While I was provided compensation for this post, all opinions are my very own.
My family and I recently spent two fabulous fun and food packed days in the lovely Harrisonburg area of the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. Other than driving through Harrisonburg on our way down south, this was our first time really spending time in the area and I can say one thing for sure, folks- we fell in love with it! Like it has made our short list of possible places we would like to move to in around two years from now when my son graduates high school. Yep, Harrisonburg and its surrounding beauty made that much of an impression on us. ;)
As you all are about to find out, I wasn't kidding when I say that our weekend exploring the culinary trail of Shenandoah Valley was packed with fun and food... lots of delicious local foods. To break it down and make it easier to share everything with you all, I am breaking our whole trip down into categories- Hands-On Local Food Experiences, Local Eats & Restaurants, Family Friendly Fun, and lastly I will gush about the lovely Massanutten Resort that we had the pleasure of staying at for 3 nights...
Hands-On Local Food Experiences.
I sort of have a thing for farmers markets. Whenever we travel, I always seek out the nearest one just so I can get a feel for the local food scene in the area before we settle into our stay. So, naturally the Harrisonburg Farmers Market (open 8am-1pm on Saturdays) was our first stop on our journey along Shenandoah Valley's culinary trail, and it did not disappoint...
In fact, the only thing that I was disappointed by was the fact that our stay wasn't longer to take full advantage of the full kitchen in our condo on the resort (more about that later) or that I wouldn't be able to bring more of Harrisonburg's local goodies home with us. ;) We did end up with a bag of sugar snap peas for quick and healthy snacking during our trip, some peach tree wood chips for my husband's smoker at home, a couple handmade soaps, and some local raw cheeses.
Another must-do is to visit the Mt. Crawford Creamery just outside of Harrisonburg. At 4pm each day, you can visit the creamery and actually see how they milk the cows and ask the dairy farmers questions while the cows are being milked. After observing the daily milking, you can wander around the creamery and say hello to the dairy cows and the calves on premise. But make sure that you stop in the creamery's store! You can pretty much sample anything that they sell before buying it. Since we had a fridge in our room and my children are milk addicts, we brought back a half gallon of their chocolate milk and a pint of the whole milk. It is absolute amazingness! I also highly recommend their drinkable yogurt. If we had been staying longer, a half gallon of that definitely would have been making it's way back to our condo as well. ;)
Our next stop on the Shenandoah Valley Culinary Trail was a visit to Back Home On The Farm. If I could use just one word to describe to describe the Hess farm and our morning spent there, it would be magical. From feeding her beautiful horse Velvet, to shooting out of a 60 foot underground slide, to a very friendly yet rogue escaped goat, to an indoor carousel, Back Home On The Farm was nothing like we had been expecting it to be...
The horses on the 1942 carousel each represent a different famous person associated with Virginia or a certain area of Virginia's commerce .
They even have a lavender maze that the kids loved and that my husband and I failed to crack. But I have to admit, I wasn't trying very hard. I was more into taking in the scenery and the scent of the fresh lavender.
I am not going to reveal all of the Hess farm secrets in this post. You will have to visit Back Home On The Farm yourself to experience it all. But I will say that the fairy gardens that had been started for the Butterfly House have inspired my daughter and I to create our own at home. We were even sent home with some fairy perfect plants to help get us started!
Local Eats & Restaurants.
The Rock 'N Wolfe Food Truck Park is a pretty new addition to the local foods scene in Harrisonburg, so it was a must-try for us for lunch one day during our visit to the area. Presently, the park boasts 3 different permanent food trucks, lots of seating, and corn hole (a family friendly game of bean bag toss) for all! :) My husband and son both enjoyed cheesy, gooey sandwiches from Grilled Cheese Mania while my daughter and I partook of a little South American fare at the Delicias Marina food truck. Rock 'N Wolfe is open for business from 11am to 7pm, Monday through Saturday.
If you happen to be a lover of local craft beers, then a stop at Three Brothers Brewery is definitely in order when visiting Harrisonburg. We stopped in for a little bit before heading to a delicious wood-fired pizza dinner (more about that below) and ordered a flight of some of their tap offerings that day. $8 bought my husband and I a generous tasting of five of their brews. The Elementary Porter and Slide Scotch Ale were definitely our two faves.
The kiddos got to try their hand at handmade pizza making at Bella Luna Wood-Fired Pizza in downtown Harrisonburg. I have to say that it was nice having the kids make me dinner for once. ;) Now the pizza making is not something that every Bella Luna customer gets to experience, but they do have an open kitchen so everyone can watch the chefs and the wood-fired pizza oven in action from their tables. Using only oak for their pizza oven, their thin-crusted pizzas bake up quickly! Which was a good thing because we were pretty hungry from our day's adventures.
Other local restaurants worth paying a visit to:
Kline's Dairy Bar- This is one yummy stop we almost didn't end up making, but we are so glad that we made it happen! Kline's serves just 3 flavors of ice cream on any given day- vanilla, chocolate, and their flavor of the week. If an ice cream establishment has been open since 1943 and only offers 3 flavors, then you know they have to be doing something right! P.S. If you see that they have the Banana Pudding Milkshake when you are there- GET IT. Trust me on this. ;)
Thunderbird Cafe- This fun diner was conveniently located right along our drive from the resort into Harrisonburg. Brunch there is a must! My son ordered their Pancake Tacos, and they are exactly what they sound like- a pancake folded over and then filled with a creamy filling that changes each week. The weekend we were there the pancake taco flavor happened to be Lucky Charms. I ordered their Route 33 Omelet with a side of their grits and a Bacon Bloody Mary to wash it down with. Let me just say this about their grits- hands down, the best I have ever had!
Family Friendly Fun.
Want to find a way to entertain a 3 year old, a 16 year old, and an almost 40 year old all in one place while visiting Harrisonburg? Take them to the Explore More Discovery Museum! I am still trying to figure out who had more fun there during our visit to the museum. ;) Everything was so hands-on and fun- perfect for all my busy bodies. The youngest spent most of her time in the perfectly kid-sized kitchen, while my son and husband tried their hand at their best Anchorman impressions. From the farmers market to the science lab to the health center (which has a giant game of Operation in it), we could have spent all day there exploring more.
Other family friendly attractions worth paying a visit to:
A Dream Come True Playground- This free city park located in Harrisonburg offers age appropriate play equipment for all ages of children. We didn't have time during our trip to visit the playground, but it is definitely on our must-do list for our next visit to Harrisonburg.
The Edith J Carrier Arboretum and Botanical Gardens- This was another free attraction in Harrisonburg that we wish would have had the time to make it to. Located on the James Madison University campus, it is a 125 acre botanical preserve and arboretum.
Where to Stay- Massanutten Resort.
So I may have just saved one of the best parts of our visit to the Shenandoah Valley for last- the Massanutten Resort, located in McGaheysville just a short drive from Harrisonburg. We stayed in a spacious 2 bedroom condo almost all the way to the upper right of that ridge in the photo above. Our condo had a living room with a screened-in deck that offered us an amazing view of the mountains, a full kitchen with adjoining dining area, and two full bathrooms- one of them featuring a large whirlpool tub that we enjoyed at the end of one of our busy days of exploring and sightseeing.
Massanutten Resort also offers four full restaurants on their sprawling estate. We had the pleasure of dining at Fareways Restaurant and meeting and chatting with Executive Chef Mike Ritenour who has been with Massanutten for 20 years now. They just launched a new menu at the Fareways a little over two months ago with a larger focus on locally sourced foods. I decided to go with a few of the Chef's recommendations and started with the fresh Chilled James River Oysters and a flight of local Virginia wines. The main course was one of the restaurant's specials of the evening, a hand cut filet mignon from local beef topped with what they called the Tidewater Topping- sauteed crab meat with a Cabernet Franc crack peppered hollandaise. I would be doing you all a huge disservice if I didn't disclose to you that this was one of the best steaks that I have enjoyed in a long while. :)
Tip- After dinner at the Fareways, head up the mountain on a short drive to the Massanutten Overlook. It is definitely worth the drive up and navigating a rocky path to be able to take in a gorgeous mountain sunset view like the one above.
Although Massanutten Resort boasts lots of adventurous activities like zip lining, mountain biking, and skiing (in the winter months), we decided to try our hand at something a little more our speed during our stay at the resort- the Massanutten WaterPark. The waterpark has both indoor and outdoor areas, but as the outdoor area closes before the indoor area we only were able to enjoy the indoor park during our visit there. But did we have a blast! From the many body and tube slides (which are almost pitch dark when you go through them after the sun sets!) to the Blue Ridge Rapids (where the youngest and my husband spent most of their time) to the Shenandoah Hot Springs (which just happened to be my favorite park of the indoor park)- there was definitely a little something for us all to enjoy at Massanutten WaterPark! We can't wait to return again for a longer stay and to enjoy the outdoor park during our next visit.
Have you visited the Harrisonburg area before?
Do you have must-do, must-see, or must-eat recommendations for our next visit there?
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Ready to start planning your own visit to the Shenandoah Valley? Make easy work of it with a little help from Go Blue Ridge Travel and Trekaroo! The Kids Trail and the Culinary Trail are both online resources to help parents plan a fun family trip to the Shenandoah Valley packed with kid friendly activities. By doing a search by activities and areas, families can plan their own trail of discovery and adventure.
How would you like to win a vacation package from Massanutten Resort for you and your family? :) One lucky winner will receive a 5 nights stay in a 2 bedroom condo, 4 complimentary passes to the WaterPark, and a $50 Resort Gift Card! Giveaway ends on July 19th, so hurry!