Eat, Drink, Love: Your New Marching Orders for Visiting Virginia
Though there’s no bad time to visit Virginia, fall comes with a lot to love. And we don’t even mean the kaleidoscopic foliage (though we will say the #nofilter hashtag was pretty much invented for these leaves). What we actually mean is the epic bounty: 'Tis the season for wine (so much so that October is Virginia Wine Month), oysters, apples, cider, pumpkins…and the list goes deliciously on. In fact, wherever you happen to be in the state on Oct. 19, odds are, you’ll find a Virginia Harvest Party, whether in a vineyard, at a restaurant or along a gorgeous stretch of beach.
So celebrate this year's big anniversary of Virginia is for Lovers—the state's iconic slogan since 1969—with our eat, drink, love approach: Make your next trip to Virginia the most delicious escape imaginable. As you’ll see from three of our favorite itineraries, even a long weekend (done right) packs enough active pursuits to keep your appetite up.
Wining, dining and gallery-hopping
You may associate Virginia's state capital with one particular revolution (Patrick Henry had a little something to say about liberty or death here, after all). But Richmond’s latter-day revolutions (design, food, arts) have turned it into an increasingly cool spot for a city stay, as everyone from Travel + Leisure to National Geographic has noted of late.
At the same time, Richmond serves as the perfect home base for exploring the region's stellar, if lesser-known wineries: Virginia is best known for its viognier, an Old World white grape that has come to call this area home, as you’ll find at a handful of wineries within an hour’s drive of the city. So here’s the perfect blend of local activities:
Just 30 minutes southeast of the city, you'll find Upper Shirley Vineyards, a gorgeous estate set right on a bend of the James River. Beyond the stellar house wines served at the restaurant, offerings include horseback and bike rides through the vineyards—and great musical lineup. In fact, if you can time your visit to Oct. 11, you'll catch Rockin' Under the Stars—a night that pairs live music with Upper Shirley Vineyards wine (of course), as well as beer and food.
About 45 minutes southwest of Richmond, a dirt road in the back country of Powhatan leads you to 5 acres of grape vines that lace the countryside at Skippers Creek Vineyard, a prime spot for tasting Virginia’s viognier. The town is also home to Bodie Vineyards, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it mom and pop of a winery that bottles only two varieties: red and white. If it’s an abundance of choice you’re after, the Powhatan Wine Festival (Oct. 5) gathers Skippers Creek and 24 other regional wineries all in one place—no back roads required.
After a day out exploring nearby wineries, give your designated driver a break and make your last stop inside the city limits, where the Scott's Addition neighborhood cidery scene—see: Blue Bee, Buskey and Courthouse Creek—makes tasty use of Virginia’s apple harvest.
See why Bon Appetit called Richmond “America’s Next Great Restaurant-Obsessed Town” this year with a jaunt to two of the city’s best new restaurants.
Prepare to be reeled in by Alewife’s mirrored portholes, tin ceilings and bone-in fish chops (yes, fish have chops). Helmed by Lee Gregory, the former head chef of the beloved Roosevelt restaurant, the seafood-centric Alewife made GQ’s list of the nation’s best new restaurants for 2019.
Long known and lauded for its pop-up dinners, Longoven—number 3 on Bon Appetit’s best new restaurants in the nation—finally opened a brick-and-mortar restaurant last summer. Fanciful and immaculately plated dishes do double duty as art and sustenance inside the restaurant’s clean-lined space, where the tasting menu is well worth the splurge. Mushroom lovers take note: Don’t stick to just the savory varieties here. How about a rich porcini ice cream? (Paired beautifully with flourless chocolate cake, for good measure.)
To see why Travel + Leisure recently posited that Richmond “could be the country’s next must-visit art destination,” start at the Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University, where the new Great Force multimedia exhibit (opening Oct. 5) examines racial bias and inequality in America with commissions and recent work by Pope. L, Sable Elyse Smith, Charlotte Lagarde and Tomashi Jackson, among other artists.
A new Edward Hopper exhibit at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (opening Oct. 26) focuses on the artist’s depictions of hotels and motels with sixty-five pieces by the beloved American artist, alongside other works. Little more than a month after that exhibit's debut, the first public installation—and largest work to date—by President Obama's portraitist Kehinde Wiley is coming to the museum, too. Entitled Rumors of War, the towering bronze has just debuted in New York's Times Square to epic fanfare—and will stay on Broadway until the December, when the sculpture will relocate permanently to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts entrance.
Where to Stay
In keeping with the hotel-as-art theme, post up at the Jefferson Hotel, a historic luxury property so over-the-top, alligators once lived in the lobby pools. Now represented in the form of bronze statues instead, the creatures are the just the beginning of the opulent design touches. For high design at a lower price point, check out the Graduate Hotel, and don't miss the lobby's tennis ball art series—a tribute to hometown hero Arthur Ashe.
Brews, biking and the birthplace of country music
A two-hour drive along winding, foliage-fringed roads takes you from Roanoke, the urban heart of the state’s southwestern region to Bristol, the birthplace of country music. Along the way, you’ll find adorable Appalachian mountain towns, beloved breweries and pilgrimage-worthy biking trails.
More than 20 breweries line the path between Bristol and Roanoke, many of them concentrated along scenic Interstate 81—a clear win for suds-lovers (with designated drivers or Tour Roanoke brewery transport reservations). There are plenty of offerings in Roanoke (Big Lick, A Few Old Goats, Soaring Ridge, Starr Hill Pilot Brewery, Deschutes Brewery) and Bristol (Bristol Station Brews, State Street Brewing, Studio Brew) alone. In between, you’ll find Right Mind, Rising Silo, and Bull & Bones Brewhaus & Grill in Blacksburg; Sinkland Farms Brewery in Christiansburg; Sugar Hill in St. Paul; Wolf Hills in Abingdon and Twin Creeks Brewing in Vinton—to name just a few.
Even the beginnings of a beer belly are tough to maintain given another of the area’s claims to fame: being the Mountain Bike Capital of the East Coast, as Roanoke is known among cyclists. Thrill-seeking experienced bikers head straight for the likes of Dragon’s Back, but a new, breezy trail ride is the mountain biking equivalent of a welcome mat for first-timers: The Roanoke River Greenway winds through city parks along the Roanoke River, where you can take things slow and scenic, with plenty of river-gazing stops. Whatever your level, outfitters such as Roanoke Mountain Adventures and UnderDog Bikes can get you set up with a couple of wheels.
If you’re here in early November, refuel at Smith Mountain Lake, where the annual chili festival (Nov. 2) brings rows of tents, chili-cooking teams (sometimes sporting outrageous costumes) and cook-off fever. And trust us: You’ll want to do the most thorough research possible before casting your vote for People’s Choice.
Country music heritage
Farther southwest, in Bristol, brass markers in the middle of downtown’s State Street signify the state line between Tennessee and Virginia. After dipping a toe across the line, head to Virginia's Birthplace of Country Music Museum, a Smithsonian-affiliated facility that commemorates the 1927 Bristol Sessions, some of the earliest and most venerated country-music recordings ever made. If you’re not pressed for time, check out more of the amazing Crooked Road music heritage trail that fans out in either direction from Bristol—much of which may look familiar from Ken Burns' epic new Country Music. And don't be surprised to find yourself in the middle of a mountain music jam along the way.
Where to Stay
A 1925 landmark recently turned boutique hotel, the Bristol Hotel is steeped in local history and surrounded by Appalachian Mountain views—especially from the rooftop bar. If it's a Roanoke stay you'd prefer, Hotel Roanoke has recently joined the Hilton Curio Collection's roster of upscale, independent properties. The romantic, Tudor-style hotel was originally built in 1882 and holds a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.
Oysters, pork and peanuts
Not even 20 miles from Norfolk, in Virginia Beach, you’ll find Pleasure House Oyster farm, where the Lynnhaven Oyster—fat, firm, creamy, and not too salty—reigns supreme. Take a Pleasure House tour to learn about the environment that makes these coveted oysters pearls in their own right. The organizers will even set up a chef’s table in knee-deep water and serve you oysters straight from the Lynnhaven River. And you can feel good about all that decadence: Pleasure House is committed to conservation and has been instrumental in bringing this delicious oyster variety back from near extinction and keeping the breeding waters clean.
If you time your trip to the Saturday before Thanksgiving, the Oyster & South Festival at Greenbrier Farms in Chesapeake (about 20 minutes’ drive from Norfolk) makes heaps of freshly-shucked oysters something else to be grateful for. The farm is also a good spot for picking your own pumpkins throughout October.
Pork and peanuts
Virginia’s salt-cured hams are the stuff of Thanksgiving-table legend and make an even more decadent substitute for bacon alongside eggs and toast in the morning. About 40 minutes northwest of Norfolk, Smithfield is the capital of pork, home to an eponymous pork producer—the world’s largest. But the Salty Southern Route isn’t all big brands, and one of the best places to go seriously local is Darden’s Country Store—a family-run joint on a 600-acre farm that’s been curing hams, making sausage and growing peanuts since the 1950s.
Not far away is Suffolk, the so-called Peanut Capital of the World—home to Planters Peanuts; an old-timey Planters retail store, complete with a 1936-model roaster and the mouthwatering scent of roasting nuts; and a statue of Mr. Peanut that demands photo ops.
Fall in Norfolk means brilliant days, but the foliage isn’t the only thing brightening up the landscape: The Neon Festival (Oct. 17-18)—a two-day extravaganza of public art—lights up the city with neon, mural and live performances and food truck. There’s a map of the art installations, but the best way to find them is simply strolling the Arts District with a sense of adventure.
Just a day after the Neon Festival, the city’s most anticipated culinary event, the Fall Town Point Virginia Wine Festival (Oct. 19-20), brings hundreds of wines from more than 30 of the state’s wineries to the Norfolk waterfront—all paired with live music, gourmet food and fabulous shopping along the Elizabeth River.
Where to Stay
Hilton Norfolk The Main is downtown's newest upscale hotel. Situated along the Elizabeth River, the meticulously appointed property places you within walking distance of more culture, shopping and eating you can reasonably expect from one weekend. For a more intimate stay, check out Four Eleven York Street, a four-suite boutique inn with 19th-century bones—and a renowned restaurant of the same name, just in case you still have room for the local bounty.