By Rachel Hoeing
What many of you may not realize is that Roanoke, Virginia is only two hours from most spots in the Triad. 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 hot spots 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 ideas, 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 arrive 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 (see the lead-in photo above!) The Roanoke Star was initially created solely to be a Christmas decoration, but now stays lit year-round. It is white most of the year, but is often changed to red, white and blue to celebrate patriotism on select holidays and days of remembrance.
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.
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. Another idea, if your children are old and tall enough, is to rent a High Roller bike at Underdog Bikes to take on the Greenway! I have not done this personally, but it came highly recommended by a friend. Note that you must be at least 5’2″ to ride.
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 above (Fork in the Alley, The Green Goat, or River and Rail) 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 (fun fountains shown in photo below), the Roanoke Pinball Museum (closed on Mondays), chocolatepaper (delicious chocolate and unique gifts), the Farmer’s Market (every Saturday downtown with fruits, veggies, art, gifts), Mill Mountain Theatre and Roanoke Children’s Theatre (great kid-friendly productions). The Farmer’s Market also has activities and music each weekend, so check the schedule here.
I hope this has given you some exciting ideas for a quick trip out of town with your family. For those of you who visit The Noke on a regular basis, share with us your favorite things to do and see!