Come for the Shakespeare, stay for the mountaintop vistas.

Staunton, Virginia
Credit: Facebook/Visit Staunton, Virginia

From Charlottesville to Fredericksburg, Virginia is full of hidden-gem small towns, and Staunton may be one of the most underrated destinations in the Shenandoah Valley. Set between the scenic Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains, the mountain town is one of the prettiest in the South. With a downtown energized by locally owned shops and restaurants, Staunton also boasts a few unique attractions—who would’ve guessed this little town is a national destination for Shakespeare plays?

To start off, it’s pronounced “Stan-ton,” not “Staun-ton.” The town’s namesake? Lady Rebecca Staunton—wife of William Gooch, the 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."

Arts and History

See the Bard's plays at American Shakespeare Center in the Blackfriars Playhouse, the world's only replica of the playwright's Blackfriars Theatre. For a taste of Shenandoah history, explore the Frontier Culture Museum, which gives visitors a glimpse into the lives of the region’s earliest settlers. The town also happens to the birthplace of President Woodrow Wilson, a Staunton native since 1856; the 28th President’s birthplace is now the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum, where students and scholars can tour Wilson’s galleries and gardens.

Staunton, Virginia
Credit: Lindsey Walters

Stroll Around Downtown

Take in all the small-town charm in Staunton’s historic downtown, where the Victorian buildings house specialty shops, antique stores, and dining destinations. Hop on the Downtown Trolley, which cruises from the Wharf Historic District to the Gypsy Hill Park. East Beverley Street (home to the Marquis Building) is known as Staunton's main drag; shoppers can browse through shoes at Design at Nine, and enjoy artisan chocolates at Cocoa Mill. Take home a stunning hand-blown ornament or souvenir from Sunspots Studios, a live glassblowing studio that offers free daily demonstrations. In the warmer months, don’t miss the farmer’s market.

Stay in the restored 1924 Stonewall Jackson Hotel & Conference Center, its iconic New York-esque neon sign a landmark of Staunton’s short city skyline. The hotel is within walking distance from many of Staunton’s main attractions.

Drinking and Dining

Start the morning off right with a cup of artisanal joe from Crucible Coffee Roasters or By & By Café and Beer Garden. Housed in the old Woolworth building, Clocktower Restaurant & Bar is a local destination for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You can’t go wrong with a Reuben sandwich and a tower of onion rings for the table. You’ll also find locals passing time at Mill Street Grill, where barbecue ribs and peppermint ice cream are table mainstays.

WATCH: The South's Best Mountain Towns

Zynodoa's executive chef James Harris serves farm-to-fork specialties like Autumn Olive Farm Pan Seared Pork Loin or Virginia Stuffed Flounder, all named after the local farms where the ingredients have been sourced. Sample some of the state's best craft beers on the outdoor patio at Byers Street Bistro.

And the craft brews are plentiful in Staunton—since the Virginia General Assembly made it legal for breweries to serve beer on-site in 2012, Staunton led the pack as ground zero for numerous craft breweries. Check out the flagship beers at Shenandoah Valley Brewing Company in Old-Town Staunton, the live music at Queen City Brewing, and the rotating tap at Redbeard Brewing.

In terms of sweet treats, Staunton is the field of a bit of a hometown rivalry. The Split Banana Co. makes its gelato daily, while family-owned Kline's Dairy Bar—a Staunton institution since 1943—cools off with homemade custard. Which sweet confection reigns supreme? You’ll just have to get a taste of both.

Explore the Area

Nestled between Shenandoah National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway, Staunton regards itself as a hub for national parks and stunning mountain vistas. Check out the Ramsey’s Draft Wilderness trails, or if you’re looking to remain sedentary, cruise down the Blue Ridge Parkway, which offers panoramic hillside views and bursts into full fall color in the autumn months.

Fall Trees Mountains with Clouds
Credit: Getty/beklaus