Visiting the Shenandoah Valley on a budget

By Carol Sottili
Special to The  Washington Post
Sunday, May 23, 2010

Who: Grace Kunkel, 21, of Burtonsville, and Adi Lang, 20, of Baltimore

Where: Shenandoah Valley

Why: Romantic getaway

When: Long weekend in the fall, after Lang's birthday in early September

Budget: $400

"We are both University of Maryland students at College Park. Adi is an electrical engineering major, and I am a biology major. We both work as well, so in our free time we like to relax and spend time outdoors. We both really love trying new food. We'd like to stay at a B&B or a hostel."

Many people, when planning a trip to the Shenandoah Valley, instantly think of Shenandoah National Park. Yet the region covers a lot more territory. The valley stretches a couple hundred miles, from Roanoke in southwest Virginia to Winchester in the north, and encompasses relatively large cities, small hamlets, mountains, rivers, national forests and state parks as well as the national park. For their first decision, Grace Kunkel of Burtonsville and Adi Lang of Baltimore must choose accommodations that will put them within striking distance of both a town with good restaurants and parkland with hiking and other outdoor activities.

Shoot for lodging near Staunton (800-342-7982, http://www.visitstaunton.com), a self-described "historic and hip" destination and a bigger city by Shenandoah Valley standards. The city's claim regarding its history is well founded: As one of the few towns in the valley that escaped the Civil War intact, it showcases blocks of nicely preserved 18th- and early-19th-century houses and other buildings. It's also the birthplace of Woodrow Wilson and home to the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum (540-885-0897, http://www.woodrowwilson.org; $5 students).

For the hip side of the city, head to the Red Brick District, a hub of art galleries, theaters, live music, shopping and restaurants. Not-to-be-missed venues include the American Shakespeare Center's Blackfriars Playhouse (877-682-4236, http://www.ascstaunton.com), which offers $11 tickets for students 60 minutes before showtime; Sunspots Studios (540-885-0678, http://www.sunspots.com), with daily glass-blowing demonstrations; and Co-Art Gallery (540-886-0737, http://www.coartgallery.com), a cooperative gallery with more than 40 member-artists.

Restaurants in downtown Staunton range from bar food to Southern chic. Some, such as Staunton Grocery and Zynodoa, are top-notch but out of the couple's price range. Others, including Mill Street Grill (http://www.millstreetgrill.com), Mockingbird Artisan Fare & Roots Music (http://www.mockingbird123.com), and Emilio's Italian Restaurant (http://www.emiliositalianrestaurant.com), will stretch the budget, but $50 for two should cover a nice night out.

At the less-pricey end, best bets are Shenandoah Pizza (http://www.shenandoahpizza.com), featuring 20 gourmet pizzas and 200 types of beer, and Downtown at the Clocktower (http://www.downtown27.com), where a $5 cover gets you a night of music and $8 buys you a Philly cheesesteak.

All this history and hipness means that nearby lodging isn't cheap. With a $400 budget, finding a bed-and-breakfast for three nights at a price that will leave a few bucks for gas and at least one decent restaurant meal is a challenge. Even in smaller towns, you'll be hard-pressed to find a respectable B&B or cabin for less than $100 a night. October is fall foliage season, which means even higher prices. So plan to go in mid-September.

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