“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.” -John Steinbeck
It’s January and it’s cold. It is also a Pandemic that keeps dragging on with no end in sight. Worse yet, we are acutely aware that our travel calendar is missing our normally scheduled winter travel. As a result, we are experiencing some severe cabin fever. Is anyone else feeling this way?
In an attempt to deal with our Corona blues, we decided to see if we could find a socially distanced weekend getaway that could safely get us out of our routine. So where can these frustrated travelers go?
Our requirements for our getaway included a road trip that didn’t call for us to be in the car all weekend. We also hoped to find a chance to explore something new to us or that we haven’t experienced in a while. That’s a tough ask for two people who have lived in Virginia all their lives.
Then I read about Roanoke, Virginia. Not too far away, a new experience, and something fun to do. Tick, tick, tick. We packed our bags, made reservations, hopped into the car, and headed west.
Nestled in the Roanoke Valley is its namesake, the City of Roanoke, the largest city in Southwest Virginia. Incorporated as Roanoke in 1884, the area has a history that goes back to 1852 when it was known under the name of “Big Lick.”
Surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains, Roanoke has a bustling downtown and can be a great home base for those that like hiking, biking, and kayaking. The Blue Ridge Parkway, Smith Mountain Lake, and The Natural Bridge State Park are all nearby and worth experiencing while you visit Roanoke. We didn’t have time to explore these areas but hope to return in the spring. We did love the historical and quirky, the old and the revitalized, the architecture and the landscape of Roanoke. It’s a town with a lot to offer everyone.
Where we stayed
As we travel, our growing preference for a place to stay is to find an Airbnb. We enjoy some of the comforts of home that an Airbnb offers and a traditional hotel does not, most notably cooking some of our own meals. Using Airbnb has also given us unique places to stay that have been well-located, giving us more of a local feel to our trips. If you have never tried an Airbnb we recommend that as you research for your trip, be sure to seek out an available Airbnb close to where you want to be. Read the reviews for each location as well. We find the reviews from prior renters to be helpful in choosing a location. And finally, we also prefer using properties that are managed by “Super hosts.” For us, this option has increased the possibility of a well-maintained rental and if any issues have popped up during our stay, such as a malfunctioning coffee maker or difficulty with check-in, we have gotten immediate responses and assistance with our issues.
Our weekend hideaway was in downtown Roanoke at One Elm Place. If you can’t find it on the Airbnb website or app, it is managed by Woltz and Associates Realty at www.woltz.com/rentals/oneelm. It was a perfect spot for the two of us, centrally located to everything we wanted to do, and a warm, cozy spot for the weekend.
Friday Night’s Dinner
After checking into our Airbnb, we headed downtown for dinner at Tuco’s Taqueria Garaje.
The restaurant itself is in the heart of downtown and, as with any downtown district, parking is a little bit of a trick for those of us who are new to the area. Some of the nearby restaurants have dedicated parking for their patrons and signage warns that you could be towed. There are also several lots for residents of the nearby buildings. As a result of all the assigned parking close to the restaurant, you have to be careful where you leave your car! We weren’t able to park any closer than a block away in a park and pay lot. It was just as well. After our dinner, the walk was welcomed! Once we got seated though, the restaurant’s décor transported us to Mexico and we found a friendly, relaxed atmosphere.
If you are taco aficionados like us, we would’ve walked further if it had been warmer! While Tuco’s serves the obvious tacos, they also offer salads, quesadillas, and at least one burrito option. The bar is also fully stocked to offer up margaritas or a flight of tequila.
We didn’t plan to be so predictable, but we started with chips and salsa. The salsa was full of flavor, with a luscious texture, and the chips were fresh, crunchy, and lightly salted; a great start to our meal. Roger and I tried the pork carnitas tacos and others that have names like The Hillbilly and Baja. For taco lovers, we were very happy. My favorite was The Hillbilly which is a piece of crispy fried chicken, queso, roasted corn, and Cotija cheese. It was crunchy, flavorful, and very satisfying!
We topped off our meal with Churros for dessert. They were crunchy and sweet and the only thing that could’ve sent them off the rails would’ve been honey or chocolate to dip them in.
Tuco’s would be a spot we would certainly recommend and we would definitely go back to enjoy if we find ourselves in Roanoke again. Check their menu out at www.tucostaqueria.com or when you find yourself in Roanoke, find them at 416 Salem Ave.
We started our day of exploration with breakfast at Scratch Biscuit.
For this Southern girl, a biscuit for breakfast is like breathing air! So, finding a restaurant that specializes in biscuits left us with high expectations. The menu at Scratch Biscuit tempts you with traditional and not-so-traditional options. Biscuits such as the “Jezebel,” boasts country ham, pimento cheese, and Jezebel sauce, or the “Bless Your Heart” biscuit which is made up of fried green tomato, bacon, and chipotle sauce. They also have traditional offerings like biscuits and gravy, bacon, egg, and cheese, or you can just make your own combination. The biscuits themselves had a crunchy exterior and a velvety soft inside; a pillow from heaven and a hearty breakfast for this Southern girl!
Check out their menu at www.scratchbiscuit.com or when you visit Roanoke, find them at 1820 Memorial Ave.
Black Dog Salvage
I have never been to Roanoke and Roger had only been in town previously for work so our goal for Saturday was to see the town.
After breakfast, we made our way down the street to Black Dog Salvage. If the name is familiar, it might be because the location and the team of Black Dog Salvage were the stars of 11 seasons of DIY Network‘s Salvage Dogs. Currently, you can also find the entire series of Salvage Dogs on Discovery Plus.
The premise of the show follows the team of Black Dog Salvage as they are called out to salvage everything and anything they can from old or historical buildings that are slated for demolition. They remove anything that can be repurposed and sold with the thought that everything that is old can be new again.
The shops at Black Dog Salvage are where many of the salvaged pieces ultimately end up for sale. Also included in the shop are a custom design and fabrication shop, art gallery, and consignment area.
While we have a mild appreciation for the old and antique, we were fascinated as we walked through the large warehouse pointing at objects for sale identifying what their functions used to be, and imagining how they might be able to be used again! If you have a love for old or unique things, this is a neat place to visit at the least. If you’re looking for something unique for your home or office, if they don’t have it, I’m betting they can make it.
Black Dog Salvage is a great spot to stop and shop while you’re in Roanoke and you can find them at 902 13th Street, Southwest, or at https://blackdogsalvage.com.
The Roanoke Star
One of Roanoke’s nicknames is “The Star City” and this attraction is why! Perched above the Roanoke Valley atop Mill Mountain, the Roanoke Star is the City’s icon.
The star was erected in 1949 by the Roanoke Merchant’s Association and was initially created to be a seasonal Christmas decoration for the holiday shopping season.
Some of the vital statistics of the star are as follows: the star is actually three stars combined to make one and is composed of neon tubes that illuminate it each evening until midnight; it is 88 and a half feet tall and 1,045 feet above the City of Roanoke; it is on the National Register of Historic Places, and when illuminated, it can be seen for up to 60 miles.
Today, when illuminated, the star is white but the color has changed for only a few occasions: the Star was changed to red, white, and blue to honor those affected by the September 11, 2001 attacks; the Roanoke Star went dark on the first anniversary of the Virginia Tech shooting, April 16, 2008; and the Star is also illuminated red, white, and blue on Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day, Patriot’s Day, and Veteran’s Day.
You can see the star from town but the best way to see it and the entire Roanoke Valley is from the star itself. You can find it at 2404 Prospect Road, SE, or find more details at www.playroanoke.com.
A Late Lunch
We also toured the downtown area, marveling at the architecture and great shopping areas in the Market City area and just generally exploring. For a late lunch, we found ourselves at Fork In The Alley.
We just happened to come across this neat lunch spot where their motto is, “Hard to find. Impossible to leave.” We didn’t really have a hard time finding them but we can understand why many do since the restaurant sits well back off the road, almost behind a 7-11 Convenience Store.
The afternoon had gotten chilly and windy and we were able to sit in the cozy restaurant within sight of the roaring pizza oven. The staff was friendly and helpful and we chose from a diverse menu of anything from pizza to burritos. Roger had a burrito and I enjoyed a sandwich with the cheesiest macaroni and cheese I think I’ve ever had! We decided that the pizzas looked so good, we took one to go and headed back to our Airbnb for the evening.
The restaurant was not far from The Roanoke Star so if you’re in the area for lunch or dinner, be sure to check them out at 2123 Crystal Spring Avenue or at www.fork.rocks/fita/.
All in all, we enjoyed our time in Roanoke. It was nice to get away to a town we could explore and we ended up finding a town that is not too big but with so much to offer. We picked the right weekend to visit because the very next week, they were covered in a blanket of snow. We certainly recommend visiting Roanoke in your travels in and around Virginia and checking out its charms for yourself.