Blue Ridge Parkway
Now that autumn has arrived in the Shenandoah Valley, October's calendar is full of festivals and events for those who wish to enjoy cooler temperatures and colorful leaves. If waiting until the fall color show hits its peak, be sure to check out Virginia Tourism's Fall Color Hotline at 1-800-424-LOVE or check the Fall Color report.
With the current government shutdown, there is no way to drive the scenic Skyline Drive since the gates at all entrances have been barricaded. The Blue Ridge Parkway offers the opportunity to explore new locations, revisit favorite spots, and view the scenery from high above the Shenandoah Valley as you wind your way along mountain ridges. Pack a lunch and enjoy a picnic at the numerous roadside tables and picnic areas. Due to the government shutdown, the roadway is open but all attractions have been closed.
Come off the Parkway and enjoy the central Shenandoah Valley with enough to see and do to keep families busy for weeks. The Queen City of Staunton, located at the intersection of I-64 and I-81, has kept her history intact, as can be seen by the many renovated buildings, shops, and restaurants in the downtown area. On Saturdays from 7-noon, there is a farmers market in the Wharf parking area downtown featuring locally-grown goods.
Shopping opportunities in Staunton offer everything from furnishings to clothing. If you're looking for fine dining, check out Zynodoa. Entertainment can be found at the Clock Tower restaurant while Baja Bean offers fun Mexican fare and a bar that's popular with the locals. In the historic train station, the Depot Grille offers something for everyone, and the floors actually rumble when the train passes.
In the Wharf area, Byers Street Bistro offers curbside dining as well as two floors inside for a quiet dining nook or a large group. Two informal eateries on Beverley Street, the main downtown thoroughfare, are Shenandoah Pizza and the nearby Split Banana for ice cream and gelato desserts. Coffee on the Corner offers light food choices and beverages with internet availability as well as the popular beer garden out back for local craft beers and entertainment.
One of the prime attractions in Staunton is the American Shakespeare Center featuring a recreated Blackfriars Playhouse serving up Shakespeare plays year-round in an atmosphere that will make you feel as if you've stepped back in time to the days of the Bard.
The popular Frontier Culture Museum, located just off I-81, offers authentic homesteads of the 1800s from Ireland, Germany, England, America, and the newest addition of the West African farm, providing a hands-on history lesson in the story of the early American settlers coming to the New World.
If planning to stay overnight in Staunton, there's Anne Hathaway's Cottage, the Inn at Olde Virginia, Frederick House, and Stonewall Jackson Hotel and Conference Center.
If you would rather stay along the mountain ridges, check out the Iris Inn, Sugar Tree Inn, or Cabin Creekwood located just off the Blue Ridge Parkway south of Waynesboro.
What is autumn without corn mazes and pumpkin patches? West of Staunton, Cestari Sheep Farm offers a pumpkin festival and corn maze the second and third weekends in October. If it's apples you're looking for, this fall staple can be found at Virginia orchards offering many varieties. The popular family-run Graves Mountain Lodge Apple Harvest Festival north of Charlottesville will take place the second and third weekends in October.
October is Virginia Wine Month and there are plenty of wineries to check out in the Shenandoah Valley, surrounding mountains, and beyond. Barren Ridge Vineyards near Staunton offers wine tastings and events including murder mysteries and musical entertainment. Downtown Staunton offers the Ox-Eye Vineyard tasting room in an historic Wharf District building. Owners Susan and John Kiers are friendly and knowledgeable in suggesting a wine. Try the wine tasting to find your favorite, or enjoy a glass on the covered patio.
West of Harrisonburg, the Dayton Farmers Market, open Thursday through Saturday, sells a variety of goods, some from the surrounding Old Order Mennonite community. It offers unique shops, food, and a mouth-watering big soft pretzel. Don't be surprised if you find a horse-and-buggy parked at the hitching post while Mennonite families do some shopping of their own.
South of Harrisonburg, the Green Valley Book Fair returns October 5-20, offering hundreds of thousands of books at 60-90% off retail. A favorite with locals, its reputation for book bargains has traveled throughout Virginia and beyond.
Whether you're looking for a quiet getaway or a fun-filled weekend, the Shenandoah Valley provides something for just about everyone. It's autumn in Virginia.
For more to do in the Staunton area including ghost tours check out my post, 40 things to do in and around Staunton.
--Originally posted in the Washington Examiner by Lynn R. Mitchell, October 4, 2010
Photo by Lynn R. Mitchell