Small Town We Love: Staunton, Virginia

With a downtown energized by locally owned shops and restaurants, the Shenandoah Valley town is one of the prettiest and most progressive in the South.

Population: 23,746

Stoplight Count: 47

Charm Factor: Set between the scenic Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains, Staunton boasts a big city's cuisine and culture. Sample some of the state's best craft beers at Byers Street Bistro (byersstreetbistro.com). See the Bard's plays at American Shakespeare Center in the Blackfriars Playhouse, the world's only replica of the playwright's Blackfriars Theatre (americanshakespearecenter.com). Stay in the restored 1924 Stonewall Jackson Hotel & Conference Center (stonewalljacksonhotel.com; rooms from $115).

Namesake: Lady Rebecca Staunton, wife of William Gooch, colonial governor of Virginia in the 1730s. Lady Staunton's family stressed the "u" in their name, but it was dropped over time and is now pronounced "Stan-ton."

Staunton's "Main" Street: East Beverley Street (home to the Marquis Building, above) is Staunton's hub. Shoppers can browse through shoes at Design at Nine (540/886-0060), and enjoy artisan chocolates at Cocoa Mill (cocoamill.com).

Must-try Delicacy: Zynodoa's executive chef James Harris (zynodoa.com) serves farm-to-fork specialties such as Buffalo Creek Smothered Pork Roast ($26) with caramelized Shen-Valley apples and cider onions.

Hometown Rivalry: The Split Banana Co. (thesplitbanana.com) makes its gelato daily, while family-owned Kline's Dairy Bar (klinesdairybar.com) cools off with homemade custard.

Talk of the Town: Small-batch beers. Two bills passed by the Virginia General Assembly this summer made it legal for breweries to serve beer on-site. Since the bills passed, the Shenandoah Valley Brewing Company (540/887-2337) has opened, and Redbeard Brewing is scheduled to open early next year.

Local Boy Done Good: President Woodrow Wilson was born here in 1856. His birthplace is now the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum (woodrowwilson.org).

Mayoral Endorsement: "Order the Reuben at Clocktower Restaurant & Bar (540/213-0665) in the old Woolworth's building," says Mayor Lacy King.

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