Travel magazines do periodic surveys on the best destinations in various categories. My vote for the friendliest town in America goes to Staunton, Virginia, just off the Blue Ridge Parkway,in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley.
From the helpful people in the Visitor s Center, to its restaurants, tourist attractions and shops, there s an extraordinarily welcoming atmosphere in Staunton (pronounced Stan-ton by the locals) a town of 25,000 that until recently was maybe best known as the birthplace of President Woodrow Wilson. The friendliness may come from the traditional Southern hospitality that s a trademark of small towns in Virginia, with addition of the immense pride that the residents take in their historic but progressive municipality
But there are certainly more reasons to visit Staunton than the smiles and helpfulness of the people. Staunton has a wide variety of tourist attractions to suit just about any vacation preference, from historic sites to sporting activities. Some of the its attractions include:
The Frontier Culture Museum - This fascinating museum recreates the European farmhouses of the German, Scotch-Irish and English settlers who came to the Shenandoah Valley in the 18th and early 19th centuries, culminating in an American homestead that combines the three traditions. The museum has working farms with herbs, vegetables and farm animals typical of the time when the Shenandoah Valley was America s First Frontier. Future plans call for African and Native American Villages to re-create the lifestyles of those groups, which played an important role in populating the area as well.
Woodrow Wilson Birthplace and Library "This historic site includes the Presbyterian manse in which the 28th President of the United States was born in 1856, as well as a Presidential Library with priceless documents and artifacts from his life and times. The 1846 building itself is a stately example of Greek Revival architecture popular during that era.
The Blackfriars Playhouse " One might not expect a Shakespearean theater in Western Virginia, but this recreation of Shakespeare s indoor theatre has become a cultural gem that has drawn more than a quarter of a million people to the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton over the past six years. Plans are underway for a re-creation of Shakespeare s 1614 Globe Theatre.
Trinity Church " This 1855 Episcopal Church with a series of over twenty spectacular Tiffany stained glass windows has drawn art lovers from around the world.
Sunspots Studios " You can watch art being created in the glass-blowing studio and purchase stunning works of art in the studio s shop. Sunspots is located in Staunton s revitalized Wharf District.
Restaurants " Staunton has a surprising array of sophisticated restaurants offering gourmet meals in a laid back atmosphere. Notable are The Grocery, The Pampered Palate Caf, Zynodoa, The Dining Room, and The Mill Street Grill.
There are numerous hotel choices in Staunton at a wide variety of rate levels. A special place with an air of Southern gentility is the restored Stonewall Jackson Hotel, adjacent to the Blackfriars Playhouse, a member of the Historic Hotels of America group.
A comfortable and convenient stop just off Highway I-81 is the Comfort Inn. Just a bit further away, outside of Harrisonburg,is Massanutten Resort (www.massresort.com, perfect for families, offering golf, tennis, horseback riding, swimming pools, a spa, a water park, and two recreation centers.
For more information on visiting Staunton, call (800) 342-7982 or go to www.staunton.va.us. Enjoy!