Getting out of Lexington: adventures in Staunton

Josette Corazza

Staunton, Va. is a quick 45-minute drive from Lexington and boasts enough attractions to make the trip out of town well worth it. Pronounced STANN-tun, the city of 24,000 is home to Mary Baldwin University as well as an extremely vibrant tourist haven.

Staunton’s historic downtown streets are the annual setting for the Queen City Mischief & Magic Harry Potter Festival, and it is easy to see why. The charming blocks are reminiscent of both England and pure magic, with historic buildings from the imagination of late 1800s architect TJ Collins who, according to an article by, was enamored by Classical Pattern Books from Europe and designed over 200 buildings in Greek, Roman, Moorish, Gothic, Renaissance, Victorian and other styles from all over the world. The city prides itself on its lively arts and music scene, great reputation for local food and array of independent stores and galleries.

The American Shakespeare Center is a must for students involved in literature and theater. I took a trip with a class last year to see “Hamlet” and was absolutely floored by the amazing performance. The world’s only re-creation of Shakespeare’s indoor theater, the Center has stunning architecture that adds so much to the theatergoing experience. This season offers performances of “As You Like It,” “Emma,” “Richard III,” and “The Man of Mode or Sir Fopling Flutter.” I would urge anyone and everyone to check out this amazing theater company.

If you are more of a history buff, Staunton’s Frontier Culture Museum is a living history museum that works to tell the story of the people who migrated from the Old World to America and the life they created in the Shenandoah Valley. I have taken many school trips to the Frontier Culture Museum and have always enjoyed the living history demonstrations. You can learn so much about the early American colonies without even driving more than an hour from campus.

In the event that you want to take a break from learning about Shakespeare and history, Staunton can offer some great distractions. If you crave the functionality and fun of department store shopping but don’t want to make the longer trip to Roanoke or Charlottesville, the Staunton Mall includes Bath & Body Works, Belk, JC Penney and more. There is also a TJ Maxx department store just across the street from the mall. The quaint downtown area doesn’t offer much in the way of clothing, but there are numerous family-owned gift shops, jewelry and antique stores.

The real stars of downtown Staunton, in my opinion, are its restaurants. There are more bars in Staunton than in Lexington, including Bricks Restaurant and Pub, The Pompei Lounge, Clocktower Restaurant & Bar and Yelping Dog Wine. For underclassmen looking for food rather than drink, I cannot recommend the dining scene enough. You can find everything from German, Mexican and Thai restaurants all within a close radius. Edelweiss Restaurant offers eclectic German cuisine in a lodge-like setting, while Thai Staunton serves traditional Thai specialties as well as cocktails and imported beers. Time and again I revisit Baja Bean Co. for its amazing cantina standards – the pesto burrito is a personal favorite. And don’t forget to save some room for dessert at The Split Banana, a sweet retro-themed spot serving ice cream, gelato and sorbet.

Whether you plan a trip to Staunton for the Queen City Potter Festival (Sept. 28-30) or just to get the flavor of its downtown eateries, I strongly urge anyone who would like a short break from Lexington to make the trek up VA-262 to this surprisingly dynamic city.