Weekend Getaway Guide: Roanoke, Virginia

With new boutique hotels, surprising shopping, and a lively restaurant scene, this city is quietly winning over travelers

101
Roanoke, Virginia

Roanoke finds itself in good company these days. Locals describe their former railroad town as Southwest Virginia’s version of Asheville, North Carolina. And indeed, both cities dazzle visitors with hiking, shopping, mountain biking, and celebrated restaurants.

But Roanoke’s not quite on the national radar yet, which means it’s easier to snag dinner reservations and find a place to stay—at least for now. Here’s our guide to making the most of a weekend before the word gets out.

Friday

CHECK IN ➞ Don’t be alarmed, but your first stop should be a firehouse. You’re headed to Fire Station One, a century-old building, which reopened as a boutique hotel in 2023. Operated by Roanoke furniture maker Txtur, the company uses the first floor as a showroom for its midcentury modern creations. You’ll see the same furniture upstairs in each of the inn’s seven chambers. Guests can even buy a room’s stylish, minimalistic furnishings and have them delivered to their home. It’s just the latest example of how Roanoke artfully preserves and repurposes its early 20th century downtown. Another case: the Liberty Trust, a 1910 bank high-rise transformed into a 54-room hotel with a restaurant in the former lobby and a private dining room in its safe.

Guest room at Fire Station One

Courtesy of TXTUR

EVENING ➞ Before dinner, tilt your way over to the Roanoke Pinball Museum, where admission brings unlimited play on more than 60 blinking, ringing, and flashing machines—even the most historic ones. Start with Humpty Dumpty, the 1947 game that introduced electromagnetic flippers. Then pay tribute to the Beatles with a game that rewards players with songs and a clip from the band’s America debut on the Ed Sullivan Show.

Head back to Fire Station One for a table at Stock Café, a Scandinavian restaurant serving smørrebrød, a traditional open-faced rye bread appetizer that tastes straight out of Copenhagen. Choose from toppings such as smoked fish from Virginia’s celebrated Smoke In Chimneys spring-fed trout farm, served with ground cherries and goat cheese, or opt for tarragon vermouth chicken salad with bacon and fresh herbs. Entrees include smoked duck with fig and pear butter, and hanger steak with fries covered in gouda fondue. Chef Jeff Farmer, known for two of Roanoke’s favorite restaurants—modern American Lucky and rustic Italian Fortunato—was inspired to go Scandinavian by the restaurant’s location in the Txtur modern furniture showroom. “Like Ikea,” he said. But his beef meatballs in lingonberry barbecue sauce put the big box store’s version to shame.

Saturday

MORNING ➞ Start your day with a carbo load at Scratch, where flaky, buttery biscuits come more than a dozen ways. Go traditional with bacon, egg, and cheese; stretch yourself with a Nashville hot chicken; or branch out with a Jerry Garcia, served with smoked tofu.

Scratch Biscuit Company

Courtesy of Visit Virginia's Blue Ridge

Then head over to the Roanoke River Greenway, a 12.5-mile riverside path. The folks at Roanoke Mountain Adventures will set you up with a bike rental (electric or standard), but first, check out the consignment outdoor wear. This might be the chance to pick up a gently used Patagonia fleece. On the trail, you’ll find Roanoke on parade, with families on bikes, kayakers bobbing through rapids, and a trailside track where experienced and would-be mountain bikers practice their moves.

Roanoke River Greenway

Courtesy of Visit Virginia's Blue Ridge

The Greenway even leads to stellar shopping. Black Dog Salvage offers home furnishing inspiration—and the chance for local celebrity spotting: The store found fame on the DIY Network’s Salvage Dawgs, a reality show featuring owners Mike Whiteside and Robert Kulp, who offered quips while showing how reclaimed wood, church pews, and other discoveries could enhance your home. The 40,000-square-foot warehouse is packed with treasures.

AFTERNOON When it’s time for lunch, follow the Greenway to the Green Goat for outdoor seating and calzones, salads, and sandwiches. The fried green tomato BLT is a winner. And work in a stop at trailside Blue Cow for artisan ice cream. Sea salt brickle with caramel swirl is a city legend.

Now swing back downtown to Market Square, where Roanoke has been shopping since the 1880s. You’ll find clever shops like She’s International Boutique, where a former flight attendant shares favorite finds from years of jet-setting. Check out the colorful leather tulip-shaped purses from Amsterdam, Turkish jewelry, and Italian scarves. A few blocks away, Crafteria finds inspiration closer to home. The former art deco cafeteria is now an Appalachian makers mart, featuring surprising gifts such as coal-dust jewelry and pawpaw vinegar. Look for the “No Hate in My Holler” merchandise promoting tolerance.

Market Square

Courtesy of Visit Virginia's Blue Ridge

It’s a message that resonates in Roanoke. Last fall, the city dedicated Henrietta Lacks Plaza with a statue honoring the city native who unknowingly contributed to science as she was dying from cancer. Her cells proved essential in aiding medical researchers. A bestselling book and film tell the moving story of race and bioethics.

Henrietta Lacks Plaza

Courtesy of Visit Virginia's Blue Ridge

EVENING ➞ For dinner, you’re heading to the Wasena neighborhood, where Bloom Restaurant & Wine Bar keeps the focus regional. Start with a design-your-own charcuterie board with meats and cheeses from Alabama, North Carolina, and farther afield. Follow it with locally raised lamb or shrimp with sunchokes. But the night’s not over yet. Stop by Big Lick Brewing Company’s downtown tasting room and sprawling beer garden. You’ll find a friendly crowd of regulars and something tasty on tap at this microbrewery, which marks its 10th anniversary this year. The White Bronco Hazy IPA is a house favorite.

Sunday

MORNING ➞ Head to Billy’s in the heart of downtown for a sweet or savory brunch. Banana nut French toast or a crab cake benedict? There are no bad choices.

Before heading home, walk a half block to that soaring silver-roofed building you’ve noticed all weekend. Designed by Frank Gehry associate Randall Stout, the Taubman Museum of Art is a work of art itself, with a curving metallic roofline echoing the Blue Ridge Mountains. Check on the special exhibits, but don’t skip the always-free permanent collection, with pieces by John Singer Sargent, Norman Rockwell, and Howard Finster, the famous, untrained artist and Baptist preacher from Georgia. And don’t miss the gallery of 130 blingy Judith Leiber handbags, the world’s largest museum collection. It’s yet another surprise from a city that just might be a masterpiece too.

Taubman Museum of Art

Courtesy of the Taubman Museum of Art

Take a Hike
It would be a shame to visit the Blue Ridge Mountains city without hitting the trails.

For an ambitious outing, try McAfee Knob, an eight-mile out-and-back walk to the most photographed spot on the Appalachian Trail. The city offers a shuttle to the trailhead.

You won’t find as many hikers at Poor Mountain, a forest preserve just outside the city. Walks offer a chance to see piratebush, one of the rarest plants in North America.

Or take an urban hike to the Roanoke Star, the illuminated sign that gives Roanoke its nickname Star City. A trail leads 1.7 miles up Mill Mountain, with sweeping city views.

This article appears in the Spring 2024 issue of Southbound.

Advertisement