One of the best-kept secrets in the Shenandoah Valley, Harrisonburg is the home of James Madison University. While it could easily fall into the “college town” mold, Harrisonburg has instead become a leader in supporting local business, outdoor sports, and community ideals. Harrisonburg welcomes visitors to easily explore the city center, with tons of free parking, a walkable downtown area, and boutique shops filled with locally made goods, food, and just about anything else you’re looking for. Follow in our footsteps and spend 72 hours vacationing in the charming town of Harrisonburg!
—TRIP PLANNING OVERVIEW—
Stay at: Massanutten Resort, starting at $95 per night.
Only 25-30 minutes from Harrisonburg, Massanutten Resort has unique lodging options for every budget and group size. Hotel rooms, townhouse-style condos, and duplex-style homes within a private gated community are situated throughout the resort’s 6,000-acre property. Endless, four season outdoor activities are available for overnight guests or daytrippers. During the winter, spend a day or two exploring the slopes while skiing or snowboarding. Want speed but with a better view? Book a ride on the Mega Zip Line, another year-round option for visitors. The resort’s other exciting year-round activities include the indoor water park, which is not just for kids. The FlowRider wave lets you try out surfing or bodyboarding right in the mountains, creating ocean-like waves that bring the beach to you.
Come back in the summer and visit the Adventure Park, which offers a climbing wall, a canopy tour adventure course that features four zip lines, an outdoor water park, and two 18-hole golf courses. For the extreme sport lovers, Massanutten has mountain biking trails, bike rentals, and lessons for every level. Kayaking and canoeing are also available close to the resort.
Suggested Prior Reservations: Grapes & Hops Dinner, Massanutten Spa, Shenandoah Bicycle Company, Friendly Fermenter, Rocktown Kitchen, Massanutten activities like Canopy Tour and FlowRider.
If possible, arrive Thursday evening for the weekly Grapes & Hops dinner at Massanutten. The dinner may be at the high end of your budget at $75 per person, but it is well worth every penny. You’ll enjoy a five-course meal that is paired with five wines and five beers and led by the chef, a brew specialist, and the resort’s in-house sommelier. Before every course, these experts will explain their pairing choices, describing the flavors you should expect, where the products were sourced, and their reasons for choosing the selected beverage or dish. In addition to an exceptional meal (that is also incredibly filling), you’ll get an education on regional ingredients, world-class wines, and some of Virginia’s most acclaimed craft beers.
Begin your day just down the road from Massanutten Resort at Thunderbird Café, a retro-style diner tucked away in an unassuming strip mall. Despite the location, the café does breakfast right, with delicious dishes that are both hearty and affordable. Forget the burnt coffee; at the Thunderbird, locally roasted beans are used to whip up a variety of lattes, espressos, and other specialty beverages. Whether you consider yourself a chicken & waffles aficionado or are a first-time taster, the Wild Wing Waffle at Thunderbird Café will exceed your expectations. The house-made Belgian waffle is topped with southern fried chicken strips tossed in buffalo sauce and drizzled with a maple-honey glaze. But after sharing bites of each dish around the table, we can guarantee that there is no wrong choice at Thunderbird Café.
Drive back to Massanutten Resort and spend the morning exploring the mountain. During the winter, try out skiing, snowboarding, or if these options are a bit too active for you, take a page from our book and try tubing, where you’ll still get the thrill of rushing down the mountain at high speeds. Plus, tubing is a lot less of an active endeavor, and after a large breakfast, you may want to opt for an activity that provides tons of fun while requiring little effort. During warmer months, consider signing up for a mountain bike lesson, tackling the canopy tour, or stick with tubing, a year-round option at the resort.
Once you finish on the mountain, turn your sights to Harrisonburg and Ruby’s Arcade & Restaurant. You may not be quite ready for another meal yet thanks to Thunderbird’s generous portions, so play a few rounds of duck pin bowling while you muster up an appetite. The arcade has a bevy of games for customers, including ping pong, pool, chess, and board games. During the weekdays, the games are all free to play during lunch hours, adding entertainment to your afternoon without even having to open your wallet. If you’ve worked up that appetite, the wood-fired pizzas at Ruby’s are the perfect meal to complement the games. The restaurant invents interesting combos like the Bern, a pizza with red sauce, Turner ham, spinach, feta, mozzarella, and red pepper flakes, but for the more traditional options, you can build your own customized pie.
Walk off that meal with a trip to the Friendly Fermenter, just a few blocks away from Ruby’s. One of the newest additions to Harrisonburg’s burgeoning beer scene, the Friendly Fermenter is both a craft brewery and a local supplier, selling beer-making equipment and ingredients to other brewers of every skill level. Sample a flight of the latest brews, which are switched out continuously, as they are all made in extremely small batches and only available in the tasting room. Live music performances are held in the cozy space almost every Friday and Saturday night (and are typically free!), so be sure to ask the bartender and keep the tasting room in mind for a visit later in the evening.
Visit another brewery upon leaving the Friendly Fermenter to get a better idea of the brew scene in Harrisonburg. We picked Pale Fire Brewing Co. in the historic Ice House complex because of it’s convenient location in the city center, but there are several excellent craft breweries within walking distance to choose from. The brewery offers a beer flight with five four-ounce pours for just $7.50, and the tasting room welcomes you to sit down and stay a while. Grab a seat on the couches by the fireplace and check out the Little Free Library, a massive wall of bookshelves all color coordinated with hundreds of books available for guests to read there or even take home with them. Music lovers can peruse the brewery’s vinyl record collection and choose their favorites to be sampled on the record player.
Make a quick stop by the Hugo Kohl Jewelry Shop, just across the walkway from Pale Fire. This is not simply a jewelry store; the owner is one of the only jewelers in the world using old-world methods and tools to craft stunning pieces, with results that are both art and jewelry. If you’re lucky, you may get the chance to see him at work through the glass wall behind the show room, where he makes everything you see in the shop.
If you’ve made reservations, walk right around the corner to Rocktown Kitchen for dinner. The restaurant specializes in farm-to-table dining that is casual yet moderately upscale, using seasonal ingredients to create quality dishes like Fried Green Tomatoes, served on a bed of baby greens with a goat cheese fondue and dark balsamic reduction, and a Grilled Rack of Lamb with an okra and tomato stew, buttermilk mashed potatoes, and tzatziki sauce.
After a full day of eating and activities, consider heading back to the resort early for a good night’s sleep, or stick around for a live show at the Friendly Fermenter if scheduled.
There are few better ways to begin a Saturday than with an incredibly relaxing breakfast, and the best place to do that in Harrisonburg would be Heritage Bakery & Café. Run by a mother/daughter duo, the quaint little café provides a quiet respite for the early hour, with an atmosphere that makes you feel like you are in a close friend’s kitchen rather than a public café. Ordering from their menu may just be the toughest decision you make during this trip, as pretty much everything is delicious, beautiful, and made with almost all locally sourced ingredients. Each item that you see in the bakery case has been made from scratch that day, and the creative owner comes up with new recipes and flavor combinations daily (check the bakery’s Instagram for the latest). While waiting for your order, grab a cup of coffee and browse the artwork on the café walls, made by local artists, as you enjoy the timeless music from artists like Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald humming unobtrusively in the background.
Once you’ve gotten your caffeine kick for the day, walk over to the Harrisonburg Farmer’s Market and peruse locally made goods and produce harvested from nearby farms. The market gives a small glimpse of the sustainable movement that, while recently burgeoning throughout the United States, has been an important part of life in the Shenandoah Valley for decades.
Ready for a little excitement? Head over to Shenandoah Bicycle Company and pick up a mountain bike (reserve ahead of time, as they often run out of rentals on weekends) to explore the Rocktown Trails at Hillandale Park, about a mile from the bike shop. The trails are built to suit every skill level, from beginner to expert, and are also open to hikers and joggers looking to explore Harrisonburg’s stunning outdoors.
Return the bikes to Shenandoah Bicycle Company and consider what you’re craving for lunch. If you’re in the mood for Mexican, Magnolia’s Tacos & Tequila Restaurant is where you should be. Treat yourself to a mid-day margarita and some chips and salsa, guacamole, and cheese dip (go ahead, you earned it on the trails!). For a taste of the best fresh flavors sourced from the Shenandoah Valley, consider eating at Food.Bar.Food, known for their creative menu with dishes that represent a wide variety of styles and cultures from around the world. Paired with cocktail specials invented each week by their talented bartenders, the cuisine spans vast distances on the globe but somehow manages to come together to represent the best of Harrisonburg.
Make a pit stop heading back towards Massanutten Resort at White Oak Lavender Farm, a working lavender farm growing 30 different varietals. The property acts as a serene country retreat space for those looking to escape the stresses of everyday life, and in addition to the lavender fields, the farm houses an animal sanctuary, soothing lavender gift shop, and the Purple Wolf Vineyard, where you can sample the wines in a flight, tasting, or full pour. Several of the wines are made using lavenders grown on-site, resulting in smooth, palatable wines with subtle notes of lavender. Start with a self-guided tour of the Discovery Area ($3 entry fee), where you can pet farm animals like goats, sheep, and miniature ponies, walk the labyrinth, and enjoy the peaceful environment of the quiet garden spaces. For an extra $5, pick your own lavender from the garden as a relaxing reminder of your visit, and be sure to say hello to Martha, the resident turkey, if you see her strutting through the farm.
Grab dinner at the base of Massanutten Resort at Log Cabin Barbecue, a casual spot for ribs, sandwiches, and platters in a historic log cabin. The restaurant closes at 8pm, so if you don’t make it there, eat at the Virginia BBQ & Pizza Co., located beside the check-in lodge on the Massanutten Resort grounds, which stays open for dinner on Saturdays until 10pm. Get a drink after dinner at Base Camp, an indoor/outdoor bar and grill at the bottom of the slopes.
It may be the last day of your mini-vacation, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the last few hours before heading home! Eat breakfast at the Campfire Café, the resort’s rustic restaurant that pays tribute to Shenandoah National Park and the abundant outdoor activities found in the region. Try to snag one of the booths in the back built inside a large tent with open flaps, and order a Breakfast Skillet for a true campfire meal.
While you might be in the mountains, you can still experience a coastal vibe with a stop in the resort’s indoor water park. Kept at a comfortable 84 degrees, the park has twisting body slides, lazy river floats, hot tubs to unwind, and the FlowRider, where experienced teachers will teach you the basics of surfing and bodyboarding. Once you’ve conquered the waves, change out of your swimsuit, pack up the car, and bid farewell to another successful Virginia vacation!
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