We've moved on to the third city in our Baseball Across the Commonwealth series, this time visiting the Shenandoah Valley town of Harrisonburg. Known as the Friendly City, Harrisonburg is home to roughly 50,000 citizens. With a rich history of local baseball and a vibrant craft beer scene, Harrisonburg is the perfect city for the next stop on our tour around Virginia.
If you missed the podcast featuring interviews with local experts, you can tune in here. If you're ready for some of my tips on how to spend your time in the Burg, read on.
Things to Do
Like Charlottesville, Harrisonburg is close to the mountains. Located in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley, the city is a short drive to either the Blue Ride Mountains to the east, or the Ridge and Valley Appalachians to the west. You can't go wrong either way, but let's dive a little deeper into what each side holds.
If you choose to head east on Route 33, you'll end up in Shenandoah National Park. With the famed Skyline Drive running north to south through the park, Shenandoah is home to more than 200,000 acres of wildlife. There are plenty of trails throughout the park, ranging from short kid-friendly hikes, to long challenging treks. Some of my personal favorites are Bearfence Mountain, Dark Hollow Falls and Rapidan Camp.
Taking 33 the other way towards West Virginia, you're presented with great options as well. You can park at the top of the mountain and take the 1.5 mile trail to High Knob, where you'll find an old fire tower and some fantastic panoramic views. Or you can head to Switzer Lake, a favorite spot of our podcast guest Dave Norman, for some kayaking or fishing.
Speaking of kayaking, if water activities are your thing, Massanutten Adventures offers kayaking, canoeing, rafting and tubing excursions down the Shenandoah River. Massanutten is also home to the only ski resort in Rockingham County, popular among winter sports enthusiasts. If you're visiting town during the cold months, you can head up the mountain to get your fix of skiing, snowboarding and tubing.
If you're into shopping, Downtown Harrisonburg has local stores that you'll love. The Agora Market is home to eight different vendors, and offers a variety of local goods that would make perfect gifts, or you might find something for yourself.
Food and Drink
After a long day of hiking and shopping, you'll need some refreshments. Luckily for you, Harrisonburg has no shortage of local watering holes. The craft beer scene in town has exploded over the past decade, and Harrisonburg is now home to five local breweries and one cidery.
If you listened to our podcast episode about Harrisonburg, you know we're big fans of Restless Moons Brewing and would highly recommend you check them out. But there's also Brothers Craft Brewing (try the Great Outdoors pale ale), Pale Fire (the Red Molly Irish Red is their best offering), Friendly Fermenter and Three Notch'd. Sage Bird Ciderworks opened up recently, offering Harrisonburg locals a variety of craft cider options.
If you venture outside of town, you've still got some great options. Cave Hill Farms Brewery in McGaheysville and Elkton Brewing in Elkton are both relatively new, but have some of the best selections in the area. Old Hill Cider in Timberville offers another option for fans of hard cider.
Of course, you can't go hungry in Harrisonburg either. Downtown has seen a renaissance recently, and part of that has been on the restaurant side. You have staples such as Jack Brown's and Billy Jack's, both of which offer a fantastic beer selection. If you choose to dine at Billy Jack's, try to Sticky Nuggs. Garlic herb and parmesan is the best flavor.
On the other side of Main Street from Billy Jack's is Jimmy Madison's. Offering up a Southern-inspired menu, Jimmy Madison's is great for any meal from brunch to dinner. Plus, they have an extensive whiskey list and can whip up a great Old Fashioned.
And no visit to Harrisonburg is complete without a trip to Kline's Dairy Bar. With locations downtown or on South Main Street, you're never too far from a Kline's. Make sure to check out the flavor calendar before you go, which can help you decide which one to visit on a given night.
Finally, the baseball. Harrisonburg has been home to multiple local baseball teams throughout its history, but the most enduring team is the Harrisonburg Turks. Founded in 1915, the Turks play in the Valley Baseball League. They have won 12 championships in their time, most recently in 2012. The Turks currently play their home games at Veteran's Memorial Park on the campus of JMU. If you're heading to a game, make sure to check the local paper to see if there's a coupon for free admission.
Also in the area is the Rockingham County Baseball League. Billing itself as the oldest amateur baseball league in the country, the RCBL was founded in 1924. The league consists of teams from Rockingham, Shenandoah and Augusta Counties. Each team's ballpark has its own personality and charm, and they are all worth experiencing. Perhaps the most popular is Buck Bowman Park, home of the Clover Hill Bucks. Known for its burgers, mint tea and the championship-winning Bucks, the field is a little slice of small town America.
With all of these tips in mind, you should be able to have a great time in the Friendly City. Don't forget to check the current operating policies at each restaurant, brewery and shop, and stay safe while visiting!
Matthew Atkins, Journalist and Baseball fan.