Known as “the Queen City of the Shenandoah Valley,” Staunton was settled in 1732, incorporated in 1801, and has grown to a population of over 25,000 people.
The mountain town was named for Lady Rebecca Staunton, the wife of Colonial-era Governor Sir William Gooch. Strangely, the locals pronounce it “Stanton,” not “Staun-ton,” despite the fact that descendants of Lady Rebecca pronounce the “u.”
Today, the train station remains a significant part of Downtown Staunton’s 19th century charm. From the station, a short walk across the Sears Hill Bridge leads to a panoramic view of the historic downtown.
In 2021, Architectural Digest named Beverley Street one of the most beautiful main streets in America, with its Victorian-style buildings. From April to October, it becomes a pedestrian-only street on weekends and for special seasonal events.
Read on for our in-depth guide to the best things to do in Staunton VA, including the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum, the Blackfriars Playhouse, all our favorite restaurants, and more.
Things to Do in Staunton VA Guide
- Birding on Bells Lane
- Blackfriars Playhouse at the American Shakespeare Center
- Frontier Culture Museum
- Gypsy Hill Park
- Pufferbellies Toys & Books
- Staunton Farmers Market
- Staunton Music Scene
- Virginia Scenic Railway
- Wharf Historic District Restaurants
- Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum
1. Birding on Bells Lane
Bells Lane, Staunton VA
We love exploring the outdoors. While Heather is searching the ground for Virginia wildflowers, I’m usually scanning the trees for birds. Bells Lane provides a pleasant hike for her, and ample birdwatching opportunities for me.
Bells Lane is a 1.7-mile trail that offers scenic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, rolling pastures, and wetlands that lie on the northeast side of the Staunton city limits.
It’s an ideal destination for walking, running, or bicycling, and it’s also among the most popular places in Staunton VA for birders.
Watch carefully and you might see an Eastern Bluebird, tree swallows, Carolina Chickadees, owls, or various waterfowl. If you love wildlife, you’ll definitely want to bring your camera for this one!
In response to a declining bluebird population, nesting boxes were installed on the fences in the late 1970s by a Boy Scout troop. In recent years, the Augusta Bird Club has partnered with the Virginia Bluebird Society to update the boxes.
In addition to the myriad birds, Bells Lane showcases remarkably diverse ecosystems in a short walk. Parking is available at both ends of the lane, but note that the lane runs through private property, so you’ll need to stay on the paved roadway.
READ MORE: 20 Beautiful Birds of Virginia
2. Blackfriars Playhouse at the American Shakespeare Center
10 S Market Street, Staunton VA • (877) MUCH-ADO • Official Website
HOURS: Wed to Fri 1PM-5PM, Sat/Sun Noon-4PM
The American Shakespeare Center, one of Staunton’s most exciting cultural offerings, grew out of a traveling troupe formed by local educators in 1988.
Its highlights include a touring theatre troupe, educational opportunities, and the Blackfriars Playhouse, a year-round repertory theatre with three seasons.
Blackfriars Playhouse, a 300-seat Renaissance-style theatre, is the world’s only re-creation of Shakespeare’s indoor playhouse in England. The original Blackfriars theatre was lost in the Great Fire of London back in 1666.
Recent shows produced at the playhouse included The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, As You Like It, and The Taming of the Shrew.
One of our favorite annual Virginia Christmas traditions, their production of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol transports the audience back to the streets of Victorian London every December.
But the stunning interior of the playhouse is a must-see, even if you can’t fit a play into your schedule. Tours are usually available Mon-Sat at 10AM and 2PM, depending on their show schedule. The tour is $7 per person and usually last about 45 minutes.
For a real treat, include a night’s stay at the historic Hotel 24 South, which is just steps away from the theatre and is widely regarded as one of the best hotels in Downtown Staunton VA.
3. The Frontier Culture Museum
1290 Richmond Road, Staunton VA • (540) 332-7850 • Official Website
HOURS: 9AM-5PM Daily
Costumed historical interpreters tell stories of Native American tribes in Virginia, and the Europeans who settled in the Shenandoah Valley. They also describe the painful journey of enslaved Africans to the first permanent colony in America.
As you walk the paved 2-mile museum loop, you’ll experience the daily life of farming households in the 1600s and 1700s in England, Ireland, Germany, and West Africa.
You’ll see farm animals, blacksmithing, wool spinning, and firearms demonstrations, and other reenactments of frontier life.
The museum hosts lectures, concerts, and special seasonal events including a harvest fall festival, Oktoberfest, and a Revolutionary War weekend. For a delightful Christmas activity, come for an evening lantern tour in December.
Tickets are required for admission, with annual passes also available if you want to take in all the Frontier Culture Museum has to offer throughout the year.
4. Gypsy Hill Park
116 W Beverly Street, Staunton VA • (540) 332-3800 • Official Website
HOURS: Mon to Sunday 4AM-11PM
Located in the heart of Staunton VA, Gypsy Hill Park is a 214-acre multi-use recreational destination.
Much like the city of Staunton, it exudes that old town USA vibe of family and goodwill.
Highlights for young children include the playgrounds, duck pond, and Gypsy Express Mini Train. Older kids will be pumped to check out the skate park, swimming pool, baseball fields, and basketball courts.
The Gypsy Express Mini Train operates in the park on Saturdays and Sundays, from May through October. Buy a $1 ticket and you can take a short, fun ride around the park.
Staffed by volunteers, the mini train is for children and adults, and is equipped to accommodate wheelchairs. From all over the park, you can hear the squeals of delight as the costumed conductor toots the train whistle as it chugs through the tunnel.
The park’s Stonewall Brigade Bandstand has been hosting concerts since 1889. Come for a picnic, feed the ducks, and stay for a concert under the stars!
READ MORE: 10 Best Virginia Mountain Towns to Visit
5. Pufferbellies Toys & Books
15 W Johnson St, Staunton VA • (540) 886-3516 • Official Website
HOURS: Mon to Friday 10:30AM-6PM; Saturday 10AM-5PM
“Down at the station, early in the morning, see the little Pufferbellies all in a row…”
This beloved children’s song about steam locomotives that puffed along the train tracks in early 20th century America inspired this charming toy store in the Wharf District near Staunton’s historic train station.
Owned and operated by former librarian Susan Blanton and her daughter, Erin, Pufferbellies Toys & Books, is a delightful little store with toys ranging from the silly to the sublime. Think a tub of slime, a pretend play prop, or a classic wooden train set.
If you find yourself overwhelmed by the sheer number of choices, just ask the helpful staff for recommendations based on your child’s age and interests.
Come for the artfully arranged displays (such as a virtual rainbow of ukuleles hung from the ceiling) and leave with the perfect gift. For a beautiful presentation, take advantage of their free gifts-wrapping service.
Pufferbellies was named the 2017 National Toy Store of the Year, which is awarded by the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association, and it’s close to all our favorite Downtown Staunton VA shops.
6. Staunton Farmers Market
Byers St, Staunton, VA • (540) 448-1937 • Official Website
HOURS: April to Sept, Sat 7AM-Noon; Oct 7 to Nov 18, Sat 8AM-Noon
It’s located at the Wharf Parking lot on Johnson Street in historic Downtown Staunton, and open only on Saturdays.
Most weekends you’ll find the vibrant market bustling with shoppers exploring the vendors’ wares and enjoying live music, fresh coffee, and a multitude of breakfast options.
Since opening in May of 1993, the Staunton Farmers’ Market has been supporting local family farms by providing a venue that allows for direct sales to the community.
Find farm-fresh meats at Anathallo Acres, fresh cheeses at Ballerino Creamery, and plentiful produce from Poplar Ridge Farms.
Thirty years later, the market continues to grow and change with the times, but remains one of the most beloved places to visit in Staunton for locals and tourists alike.
7. The Staunton VA Music Scene
Music is big in Staunton VA. The small town is home to the legendary country vocal quartet (and 2008 Country Music Hall of Fame inductees) the Statler Brothers, who had a whopping 21 songs hit #1 on the Country charts.
There have been free Monday night concerts in Gypsy Hill Park’s Stonewall Brigade Bandstand every summer since 1889. This is also the place for Wednesday night bluegrass and Thursday night jazz concerts.
Staunton boasts two internationally acclaimed music festivals.
The Heifetz Institute at Mary Baldwin University offers a 6-week Festival of Concerts every June. This annual festival is dedicated to promoting the artistic growth of promising young musicians from around the world.
For world-class chamber, vocal, and symphonic music in historic downtown Staunton, check out the Staunton Music Festival, which takes place every August.
Most of the Downtown Staunton restaurants also have live music year-round, and buskers (many of which are students from Mary Baldwin) often provide ambiance as you stroll the streets of town on summer evenings.
8. The Virginia Scenic Railway
12 Middlebrook Ave, Staunton, VA • (434) 391-9772 • Official Website
HOURS: Mon to Fri 9AM-5PM
For an elegant adventure, nothing beats traveling through the Appalachian Mountains and valleys ensconced in the grandeur and comfort of a classic 1940s passenger train car.
Departing from the Amtrak Station in Staunton, the Virginia Scenic Railway is the only regularly scheduled sightseeing train in the state of Virginia. Visitors can choose from two train rides, the Alleghany Special or the Blue Ridge Flyer.
The Alleghany Special travels through the Shenandoah Valley, with the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Alleghany Mountains to the east and west, before turning around in Goshen VA.
Their Blue Ridge Flyer heads east and ascends 1,000 feet before roaring through the Blue Ridge Tunnel. You’ll get to see the town of Ivy VA before turning around to return to Staunton.
Both excursions are 3 hours long. The $120 ticket includes a catered meal, dessert, and a beverage with a souvenir glass.
The festive, 40-minute Santa Express train rides run between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and are ideal for younger train enthusiasts.
With sparkly Christmas lights and decorations, hot chocolate, cookies, and a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus, this is sure to be a memorable holiday experience.
9. Wharf Historic District Restaurants
The historic Wharf District in Staunton VA is home to amazing restaurants, many which are located in historic buildings with stunning Victorian-influenced architecture.
Start your morning with a mocha latté from Crucible Coffee Roasters, then visit Cranberry’s Grocery & Eatery at breakfast for their Hashbrown Casserole and/or Salmon & Egg on toast.
After shopping on Beverley Street, we like to grab a light lunch at the beautifully restored freight depot, The Depot Grille. Last time we were there, we shared a bowl of Crab Bisque, a blackened Tuna Salad, and amazing Cheese Fries.
For an afternoon pint, we typically choose Redbeard Brewing, a nanobrewery in a distinctive old red building. Their beers are hand-crafted using ancient techniques, but modern equipment.
Housed in a 5-story turn-of-the-century flour mill, The Mill Street Grill combines fine dining with a casual atmosphere. Try their signature Barbecue Baby Back Ribs or St. Louis Ribs. or get a combo platter and try them both!
This is a mere sampling of the many great places to eat in Staunton VA, but we’ll have a full story coming soon…
READ MORE: The 10 Best Things to Do in Bristol TN/VA
10. The Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum
20 N Coalter St, Staunton, VA • (540) 885-0897 • Official Website
HOURS: Mon to Sat 10AM-5PM; Sun Noon-5PM
Woodrow Wilson, our 28th president, was born in Staunton VA on December 28, 1856. The son of a Presbyterian minister, Wilson’s birthplace is now a National Historic Landmark and part of his Presidential Library & Museum.
Positioned on a steep street in Staunton’s Gospel Hill historic district, this pre-Civil War home (a masterfully restored Greek Revival mansion) is decorated with period furniture and Wilson family heirlooms.
The grounds include the Smith House, which contains a gift shop, the museum, historic gardens, and a library complete with a research center. Children will especially enjoy the scavenger hunts as they tour the museum and grounds.
There are 6 galleries in the Woodrow Wilson Museum, offering a self-guided tour of his early years, presidency, suffrage, prohibition, and World War 1. You’ll also see Wilson’s Pierce-Arrow Presidential Limousine, which still runs today!
Their unforgettable World War 1 exhibit has authentic weapons, uniforms, and a light and sound show that transports you into the trenches of “the Great War.”
This national treasure provides education and entertainment for all ages, making it a sure pick for one of our favorite things to do in Staunton VA. –by Heather Taylor and Jon Weaver; all photos by Jon Weaver & Heather Taylor unless otherwise noted