Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge

Roanoke Offers Exceptional Eats and Craft Beers, Along with Indoor and Outdoor Entertainment for All Ages

With an incredible variety of international cuisine, craft breweries and indoor and outdoor entertainment, Roanoke is a region worth visiting.

The region’s new branding effort, dubbed Virginia’s Blue Ridge, promotes the area as “America’s East Coast Mountain Biking Capital,” but it also has a Roanoke Valley Greenway system with more than 30 miles of paved trails for those of us who prefer a more mellow bike ride or stroll.

A weekend trip to Roanoke can start with a visit to the iconic star on Mill Mountain, easily accessed from the Blue Ridge Parkway. With more than 10 miles of hiking and biking trails, Mill Mountain is prime for outdoor fun, with a zoo and a discovery center.

A short ride down the mountain takes you into the heart of the city, where everything is within easy walking distance. Center in the Square, a seven-story nonprofit cultural center, greets visitors with brightly colored fish in aquariums. The Center houses the Science Museum of Western Virginia, the Kids Square and the Roanoke Pinball Museum, where you can spend too much time trying to run up your score. The Center in the Square is also home to the Harrison Museum of African American Culture and Mill Mountain Theatre.

Mountain biking in Virginia's Blue Ridge
Virginia's Blue Ridge is America's East Coast mountain biking capital

Roanoke Star Overlook
Roanoke Star Overlook. Photo by John Henley, Visit Virginia's Blue Ridge

Science Museum of Western Virginia
Science Museum of Western Virginia Touch Tank

Visit Virginia's Blue Ridge, wine
Photo by Sam Dean Photography, Visit Virginia's Blue Ridge

Roanoke Farmers Market
Roanoke Farmers Market. Cameron Davidson, Visit Virginia's Blue Ridge

Roanoke Farmers Market
Roanoke Farmers Market

Clustered around the historic farmers market stalls, which are filled with local produce on Saturdays from May to September, are a variety of shops including the eponymous Chocolatepaper, Ladles & Linens, Walkabout Outfitter and two craft breweries: Deschutes and Three Notch'd. On a recent visit, my fiancé Michael Kelly and I sampled a flight at Deschutes and ate a tasty Mexican lunch at Cancun, while across the street on Campbell Avenue visitors can sample Lebanese, Indian and Afghan cuisine.

A short walk up Salem Avenue is the Taubman Museum of Art, where Outside Eyes: New Perspectives on the Collection is on display through June 2, 2019.

A pedestrian walkway goes over the railroad tracks to the Hotel Roanoke, the Virginia Blue Ridge Visitor Center and the O. Winston Link Museum & History Museum of Western Virginia, which highlights Link’s photography and the city’s early history as an important rail hub.

After all that walking, take a break for a short drive to Blue Cow Ice Cream, which makes everything on site with as many local products as possible. Manager Tresa Walko said the sea salt brickle with caramel swirl has proven to be the most popular and for good reason. Other unusual scoops included goat cheese with blueberry swirl, strawberry balsamic and vegan chocolate.

We were ready for a break and headed to SpringHill Suites by Marriott, where we were treated to a lovely corner room with a view of Mill Mountain and easy access to the greenway along the Roanoke River.

Roanoke River Greenway
Roanoke River Greenway. Kemper Mills Fant Photography, Visit Virginia's Blue Ridge

Starr Hill Brewery, Roanoke
Starr Hill Pilot Brewery

Fortunato Restaurant, Roanoke
Fortunato Restaurant. Photo by John Park, Visit Virginia's Blue Ridge

Roanoke Star Sunrise
Roanoke Star Sunrise. Photo by Sam Dean Photography, Visit Virginia's Blue Ridge

Roanoke has several craft brewers. At Starr Hill Pilot Brewery, Manager Scottie Neighbors said they serve as a test market for new beers. Being hopheads, Michael and I sampled a flight of IPAs—the hazy Looking Glass was my favorite. We then visited Big Lick Brewing Company. (Roanoke used to be known as Big Lick because of the natural salt outcroppings visited by wildlife.) Taproom Manager Adam McDearmon said their brewery was named among the top 50 fastest growing beer companies in 2017.

At Fortunato, a traditional Italian kitchen, we had one of the best meals ever. We started with mussels and clams in a spicy arrabbiata sauce, and Chef Jeff Farmer sent out lamb meatballs. I tried a half glass of a tasty Barolo and a mouthwatering plate of pasta with pecorino cheese and black truffles. Michael feasted on a half chicken with rice polenta. Somehow, we made room for two desserts: a chocolate pudding cake and ricotta doughnuts.

The next morning, we hit the greenway for a short walk before heading to an exceptionally good breakfast bar at SpringHill Suites.

On the way back to Lynchburg, we stopped at Greenfield Lake in Daleville for some birding before heading up the hill to Ballast Point Brewing Company, the only East Coast venue for this impressive San Diego, Calif.–based brewery.

Our last stop in Daleville was a late lunch at Donnie D’s Bagels & Deli, which just opened in September 2018. We ate delicious bagel sandwiches as owner Donnie DeGeorgis told us this was a brand new career for him. He has already mastered a variety of bagels, from sundried tomato to asiago cheese.

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Samantha Shannon
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