Grab your friends, pack the car and put on a big smile – it’s Getaways time everybody! This week we are taking an exciting and fascinating trip to a few small towns in wild and wonderful West Virginia. WV is super far, it’s nowhere near here. It must be hundreds of miles away and you have to drive on dirt roads for hours upon hours through overgrown brush just to get there. Oh, and of course there’s the dodging of shotgun toting rednecks as you drive through the endless hills. Right? Right? Wait…WRONG! If you think like this, like thousands of other DC area residents do, take a minute and slap yourself. Then repeat (except this time on the other side of your face, to prevent facial bruising of course).
Now that your face has healed, it’s reality check time. Harpers Ferry is 67.1 miles from the center of DC and accessible entirely by highways. Shepherdstown – just a few more miles and only one two lane, paved road needed. What’s that? You’ve heard of them-there towns? Tubing, white water rafting, a national park, hiking/camping, civil war battlefields and a town that looks the same as it did in 1861? Yep, that’d be Harpers Ferry. A quaint little artisan town, on the Potomac river, filled with unique little shops, art galleries and eateries, home of the very first steamboat, an accepting and socially progressive culture and host to a historic, growing, top rated small public university? Shepherdstown it is. Nestled amongst natural beauty that beats anything you could have expected from a quick drive outside I-495, this little duo of WV small towns cannot be beat. Throw in the county seat, the historic town of Charles Town, and you get a trifecta of small town life with endless possibilities for an incredible getaway.
It’s hard to pick only one of these towns to talk about, but I had to do it. So today kids, we’re going to focus on Shepherdstown! Shepherdstown, a bustling town officially of just over 800 people (although it’s not quite that tiny), lies in the north-eastern corner of Jefferson County and just across the Potomac River from Maryland. Only miles from both Harpers Ferry and Antietam battlefields, home to the world’s first steamboat, and even rumored to have been in the running for selection as the capital city for the U.S. before Washington was chosen, it sits in an area sometimes even overwhelmingly rich in history. But if history is not your thing, no worries. Shepherdstown truly has something to offer pretty much anyone with an open mind – that includes you!
The only viable way to get to Shepherdstown is by car. If you are one of those lucky suckers that doesn’t have to make monthly car, insurance and parking payments - take some of that saved money and pick up a ZipCar. Then, head out of the city towards I-270 all the way up to Frederick, MD. Around Frederick, take the I-70 exit to Rt. 340 towards Harpers Ferry. Once in WV, look for Rt. 230 towards Shepherdstown. It should take you a little over an hour and a half. The world becomes mostly rural after you get on 340 but the great views really start right before you get to WV. Have the passenger prepared with the camera when you cross the bridge into VA from MD.
What To Do There
First thing to do? Relax. You are out of the city. There are no Starbucks here and you won’t be sitting in traffic. Once you’ve taken a few deep breaths, hit the street. And yes, that’s the street. German Street, of course. This is the main street in town and home to almost all of the unique art galleries, eclectic shops specializing in everything from hippy fashions to Peruvian nick nacks to body lotion to good smelling herbs and incense, and restaurants ranging from organic vegan dishes served beside a flowing creek to trendy Georgetown-esque establishments that will make your mouth water. You can spend hours here browsing the stores, but make sure to stop by Grapes & Grains for some in-store wine tasting before you get started! Once you’ve tired of shop hopping or simply have no money left to spend (except for $4), head over to the Lost Dog Cafe to get a latte from one of the most unique coffee shops you’ve probably ever been to. Get your coffee to go and go sit on “the wall” in front of McMurran Hall across the street - just like the townies (and tourists that read this article) do.
Since you’ve had your pick-me-up and gotten some good people watching in, it’s time to take a little walk. Walk down German St. a few blocks and take a left on Mill St. Walk about .25 miles until the street turns up to the right and you come to the entrance for the James Rumsey Monument park. The monument its self is in slight disrepair and it’s not exactly a DC style memorial, but it provides an area with great views of the Potomac, a chance to learn about some local history and a few trails to take some very quick little hikes back into the woods. With whatever energy you have left, walk back to town and work your way around the beautiful campus of Shepherd University; with a stop by the Little House on the way of course. Just wait, you’ll see what I’m talking about. Yes, that is it’s actual name.
If you are more of an adventurer or up for some physical activity, take your bike across the bridge to the Maryland side of the river and jump on the C&O Canal toe-path. You can ride all the way back to DC if you want (note: very long ride ahead)! Or even jump in the river and go for a swim. It’s mostly safe! Just this past weekend, I let my dog do it! If you are a history buff, a short trip to Antietam is definitely in order. And make sure to stop by the Shepherdstown Museum at the Entler Hotel!
Surely after all of this, night time must be coming soon. Time to take in an artsy-fartsy, usually independent, film playing at the Shepherdstown Opera House after a uniquely Shepherdstown dinner at one of the great places listed below. When your belly is happily full and you feel all cultured and stuff after watching an indy flick…it’s time to get your drink on! But first you must decide; classy martini bar or local townie dive bar? Up to you, I recommend them all. If you want to stay classy, check out Three Onions or the Yellow Brick Bank. If you feel a little more adventurous, look across the street to the Mecklenburg. It’s a smokey dive bar with darts and foosball but the hidden gem here is the backyard open air garden – not to be missed! If college is in session, Stonewall’s Pub underneath of Tony’s Pizza will usually be hopping. They also have a decent backyard garden area. And if you really, truly want a local place with local…um…charm, ask a twenty-something in town how to get to Alto’s. Wherever you go, you will find one thing in common – booze is fantastically cheap here!
Where to Eat
The Yellow Brick Bank is one of the more famous places in town and is consistently good – it’s on the pricey side but usually worth it. If you are celebrating or on a fancy date, go there. Three Onions, owned by the same family, is a trendy restaurant and martini bar with a great menu; including a tapas menu if that’s what you’re in the mood for. You definitely won’t think you’re in WV when you are in there! If you are looking for places even more unique, check out Shaharazades Exotic Tea Room (they serve food too) for dinner, belly dancing and music. Or the Press Room, a tiny yet delicious restaurant just down the street – if you can get a table that is. More appropriate for lunch but also open for dinner, the Blue Moon Cafe offers a vegan and vegetarian menu, as well as dishes for us carnivores, in a crunchy atmosphere that even includes seats right beside the Town Run creek and underneath a tree canopy. The Blue Moon is also the cheaper option of those listed, in addition to Tony’s Pizza, Tommy’s Pizza, and the China Kitchen. I also hear there is a little hole in the wall taqueria that has opened up and I can’t wait to try it!
In need of sweets? Shepherdstown has cupcakes! Check out the bakery. Or head over to the ice cream shop to grab a tasty cone.
Where to Stay
While you can make Shepherdstown a day trip, it’s best to plan an overnighter. There are a few bed and breakfasts in town, but the most well known and appropriately located is the Thomas Shepherd Inn. On the cheap? There is a Comfort Inn, as well as a Clarion Hotel, a few miles out of “downtown”. If you are looking for a top notch room with a Jacuzzi and a wonderful view of the Potomac, you’ll want to stay at the Bavarian Inn.
Bottom Line – Getaway to Shepherdstown
Wherever you eat, stay and spend your time in town, you will be amazed at everything this little town has to offer. You will leave relaxed, happy and culturally fulfilled – all from being in WV! Spend some time in Shepherdstown and you will be hooked. There is so much small town life to experience here that not only will it dispel your former, regrettable feelings of what WV is, it will make you a lover and a mountaineer for life. If you are thinking about heading up, drop me a comment here to let me know! Tell them Karl sent ‘ya.