A Guide to Harrisonburg, Virginia
Harrisonburg is a charming little city in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. It also happens to be home to James Madison University - aka my alma mater. I like to think that, along with my Bachelor’s degree, my four years at JMU earned me the ability to make recommendations for the best things to do in Harrisonburg and the surrounds. Though the city is quite small, there are actually many things to do in Harrisonburg. Here’s a guide to some of my favorite things to do and places to eat in the Friendly City.
What to Do in Harrisonburg
Check Out JMU
Originally a women’s college, James Madison University (JMU) is now a public university with over 20,000 undergraduate students and a very picturesque campus. (It’s attractiveness was the first thing that stood out to me during my prospective student orientation). Notable grads of JMU include best-selling memoirist Glennon Doyle and Momofuku Milk Bar founder Christina Tosi.
The most photogenic section of campus is definitely the Quad, which is located just off of Harrisonburg’s Main Street. Featuring a long grassy lawn, and historic “bluestone” buildings, it is apparently one of the most photographed locations in Virginia. So why not check it out and take some pictures of your own?
Relax at White Oak Lavender Farm & Purple Wolf Vineyard
I LOVE this place! The first time I visited White Oak Lavender Farm was back in 2012 as a break from mid-term exams. Ever since, entering White Oak’s lavender farm gives me a special type of serenity that I haven’t been able to find anywhere else. It must be the lavender on the breeze. You can purchase a plethora of lavender products in the gift shop, say hello to the farm’s animals, pick your own lavender bouquet to take home, or just enjoy the zen of the farm.
Eat Some Delicious Local Fare
The East side of town is home to tons of chain restaurants that you could find anywhere. But the West side of Harrisonburg - particularly downtown - is host to a number of delicious local eateries. Here is a rundown of some of the best places to eat in Harrisonburg.
The Little Grill Collective
621 North Main Street; Open Tuesday-Sunday for Breakfast & Lunch
The Little Grill is a Harrisonburg institution. It’s run as a worker-owned collective and has been around in some form or another since the 1940s. The food is very very good and a large part of the ingredients are locally-sourced. Last but not least, it’s where Emmett and I went on our very first date ten years ago! You should definitely go to the Little Grill and enjoy their very home-y vibe and tasty cuisine. The menu is very vegetarian and vegan friendly. I especially recommend the Lambert’s Platter for breakfast (see image above).
153 South Main Street; Open 7 Days a Week for Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, & Late Night
Clementine is a cute little dual level restaurant, bar, patio, and lounge. Their American-fusion cuisine is a bit pricey but definitely worth it. They have a decent amount of vegan and vegetarian options and a great selection of cocktails. It’s been a while since I’ve been but I recommend that you grab a glass of either their homemade strawberry lemonade or their blueberry iced tea with your meal. - Mimosas on Sunday morning are also an excellent choice.
Beyond Restaurant & Lounge
50 West Water Street
This Asian Fusion restaurant is the place that I always took my parents to when they visited. It’s got a cool, modern vibe and well-made Vietnamese & Korean dishes. I have always ordered (and fully recommend) either the Vietnamese stir-fried noodles or the Com Dau Hu Xa Ot. In my dairy eating days, I always ordered the pineapple cheese wontons as an appetizer.
Grilled Cheese Mania
1476 South Main Street; Open for
Before I became a vegan this year, I would say that grilled cheese was probably my favorite meal of all time. During my senior year at JMU, the cute little Grilled Cheese Mania food truck popped up on the outskirts of campus. I went quite a few times and absolutely loved it. In 2018, I got a chance to check out their new permanent restaurant on South Main Street. And you know what? The grilled cheese was even better than I remembered. My all-time fave is the Port Ruby, a vegetarian reuben (see photo below). They do also have a vegan grilled cheese option made with Chao vegan cheese and Smart Balance. Regardless of what you order, you MUST get Route 11 chips as your side. Route 11 Potato Chips are the absolute best potato chips in the whole world (in my opinion) and are produced just up the road from Harrisonburg. I buy a bag whenever - and wherever - I see them for sale and I deeply missed them while living abroad.
Nab Some Discounted Books at Green Valley Book Fair
Green Valley Book Fair is a book-lover’s dream! Less of a fair and more of an enormous discounted book warehouse, it is the perfect place to pick up a stack of books for very little money. Only open for around 1 month at a time during 6 months of the year, be sure to check out their website for open days before visiting. Most titles are slightly older - this is not the place to pick up the latest books - and there’s always multiple books to be found in every genre. Last time I was at Green Valley, I think I picked up about 7 books for less than $20. Who doesn’t love a good bargain like that?
Visit Shenandoah National Park
Just 40 minutes outside of Harrisonburg is the Swift Run Gap Entrance Station to Shenandoah National Park. Swift Run Gap is located in what is basically the center of Shenandoah NP - you can either go South to the Park’s end at Waynesboro or North to the Park’s beginning at Front Royal. Whichever direction that you choose, driving Shenandoah’s Skyline Drive is the perfect way to spend a sunny afternoon. Not only that, but there are countless hiking trails located throughout the park. For the ambitious and experienced hiker, I recommend Old Rag Mountain. If you go, be sure to set time aside because a hike on Old Rag is around 6.5 hours round trip. If you are seeking a view without the commitment of a long or strenuous hike, I recommend Blackrock Summit, only a 20 minute round trip on an easy incline.
As you can see, there are plenty of things to be done in Harrisonburg. It’s the perfect place for a weekend getaway in Virginia’s Blue Ridge mountains.