Small But Mighty - Lexington, VA

Richmond magazine | August 30, 2023

Lexington offers layers of entertainment

A two-hour drive from Richmond — slightly more if you take scenic country roads — Lexington is close enough to be a perfect weekend getaway. But with so much to see, do and taste, you’ll wish you had more time in this charming and robust city. The seat of Rockbridge County, Lexington is set in the Shenandoah Valley, surrounded by the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains. There is plenty in the city to fill travelers’ days and nights, but adding attractions in the areas around Lexington offers extra layers to peel back.

Historical Sites

Downtown Lexington is very walkable (stop by the visitors center on Washington Street for a walking tour map). For a broader view, hire the knowledgeable drivers of Lexington Carriage Company. The narrated tour through downtown transports you by horse-drawn carriage through the Gothic Revival architecture of Virginia Military Institute, Washington and Lee University, the Stonewall Jackson House, University Chapel, and a residential district dating to the 1800s.

Half an hour north of the city sits bucolic Wade’s Mill. Founded in 1750, it’s the state’s oldest continuously operating commercial gristmill. Stone-ground grains and other local products, available at the mill shop, are prime souvenirs, and the waterwheel makes for mesmerizing Insta reels.

Lexington Eats

Breakfast at Pure Eats is served with great stories about this former service station turned diner. Legendary Eats in the heart of downtown offers nice breakfast sandwiches as well as mouthwatering salads and sandwiches for lunch. Only minutes from Washington and Lee University is Blue Sky, where soups, wraps and focaccia pizzas are followed by tempting freshly baked desserts. Its downstairs speakeasy, Sky Bar, is a unique entertainment and dining space.

For upscale pub fare, try Taps cocktail bar at The Georges hotel (see below), which has a spacious patio with live music. The Virginia fried oyster appetizer with pickled red cabbage and smoked citrus aioli is incredible. Also at The Georges, chef Xavier Deshayes knocks it out of the park with dinner at Haywood’s piano bar and grill. The chef-driven cuisine is prepared using colorful ingredients sourced from the vibrant Lexington Farmers’ Market.

For something more indulgent, visit Sweet Things Ice Cream Shoppe for a handmade waffle cone filled with delicious homemade ice cream.

Breweries and Wineries

Beverage options abound in Lexington and the surrounding area. The Devils Backbone Brewing Company’s Lexington outpost has the same great drinks and a similar menu to their Base Camp in Nelson County, plus amazing mountain views from the patio. Heliotrope Brewery ferments its tasty wild beers with a culture of yeast and souring bacteria that they forage in Rockbridge County.

A short drive down the road in Raphine, try wine tasting at picturesque Rockbridge Vineyard & Brewery. Its award-winning dessert wine is incredible, and the tasting room is built over a former silo site that forms its unique wine bar. Season’s Yield Farm, operated by Fawn and Daniel Shear, is an incredible bread business and also offers a farm experience Airbnb, a family maple syrup operation, and a cafe and coffee bar. On your way back to Lexington, pick up local cheeses at Razzbourne Farms and Mountain View Farm Products in Fairfield. Nearby Ecco Adesso Vineyards offers live music, food trucks, lodging, art festivals and more.

Local Makers

On Wednesday mornings, visit the Lexington Farmers’ Market, where vendors sell fresh breads, handmade soaps, grass-fed beef and more. At the cooperative gallery Artists in Cahoots, local artists display and sell handcrafts, including jewelry, ceramics, pottery, woodwork, sculptures and more. Some of my favorite pieces depict the city’s famous Lexington brick, made from 1880 to 1910 in the Chilhowie Brick Plant. Its unique textured pattern created sure footing for both horses and people. The bricks are found not only in the city’s walkways, but in artwork, pottery, ornaments and jewelry.

Nature’s Best

The immaculate Lavender Fields at Tantivy Farm has beautifully manicured gardens framed by mountain views. For equestrian enthusiasts, the impressive Virginia Horse Center is a must-see; the center hosts shows most weekends of the year, horse-related and otherwise.

Thomas Jefferson called Natural Bridge State Park, located 20 minutes south of the city, “the most sublime of nature’s works.” While you’re visiting the 215-foot-tall limestone arch carved out by Cedar Creek, take in the beautiful forests, rolling meadows, 7 miles of hiking trails, Monacan Indian Living History Exhibit and the lovely Lace Falls. Also nearby is the drive-thru Virginia Safari Park. Being so up close and personal with the animals (you truly don’t know “up close and personal” until you’ve had a bison in your lap) is a treat.

Overnight Stays

There is no shortage of places to lay your head in and around Lexington. The city’s tourism website lists local cottages, inns, cabins, campgrounds and more. The upscale accommodations at The Georges in downtown Lexington are exceptional. The boutique lodging is spread across different buildings on Main Street, with gorgeously appointed rooms and opulent bathrooms with soaking tubs and heated floors.

by Kari Smith

AUGUST 30, 2023