"It's a Blue Ridge Day." That means the temperature's perfect, the sky's blue and all's right with the world. It must mean I'm in Roanoke, Virginia, right there on the Blue Ridge Parkway. What's the buzz about Roanoke?
In the Spotlight
You! Let your family know they can see you on their computers when you're in front of the web cam located at The Roanoke Star and Overlook on Mill Mountain. You'll go there for a bird's eye view of the city and then you'll call them to say you're waving at them. The Star was built in 1949 to encourage Christmas shopping and just stayed on to become a theme for "Roanoke, the Star City."
While you're on Mill Mountain, visit the gardens, the Discovery Center and the little zoo.
Take me out to the Salem Red Sox Class A Minor League professional baseball team. It's a Boston Red Sox affiliate and the beautiful stadium is simply a great place for an evening of fun.
When in Roanoke, eat like a Southern native-that means as directly from farm to table as possible. Visit the downtown Roanoke City Market for food, shops and restaurants too.
The Local Roots restaurant features changing seasonal menus. Beverages tend to go native as well, coming from "small batch, family-owned, rare, and unique purveyors."
For quality steak dinner, nothing beats NFL Hall of Fame coach Don Shula's 347 Grill in the Sheraton Roanoke Hotel-delicious filet mignon and the best cheesecake in town.
The Local Gem!
I found several gems in Roanoke, but none more visually stunning and values-impressive than the Taubman Museum of Art. It's a downtown architectural wonder which is "an abstract sculpture of the Blue Ridge." Outside design elements relate to the surrounding mountains and inside design elements reflect the rivers of the area in the rounded walls and meandering overhead designs.
This gem of a museum has nine galleries and impressive works throughout. It's free from 5 to 9 on Friday nights. However, regular senior admission is just $6-one more reason it's impressive.
Roanoke was a railroad hub for decades and today it holds the best railroad collection in the U.S. The town's sidewalks become a Rail Walk leading via signage through history and into the Virginia Museum of Transportation. Located in the historic Norfolk & Western Railway Freight Station, there are 50 pieces of rolling metal and a huge collection that includes automotive (a 1913 Detroit Electric car), aviation, transit and more.
Nearby, the old Roanoke Hotel exudes the rich heritage of a grand hotel built to house the guests who enjoyed new and luxurious transportation of the 1800s. You can relax in the lobby while looking at the hotel's history in photos, stay in one of the 300+ guest rooms or enjoy a fabulous meal right in downtown Roanoke.
A movie across the street at the Winston Link Museum tells how Link the photographer used lights and cameras and trains as he documented the last days of the steam locomotive
-pictures that we recognize from ads and commercials of a bygone era.
In the Bag
Among the city's unique shops is chocolatepaper, featuring all things chocolate.
If you're a treasure hunter, visit Black Dog Salvage for 40,000 square feet of architectural treasures (old church windows, etc.), antique designs like mantels and wrought iron works, furniture and much more.
Hit the Trail, Jack
Pick a trail, any trail. In Roanoke, you're just minutes from the famous Appalachian Trail. If hiking isn't your thing, drive the Crooked Road Virginia Heritage Music Trail. It will lead you by way of numerous studios, galleries and shops to the Blue Ridge Institute and Museum of Ferrum College. Check the trails out when they all lead to the Folklife Festival at Ferrum College the fourth Saturday of October.
The Sweet Spot
The area's best-kept secret is Homestead Creamery, an old fashioned family-owned dairy and produce hot spot. Treat yourself to yummy sandwiches, soups and ice cream made right next door. Table for Two... or more. Information at visitroanoke.com
Parkway or Skyline Drive?
Good question-are you on the Blue Ridge Parkway or Skyline Drive? The answer is that the Skyline Drive is the 105-mile-long roadway through Shenandoah National Park, a traditional national park. There are six entry points and an entrance fee to visit Shenandoah NP.
The Blue Ridge Parkway, also a unit of the National Park System, is a landscaped corridor with a few areas of large acreage, designed as a recreational motor road connecting Great Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah National Parks.
So, one is a drive through a traditional park and one is a roadway only.