Harrisonburg Virginia is a pleasant, slightly out of the way eddy within the bigger stream of Civil War historic sights that draw most people to vacation in Virginia.
If you love artsy, foodie destinations with a strongly held sense of character, Harrisonburg Virginia will be a delightful surprise that will continue to unfold the longer that you stay.
Located an hour and a half or so south of the Washington DC area, Harrisonburg Virginia is a college town whose unique personality pulls in a wide variety of free thinking progressives. Those who get drawn into Harrisonburg’s unique gravity and sense of place get rooted there and never seem to leave.
Harrisonburg is a great stop to add to a Shenandoah Valley Weekend escape.
There are tons of things that I have learned to love about Harrisonburg Virginia over the course of a number of visits. The people of this place exude a friendliness that matches my somewhat entitled expectation for “Midwest Nice” that living in the Minnesota gives me.
Here are just a few of the great reasons that pop into my mind when I think about why you need to visit Harrisonburg Virginia on your next pass in that direction:
Shenandoah National Park:
Harrisonburg is right on the skirts of Shenandoah National Park. The Park is filled with beautiful Smoky Mountain vistas, cascading waterfalls and opportunities for exploration.
The crowning jewel of Shenandoah National Park is its famed Skyline Drive, a vista filled 105 mile stretch of road that showcases the best of the park. Plan for 3-4 hours to drive the whole length. This is a must do during your trip! The views are awe inspiring.
This hole in the wall gem is a genuine Harrisonburg Virginia icon, and it is different than any other restaurant that I have ever found! Definitely worth a stop, even if it is out of your way.
The Little Grill has gone through many incarnations since its beginnings in the 1940’s. Today, the restaurant focuses on offering healthy, real, local food choices. Lots of restaurants do this nowadays, but this one has a really different “vibe” about it as it is cooperatively owned by employees (it gives it a warm, fuzzy feeling that is hard to duplicate).
The Little Grill also offers a daily noontime meal of soup for those in need, so your visit helps to support this important resource in the community!
The Harrisonburg Virginia Farmer’s Market is right in the heart of fertile Virginia farm country, and folks who live in Harrisonburg have a real love for fresh, local food. You can tell from visiting that the market is really a hub for the community, bringing folks together in a big smorgasbord of fresh, local foodie wonder!
I drove around the backcountry roads around Harrisonburg for over an hour looking for this place, and it was COMPLETELY worth it. It was really worth the stop (plan to bring picnic lunch to enjoy in the beautiful orchard, and please get better directions than I did!)
The cider makers are walking in the steps of their family traditions by reviving traditional cider making methods used by early Americans. The ciders that I tasted were complex, the flavors were multi-layered and evolved in my mouth. I particularly loved the Cider Maker’s Barrel (which is made with wild yeast, so they tell me that it tastes different every year).
If you love cider, or think that you might, this is definitely worth a detour!
I have many super fond memories of good friends, good drinks and good times tied to this hip, comfortable restaurant turned local music spot situated right I the heart of downtown Harrisonburg. The interior is bright and artsy, with tall, warehouse-like ceilings and walls festooned with local art work. The restaurant hosts a wide variety of music and other art and community events (they offer a room at no cost to community groups and non profit organizations).
The food is good, the drinks are reasonably strong and super creative (though both are maybe a little on the spendy side) and the atmosphere is equally up to the challenge of being the backdrop to a nice evening out with your spouse or a casual night out drinking with the girls.
The museum is located right in he heart of downtown, and it is a must when visiting Harrisonburg with kids. It is an easy day when combined with lunch (and gelato!) at nearby Bella Luna Wood Fired Pizza, where the kids can watch their lunch get assembled by the expert pizza chefs!
The museum has the ever popular farm/food/cooking type exhibit that my kids always love. There is an interactive, “Operation” game style exhibit about the human body as well as a fully stocked play car service center exhibit, and a great dentist office exhibit among others for your kids to explore.
*** (as a side note/suggestion for those visiting Harrisonburg with kids, Harrisonburg proudly features the “Dream Come True” playground, a massive and fully accessible play space with tons of unique features and separate play spaces for young kids and older ones. Make sure to take your kids here, they will LOVE IT!)
The farm is a great experience for the whole family! In addition to a great backdrop for some beautiful family photos (casual only…if you are having a professional photo shoot there is a fee), you can take tours of the farm and learn about the lavender growing process as well as a petting area and duck pond for your kiddos to explore. Bring a picnic lunch and spend the afternoon (make sure to leave room for some lavender ice cream or other lavender goodies in their farm shop!)