Exploring a New Place: Winchester, VA

Okay, maybe it's just me, but I feel like my husband and I easily fall into a pattern on the weekends. Granted, there are variation, but roughly it goes something like this: dinner out on Friday night, cozy nights on the couch curled up with a movie, long runs on Sunday, and never-ending chores.

I really love the idea of taking mini-road trips and exploring areas around you, as if they were totally fun vacation destinations. You know when you're traveling and you do research to find the must-see hot spots, you look up the best restaurants, self-guided walking tours, and history of the place? Why can't we do that in our own area?

So, instead of opting for our stand by weekend plans, I did a bit of research and came up with a fun itinerary for.... WINCHESTER, VA. I know, you're probably thinking that this is quite random (which isn't far from the truth), but it is only an hour and a half outside of the city and promises great food, sites, and history. Off we went!
Geared up for our long trek...

Naturally, the first stop on our tour after the long 'road trip' of 90 minutes in the car... the Virginia Farm Stand a few miles outside of downtown Winchester! This stop was the perfect choice for a mid-morning snack, with hot cider donuts, fresh fruit to sample, and snacks to taste while we shopped!

mmm... hot cider donuts
We filled our basket with massive tomatoes, local peaches, fresh blackberry pie, donuts, and a cream cheese crumble muffin--then we took a short break and loaded up on donuts and muffins to fuel us through our next stop.

On the drive down, we read all about the history of Winchester, from Native American tribes, to the revolutionary war and famous civil war battles. So, we knew we wanted to stop at the visitors center in the historic old town to pick up a few maps and plan our route around the sites to see!

While there, we stumbled upon a gold mine of information: the second annual Scottish Highland Games were taking place just down the road and we could watch them for free! Um, a real-life Scottish strong man competition on the ground of a famous civil war battlefield? I had to see this.

The games ended up being rather small, but definitely enjoyable to watch. Apparently the teams had just competed internationally at the championships in Iceland and many of the men and women had done well and placed! I never thought we'd find something like this 90 miles outside of DC!

Fortunately, spectating worked up an appetite, which was nice since our next stop was Bonnie Blue Bakery for their famous biscuits and barbecue. The store was originally a gas station, but had clearly done so well for itself that it expanded into a full kitchen and restaurant. We were in for a treat.

We decided to split some of their best barbecue and their shrimp and grits! The barbecue platter included brisket, pulled pork, and kielbasa, along with our choice of sides, which had to be mac n cheese and slaw. Wow, this place did NOT disappoint. If you are ever in Winchester--or even in the area--you must stop in for a meal! You will leave with full bellies and a weird desire to turn around and order another meal right away...

While we were eating, we looked over our maps and the 'literature' we acquired from the visitor's center and planned our route for the afternoon. We drove a short distance to old town, which is a really nice pedestrian mall filled with local boutiques, bakeries, artisan shops, breweries and more. On the outskirts of this strip, we also found several Civil War sites to visit. Shopping and museum hopping sounded like a perfect way to spend our Saturday.

After browsing some really cool stores--hello, a whole place dedicated to flying objects?--we hiked over to General Stonewall Jackson's headquarters for a peak. Of course, it was closed early for a tour group, but we still got a kick out of seeing the building and reading more about it. Fun fact, the Union commander Sheridan's headquarters was just a block away! Quite convenient for battlefield planning..

After a few miles in the sun and the ninety degree weather, we thought a cold pick-me-up was in order, and headed to Alesatian Brewing Company, which was a small but awesome brewery located on top of a pizza restaurant!  The space was really nice and offered some great brew flights. The husband opted for a flight of three of their hoppiest beers, while I ordered a cold lemonade. Let's be real, I definitely tried a few sips of his selections because... obviously.

With our thirsts quenched, we headed out to see the sites and finish up our tour of the old town. We had such a blast just meandering like the tourists we are... the area was such a fun blend of old and new, and I loved that we could wander into historic places like the old court house, and then turn around a grab a cookie at the new bakery in town.

At around 3 pm, after a full day of exploring and eating our way through the city, we decided to head home and declare our first adventure of this project a success!

It was really fun to research a local area and come up with an official itinerary for our day--and we both agreed that it felt a bit more special than when we wander around without a plan. We learned a lot about Winchester and its strategic location, which was both a gift and a curse during the Civil War for both the Union and Confederacy. Many historians claim that the city changed hands over 70 times during the course of the war! Which was mind-blowing to us.

I would say our mission to enjoy the weekend and explore our own 'hometown' was a fun one, and we would both recommend a short trip to this small town!


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