In late July, my husband and I pulled together an “on the spot” mini-vacation for our two girls (ages 7 and 3). After a brief discussion, we decided that the Shenandoah Valley would be ideal. We settled on Staunton, home to the Frontier Culture Museum, and Roanoke/Salem, home to my brother and sister-in-law.
The drive down Interstate 81 from Northern Virginia has beautiful mountain views, lots of animals for children to spot and plenty of Civil War era towns. We rolled into Staunton in the early-evening and checked into the Best Western Staunton Inn. My girls loved the indoor pool the most, and the staff was nice enough to open up the pool early both days we were there for my daughters to splash and play.
On our first morning, we went straight to the Frontier Culture Museum. This place is huge, so we paid $2 to rent a red wagon for the girls. There are two main trails. One trail winds through the Old World, which features homes of the immigrants who came to populate the valley, and one trail winds through the American Frontier. The girls eagerly greeted all of the animals on the various farms including sheep, geese, ducks, cows, pigs and chickens.
By the time we reached the end of the Old World trail, which took 2.5 hours, we were exhausted. Visiting the museum could have easily filled up our day, but we decided lunch was next on the agenda. In downtown Staunton, we stopped for lunch at Shenandoah Pizza. Another downtown favorite: homemade gelato at The Split Banana. Yum!
The next morning, we headed to the P. Buckley Moss Museum in nearby Waynesboro. This artist is in her late 70s and known for depictions of Amish life. Moss makes etchings, paintings, dolls and more. Of special note: the amazing dollhouse on the ground floor. For lunch, we stumbled on a Mediterranean restaurant named Chickpeas with brick oven pizza that my older daughter called, “the best.”
On our third morning, we drove to Natural Bridge, about 30 to 40 minutes north of Roanoke. Tickets are a bit pricey, but just like the Frontier Culture Museum, this can easily be an all-day visit. We liked everything at this site from the marvelous bridge to the Native American village. Avoid the outdoor snack bar, unless you like wasps. After lunch, we visited the caverns which are just a short drive up the hill from the main Visitors Center. Bring a jacket since temperatures drop to 54 degrees in the caverns.
We relaxed during dinner at Hollywood’s in Salem (our other local favorite is Mac and Bob’s). Definitely save room for dessert! Hollywood’s provided a sweet ending to our spontaneous vacation. After a good night’s sleep, we drove back home, savoring the memories.
Katie Klimenko is a mother of two and an active member of the MOMS Club of Falls Church-North in Northern Virginia.
Photo Credit: Joe Driver