Sometimes travel writing is super glamorous. You get to visit big, awesome places like Walt Disney World! You get to take your family to Beaches Resort in Turks & Caicos! You get to bring a girlfriend along on a Caribbean cruise!
But there’s another kind of travel that I love just as much. It’s exploring small towns right here in the United States. Although our history is relatively short as a nation, there’s so much to explore and still so much to learn.
Living in such close proximity to the nation’s capital and residing in one of the thirteen original colonies gives me access to so many historic towns that I never even knew existed!
It’s time to start exploring and no better place to do it than Winchester, Virginia.
If you haven’t heard of Winchester, don’t worry. You’re not alone. Located about 75 miles outside of Washington, DC and situated near the border of West Virginia, Winchester sits squarely in the Shenandoah Valley – the region in between the Allegheny Mountains and the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Want some fast facts?
- Winchester was the home of legendary country singer Patsy Cline for many years and serves as her final resting place.
- The surrounding area of Winchester played a significant role in many important Civil War battles.
- Winchester is home to everything apple – from bloom to brew!
- You’ll find food, dining, and attractions for every age, taste, and interest.
Here’s how I recently spent my time in Winchester as an invited guest of the Mid-Atlantic Tourism PR Alliance (MATPRA) Media Marketplace.
Accommodations in Winchester
I’m a luxury kind of gal and admittedly I didn’t have high hopes for a small town in Virginia.
Well, shame on me because The George Washington Hotel was the perfect host hotel. This historic hotel built in 1924 has been remodeled and offers all the modern amenities you would want while still maintaining its original historic charm.
Of note: it’s within walking distance of the main downtown area and has both a restaurant and a lounge.
Speaking of downtown… upon arrival and check-in in Winchester, I had the option of taking a few walking tours of the area so I headed straight to what locals call “the living room” of Winchester.
You’ll want to head to Loudoun Street which becomes a pedestrian mall between Piccadilly and Cork Streets. Along the mall, you’ll find al fresco dining, quaint shops, and historic buildings.
And if you’re lucky enough to have to go to the bathroom while walking the mall, you have to try the public restroom. I’ve never recommended a bathroom before – this is a first – but the bathrooms are more like space age pods with a voice welcoming you in and telling you that you have ten minutes to complete your tasks. Everything is self-contained including the toilet paper, accessed by pressing a button, and the sink/hand washer/dryer combo.
Yes, I can be impressed by a bathroom.
But there was something even more mysterious that attracted me to downtown Winchester.
Winchester Hiram Lodge No. 21
One of the walking tour options was a glimpse inside the local masonic lodge, just off of the pedestrian mall. Even though my great-grandfather was apparently a high-ranking member of the Masons, the organization has always been a little bit shrouded in mystery for me. So, being able to pull back the curtains and take in a little history at the same time was appealing to me.
The chapter itself was founded in 1768 and by 1868 it had established the Masonic Temple building located on Loudoun Street. With Winchester playing a prominent role in history, it’s not surprising that William McKinley, President of the United States, was a member of this particular lodge.
Inside the meeting room, which is the home of the all-male club, they were only too proud to show off the history of the room, including extensive watercolor murals that had undergone restoration in the previous few years.
The room was breathtaking and mysterious and while I looked around at paintings of George Washington and Marquis de Lafayette (both Masons) and the all-seeing eye, I grilled my 80+ year old tour guide (named Loki, by the way) with questions about the history, the ceremonies, the membership, the religious aspects, and even asked him if he knew where the holy grail resided (he did not).
My visit to the Masonic Lodge quickly let me know this was a town of people who were full of knowledge and pride about their history and heritage.
The Cemeteries in Winchester
My lodge tour ran so long that I missed the start of the cemetery tour and found myself walking the ground of Mt. Hebron Cemetery with no real knowledge of what I was looking at. But it wasn’t hard to appreciate the history.
The grounds were beautiful and full of obvious markers like those of the unknown dead from the Cedar Creek Battlefield and other prominent families of new and old.
Food and Fun in Winchester
After so much walking and talking, I started to make my way back to the hotel to prepare for dinner. It was then that I saw the sign for a little deli that a local had recommended to me, Aroma Deli. Although it portrays itself as a coffee shop, it’s actually a little Peruvian deli specializing in chicken,
Knowing that dinner was around the corner, I stopped in and asked for something that might be a suitable snack. How about a taco? they suggested. HOW ABOUT IT!!! For under $3.00, I was served a soft taco full of rice, beans, amazing chicken, topped with cheese, lettuce, and tomato, and served with sour cream, lime juice mayo, and and amazing spicy sauce made from jalapeno, green pepper, onions, and cilantro.
Yes, I was pretty excited about that taco but it was the perfect holdover until the welcome reception on the rooftop of the Shenandoah Valley Discovery Museum, a fantastic looking children’s museum also within walking distance of downtown.
From there, we all had separate dining assignments so that we could each taste a little bit of Winchester. My assignment? 50/50 Taphouse right next door. Its claim to fame is a menu of 50 taps and 50 burgers.
Now I bet you’re dying to know what I got.
I decided to try four of the taps and went for the Thai chicken sandwich, which included peanut sauce, avocado and tomato! (You’ll be happy to know that and burger can be substituted with either a veggie burger or grilled chicken breast).
The Rest of the Winchester Area
The best part of Winchester is that it was a central location for all of the additional activities in the area. I toured the countryside taking in the Civil War history in an area that was well known as divided during the war. And I did actually take a bloom to brew tour where I met the loveliest farmers and sample some of the wares that make this region known for its apples.
If you’re looking for a fun, historic area to explore close to Washington, DC, check out Winchester, Virginia for a romantic getaway or family adventure. And don’t forget about the famous Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival in April and May!