WHY GO: Harrisonburg VA is no longer just a sleepy little college town (James Madison University) in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Things are happening here at a brisk pace – the type of things that the Getaway Mavens love.

There’s a burgeoning, collaborative, spirits/beer/cidery community, a growing art presence with notable Quilt Museum and arts and crafts collective, a “Harvest Your Own” Lavender Farm, new indie-owned restaurants, and two unique, historic B&B’s.

Come visit Harrisonburg and you will not be disappointed. Just don’t expect to see the Pennsylvania State House. That’s in HARRISburg, 200 miles up the pike.

Things to do In Harrisonburg VA

VISIT: Harrisonburg Visitor’s Center in the Hardesty-Higgins House

Yes, the name of the Hardesty Higgins House Visitor’s Center sounds like a spoof on My Fair Lady (and in fact, this Higgin’s first name was Henry, too!). But the “2-up, 2-down” typical English Style home owned by the Union-sympathizing first Mayor of Harrisonburg is worth visiting, especially if you get misty-eyed over highway development in this country (like I do). The road that runs through town, US Route 11, was originally an Indian path. Then, in the 1750’s, it became the Great Wagon Road. In the early 1800’s the thoroughfare was known as the Valley Turnpike, running from Rouse Point NY on the Canadian border to New Orleans LA right through Harrisonburg. Every five miles, a toll gate, consisting of one single pole, was positioned across the road. Whenever a car reached it, a designated toll-taker (usually a woman in an adjacent house) would “turn the pike” to lift the gate. Thus the “Turnpike” was born. There’s a great little exhibit about US Route 11, as well as Civil War history, and lots of helpful volunteers to guide you around town. Open daily 9-5. Free.

VISIT: Virginia Quilt Museum, Harrisonburg

Even if you’re not into quilting – come here to see fantastic art. Because that’s what I’d call each intricately stitched fabric panel on display. Yes, each quilt from historic (circa 1880) to contemporary is stunning. But the house itself – built in 1856 – also has a storied past. One of the only pre-Civil War homes in town, this Greek Revival belonged at first to lawyer, and co-founder of Rockingham Mutual Insurance Co., Edward Warren.

Warren, a Brigadier General in the Civil War, died in battle. After Gettysburg, this home became a hospital for the wounded. During the Civil War, local women sewed quilts for soldiers and sold them to raise money for “the cause.” So, it’s no surprise that the Virginia Quilt Museum is housed here. Upstairs learn the origins of the “Drunkards Path” pattern. It has to do with the intersection of Women’s Suffrage and the Temperance Movement, bringing in the colors of the Temperance Union – blue for water, white for purity. Although there are no permanent exhibits, 300 quilts from the museum’s permanent collection and other featured artists rotate roughly three times a year. Open Tues. – Sat. 10-4, $8 adults, $7 seniors.

Larger than it looks, there are three floors of exhibits. The first floor generally displays work of contemporary quilters: In this case the creations of Linda Fielder, whose depictions of starry nights and pastel flowers, as well as Mondrian-like abstractions, go for $1,000 to $3,000.

BEER/CIDER: Shenandoah Spirits Trail, Harrisonburg

Although the Shenandoah Spirits Trail covers breweries, wineries, cider-houses, and distilleries over a large swath of mid-Virginia, here we concentrate on the five breweries and one cidery in Harrisonburg alone.

They’re a tight-knit community – this collaborative, thriving group of beer and cider makers. And each has his/her own versatile take on making awesome beverages.

VISIT: Edith J. Carrier Arboretum at JMU

This 125-acre multi-habitat arboretum, on the James Madison University campus, makes for a meditative Covid escape. Gain knowledge about the botanic and natural world. Get your “forest bathing” in, surrounded by preserved 100 year old oak and hickory trees.

SHOP: Agora Downtown Market

An incubator for small retail businesses, Agora Market is a joy to explore. This group of local vendors, mostly artisans, craft or source unique products and sell them in a vast warehouse space.

SHOP: Oasis Fine Art and Craft

This artist collective, showcasing the work of 30 local artists, turned 20 years old in 2020. If you’re looking for a piece of art, or one of a kind crafted gift, I recommend this gallery – which offers works, far from the mundane, in every conceivable medium.

TOUR: White Oak Lavender Farm

Did you know that there are dozens of varieties of lavender divided into two “families?” Short-stem English Lavender is used in the culinary arts, the long-stem French Lavender for medicinal and therapeutic uses.

White Oak Farm grows and sells both, and is a wellspring of information about the fragrant purple flower. Owner Julie Haushalter offers “U-Pick” your own lavender in summer peak season. You get scissors and a tutorial. Other great programs abound throughout the year.

VISIT: CrossKeys Vineyard

Set in what can pass for the Tuscan hills, this out-of-town hilltop tasting room is one of the prettiest wineries in the state. That accounts for the stream of cars that come and go to this rather remote place during operating hours. Come for a sip and to take in the views.

Where to Eat in Harrisonburg VA

EAT: Magpie Diner and Bakery

In a former garage/tire shop, Magpie Diner’s cool factor starts with the shape of the building: a Flatiron design more associated with large cities than a small Virginia college town. But architecture means nothing if the food isn’t good. So, I’m here to say that Magpie’s Crispy Chicken Milanese Sandwich ($9.95) is so amazing – I’d eat it every day if I lived anywhere near here. But according to enthusiastic fans – almost everything is a “to die for” dish, which is why it now tops the list of Best Restaurants in Harrisonburg for many.

EAT: Billy Jacks Wing and Draft Shack

Like any respectable pirate hangout, you’ll find the Skull and Crossbones flag and plenty of wise-ass nods to the Pirate life in this barn-like space. Fans of upgraded pub food will love the offerings here, among them, Chicken Sammy -a fried chick breast on hamburger bun topped with spicy cole slaw, and Frito Pie – chili topped with cheese served in a bag of Fritos.

Where to Stay in Harrisonburg VA

STAY: Friendly City Inn

You can’t miss the sign for this handsome stone mansion on a hill: Friendly City Inn in huge letters complete with towering American flag. It used to read “Stonewall Jackson Inn,” but young new owners, Joel and Becca Graham, changed the name to reflect their own mission and beloved town. The Grahams certainly put the “friendly” in the Friendly City Inn. Becca in her mid-20’s, is warm and welcoming, and makes guests feel at home in her ten room lodging. Interestingly, many new guests are on the younger side, “looking for an authentic B&B experience.”

STAY: Joshua Wilton House

This 1888 Victorian confection is named for its first owner, a man responsible for bringing electricity to Harrisonburg. It sits just a couple of blocks from the Visitor’s Center and Historic Downtown Harrisonburg.  All five antique-filled rooms are lovely. Particularly the lavender-colored #5, with 12 foot ceiling, four poster bed, plump white bedding and working wood fireplace. But what makes the Joshua Wilton House a standout is the dining room, both for dinner and the exceptional gourmet breakfast that comes complementary with the room.

Consider combining your Harrisonburg Getaway with a stay in the stunning Shenandoah Valley (20 minutes north), and/or the surprising center of Shakespeare, Staunton VA just 25 minutes south.

Original Article can be found here.

Getaway Mavens – Travel experts Malerie Yolen-Cohen and Sandra Foyt share weekend getaways with a twist. Destination guides showcase quirky attractions, the most unique experiences, one-of-a-kind shopping, foodie-approved dining, and singular luxury lodging. Best known for inspiring special interest travel from historical getaways to trips for art lovers, our most popular articles center around Top 150 Romantic Getaways.