BY RACHEL HOEING
What many of you may not realize is that Roanoke, Virginia is only about two hours from Winston-Salem. It is a fabulous city for a day trip or a weekend excursion. If you head out early morning, you can arrive in time to tackle a venue before lunch, then grab a bite to eat, and hit one or two more hotspots before either grabbing dinner or heading back home.
Below are three “chunks” of ideas. Basically, you can choose to do one of these in the morning and one in the afternoon. If you eventually want to do all three, it’s a good excuse to spend the night or come back!
Idea #1—Mill Mountain Area
Our favorite tourist spot is Mill Mountain Park. This might be a great stop for your initial arrival to “The Noke!” Head to the top of the mountain and visit The “Roanoke Star.” It’s a fabulous photo spot and also gives you a beautiful view of the city. The Roanoke Star was initially created solely to be a Christmas decoration, but now stays lit year-round.
Also on Mill Mountain is a fun area to sit and enjoy a snack at the nearby picnic tables, or play on the playground. There are also nearby trails and a wildflower garden to explore.
As you make your way down the mountain from the star, your next stop will be Mill Mountain Zoo. It is open seven days a week from 10am-5pm. The Zoo Choo, a miniature model G-16 train, runs seven days a week, weather permitting. Admission prices are $9 for adults, $7 for children 3-11 and children 2 and under are free. The average zoo visit is about two hours, so plan accordingly. There is no restaurant on the grounds.
For lunch, once you leave the Mill Mountain area, I suggest either Wasena Tap Room, Fork in the Alley, The Green Goat, or River and Rail.
Idea #2—Roanoke River Greenway Area
The Roanoke River Greenway is a beautiful 25-mile paved pathway that runs through a wide variety of settings, including shopping and dining areas as well as quiet neighborhoods and parks. Your family can walk or you may choose to bring the bikes along for even more fun.
As you ride or walk, you can stop at shopping spots, restaurants, parks, etc. Black Dog Salvage is highly recommended for shopping. A great spot to stop for lunch is Wasena Tap Room. They have a great kids’ menu, and the River Rock Climbing Gym is right next door. The gym is great for all abilities and ages. The other restaurants that I mentioned in Idea #1 are all close to the Greenway, as well, and would be great lunch or dinner spots. And when you are ready for a sweet treat, stop at Blue Cow Ice Cream. This is Roanoke’s small-batch ice cream company that is simply amazing!
Idea #3—Downtown Area
Start off with a ride on the downtown trolley! The Star Line Trolley is a free trolley service offered in the City of Roanoke. It connects the Historic Market District to the nearby Crystal Spring Neighborhood.
The main downtown museum is called Taubman Museum of Art and has a great area for kids called Art Venture. It is $5 per person, and free for children 23 months and younger. Note that they are closed on Mondays & Tuesdays. A more kid-friendly museum downtown is the Science Museum of Western Virginia at Center in the Square. Your kids will find plenty of hands-on activities and hours of fun! It is $15 for adults, $13.50 for ages 6-17, $7.50 for children 3-5, and free for infants and toddlers. This admission fee includes all the exhibits, as well as the Butterfly Garden & Bug Zoo.
Other venues you may want to hit while visiting downtown Roanoke are Elmwood Park, the Roanoke Pinball Museum (closed on Mondays), the Farmer’s Market (every Saturday downtown with fruits, veggies, art, music, activities, gifts), Mill Mountain Theatre and Roanoke Children’s Theatre (great kid-friendly productions). Good eats downtown are Jack Brown’s (burgers), authentic Mexican at Alejandro’s, and gigantic pizza at Benny Marconi’s.
I hope this has given you some exciting ideas for a quick trip out of town with your family!
Helpful Websites for planning your Roanoke Trip:
Mill Mountain Park—www.playroanoke.com/parks-facilities/mill-mountain-park/
Roanoke River Greenway—www.traillink.com/trail/roanoke-river-greenway