Q. With the holidays here, a steady stream of family and friends will be visiting us here in the Star City. We’ve taken them to the Star and all the other familiar places countless times now. Can you give us some off-the-beaten path sites and activities for these holiday visitors?
Andy Angiano, Roanoke
A. What a well-timed question. As many of us prepare for an onslaught of friends and family and wondering what were we thinking when we wrote, ”Stop by if you find yourself traveling down I-81 for the holidays” on our Christmas letter last year? It’s a good idea to make a plan for what to do when the kids are terrorizing the dog and we notice that both our blood pressure and blood sugar seem to be reaching catastrophic levels.
Over the last week or so I’ve taken it upon myself to pester all of my friends in person and on social media with an informal poll to answer your question. Since going to the star is a free family activity, I tried to limit the options to things that don’t cost anything, but a few good suggestions for fairly inexpensive things kept popping up too. The demographics of your visitors will affect your options, since some are more physical than others or involve the consumption of alcohol, but this should get you started.
As always, the downtown farmers market seems to be a popular choice, and if you haven’t yet been inside the new Center in the Square, you really should. The aquariums on the first floor first class and free, and if you want to spend a little money the new butterfly garden at the Science Museum of Western Virginia is worth the cost of admission for kids and adults. I haven’t been to the relocated Harrison Museum of African American Culture there yet, but it’s on MY list. And if money’s tight, go up to the new rooftop garden where you can peer into the butterfly habitat for no charge. If your guests come before Christmas, you might also want to go see the best Santa in town at the History Museum.
If you want quirky, take the suggestion of artist and philosopher Matt Ames and take them to the top of the spiraling Church Street parking garage, where he says you get an unsurpassed view of the valley and you can climb the stairs or take the elevator for free. As an added bonus, the Texas Tavern is across the street.
In no particular order, here’s a very incomplete list of other suggestions, some free, some not:
- Dragons Tooth, McAfee’s Knob, Peaks of Otter/Sharp Top Hike – you can’t beat the views.
- Grandin Village, for a movie at the Grandin and Homestead ice cream at Pop’s, or a drink and a meal at any one of a number of spots.
- Black Dog Salvage – out of towners seem to love it, and you might meet a reality TV star.
- Take the Smartway Bus from downtown Roanoke to Blacksburg while the students are gone to visit the emotionally draining yet simply inspiring memorial to those who were lost on April 16, then eat just off campus or visit the fancy new Center for the Arts.
- Tasting rooms at Parkway Brewing or Roanoke Railhouse Brewery for beer lovers. Take along a designated driver.
- Rent bicycles from Underdog Bikes along the greenway and get some exercise.
- O. Winston Link Museum and the Virginia Museum of Transportation – I’m not sure people really appreciate either for the quality of the exhibits, but they are both first class.
- The Taubman – it may seem obvious, but did you know that there’s no admission charge and the Art Zone for kids has been redesigned?
- Make a day of Bedford – between the D-Day Memorial and Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest and the quaint downtown, you might be pleasantly surprised.
- Valhalla Vineyard – I’ve never been but several friends rave about the view and the wine. On a side note, should I be concerned that so many of my ideas involve beer or wine?
And here’s a list of links that I couldn’t fit into the column but think make sense too!
Dixie Caverns: all the underground kitsch you can handle!
What would you add? Post it in a comment below and I’ll add it to the list!