Cradled between the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests to the east and the Central Blue Ridge Mountains to the west, the city of Lexington, Va., hosts a wealth of outdoor adventure, culture, and history. With two campuses just a short walk from downtown, Virginia Military Institute and Washington and Lee University, the vibe in this otherwise quaint community is young and fresh.
Bucolic farms litter the countryside just outside of town, indicative both of Lexington’s agricultural roots and its ever-growing farm to table movement. Mild weather year round makes Lexington the perfect destination for any season’s vacation. Hikers and equestrians, foodies and artists, come one, come all! There’s a little something for everyone in Lexington, Va.
Wake up those legs with a hike to Devil’s Marbleyard, a unique geological field of boulders and rocks that range in size from marbles to houses. Located in the James River Face Wilderness off of Milepost 71 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, this three-mile out-and-back can easily be completed in a few hours. If you’re looking for a longer hike, and a bigger challenge, return via the Gunter Ridge Trail for a total loop length of 8.3 miles.
After your hike, take a tour of one of the area’s greatest natural wonders—the Caverns at Natural Bridge. Guided tours (adults: $18, kids: $12) run every half hour for 45 minutes each and take visitors 34 stories belowground to an otherworldly landscape of stalactites and stalagmites, of course, but also dripstone, flowstone, draperies, and pools.
Make sure to see the Natural Bridge itself, once called “The Bridge of God” by the native Monacan Indian tribe. You can see its holy glory via the Cedar Creek Trail, a one-mile trail that winds past its namesake, Cedar Creek, and ends at the 30-foot Lace Falls.
Short of outdoor adventures and Civil War-age history, Lexington is also home to the nationally renowned Virginia Horse Center, a testament to the area’s rich equestrian scene. On your second day in Rockbridge County, you’ll experience those picturesque farms that passed by your window the day before from a different perspective, the way early settlers would have seen the countryside—between the ears of a horse.
Tish Vest is the local go-to for guided trail rides and lessons. Her property, located in Natural Bridge, is not only a textbook example of Virginia’s beauty, but is also uniquely joined with the Bodhi Path Buddhist Center. Don’t be surprised when you come upon a Buddhist temple during your trail ride.
If you prefer to hop in a saddle of a different sort, check out Shenandoah Rides and Rentals for all of your touring, shuttle, and bike rental needs. Owners Dave & Tasha Walsh can suggest routes, help with shuttle, and even assist you with long-distance ride logistics. For a casual, yet scenic, afternoon ride, ask the Walsh’s about Goshen Pass—they’ll set you up with a ride that’s mostly downhill and overlooks the Maury River.
Vegetarians and vegans will find their new haven at Kind Roots, a small, family-owned restaurant located in the Lexington YMCA. It’s like a deli, with a unique and local twist that’s winning the hearts of customers one sweet potato burger at a time.
Part grocer, part restaurant, the Blue Phoenix Café & Market is a hit no matter your dietary preferences. Vegetarians will delight with classic menu items like the TLT (that’s tofu, lettuce, and tomato) and the Grilled Cheese with sundried tomato aioli, while even the most carnivorous of carnivores will find their savory weekly specials something to Yelp about…in a good way.
For a taste of the Shenandoah Valley itself, The Red Hen is a must. As Lexington’s first farm-to-table restaurant, The Red Hen has well-established relations with the area’s best farmers and caters its menu each day to the bounties of the valley. When in doubt, go for the risotto. This is fine dining at its best.
Savor the charm of southern eats and atmosphere at the Southern Inn Restaurant. Opened in 1932, this restaurant still maintains much of the same design and infrastructure from its early years. You can get standard southern goodies like fried pickles and fried pimento cheese here, and they are to die for, but don’t take our word for it. Get some yourself.
Libations & Nightlife
In the summertime, the Lime Kiln Theater is the place to be. The outdoor venue is breathtaking, the line-up is always killer (last year’s events featured Ben Sollee, Steep Canyon Rangers, Chatham County Line, Mandolin Orange, and The Infamous Stringdusters, just to name a few), and the vibe is downright groovy. It’s the perfect way to spend a summer evening.
Craft beer fans will want to stop in at Blue Lab Brewing Company, which opened in 2010. While Blue Lab offers five standard brews year round, the adventurous palette will want to explore beers like the Green Chile Ale and the Coffee Chocolate Stout.
How would you like to spend your next Sunday under the sun, lounging on a deck with an uncorked bottle of wine beside you and music in your ear? Who wouldn’t!? At Rockbridge Vineyard’s Uncorked and Unplugged series, that’s exactly what goes down two Sundays of every month, April thru October. Bring the family, the lawn chair, the picnic basket, the dog, the hula-hoop, and your dancing shoes for this pickin’ good time. Like a cherry on top, their wine is pretty fabulous, too.
Brew Ridge Taps. 18 beers on tap. 199 bottles of beer on the wall. Appetizers, wafflewiches (that’s a sandwich, with a waffle instead of bread), open mic nights, chalkboard tables. Need we say more?
Looking for a place to hunker down for the evening with a craft cocktail in hand and a fire crackling in the hearth? Look no further than TAPS, located in The Georges. TAPS also serves locally inspired soups, salads, and sandwiches, making it a perfect place to host events.
Love Devils Backbone brews but can’t make it out to Nelson County? Check out the brewery’s Outpost in Lexington, where 45,000 barrels of beer were brewed in the Outpost’s first three years of operation.
For a boutique inn experience, check out The Georges on Main Street. One part history, one part luxury, and one part convenience, this place is sure to make you feel like royalty.
Submerge yourself in the farmland surrounding Lexington at Applewood Inn and Llama Trekking. That’s right—llama trekking. Aside from the environmentally friendly, cozy, bed and breakfast style accommodations here, you can also sign up for a guided llama trek around the property.
A stay at the House Mountain Inn is like going back in time. The rustic log cabin is situated against a backdrop of picturesque mountains on the 1,000-acre Allegheny Mountain Preserve. The back deck overlooks the painting-perfect landscape, and with a two-story fireplace, gourmet meals, and a daily complimentary wine and cheese hour, we won’t blame you if you decide to stay forever.
Find peace along the banks of the James River at Wilderness Canoe Company, where primitive, riverside camping complete is status quo for every site. Camping is reserved for those looking to paddle the river, so make the most of your stay by renting a canoe or inner tube. You can tackle the James yourself or hop on a guided tour ranging from flatwater to class III rapids, level pending.