Experience the bucolic allure of the historic Shenandoah Valley college town.
Lexington, Virginia has a few claims to fame. It’s the home of not one but two historic colleges, Virginia Military Institute and Washington and Lee University. It’s the gateway to the Southern portion of the Shenandoah Valley. It has a captivating certified dark sky site and an awe-inspiring 215-foot natural bridge, once owned by Thomas Jefferson. Sprinkle in top-notch restaurants and luxurious accommodations, and the small town of fewer than 8,000 residents is one you don’t want to miss.
Wine and Dine
The small downtown area of Lexington boasts 27 dining establishments. Start your day at Season's Yield Farm at Haywood's with naturally leavened toast piled high with locally farmed and sourced ingredients, or select from one of the daily pastries that come out of the oven each morning at 6 AM. For a more traditional Southern spread, head just down Main Street to Pure Eats, a former Pure gas station turned eatery. There, the affectionately known Doughnut Divas, the creative women bakers behind the scenes, make a unique selection of treats each morning. You’ll also find a classic menu such as the Rockbridge Roll-Up breakfast burrito which is stuffed with eggs, salsa, cheese, and hashbrowns.
For lunch, there’s Legendary Eats for classic sandwiches big enough to share (don’t skip the truffle tots either), or Salerno Wood Fired Pizza & Taphouse where you’ll find mouthwatering pizzas and a tap wall featuring 30 craft beers. Other area breweries include The Devils Backbone Outpost Tap Room & Kitchen or Heliotrope Brewery which brews small-batch beers using Virginia malt and wild yeast. If you have a palate for wine both Rockbridge Vineyard and Ecco Adesso offer pastoral views and a selection of wines featuring Virginia-grown varietals.
Reserve a table for dinner at Southern Inn or The Red Hen. The latter has just 26-seats and an exposed kitchen for an intimate and interesting dining experience. Be sure to finish your meal with the restaurant’s signature dessert: lemon meringue served in a coupe glass.
With more than 64,000 acres of public lands, there is ample opportunity to get outside and enjoy all that Lexington, Virginia and its big backyard has to offer. There are three access points to the Blue Ridge Parkway in Rockbridge County, and each point offers various picturesque photo opportunities.
The best views, according to locals, can be found at Buena Vista, near mile marker 45.7, or Chimney Rock Mountain Overlook, near mile marker 44.9. The Appalachian Trail crosses this area, and it’s easy to pick up a hike at Punch Bowl Mountain Overlook. Natural Bridge is one of the area’s most interesting natural wonders. The limestone bridge towers over Cedar Creek, the very water system that formed it centuries ago. Thomas Jefferson, who owned a home nearby, said it is “The most sublime of nature’s works.”
At the state park of the same name, there are also seven miles of hiking trails to explore. While in town, make a plan to return to the park’s Skyline Trail at night for a stargazing experience unlike any other. The certified dark sky park is open on Tuesdays from dusk to 11 PM from March through December for self-guided tours. Ranger-led programs are also available throughout the year. For a more relaxed and less strenuous, yet equally as beautiful outdoor experience, stop by the Lavender Fields at Tantivy Farm to see and be among 1,000 lavender plants.
Lexington is full of history. Hop on a Lexington Carriage Tour for a horse-drawn experience through the city’s oldest streets and neighborhoods. Take a self-guided walking tour through Oak Grove Cemetery, the eternal resting place for at least one veteran from every American conflict. Visit the Virginia Military Institute Museum which houses 15,000 artifacts tracing the civilian and military careers of many alumni. Tours by current cadets are available each day at noon. Stroll Washington and Lee University campus while reflecting on and taking in the surrounding architecture.
See the Town
Like most quaint cities, Lexington is dotted with charming shops and art galleries. Pumpkinseeds Boutique is filled with gifts and knickknacks and is dog friendly. Clover offers women’s clothing and accessories. Lizzie’s of Lexington has a charming collection of home decor and jewelry including items from Richmond-based Julie Ryan Design. Sugar Maple Trading Company has a curated collection of contemporary and antique housewares along with gifts and seasonal decor. Owner Cindy is often found wandering the store visiting with guests.
The Georges, named after George Washington and George Marshall, offers the utmost in luxury and comfort. Occupying five buildings on and around Main Street, each of the hotel’s 33 rooms is different and unique. In-room amenities include heated floors and towel warmers along with high end bath products, and in some cases, freestanding tubs. Taps, the onsite restaurant, offers complimentary breakfast for hotel guests which is selected before bed each night. Later, Taps turns into a buzzing restaurant and bar for guests and the public. For the newest rooms, ask for one in the Livery building.
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