In this edition of American Nomad we are traveling to the scenic Roanoke Virginia, a bustling city carved into the heart of the Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains in the sweeping Roanoke River Valley.
With a metro population (over all region) of over 300,000 souls and a strong sense of community, Roanoke has a wealth of local culture and urban opportunities that rival even larger cities. On any given weekend, you’ll find world class entertainment at local venues like The Mill Mountain Theatre or Jefferson Center. It’s proximity to natural wonders like Natural Bridge State Park and The Blue Ridge Parkway (America’s Favorite Highway) make Roanoke a recreational lovers dream. With the perfect blend of city charm and natural beauty – Roanoke has quickly become a top tourist destination.
- Located in the sweeping Roanoke Valley, Roanoke is the largest metro area in western Virginia. It’s economy has deep roots in industry – from transportation and coal to manufacturing. It is also home to national coffee distributor – H & C Coffee.
- Roanoke is a center for education and home to over twenty colleges within sixty miles of the city limits (eleven of those within the metro area including Roanoke College and Hollins.) The influence of higher learning helps bring cultural events and a college town vibe to the city from cool coffee shops, eateries, concerts and several world-class museums
- Fun fact: The Roanoke River starts it’s journey in the hills of western VA near Roanoke, before winding 410 miles to the area around Roanoke Island on NC’s Outer Banks…History buffs may remember Roanoke NC as the site of ‘The Lost Colony’ – one of the first attempted permanent colonial settlements by the English in North America…if you are interested in my OBX visit in 2021 click here.
- Downtown Roanoke: The historic downtown is highly walkable with tons of local restaurants and coffee shops. I recommend you start your journey at the Center of the Square – a mix of science center, kid’s play space, theater and everything in between…
- #destination-coffee – Roanoke is home to several amazing coffee shops including Cello and my personal fave: Mill Mountain Coffee – they roast their beans in house and offer a variety of coffee creations as well as tea and sodas. I tried the Blackberry Mocha last time, but my favorite is the Chai Tea.
- Taubman Center for Art: Hands down The Taubman is one of the best collections of American Art in the southeast. Their permanent collection includes the iconic portrait of Norah Gribble by John Singer Sargent as well as works by Eakins (Thomas and Susan), Robert Henri and Childe Hassam. Keep posted for an upcoming post on my recent trip to the Taubman and their Titian to Monet exhibit.
- The Mill Mountain Star has served as a guardian of light for Roanoke since 1949. Towering atop nearby Mill Mountain, is the largest freestanding illuminated star in the world. The star and Mill Mountain area is easily accessible via from downtown Roanoke or The Blue Ridge Parkway. The recreation area features trails and also is home to the AMAZING…
- Mill Mountain Zoo… Located right off the Blue Ridge Parkway, The Mill Mountain Zoo is a gem for animal lovers…located in the boundaries of Mill Mountain Park, the zoo features exotic animals like red pandas and snow leopards; the highlight however is the Virginia Wild habitat, which introduces zoo visitors to species native to the Blue Ridge Mountains in a safe and educational environment, including rescued Black Bears, the endangered Red Wolf, Cougars and Bobcats…The zoo’s primary focus is conservation and partnership to preserve endangered species and provide meaningful educational opportunities.
- Mill Mountain Discovery Center: Also located in the Mill Mountain Park, the center offers opportunities for all ages and abilities to explore our natural world through classes, workshops, special events, and summer camps.
- Virginia Transportation Museum: From old engines and locomotives – this is a must stop for rail enthusiasts
- Explore the Blue Ridge Parkway: America’s Favorite Road – The BRP is a frequent guest on American Nomad and owns a piece of my soul. Roanoke is one of the larger cities right on the parkway (Asheville, NC is another) -providing you with a chance to enjoy the wild curvy roads and rambling scenery while using Roanoke as a base.
- The section of BRP near Roanoke has been getting a major facelift with major road repairs, but fear not – you still have a passport to BRP adventure:
- I recommend a day trip on the parkway to the Peaks of Otter Lodge, which we featured earlier this year on American Nomad. Only thirty minutes from Roanoke, the lodge offers amazing views of the ‘Peaks of Otter,’ Abbott Lake…You can stop of lunch at the Peaks of Otter Lodge dining room, then…
- take the shuttle to the top of Sharptop Mountain – (A peak of otter)- offering 360 degree views.
- Drive to The James River Gorge – one of my favorite spots on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
- Don’t forget to visit Natural Bridge State Park: A tourist destination since 1774, The Natural Bridge is an icon in VA tourism. It was originally owned by Thomas Jefferson and explored by George Washington, who signed his name on the rock. The 215 foot high natural arch was carved through geology forces…including Cedar Creek, which runs through the area. *Cedar Creek is a tributary of the James River. The attraction was privately owned for centuries, but now is a VA State Park. Definitely worth a visit. Located off the Blue Ridge Parkway near Buena Vista. This scenic icon is roughly forty-five minutes from downtown Roanoke.
- Lexington, VA: I will post a blog on Lexington soon – but suffice it to say this is one of the coolest and most historic small towns in the south. Home to Washington and Lee University and VMI, as you stroll down the city streets, you can dig into the tumultuous past of the Civil War and hopeful future of the present day. Lexington is home to countless restaurants and award-winning boutique hotels like The George. A quick day trip from Roanoke…
Roanoke’s proximity to The Blue Ridge Parkway and George Washington National Forest provides countless outdoor adventures – to learn more about Roanoke and plan your adventure click here.
* Photo credit: Downtown Roanoke CVB.
All other photos by Adele Lassiter
When Adele is not traveling the backroads and exploring urban areas – she works as a novelist and painter. Her romance novel – Solitude Lake (by Adele Darcy – pen name) is on Amazon.
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