Star City: Visiting Roanoke, in Virginia’s Blue Ridge

Welcome to Roanoke, Virginia, a vibrant valley rich in history, where outdoor adventures, local cuisine, cozy accommodations, boutique shopping, and breweries are plentiful. 

Situated in the heart of the larger Appalachian Mountain range and just minutes from the Blue Ridge Parkway—dubbed “America’s Favorite Drive”—Roanoke is the largest city in southwest Virginia’s Blue Ridge region. 

It’s a gateway to over one thousand miles of stunning trails that offer waterfall hikes, mountain biking, and paddling adventures. 

Known affectionately as the “Star City,” Roanoke is famously crowned by the largest illuminated man-made star in the world, an 88-foot beacon atop Mill Mountain that has lit the night sky since 1949.

Roanoke’s reputation as a prime outdoor destination is well-earned. CNN ranks it as the #2 top hiking city in the country. 

The city’s outdoor offerings extend to urban kayaking, earning it the #3 spot in USA Today’s 10Best destinations, thanks to the 45-mile Roanoke River Blueway. 

Additionally, Roanoke has been spotlighted on the TODAY show as a “fun fall weekend getaway,” with host Hoda Kotb sharing fond memories of her visits during her college years at Virginia Tech.

Where to Stay in Roanoke, Virginia

Downtown Roanoke, Virginia, has many hotel options, including your favorite brands and historic boutiques. My husband and I stayed at The Liberty Trust, a luxury hotel housed in the old First National Bank building, which is now a registered landmark. 

Built in 1910, most of the hotel’s original Greek revival and French Ecole de Beaux-Arts-influenced architecture is still in place today. The lobby, which also serves as The Vault restaurant and tasting room, immediately conveys elegance and sophistication. The staff was always friendly and ready to tell you about the building’s storied past. 

We stayed in the Deluxe King room, which was very clean, modern, and spacious. It had beautiful city and mountain views, plenty of extra seating, a work desk, and a mini refrigerator.

We especially loved The Liberty Trust’s location. Once we parked our car in the garage, we did not need it again unless we were going on a day trip. You could easily walk to restaurants, museums, breweries, and shops. 

Where to Eat and Drink in Roanoke, Virginia

Places to eat and drink in Downtown Roanoke and Grandin Village were plentiful. You have cute local coffee shops, breweries, wine bars, and many local options unique to the area you won’t find anywhere else. It was refreshing to experience something other than the typical chain restaurants you find in many cities. 

Little Green Hive: A woman-owned and family-operated coffee shop that serves locally roasted and organic fair-trade coffee. They also have a smoothie bar, an all-day breakfast menu, and grab-and-go options. 

Scrambled: If you’re looking for a hearty all-American breakfast or brunch option (with mimosas), Scrambled is a great choice. My husband says they have the best biscuit and gravy he has ever tasted! We know what the secret ingredient is, but we’re not telling! Indoor and covered outdoor seating is available. 

Scratch Biscuit Company: Their specialty is in the name—biscuits! Their large menu offers many options for breakfast sandwiches, breakfast tacos, biscuits and gravy, and breakfast platters. If you’re craving a southern-style breakfast, Scratch is an absolute must. 

Local Roots: A farm-to-table restaurant serving locally grown and sustainable products. We thoroughly enjoyed our Sunday brunch date at Local Roots. My husband enjoyed the eggs benedict, and I tried the brunch burger with pickled onions and potatoes. We had the opportunity to chat with the owner and meet his cute pup. He told us he personally visits the farms and suppliers to pick out the best ingredients. It was a mouth-watering experience. 

Beamer’s 25: My husband, a Virginia Tech alumni, would not let me skip this stop, especially since he attended during the Frank Beamer era. This large bistro has indoor and outdoor seating, a large bar with TVs, and was decorated with VT memorabilia. We decided to split the BBQ chicken pizza, which was very tasty! 

VietSub: This local favorite has a small but flavor-packed menu. It offers Banh Mi sandwiches, Pho options, and dumplings. Be sure to visit during the week, as it is closed on the weekends. 

The Vault: Located in The Liberty Trust hotel lobby, this restaurant and tasting room offers chef-inspired small plates from around the world. We dined in the private bank vault and shared delicious plates like shrimp and scallop ceviche, Khachapuri, pork bao buns, 100% Iberico ham, and the hummingbird cake– a specialty of the chef’s Mother!

bloom Restaurant and Wine Bar: Perfect for date night, bloom was a fantastic experience! Their restaurant looks small but it is quite large inside. There was a bar, a front dining room, an outdoor patio, and a quieter, more private dining area. Their menu has a variety of chef-inspired options, but we opted for the “A Trip for the Table” themed experience, which took us to the Aegean Sea! 

Six and Sky Rooftop Grille: Serving seafood, steak, and spirits, this rooftop restaurant was a delightful experience. We loved the modern feel and atmosphere, as well as the gorgeous city and mountain views from the roof. We shared oysters, red snapper, and a lobster roll, which were all very tasty. 

Golden Cactus Brewing: We loved the vibe here! Located in a large warehouse where they brew their own beer, the Golden Cactus is a great night out with friends. There is indoor and outdoor seating, pinball machines, cornhole, retro video games, and large seating areas. My husband tried a few of their specialties on tap and very much enjoyed them while playing Super Mario! While they don’t serve food, you can order from Food Hut, which is attached to the same building. 

Big Lick Brewing: Another great brewery with plenty of indoor and outdoor seating and locally brewed beer. We saw families and friend groups enjoying the atmosphere. While they don’t serve food either, there are several places nearby that will deliver to you!

Things to Do in Roanoke, Virginia, and the Region

Virginia LOVE sign in Roanoke, VA
Photo Credit: Alexandrea Sumuel

Roanoke and Virginia’s Blue Ridge region are vibrant hubs for outdoor enthusiasts and culture lovers. From the trails of the Blue Ridge Parkway, ideal for hiking and biking, to the lively arts and dining scene in downtown Roanoke, there are plenty of options for everyone in the family. 

Whether exploring the scenic beauty on a mountain adventure or diving into the rich history at local museums, this region offers a unique blend of activities and attractions.

Hiking: More Than 700 Miles of Trails

Roanoke and Virginia’s Blue Ridge have over 700 miles of trails, which include the Appalachian Trail. Whether you’re looking for a waterfall hike or to conquer the Virginia Triple Crown (Dragon’s Tooth, McAfee Knob, and Tinker Cliffs), there are trails for all abilities. 

Don’t miss the opportunity to see the Mill Mountain Star, known as the “Roanoke Star,” while visiting. The Mill Mountain Star Trail leads to the Roanoke Star and an overlook offering beautiful valley views. However, you can drive to the overlook if you are crunched for time. 

Opportunities for waterfall hikes in the region are plentiful, and we particularly enjoyed the Roaring Run Falls trail in Eagle Rock, Virginia. This hike is within the National Jefferson Forest, a 1.5-mile loop along Roaring Run Creek. About halfway through the hike. You’ll encounter a gorgeous cascading waterfall. If you continue the loop, you’ll stumble upon the Roaring Run Furnace, which is a Registered National Landmark.

There are also many state parks in the region that offer great trails to explore, like Natural Bridge State Park and Smith Mountain Lake State Park. 

Mountain Biking: More Than 400 Miles of Trails

Virginia’s Blue Ridge region is also known as the “Mountain Biking Capital of the East Coast,” and for good reason. With more than 400 miles of trails, it has been designated as a Silver-Level Ride Center™ by the International Mountain Biking Association.

Roanoke Valley is also known for its greenway, which is about 14 miles long and follows the Roanoke River. The path is completely paved and is considered an easy ride. Eventually, the Greenway will be 25 miles long and run through other regional cities and towns. 

We enjoyed an e-bike ride down the Greenway, courtesy of Roanoke Mountain Adventures, located in the middle of the trail. You walk in, get fitted, and you’re on your way! However, if you want to learn more about the area, they also offer group tours!

Kayaking: 45-Mile Roanoke River Blueway

The Roanoke River Blueway is a 45-mile water trail that runs from East Montgomery County Park to Smith Mountain Lake. It traverses urban and wilderness areas and connects Roanoke, Salem, and surrounding counties. The trail offers a mix of recreation opportunities, including kayaking, fishing, and scenic views.

Boutique Shopping

Black Dog Salvage: Have you ever seen an episode of Salvage Dawgs on HGTV, DIY Network, or the Travel Channel featuring Robert Kulp and Mike Whiteside? We had the opportunity to visit their warehouse, which is quite the site!

These guys reclaim and repurpose salvaged materials into architectural goods “for a more sustainable future.” After a quick chat with Mike, we spent a decent amount of time browsing their upcycled designs and regional vendors. Be sure to leave room in your suitcase, because you’ll definitely be taking something home!

She’s International Boutique: Owner Diane Speaks is a former flight attendant of 33 years. Leveraging her relationships with vendors she met during her travels, she offers unique jewelry and apparel from Europe and beyond! This two-story shop is filled with treasures, and they even have a “man chair” for your significant other if he doesn’t feel like browsing with you!

Book No Further: An independent bookstore selling bestsellers in many different genres. We were told that many of their books come from the advice of shoppers! Book No Further also has a “banned book” section with several titles that have been banned throughout the years.

Crafteria: An LGBTQ-owned store, Crafteria offers handmade goods from over 250 regional artisans, along with small-batch foods, beer, wine, and much more. It’s housed in a mid-century cafeteria building, and it is also where you’ll find the Little Green Hive coffee shop! 

Chocolatepaper: If you love chocolate, don’t skip a sweet treat from Chocolatepaper! It’s a great place to satisfy your sweet tooth, find the perfect greeting card, or shop for local souvenirs!

Museums in Roanoke, Virginia

Taubman Museum of Art: Home to Contemporary and American Art by regional and world-class artists, the Taubman is an excellent place to spend a few hours. Admission is always free. However, I highly recommend a guided tour. You’ll gain insight into the artist’s life, subjects, and inspiration, which really brings the art to life! They even have a large workshop for your little ones to explore their creative side!

Harrison Museum of African American Culture: This is a great place to learn more about African-American history in the region. The museum highlights and celebrates the history and art of the African-American community in Roanoke Valley through a curated collection of memorabilia, photographs, and items of significance to the local black population.

Roanoke Pinball Museum: Did somebody say pinball?! A great place to visit with the family, the Roanoke Pinball Museum has over 70 pinball machines ranging from the 1930s to present day. The best part? With your admission ticket, you can play as many pinball machines as you’d like!

Your Metro Mountain Adventure

Mill Mountain Star, aka the Roanoke Star
Photo Credit: Alexandrea Sumuel

Visiting Roanoke and Virginia’s Blue Ridge region offers an unparalleled opportunity to immerse oneself in a blend of natural beauty and urban charm. 

Whether you’re trekking through the scenic trails, paddling down the Roanoke River, or exploring the cultural offerings of Star City, this area promises memorable experiences for every kind of traveler.

Come discover the captivating landscapes, rich history, and warm hospitality that make Roanoke and its surroundings a must-visit destination in the heart of Appalachia.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Star City: Visiting Roanoke, in Virginia’s Blue Ridge

Alexandrea Sumuel Groves is a nationally syndicated travel writer and founder of the Wander With Alex travel blog. Her work has appeared on MSN, YAHOO!, Euronews, and FOX, ABC, and NBC affiliates across the United States. 

Alex travels to experience, eat, explore, and occasionally escape! She collaborates with destinations, vacation property management companies, and hospitality technology firms to provide her readers with exclusive insights and information.