Category: Attraction

Staunton Road Trip: One Last Hurrah Before Summer Ends

It might not feel like fall yet, but with many schools starting soon, we know that summer is on its way out. Are you looking for a final, fun trip to take with the family before the leaves start changing, and before soccer and football gobble up all your Saturdays? Here are some ideas for a Staunton road trip.

Getting here

Staunton’s convenient location at the intersection of interstates 81 and 64 makes it an ideal destination for a quick road trip. Not only can you hop off the highway at small towns and other fun destinations on the way, but the Shenandoah Valley scenery is also incredible, even from the highway! Depending on your direction, consider stopping at Monticello, Shenandoah Caverns, or Natural Bridge State Park. Or cruise along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Shenandoah National Park’s Skyline Drive makes it one of the most beautiful and driveable parks in the country.

Once you get to Staunton, parking in the downtown footprint is easy. There’s a lot of metered parking, parking garage space, and two-hour street parking. Staunton is a walkable town, and you can see much of it on foot or from the 25-cent trolley.

Uniquely Staunton

  • Staunton boasts the world’s only recreation of Shakespeare’s Blackfriars Playhouse, and performances will give you a sense of how the show appeared to the Bard’s original audiences, so you should definitely try to fit a show into your schedule. 
  • Crack the Code Escape Room will test your IQ as you try to sleuth your way through a Staunton-themed mystery. 
  • If you’d rather learn the mysteries of how art glass is created, head down to Sunspots Studios to catch a glass-blowing demonstration or even try your hand at blowing your own ornament. 
  • Little ones will love riding the Gypsy Hill Express miniature train as it loops through Gypsy Hill Park. 
  • And finally, catch a glimpse of Staunton in times gone by with a tour of the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum or the Frontier Culture Museum.

Don’t forget to eat

Staunton is a town that takes its food offerings seriously. If you’re here on a weekend, check out Beverley Street, which closes to car traffic for Shop and Dine Out Downtown. Since diners will be enjoying food al fresco, you can window shop other people’s meals until you see something you like! 

  • We recommend Remedy Burger for its juicy and delicious smash burgers. 
  • Nearby Shenandoah Pizza & Taphouse serves up gourmet pizzas with delightful topping combinations and an interesting selection of brews. 
  • More beer awaits, along with delicious Mexican fare, at Baja Bean
  • And if you want to tap into classic car culture, try Wright’s Dairy Rite, where they’ve been bringing burgers and shakes to the covered drive-in since the 1950s.

Take some selfies

Nothing will help you remember your road trip like the Staunton selfies you post on Instagram. Make sure to get a photo as you enjoy one of these Staunton experiences. Make sure to tag your shots with #LoveStaunton.

  • Pose in front of the You Belong Here mural on Central Ave. between Beverley and Johnson Streets.
  • Cross Sears Hill Bridge for a view of the historic train station from above and one of the best views of downtown.
  • Explore beautifully landscaped Thornrose Cemetery along with its tower and footbridge.
  • Bite into something delicious outside Reunion Bakery & Espresso or The Split Banana.
  • Pause after you’ve conquered one of the hills in Montgomery Park on your mountain bike.
  • Relish the freshness at the Saturday Staunton Farmers’ Market.

Get yourself a little something

It’s always nice to take something home with you when you travel. Here are some places to get fun treats and souvenirs.

Ride the Virginia Scenic Railway from Staunton

The railroad came to Staunton in 1854 and helped transform a quiet town into a bustling commercial center. Alternative forms of shipping and transportation have claimed some of the local railroad’s glory, but travelers have always been able to embark by rail from downtown Staunton. And now, train fans have a new way to ride the rails!

Starting in August, the Virginia Scenic Railway is offering recreational tours of the Shenandoah Valley that start and stop in historic downtown Staunton. Visit their web site at https://www.virginiascenicrailway.com/ or call at 434-391-9772.

The Routes:

  • The Alleghany Special heads west from Staunton’s historic downtown, passing through the rural landscape and working farms of western Virginia as you wind your way towards the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest before turning around in Goshen for the trip back to Staunton. 
    • The train departs Staunton at 10:30 a.m. Thursday – Sunday.
    • Tickets cost $110 and include a meal, dessert, and beverage in a souvenir glass.
  • The Blue Ridge Flyer goes east from Staunton towards the town of Ivy. On the way, you’ll pass by Staunton and Waynesboro before ascending roughly 1,000 ft up to Afton Mountain where you’ll experience the thrill of roaring through the 4,237 ft. Blue Ridge Tunnel before turning around for a repeat run through the tunnel. 
    • The train departs Staunton at 3:30 p.m. Thursday – Sunday.
    • Tickets cost $110 and include a meal, dessert, and beverage in a souvenir glass.
  • Coming in December: Santa Trains will be shorter trips geared for younger audiences.

The Details:

Staunton’s Railroad History

Staunton was a sleepy town until the 1840s when the new Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike helped it grow into a thriving commercial center. The town’s growth accelerated again when the Virginia Central Railroad arrived in 1854. What’s now the Wharf Historic District grew up around the train depot to handle merchandise and house passengers. Along with warehouses and hotels, this district also featured saloons, distilleries, liveries, and brothels. Despite a history fraught with the perils of fire, flood, war, and abandonment, significant historic architecture survives.

Eat and Stay Near the Train Station

  • Book a stay at Gibson’s Warehouse, an updated space in a historic building with ties to railroad history!
  • Eat breakfast or lunch at Serendipity Java Bar and Eatery, a new cafe serving morning beverages, breakfast and grilled sandwiches, and fresh pastries. The building also houses the American Hotel, now a wedding venue, where in 1868, President Ulysses S. Grant raised his hat to the serenading Stonewall Brigade Band in an early public act of reconciliation after the Civil War.

Other Train-Themed Things to Do in Staunton

  • Tour Staunton’s Wharf Historic District, which was named because of its location next to the railroad depot and the way workers would set up gangplanks to move goods to and from the warehouses. The Wharf buildings were constructed between 1870 and 1910. They were once much more extensive and spread through the area that is now the Wharf parking lot. Structures here were damaged by a flood in 1896 and destroyed by fire in 1911 and again in 1940.
  • The bungalow-style train station was built in 1902, but it’s the third on the site. The first was strategically destroyed during the Civil War, and the second was demolished by a runaway train in 1890. Some say the site is still haunted by those who perished! To learn more, sign up for a Ghosts of Staunton ghost tour.

  • Make sure to climb up to the Sears Hill Bridge, a 1905 footbridge that crosses the railroad tracks. The bridge is on the National Register of Historic Places. The steps are steep, but views from the bridge and nearby Wilson Park are phenomenal. Interpretive signs point out important landmarks.

  • Ride the miniature Gypsy Hill Express, which has been looping its track in Gypsy Hill Park and delighting kids for over 60 years. Rides cost $1, and the train runs from 1 to 5 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays, May through October.
  • Head east to Afton Mountain and hike the Blue Ridge Tunnel Trail. This out-and-back adventure includes a mile-long tunnel built in the 1850s and once the longest of its kind in the country. Don’t worry: this tunnel is no longer used by trains!