Empty Nesters Fly Free: 48-Hour Beercation on the Shenandoah Beerwerks Trail
November 23, 2020
The kids are finally gone, so you might be thinking of dusting off your old camping gear. Don’t bother! Stuff that tent back in the garage and make reservations somewhere that makes you feel like a grown-up. Set your weekend in Staunton and Lexington – cities with active cultural and shopping scenes and also short drives from some of the best hiking and scenery around. Best of all, you’ll be steps away from five Beerwerks breweries with more located nearby. Here’s our three-day, three-night guide to elegant lodging, incredible food and craft drinks, and outdoor adventure.
Step 1: Check into Your Hotel
For the first time in 20 years, you’re traveling without kids and you deserve to treat yourself to a special home base! Enjoy Staunton’s elegant and historic best at the Blackburn Inn or Gibson’s Warehouse. Both luxury accommodations are downtown and offer access to the best of Staunton’s dining and cultural scene.
Step 2: Pick up Your Beerwerks Passport (and a Quick Drink)
Toast your weekend with a cold one, and earn a cool t-shirt simultaneously. Get your Beerwerks Passport at Redbeard Brewing Company, Queen City Brewing, Shenandoah Valley Brewing Co. Skipping Rock Beer Company, or the Staunton Visitor Center.
Step 3: Celebrate Your Freedom with Good Food
Staunton’s dining choices will remind you of a larger city, so when it’s the time to sit across from each other and think of conversational topics that don’t involve the kids, why not discuss the incredible craft food and farm-to-table freshness on your plates? BLU Point Seafood Co., one of Staunton’s newest restaurants, offers upscale fine dining, fresh Chesapeake Bay seafood, and must-grab seats at the raw bar. Try something different at 101 West Bev., a design-your-own bowl restaurant. Finally, you’ll love The Shack’s ever-evolving menu inspired by local and seasonal ingredients. With praise from Esquire, Food and Wine, and Southern Living, it’s Staunton’s most buzzed-about eatery.
Step 4: Get Started on Your Day
Partial to fresh French pastry? Place an online order at Newtown Baking for a savory scone or a peaches and cream danish to go. Next, stroll through the Wharf Historic District to enjoy the Staunton Farmers’ Market, and the small Woodrow Park (on Sears Hill) and Landes Park – both give you a different perspective on downtown and a view of historic railroad landscaping.
Step 5: Head Outdoors
A wonderful way to get some exercise, learn some history, and get acquainted with Staunton’s Victorian charm is to take a walking tour. Check out the walking tours of Gospel Hill, Wharf, Beverley, Newtown and Stuart Addition historic districts, or consider a Biteseeing Staunton tour – the perfect combo of Staunton’s interesting architecture and its food culture.
Staunton has a vibrant and walkable downtown packed with independent shops. It also boasts an active arts and music scene. Want some art on your walls not made by your kids? Pick a new favorite artist at CoArt Gallery or some handmade gifts at Latitudes Fair Trade or Made; by the People, for the People.
Step 6: Enjoy Some Shakespeare or Live Music at a Brewery
The American Shakespeare Center’s Blackfriars Playhouse is a spot-on recreation of Shakespeare’s indoor theater. It has made Staunton a Shakespeare destination with its performances of Shakespeare plays and more, and is a must-see if you’re in town.
Shenandoah Valley Brewing Company, Redbeard Brewing Company, and Skipping Rock Beer Company often host live music on Saturday nights. Check their schedules for a chance to drink your new favorite brew and rock out without the kids.
Step 7: Savor Some Brunch
Sleep in, rise late, and then start the day right with a relaxing brunch. Downtown Staunton’s Table 44 kicks comfort food up a notch. Complement your meal by ordering a loaded Bloody Mary and a beautiful baked treat from Table 44’s in-house bakery, Paris Cake Company. Zynodoa is another good bet for re-envisioned Southern classics.
Step 8: Take a Drive on the Parkway toward Lexington and Check into Your Lodging
People flock to the Shenandoah Valley for its natural beauty, and you can score a bird’s eye perspective from the Blue Ridge Parkway. Touted as “America’s Favorite Drive,” this scenic byway undulates along the mountain ridge and offers scenic overlooks and trailheads.
Exit the Blue Ridge Parkway at Milepost 27.2 and take VA Scenic Byway Rt. 56 – also a segment along the cycling TransAmerican Trail. Spend the third night of your trip enjoying the countryside around Lexington at Sugar Tree Inn, Steeles Tavern Manor, or Brierley Hill Bed and Breakfast. From each, you’ll be able to breathe deeply in the peace of the countryside, yet make it downtown in just a short drive. If you want to be closer to the action and be within walking distance of dining, shopping and historical sites, boutique The Georges Inn or The Gin are downtown options.
Step 9: Spend the Afternoon and Evening Exploring and Eating in Downtown Lexington
Lexington is steeped in history, and with two colleges located in town – Washington and Lee University and Virginia Military Institute, both on the National Registry of Historic Places – there’s always something happening. The charming downtown offers seasonal carriage tours, many fine restaurants, galleries and shops. Look for unique treasures in Sugar Maple Trading Company, or art and gifts by local artists in Artists in Cahoots. Empty nesters with new grandchildren on the way will enjoy browsing all the cute things in Baby’s First Gifts.
Lexington’s newest brewery, Heliotrope Brewing, will help you get refreshed after a long day of activity. Stay longer and enjoy one of Heliotrope’s gourmet pizzas. Other recommended dining options include savory classics at the Southern Inn, or contemporary favorites at Bistro on Main. Finish off your evening at Sweet Things Ice Cream Shoppe or a summer weekend double-feature at Hull’s Drive-in Theater.
Extend your stay…
Step 10: Get Outside
With over 100,000 acres of public lands and two rivers, empty nesters of all skill levels can hike, bike, paddle and fish in Lexington and Rockbridge County. Visit Natural Bridge State Park with 7 miles of hiking trails, including the universally accessible Cedar Creek Trail which passes directly under the 215ft tall and 4 million year old Natural Bridge.
The Upper James River Water Trail includes 74 miles of the James and Maury Rivers, and sections of both rivers have been designated a Virginia Scenic River. Folks can enjoy kayaking, tubing, and fishing at public access points or team up with an outfitter.
Grab a deli sandwich or blue plate special at one of the nostalgic country stores — Natural Bridge General Store and Natty B’s Cafe or Lanye’s Country Store — and enjoy the outdoor dining spaces at Great Valley Farm Brewery and Winery, overlooking 27-acres with views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
For wildlife viewing, walk or cycle along the Chessie Nature Trail, a 7 mile rail-trail paralleling the Maury River between Lexington and Buena Vista. Relax amidst over 2,000 varieties of trees, meadows and ponds at Boxerwood Nature Center and Woodland Garden — the perfect spot for bird watching.
Grab a casual dinner at Devils Backbone Outpost Tap Room & Kitchen for a final toast to your beercation with a flight of craft beers and classic pub-style eats. (Covid-reservations required). Fill up your growler to go, and plan your next trip to the Valley to complete your Passport. Don’t forget to tag your photos #beerwerkstrail to share your fun!
Step 11: Hit up a Roastery for a Jolt of Caffeine
Before you hit the trail back home, fuel up at Lexington Coffee Roasters with an espresso and take home a bag or two of award-winning, freshly roasted coffee…our favorite is the organic Blue Ridge blend.