Oh, Roanoke. What have you done to me? Months after my spring visit, your traditional Southern charm and hipster vibe are still in my heart.
“Did a spaceship crash here?” I thought while walking up to the Taubman Museum of Art. If I had been in Chicago, New York or London, this silver, oval-shaped building wouldn’t look out of place, but I was in Downtown Roanoke and one of these things just didn’t look like the other.
I confess to having a preconceived vision of this Southern city and it certainly wasn’t this. The building, designed by Randall Stout, opened its doors to the public in 2008 and its design was described by one woman as the “wreck of the Flying Nun.” Indeed, the Taubman looks out of place next to the traditional brick buildings of Downtown Roanoke but its eclectic collection of modern and abstract art is a nice complement to the destination’s old-school character.
Vintage Theatre, Cupcakes, Ice Cream and More in Grandin Village
During my visit, music poured onto the sidewalks and downtown’s Elmwood Park’s new amphitheater is a hub of activity. For more of that hipster vibe, head to Grandin Village, a trendy 1920s neighborhood housing restaurants, shops, and the popular Roanoke Natural Foods Co-Op.
Come hungry and grab a gourmet S’mores cupcake from Viva la Cupcake and creamy ice cream from Pops Ice Cream and Soda Bar. Plan to view a first-run movie in the historic Grandin Theatre, Roanoke’s non-profit movie palace that dates back to the 1930s.
Farm-to-Fork Dining in Roanoke
Roanoke’s lively dining scene boasts bountiful farm-to-fork restaurants sourcing food from local farms. While in Grandin Village, grab lunch or dinner at Local Roots where the menu changes depending on what’s in season. In the historic South Roanoke neighborhood dine at The River and Rail, a Southern Bistro housed in a pharmacy building. This is where traditional South meets the 21st century and I dined on pork rinds and pimento cheese, tender and flavorful chicken, and coconut and jalapeño sorbet.
Don’t worry, if you’re seeking traditional Southern fare, the kind your doctor warns you about, those restaurants are plentiful. Try The Roanoker Restaurant, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner for more than 65 years. A must are the flakey and light biscuits. Oh, boy.
Pop-culture hounds need to visit Black Dog Salvage, home base of DIY network’s “Salvage Dawgs.” If you’re lucky, you’ll meet some of the stars including Sally, the resident black Labrador retriever. I love sorting through architectural salvage and could have spent all day combing through treasures. Good thing I flew to Roanoke because I could have easily loaded up a car with all sorts of vintage metal signs, repurposed furniture and a life-size cement pig sculpture.
Almost Like the North Star
When out and about at night, you’ll likely spot the Roanoke Star. The 100 foot-tall Star was built in 1949 on Mill Mountain and is illuminated nightly until midnight. Journey up the mountain during daylight for a spectacular view of the Valley and selfie with the iconic star. When we were there, we saw a tree service Roanoke company taking down a rotten tree – it was certainly quite impressive watching them work.
While walking Roanoke’s downtown, take time to stop and soak up the old-school charm. Enjoy the vintage neon signs, cleverly designed shop windows and sidewalk mosaics. Of course, look for the “Virginia Love.” Plan a Saturday morning visit to coincide with the weekly market full of fresh produce and hand-crafted goods.
Getting to Roanoke is easy by car and air. The airport is currently serviced by several airlines including nonstop flights on Allegiant, which makes it easy for me to hop on a flight from the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Airport. Or, I flew on United out of Tampa International Airport. Rest your head at the grand Hotel Roanoke, which was built in 1882 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. I’’s within walking distance of downtown.
I’m sorry Asheville, but Roanoke is now my favorite Southern city.
Visit www.visitroanokeva.com for additional information on planning your visit to Roanoke.