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Yes Virginia, there’s lots to see and do in Roanoke

Posted on Friday, June 23, 2017 at 1:30 pm





By Peter Covino

A&E Editor

It’s been a fun-filled and very busy long weekend in the Blue Ridge. Yes, there is so much to see and do here, you can’t possibly fit it all in a weekend, or a week for that matter.

But you can certainly try.

We’ve already looked at some of the great places to dine, the birth- place of moonshine, Roanoke’s historic neon lights and it’s icon, that giant welcoming illuminated star (stories can be found online at

Now it’s time to get really serious and look at the varied entertainment and cultural options available in the economic and cultural hub of western Virginia.

Sometimes the best things in life are free, and if you have a bike or a steady pair of legs, there are more than 600 miles of hiking trails in the Roanoke Valley, where you will find that perfect place for a picnic lunch, seemingly just about everywhere. And if the Blue Ridge is pretty as a picture in summer, just imagine what it will be like if you venture to Virginia in the fall. You can find a lot of information on hiking and more in the region at outdoor-adventure/hiking-trails/.

The city of Roanoke was the hub of railroad transportation throughout most of the last century, and that railroad history is preserved in two outstanding museums in the city.

The Virginia Museum of Transportation is a trip back in time with its collection of old steam locomotives including two classics, the Norfolk & Western Class J 611 and Class A 1218 located in the Rail Yard. The museum is located at a fitting location as well — the city’s century-old freight station. Inside the building, there are lots of educational exhibits about the city’s rail history.

If you are a train buff, or just like black and white photography at its finest, there is more transportation splendor at the O. Winston Link Museum.

Link is most definitely one of the city’s historic treasures. Unless you are from the area, you probably never heard of this photographer/artist, who fortunately for the world, decide to capture images of the area’s great trains (between 1955-60), before they disappeared forever.

During that brief time period, Link took more than 2,000 photographs, many of them stunning in detail and artistic style. There is a lot to see in the Roanoke Valley, but the museum should be on everyone’s “can’t miss” list on any vacation here.

While in Roanoke, you have to check out the Center in the Square, downtown’s all-in-one stop for art, science and fun.

My biggest regret during the entire trip was not having time to hang out at the Roanoke Pinball Museum. Tilt!!!

This is a great place that celebrates 80 years of pinball, and yes, the machines are all in working order. For one admission price, you can hang out all day. (Note: It’s $10 for adults, $5 for kids).

Even if you aren’t a fan of pinball, you have got to like the artistic look of these classic machines, that take you on a pinball journey that includes everything from the wild west to science fiction. What a blast, literally.

The center is actually home to five cultural arts and science organizations including the Harrison Museum of African American Culture, the History Museum of Western Virginia, Mill Mountain Theatre and the Science Museum of Western Virginia.

You can spend all day here, but we just didn’t have time. Our brief stop at the African American museum was just that: Too brief. There was a great exhibit called Extraordinary Crowns, featuring the incredible hat collection of Irma Jean Young Smith, a woman with a passion for extraordinary hats.

The museum has other special exhibits throughout the year, as well as a permanent collection on display.

Kids will especially like the center’s butterfly museum.

If you are low on cash, the Center in the Square also is home to an 8,000-gallon living coral reef aquarium, the largest aquarium of its type in the Mid-Atlantic region. And admission is free.

Every city that cares about art and culture has a museum, and Roanoke’s Taubman Museum of Art is exceptional.

There is always something special going on here in this stylish museum, which features a 77-foot glass peak atrium (inspired by the city’s Roanoke Star). It is home to eleven galleries as well as many original exhibitions throughout the year. There’s more at http://www.

Roanoke doesn’t have the NFL or NHL, but it is home (well nearby, Salem is) to the Salem Red Sox, a minor league farm team of
the Boston Red Sox. Salem Memorial Park is a great looking facility, looking very
much like a junior version of
MLB, and it seats 6,300.

You probably weren’t thinking music concert on a trip to the Blue Ridge, but the valley is home to one fine music stop, the Harvester Performance Center in Rocky Mount. There is something show-stopping going on every week at the center. A must for music fans. Check out the schedule and more at http://

If you can fit it into your schedule, Black Dog Salvage (http://www.blackdogsalvage.
com/) is definitely worth a
stop. As seen on the DIY Network, this is the home
to some great pieces of reclaimed, repurposed stuff, featuring everything from stained glass to wrought iron.
And it is also home to that black dog herself, Sally. Definitely,

worth a trip. And free, if you browse only.

Incredibly, it seems like I have written a AAA Guidebook on all the things to see, eat and do around Roanoke and the Blueridge Mountains, but there is really so much more.

Driving to Roanoke from the Kissimmee area will take you about 11 hours by interstate. It is also easily accessible, since the city has its own regional airport (with connections to hub airports like Charlotte, etc.)

For more information on the area, go to www.