By Kristy Tolley
The largest metropolitan area along the Blue Ridge Parkway, Roanoke offers something for everyone. From outdoor exploration and downtown diversions to dining gems and upscale stays, there are numerous lures. Here are five of them!
1. Outdoor Adventures
Perched on top of Mill Mountain, the Roanoke Star is the world’s largest freestanding illuminated man-made star. You can easily access it via the Blue Ridge Parkway. This historic landmark was constructed in 1949 and is visible for 60 miles when lit (on a clear evening). Mill Mountain also provides stellar views of Roanoke, more than 10 miles of hiking and biking trails, Mill Mountain Discovery Center and the Mill Mountain Zoo.
From mountain biking parks to hundreds of miles of biking trails in Virginia’s Blue Ridge, it’s no wonder it’s considered America’s East Coast Mountain Biking Capital. Enjoy a leisurely pace along the Roanoke River Greenway — 13.7 miles of paved trail perfect for bikes, inline skating and walking (it’s also wheelchair accessible). Kayaking, paddle boarding and tubing along the Roanoke River are other options. Make your first stop Roanoke Mountain Adventures. They provide guided or self-guided mountain biking and paddle boarding tours, along with road cycling, kayaking and tubing rentals and shuttle service.
2. Downtown Lures
It’s easy to spend a day discovering what downtown Roanoke has to offer — art galleries, shops, restaurants and breweries along Market Square and beyond. Gypsy Palooza teems with eclectic clothing and unique handmade jewelry. La De Da boasts fun and funky clothing, accessories and home decor.
Area history museums are also worth a visit. The Harrison Museum of African American Culture showcases an extensive collection of photographs, memorabilia and items relating to the African-American experience in the Roanoke Valley. Housed in downtown Roanoke’s historic freight station, the Virginia Museum of Transportation features an impressive variety of locomotives and rail cars, as well as aviation and automotive exhibits, model trains and a well-stocked gift store.
3. Foodie Finds
Carve out time in your itinerary for as many meals as possible. Start your day at Scratch Biscuit Company. Fat, fluffy biscuits hold whatever you’re hungry for — bacon, egg, cheese, sausage and other breakfast staples. Vegetarians will savor the Jerry Garcia biscuit, smoked tofu on a vegetarian biscuit.
Visit Blue Cow Ice Cream Company for hand-crafted, small-batch ice cream. Distinct flavors include strawberry balsamic, goat cheese with blueberry swirl, chocolate cayenne and masala chai.
An innovative menu that changes seasonally, a comprehensive wine list and an upscale, but casual ambiance make Rockfish Food & Wine a solid choice for brunch, tapas or dinner. Highly recommended: shrimp and grits, chef’s green plate (vegetarian selection) and she crab bisque.
Located on Main Street in the historic Wasena neighborhood of Roanoke, Bloom Restaurant & Wine Bar has been bustling since it opened last July. Choose from large or small plates with seasonal selections like roasted spaghetti squash, Brasstown Farms Beef NY Strip and roasted oyster mushroom with charcoal pasta, malt, charred onion and Madeira. Grab a table in the main dining space or sit at the chef’s table, a table bar with front-seat views of the open kitchen.
4. Historic Stay
AAA Four Diamond-rated, The Hotel Roanoke and Conference Center is convenient to many of the above-mentioned downtown diversions. Built in 1882 as a modest respite for weary rail travelers, it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Tudor-style hotel has enjoyed many upgrades and renovations over the years without losing an ounce of charm. Choose from 330 beautifully appointed rooms including 18 suites, each with plush bedding, flat-screen TVs and sleek bathrooms with luxury bath accessories.
Onsite dining includes the Virginia Blue Ridge’s only AAA Four Diamond restaurant, The Regency Room, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner.
After reading our May/June issue, one of our AAA Members emailed me with another recommendation on where to stay – thank you, Becky Winders! She suggested a stay at the Black Lantern Inn, a bed and breakfast conveniently located close to downtown Roanoke.
She wrote: “We have visited several times. The Black Lantern Inn is beautifully restored and comfortably furnished. The friendly proprietors cook and serve a breakfast that is special.”
I do love the intimacy and community feel of a good B & B, so I plan to check it out on my next visit to Virginia’s Blue Ridge!
5. You’ll Feel at Home
With amiable residents and a small-town vibe, the area makes it easy for visitors to feel like locals. There’s also a strong sense of community here. With almost every stop, business owners were quick to share a bit of history, as well as recommend other places to add to my itinerary.
That community love is perhaps most strongly felt on the corner of Rockfish Food & Wine’s building in historic Grandin Village. Here, you’ll discover a poignant mural of James Hunter Tarpley, painted by Toobz Muir. Known to most as “the Angel of Grandin Village,” Tarpley, a Korean War veteran, spent countless hours picking up trash, sweeping sidewalks or sharing stories with friends on the benches along Grandin Road until his passing on Oct. 22, 2019.
Call your local AAA Travel Agent at 800-374-2865 or visit AAA.com/GoTravel to plan your stay!
(Go Magazine May/June 2020)