reflect his upbringing on a farm in Ojai, California. Sloan has helped drive the rebirth of socially conscious Wasena. Return to downtown Roanoke to survey the street art clustered around Market Street, and check to see if there’s a concert or event happening in Elmwood Park.
Morning: Cross the pedestrian bridge to Market Street for breakfast at the Morning Brew Coffee Company; it’s inside the Taubman Museum of Art. The Taubman is an architectural wonder with engrossing exhibits and a rotating collection that contains more than 2,000 works by regional and international artists. Don’t miss Judith Leiber’s sequined handbags, on display through October 3. Admission is free.
Afternoon: Cedars Lebanese Restaurant is a popular neighborhood eatery opened by a local family, one of many who came to Roanoke as refugees. The menu focuses on savory pastries, mouthwatering kebabs, and salads. After lunch, walk over to the Virginia Museum of Transportation, whose indoor and outdoor displays explain the history of transportation in the commonwealth. Travel down memory lane with a look at classic cars, buses and trucks, vintage airplanes, and a railyard with steam engines and locomotives. Roanoke is a stop on Amtrak’s Northeast Regional Route, and this rail hub, established in 1881, helped transform little Big Lick into Southwest Virginia’s largest city, Roanoke.