Downtown Charm

Country roads link small towns and quiet villages that once served as stagecoach stops. Others were bustling commercial hubs beside the James and Maury Rivers. These communities are beautiful places to stop and stretch your legs during a drive, a paddle or a bike ride.

Lexington

Lined with historic buildings, farm-to-table eateries, bright galleries and inviting boutiques, downtown Lexington is easy to love. And with red-brick sidewalks tying it all together, it's also easy to explore. But there's something a little offbeat bubbling beneath the red-brick façade. Scots-Irish feistiness? A hippie soul? Let's just say this buttoned-up traditionalist – nicknamed LexVegas by locals – knows how to have some fun.

For 200 years the junction of Main and Washington Streets has been the busiest spot in town. In the 1700s Main Street was part of the Great Wagon Road and was often jammed with horses and wagons. Three courthouses have anchored the southeast corner, and the Alexander-Withrow House, on the opposite corner, dates from 1789.

With power lines hidden underground and W&L and VMI still flanking the downtown core, the backdrop looks much as it did in the 1860s. But change is afoot. Two stylish hotels – The Georges and the Robert E. Lee Hotel – recently opened their doors while Haywood's, Taps, the Red Hen and Rocca are re-energizing the dining scene.

As for those feisty locals, just look around. Small cars with Coexist stickers are parked beside pick-up trucks with shotgun racks. Old know-it-alls with newspapers and college kids with Macbooks loiter side-by-side at Lexington Coffee Shop. Law students sing "Sweet Caroline" inside Haywood's, a bustling new piano bar. And a neon sign still lights the way to the Southern Inn, where artists, politicians and professors have been drinking, gossiping and complaining about change since 1932.

Buena Vista

The welcome sign on the way into town sets the tone for this scrappy city: "Welcome to Buena Vista. 6002 Happy Citizens and 3 Old Grouches." The phrase was coined by a 1970s businssman as a humorous response to bickering citizens. Today, to be one of the grouches is considered an honor and a place of distinction. But everyone else? They're loving the proximity to the Blue Ridge Parkway, the thrills of the Maury River and the stately profile of Southern Virginia University.


How best to enjoy downtown? Hop onto the 2 ½ mile River Walk and look for kayakers and migrating birds. Or stroll up to the campus of SVU. Or sample a fruit pie at the bustling Amish Cupboard. Buena Vista is also an Appalachian Trail Community, so thru-hikers should descend for a hearty sit-down lunch – Italian, Mexican or BBQ – at a homespun downtown restaurant.

River, Mountain and Valley Towns

Country roads link small towns and quiet villages that once served as stagecoach stops. Others were bustling commercial hubs beside the James and Maury Rivers. From the historic homes of Brownsburg to the trailside hospitality of Glasgow to the scenic farms of Raphine to the sleepy charms of Fairfield and Rockbridge Baths, these communities are beautiful places to stop and stretch your legs during a drive, a paddle or a bike ride.


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