In use since the Civil War era, the Staunton train stop is a four-hour Amtrak ride from Washington, D.C.
  • In use since the Civil War era, the Staunton train stop is a four-hour Amtrak ride from Washington, D.C.
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Why are people from around the world flocking to Staunton, Virginia, a little railroad town nestled in the Shenandoah Valley?

Staunton, pronounced “Stant-on,” isn’t content to merely be a scenic historic stop 10 miles west of the Blue Ridge Parkway. You can’t call it “a quiet valley town,” as they host world-class music performances and a wildly popular Shakespeare theater. The hometown of President Woodrow Wilson and David McCullough’s favorite museum also has sophisticated dining featuring the bounty of the Shenandoah Valley.

What to do. When you took a college Shakespeare class, did you find yourself zoning out, only to perk up at the descriptions of double entendres? The mighty Bard has whole new life breathed into him at the American Shakespeare Theater's Blackfriars Playhouse.

Blackfriars itself is a recreation of the original 16th-century Blackfriars Theatre, with simple backdrops and the same lighting in the audience as on stage. It’s considered one of the most historically accurate and important theaters in the world for Elizabethan-era plays. Each show begins with a musical prelude by the actors, transforming popular songs into Renaissance-like ditties. For the most fun, get a seat onstage, where the actors will mess with you Don Rickles–style.

Have you despaired that the future of American musicians is in people like Ke$ha? Fret not! Internationally renowned violinist Daniel Heifetz has moved his summer music institute to Staunton’s Mary Baldwin College. Catch the young stars of tomorrow – as taught by the greatest of living virtuosos – in live performances throughout the season.

Hometown hero President Woodrow Wilson was forced by circumstances into the modern-era spotlight. Learn more about him and see cool artifacts – including his Pierce-Arrow limousine driven in local parades – at the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum (left). Don’t miss the newest exhibit in the basement, which recreates a WWI underground bunker to harrowing detail.

Bruce Elder Antique and Classic Automobiles is known around the world for its cool vintage vehicles, and the store/body shop serves as a museum of sorts. It’s conveniently located a block from the visitor’s center.

Recreation of a 1700s Irish-immigrant homestead.

Living, breathing history: that’s why Pulitzer Prize winner David McCullough loves the Frontier Culture Museum. Several farms of different settler cultures from the 1600s and 1700s are recreated, including English, Irish, German, American and West African. (A Native American farm is in the works.) Wear comfy walking shoes to see the heirloom animals in stunning scenery and talk to learned reenactor educators.

On the edge of the historic part of town by the railroad tracks, the “Wharf District,” there are a number of hidden things to do. Besides antique and coffee shops, there’s live glass-blowing at Sunspots Studios (see video below). American-made art glass is becoming a rare thing and Sunspots Studios has beautiful examples of it. Also in the Wharf District is Ox-Eye Tasting Room, located in a historic building with wines from a local family farm and local art.

The R.R. Smith Center for History and Art holds special events, has local genealogy information, exhibits local artists and sells their works in the museum store.

What to eat. Cranberry’s Grocery and Eatery is somewhere in the middle ground between hippie health food store and "Whole Paycheck." Go there for the customized fresh fruit smoothie and relaxing atmosphere.

Zynodoa is the ancient name for “Shenandoah.” Today, it’s a restaurant with a passionate commitment to serving the bounty of the Shenandoah Valley in a sleek environment that would be at home in NYC. The list of the local farms, foragers, purveyors, vineyards and breweries used at Zynodoa is astounding. The ingredients go into Southern-inspired dishes with definitely modern takes.

Where to stay. The Stonewall Jackson Hotel, opened in 1924, was a place where society weddings and debutante cotillions once took place. Grandly located on top of a hill, it overlooks downtown. Their original Wurlitzer is the only 1924 Wurlitzer organ still playable. The hotel has modern amenities, too: a full service restaurant, indoor pool/hot tub, WiFi and pet friendly.

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clampet Feb. 22, 2013 @ 12:38 p.m.

Your article on Staunton, Virginia is right on the money. Every time I am in that beautiful area I stop and pay a visit. The Stonewall Jackson Hotel is the best location in town as it is in the center of all of the places I want to visit. You can get a free walking tour map at the visitor's center and check out the 5 historic districts. The large victorian homes and some of historical significance will amaze you. If you are a Civil War buff, check out Jedediah Hodgekiss's house. He was the principal map maker for the Confederacy. Just half a block away is a log house built by a freed slave that is still owned by the original family. When the weather is disagreeable, I just hop on the trolley which will take you around Staunton for free! The best time to come is in the fall. I'm from New York but must admit the fall colors along the Blue Ridge and Alleghany's may even surpass our splendid foilage. I'm told it's due to the large number of maples and sweet gums along the mountain ranges. Thank you so much for the wonderful article......


Armentrout Feb. 22, 2013 @ 6:01 p.m.

We Stauntonians are always pleased when nice things are said about our wonderful micropolitan area, but we also appreciate when information is accurate.

The American Shakespeare Center's Blackfriars Playhouse is, as the name rather implies, the world's only recreation (not replica) of Shakespeare's indoor theater -- namely, the Blackfriars Playhouse.

The Globe was the outdoor playhouse, located on the other side of the Thames. It held about 2500 people compared to the 500 that could fit in the Blackfriars Playhouse. The Globe and Blackfriars are connected in that it was on these stages that the Lord Chamberlain's Men, later the King's Men, played. But these two venue were not, and in the recreations (the Globe in London, Blackfriars in Staunton) are not the same place.

I am sorry if this seem "picky," but a certain degree of accuracy does matter -- and matters enough to me that I jumped through what seems like an inordinate number of hoops just in order to comment on this one article from a publication on the other side of the country.


nateh Feb. 23, 2013 @ 10:24 a.m.

fixed - appreciate the accuracy check!


Visduh Feb. 24, 2013 @ 11:51 a.m.

Last fall we were passing through Staunton on the way back from West Virginia. The best B&B of our trip was the one there. We also learned that the name of the city is pronounced by the locals as if it were spelled "stanton". So much for fancy pronunciations. Great place, as is all the Shenandoah Valley.


jimhayris Feb. 26, 2013 @ 3:05 a.m.

Staunton is my adopted home town, and my wife's lifelong home, and we loved this article. We would like to mention that the farmsteads that operate at the Museum of Frontier Culture are not "recreations" they are actually re-assemblages, While the Blackfriars Theatre is a recreation of the original, these farms are actual farms of the same period in Europe and Africa that have been disassembled and brought to the museum and reassembled. And they are operated as they would have been at the time they were built. The idea is that people migrating to the new world would have likely built what they were used to, so these likely come close to what early American farmsteads were like.


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