A Guide To Harrisonburg, VA
Recently, I went back to my college hometown to visit my Little (as in sorority Little). She’s just two weeks away from graduating (say it ain’t so) and I had to see her before then. I’ve been out of college for almost a year now and going back to my college town still feels like coming home. I wanted to share this sweet city in a mini travel guide.
Visit Now: Harrisonburg is a year-round city. It’s nestled in the valley of the Shenandoah Mountains. In the fall, the trees all around turn gorgeous shades of reds and oranges. In the winter, the snow on the mountains is magical. In the spring, the trees have all their flowering buds. In the summer, the blue sky above the valley is just gorgeous. You can’t go wrong any time you decide to visit. But some times to be wary: Move-In Weekend, Homecoming, and Parents Weekend in the fall and graduation weekend in the spring, which bring family and friends but also a ton of crowds and traffic. These days are easily accessible on James Madison University’s website so you can plan accordingly. Conversely, the summer is laid back and clear. With most students home, you’ll really get the small town feel and won’t have to wait for most attractions.
Stay Here: There’s a four-seasons resort nearby (about 30 minutes Route 33) called Massanutten, which is a great way to the best of both worlds—the city of Harrisonburg and the amenities of the resort. But if you want to stay closer, there are a ton of chain hotels like a Courtyard by Mariott. James Madison University (GO DUKES!) is building a new hotel on the edge of campus called the Hotel Madison, planning to open in May 2018.
Harrisonburg has some of the best restaurants I’ve ever eaten at (and I’m not just saying that because I spent four years chomping down in the town.) Even now, I get a craving for something I can only get on Main street. I would just tell you to eat everywhere and anywhere, but I’ll give you some specifics:
Billy Jacks (Saturdays and Sundays; get here before 11 to avoid a long wait, trust me!)
Food.Bar.Food(weekdays and weekends)
Jalapeno Southwest Grill (get the chips and queso!)
Jack Brown Burgers and Beer (same company as Billy Jacks but they have just burgers and Billy Jacks has a larger menu with the same burgers as sliders)
Benny’s Sorrentino’s (locations in a lot of college towns and pizza slices as big as your head!)
Capital Ale House ($3 burgers on Monday nights!)
Bella Luna Wood Fire Pizza
Local Chop and Grill House
Ruby’s Arcade and Ruby’s Basement
Jack’s Hideaway (like an old-fashioned speakeasy)
Bella Gelato and Pastries
Kline’s Dairy Bar (rotating menu of flavors so check online before you go!)
Cinnamon Bear Bakery
Campus Cookies (they deliver from 6pm to as late as 3am on some days, and it was a class project-turned-business from students at the JMU College of Business!)
PULP Açai and Smoothie Bowl (it’s in a bike shop, but I promise it’s good)
A lot of these restaurants are open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner so even though they’re under one category, they’re still good for the other meals. Like Billy Jacks and Jack Browns have fried Oreos and crazy delicious doughnuts and Food.Bar.Food has a great lunch and dinner menu as well. So try everything (I know I have!).
Massanutten Resort, The Arboretum, Shenandoah National Park, Reddish Knob, Crosskeys Vineyard, Pale Fire Brewing Co., White Oak Lavender Farm, James Madison University (the world’s most photogenic campus, a fact, not just an opinion)
Harrisonburg is great for hiking. Settled in the valley, there are so many places to hike and walk trails. The scenery is gorgeous of course, but I suggest going during sunrise and sunset for really stunning views. Harrisonburg is also becoming known for local and craft brewing (in fact, Harrisonburg is really big into the supporting the local community). There are tons of local places for really good beer, like Pale Fire and Three Notch’d and for local wine tastings like Crosskeys and the Lavender Farm. And while you’re down there, stop by JMU’s campus. It’s gorgeous, especially in the spring and summer, and one of the most beautiful places on Earth. (Again, a fact, not just an opinion.)
If you like boutiques and supporting local stores, this is the city for you.
The Yellow Button
The Lady Jane (they sell prints of local artist (how cool!) and they often foster cats that can be adopted to a good home (how cool(er)!))
Agora Downtown Market (an awesome indoor market of local shops, including jewelry, clothing, vintage goods, candy shop, and an art gallery. You have to visit New Creation, a non-profit whose mission is to stop human trafficking with awareness and education with each sell of jewelry, bags, cards, and clothing.)
With Simplicity Beauty
Bring Your Own (It’s in a renovated1975 Airstream trailer and they focus on environmentally friendly products, trying to reduce their waste and plastic consumption. Read their About Us page; their mission is very cool!)
Travel Notes: Harrisonburg is a small town but should still be on everyone’s bucket list to visit. For as tiny as it is, there’s a lot going own. It’s a pretty bikeable city but also driveable. Parking downtown is easily accessible with two garages (and free!) so coming from a hotel on the other side of the town would be no problem. Once you’re in the downtown area, though, walking is definitely the suggested and preferred method of getting around, everything is so close! This city really means a lot to me. I’ve had amazing times here. And even though I wanted so badly to get out of college, I still consider this place home.
• always choose adventure •