The historic Wharf area of downtown Staunton, Virginia, home of the Staunton-Augusta Farmers Market. (Photo by Lynn R. Mitchell)
Voted as one of America's Top 20 Main Streets by Travel and Leisure magazine, the central Shenandoah Valley city of Staunton was also recently named one of the 20 Best Small Towns in America by Smithsonian magazine as well as Virginia Living magazine's Best of 2012.
With views east toward the Blue Ridge Mountains and west toward the Appalachians, Staunton is an historic slice of Virginia that offers restored Victorian homes, cozy downtown shops, and small-town atmosphere. Patriotic holidays find her streets lined with American flags, and the always-popular Christmas parade takes place each year on Beverley Street, the main thoroughfare that is lined with restaurants, store fronts, the Dixie Theater, the city courthouse, and old-fashioned lamp posts.
There are lots of things to do during the leaf season that peaks in October so here are some places and events you may find interesting. It's autumn in western Virginia.
1. Free Trolleys
A great way to get around downtown, Staunton's two trolleys are free and pick up and discharge passengers at stops located throughout the city. More information can be found at the Staunton Visitors Center on New Street.
2. Frontier Culture Museum of Virginia
This unique hands-on outdoor museum in Staunton brings the past alive with costumed interpreters and farm animals that can be seen along a two-mile trail that connects the English, Irish, German, and African farms with the New World's American homesteads. They tell the story of America's settlement. Picnic tables on the grounds.
- Homeschool Day - Oct. 5: The Frontier Culture Museum will be hosting the annual Homeschool Day on Friday, October 5. A day packed with hands-on living history, colonial artisans, animals, and a special school house program. Check website for more information.
- Octoberfest - Oct. 6: Enjoy a traditional Oktoberfest celebration at the German farm with music, children's activities, self-guided tours of this hands-on museum, and your favorite brew.
- "Creepy Tales" - Oct. 26-27 and Oct. 29-30: Staunton's Frontier Culture Museum will present it's annual "Creepy Tales" with ghostly tours. Reservations are required. (540) 332-7850.
3. Cestari Farms Pumpkin Festival
It's all about fall -- corn maze, haunted barn, hayrides to pick your own pumpkins, animals, pony rides, wool barn, and more can be found at the annual Cestari Farms Pumpkin Festival on October 13-14 and October 20-21. Located ten minutes west of Staunton, the kids will love it and so will you.
4. Staunton-Augusta Farmers Market
Voted one of the best farmers markets in Virginia, the Staunton-Augusta Farmers Market offers fresh, locally grown produce, flowers, herbs, eggs, fruits, meats, and more from the convenience of the Wharf parking lot in downtown Staunton. Open Saturdays from 7 a.m.-noon.
5. Hands & Harvest Festival in Monterey
While enjoying the spectacular autumn colors, drive an hour west of Staunton to Highland County for their Hands & Harvest Festival on October 5-7. Visit area sugar camp for apple butter and cider making, BBQ and other food, farmers market, and entertainment.
6. Apples Days Craft Festival
On October 6-7, Waynesboro hosts the annual juried Apple Days Craft Festival under the covered sidewalks of Willow Oak Plaza. More than 100 participants from throughout the United States feature and sell jewelry, Christmas ornaments, quilts, fine arts, and handmade furniture. Watch as apple butter is made; apple cider, homemade apple dumplings, entertainment, and more.
7. Fall Foliage Bike Festival
At the peak of fall leaf season for the Shenandoah Valley and surrounding mountains, the Fall Foliage Bike Festival based out of Staunton will be held the weekend of October 19-21. Enjoy the warm days and cool nights riding the back roads through scenic vistas of rural beauty.
8. Blackfriars Theater
The Blackfriars Theater was built in downtown Staunton in 2001, the world's only exact replica of William Shakespeare's indoor theater, and is home to the American Shakespeare Center. What a great place to catch a play, tour the facility, or get involved in their camps for young and old alike. Check their website for current plays and activities.
9. Ghostly Evening Tours
What better way to see the architecture of historic downtown Staunton than with the Ghosts of Staunton Tour? Spooky candlelight tours are also offered of the Depot train station and, in October only, Thornrose Cemetery and the former DeJarnette Sanitorium. If you are looking for something different and unusual, this is the tour for you.
10. Shenandoah National Park
Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains east of Staunton, Shenandoah National Park offers 200,000 acres of wilderness, campgrounds, picnic areas, hiking trails, horseback riding, lodges, and visitor centers along the 100-mile-long Skyline Drive. Big Meadows Lodge and Skyland Resort and several campgrounds provide overnight accommodations. Escape to the quiet beauty of the mountains.
11. Humpback Rock Farm
A mountain homestead much like the ones from the nineteenth century, Humpback Rock Farm is located at Milepost 5.8 on the Blue Ridge Parkway south of Afton and I-64. Costumed interpreters and musicians are on hand weekends throughout the fall to answer questions and demonstrate crafts from a bygone era. Farm animals, a working garden, mountain music, and more round out the experience. Visitor Center and picnic tables are available on the site.
12. Lots of Eats
There are plenty of places to grab great eats in the Valley ... here are a few: Depot Grille, Byers Street Bistro, Split Banana, Shenandoah Pizza, Rowe's, Clock Tower, Kline's, Green Leaf Grille, Wright's Drive-In, Mill Street Grill, Emilio's, Mockingbird, and Sorrel's in Staunton's Stonewall Jackson Hotel.
13. Dayton Farmers Market
A favorite with visitors and locals alike, the Dayton Farmers Market is located on Rt. 42 about 30 minutes northwest of Staunton. Featuring the "best big soft pretzels on the East Coast," it also has Jake's BBQ as well as a variety of shops offering a variety of goods plus fresh produce with apples and pumpkins. Outside is a hitching post for the Old Order Mennonites to park their horse and buggies when they stop by to do a little shopping of their own.
14. Green Valley Book Fair
Open October 6-21, from 9-7 daily, the Green Valley Book Fair offers hundreds of thousands of books at up to 90% off retail price. Shop for books that include classics, children's, political, novels, fiction, history, health and self-help, religion, science, sports, cookbooks, home and garden, crafts, art, reference, computer, nature, and outdoors. Convenient parking, no admission charge. Located in Mt. Crawford 20 minutes north of Staunton.
15. Grand Caverns at Halloween
Drive 30 minutes northeast from Staunton to Grottoes and check out America's oldest show cave featuring the Grand Caverns Nightmare from October 26-31. Their Haunted Cavern Tours run nightly from 6-9 pm but beware ... the 30-minute tours are not recommended for children under 10.
16. Nichols Apple Barn
Located in Middleburg, Nichols Apple Barn offers a wide range of apples right at the orchard. Walk in the barn, get a bag or box, and start picking out your favorites straight from the wooden apple crates. Walk through the orchard where Staymans and other juicy varities hang from branches.
17. Kettle Corn on Afton Mountain
It's not just an October thing but if you're up around Afton Mountain and have a snack attack, stop by the Kettle Corn stand. He has expanded to caramel corn, pork rinds, and soft drinks. You can't miss the awning with the big kettle beneath or, if all else fails, just follow the Burma Shave-like signs.
18. Massanutten Fall Festival
The 19th annual Massanutten Fall Festival will be held on October 13 from 11-5, with chairlift rides, arts and crafts, food vendors, beer garden, wine tasting, kids activities, entertainment, and more. Takes place at the scenic Massanutten Resort east of Harrisonburg.
19. MaDee's 3rd Annual Holiday Market & 5K Run/Walk
Held at the Frontier Culture Museum on Saturday, October 20, this event is held in memory and celebration of the life of Staunton resident MaDee Boxler who died in 2009 at the age of 22 from Hodgkins Lymphoma. Proceeds help pediatric cancer patients. Admission $7. Info: (540) 294-0221 or (540) 849-9638.
20. Dayton Days Autumn Festival
The 33rd annual Dayton Days Autumn Festival features more than 350 arts and crafts booths and more than 75 food vendors. One of the largest shows of its kind in the area, the streets of historic downtown Dayton are closed off to allow only craft/food booths and pedestrians. Entertainment is provided all day in this historic town located in the middle of Old Order Mennonite country.