Located just a few miles from both Shenandoah National Park’s Skyline Drive and The Blue Ridge Parkway, Staunton (the “u” is silent; to sound like a native, say “Stanton”), has not only recently been named one of the “Best Small Towns in America,” but is also gaining quite the reputation as an arts and culture destination, with such offerings as the American Shakespeare Center with the world’s only authentic recreation of the Blackfriars Theater; the outdoor living history Frontier Culture Museum; and the only presidential library in Virginia, that of Woodrow Wilson. And with six National Historic Districts, Staunton is compact and walkable, with more than a hundred shops, galleries, and restaurants, as well as summer music festivals, vineyard tasting rooms, and small-batch breweries.
Know before you go:
Unlike other small towns in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, Staunton has a distinct architectural advantage in that it escaped the Civil War virtually unscathed. Many of its 18th- and early 19th-century homes and buildings, built by the town’s early Scots-Irish settlers, still stand and can be found in its historic preservation districts, such as the Gospel Hill Historic District, named in the late 1790s for the religious meetings held at its blacksmith shop; its elegant homes include examples of Victorian, Greek Revival, and Federal styles. The Downtown Historic District is a compact 19th-century “Main Street,” with buildings that date from Staunton’s boom years between 1860 and 1920, and a noteworthy selection of Victorian-era architecture. The Wharf Historic District dates to the days when the railroad changed Staunton from a rural village to a center of commerce, with strong and sturdy warehouses. Since 1972 the Wharf Historic District has been on the National Register of Historic Places, and its depot and other preserved buildings house restaurants, antique shops. and specialty boutiques.
The present-day Trinity Episcopal Church, built during the mid-1850s, is home to an inspirational collection of stained glass windows, many created by Tiffany Studios. Only one other building in Virginia, Old Blandford Church in Petersburg, boasts more Tiffany-designed windows.
Not to miss:
Camera Heritage Museum
1 W. Beverley Street
If you’re a camera buff, this is the place for you. This largest privately-owned free camera museum on the East Coast includes daguerreotypes, wooden cameras, spy cameras, more than 100 Leicas and Zeiss cameras, and more than 2000 cameras and lenses. Tours are available on request.
Frontier Culture Museum of Virginia
1290 Richmond Rd.
This popular outdoor, living history museum features exhibits and programs that explore the diverse origins of the earliest immigrants to America and the culture they created together.
Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum
18 N. Coalter St.
Our country’s 28th president comes to life in a tour of his birthplace, now a National Historic Landmark. On display are a state-of-the-art World War I trench exhibit, Wilson’s Pierce-Arrow limousine, and beautiful historic gardens.
Gypsy Express Mini-Train
600 Churchville Ave.
For more than 50 years, the Gypsy Express has been ferrying children throughout Staunton’s sprawling Gypsy Hill Park. The Express, Virginia’s “hometown” mini-train, is operated weekends during beginning the last Saturday in April through the end of October.
Grand Caverns Regional Park
5 Grand Caverns Dr.
This National Natural Landmark features guided tours of America’s oldest show cave with hundreds of rare shield formations and Civil War signatures. You can also enjoy hiking, fishing, swimming, and mini-golf.
Saturday, April 12,
9 a.m.-12 p.m.
Earth Day Staunton
202 South Lewis St.
Celebrate Earth Day with eco-related activities in and around Staunton, including live wildlife programs, hands-on exhibits and activities, free saplings to take home, native wildlife exhibits, native fish aquarium, stream critter touch-tank, face painting, solar gadgets, eco-raffle for rain barrels and more, and live music and other programs.
9 a.m.-5 p.m.
1290 Richmond Road
Enjoy a day of sheep-shearing, wool-carding, and spinning. Interpreters will be shearing Cotswold and Tunis sheep at different farm locations around the Museum. See how the wool was then processed and spun. And, of course, don’t forget to visit the wee baby lambs!
April 9-June 15
The Merry Wives of Windsor by William Shakespeare
The American Shakespeare Center’s Blackfriars Playhouse
10 S. Market St.
Legend has it that Queen Elizabeth asked William Shakespeare to write a play featuring “the fat knight in love.” In the lighthearted production of “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” Falstaff may not be truly in love, but he is certainly in lust. The objects of his desire, two clever Windsor wives, team up to outsmart and outmaneuver one of Shakespeare’s wittiest and most beloved bad boys in this blend of romance, farce, and portrait of domestic life in Elizabethan England.
9 a.m.-6 p.m. (Saturday), 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (Sunday)
The Virginia Hot Glass Festival
Glass Blowing at Sunspots Studios
202 South Lewis St.
The Virginia Hot Glass Festival is the only annual festival in Virginia devoted entirely to hot glass artistry. You can see glass artists from across the region demonstrate various hot glass techniques, including traditional glassblowing, flame working, and bead making. Also featured are exhibits of the region’s finest blown glass, art glass marbles, beads, jewelry, and more, along with the opportunity to buy the artists’ work.