Charleston, West Virginia’s unofficial motto is “Hip, Historic, Almost heaven.” I was skeptical about this claim, but after spending a beautiful fall weekend there, I can confidently say it’s definitely hip and historic. As far as it being “almost heaven”, I’ll leave that up to you!
Charleston, West Virginia, is approximately a 3 hour drive from Columbus, Ohio. That makes it a perfect weekend getaway. There is enough to do (and eat) for two days that coming in on a Friday, and leaving Sunday after breakfast is the perfect itinerary.
We were thrilled to be hosted by the Charleston Visitors and Convention Bureau. Thanks for your warm hospitality.
A little history
Before I give you the nuts and bolts, I have to say I was fascinated by the history of the area. I’ve always considered West Virginia to be a classic southern state. So you can imagine my surprise when I was looking at the work of local artists throughout the city, I kept seeing Abraham Lincoln’s face. I even heard one person say, “We love Lincoln. He’s our hero.”
West Virginia became a state during the Civil War when a group of Virginians separated from the Confederacy. They formed their own state, and joined the Union. They were the only state to do this during the Civil War. Although there was still some slavery at the time, their state constitution provided for gradual abolition over time. So many of those who were part of the new state of West Virginia loved Lincoln and the Union. They’re proud of their secession from the Confederacy, and that is evident in their artwork. Charleston became the capitol of the new state in 1877. Before the Civil War, Charleston was economically booming with the discovery of salt brines along the Kanawha river (something we learned all about on this trip). An area near Charleston even became the top salt producer in the world. After the war, Charleston continued to export its natural resources, such as coal and natural gas.
We stayed at the Four Points by Sheraton Charleston. It made a great base location for exploring the city. We were near all the major restaurants and sites, either through walking or a short drive. The hotel staff were nice, our room was clean (and cleaned) throughout our stay. The beds were very comfortable, and we even enjoyed swimming in the indoor pool. I’m a sucker for indoor pools. If there’s one available, I almost always go. It’s a novelty to me.
J.Q. Dickinson Salt-Works
The highlight of our trip to Charleston was a tour of J.Q. Dickinson Salt-Works. For something I consume every day, I knew very little about how it was manufactured. We got to see the process of salt production, learn some history of the area, and even taste some of the salt grains. This salt is sourced from an ancient sea (Iapetus Ocean) trapped below the Appalachian mountains. It almost sounds too cool to believe, right?
The woman who runs the salt farm decided to resurrect her family’s long-lost business. Their family had been in the business of salt production for over 200 years. (Yes, even during the time when slaves would have been doing the brunt of the work). The family had given up running the business long before she even knew they were salt makers. She had a love for salt throughout her live; tasting and collecting salt from all over the world. She had no idea she came from a long line of salt makers. When she discovered her family history, and learned her cousin owned the family salt farm, she decided to pursue her love for salt. Enlisting the help of chemists from a local college, they’ve perfected their art. They sell their salt all over the world, and work with local companies. Their salt is even used in a new Route 11 potato chip flavor: Appalachian Salt and Cracked Pepper.
The property is beautiful, and a local spot for weddings and memorial services. We were told they had 16 weddings this year. Last year, they hosted a new salt festival that will be an annual event. If you’re visiting Charleston, you have to take a tour of this place. It’s incredible.
This was a short 1.4-mile walk that offered some beautiful greenery and a viewpoint of the city from the top. I love parks within cities. It’s always amazing to see a beautiful garden in the middle of an urban area. It was also shaded the whole way, which my skin appreciated.
University of Charleston
We went here because we read it had the most beautiful view of the West Virginia State Capitol. We actually came here twice to walk along the water. If you’ve been reading me for awhile, you know I’m all about finding the best views. This would be a perfect spot to bring a picnic. If I had planned better, that’s exactly what I would have done.
A lot of people come here to take engagement and wedding photographs. I can see why!
Capitol Street, Charleston
This is the heart of the town. Taylor’s Bookstore, Ellen’s Homemade Ice Cream, and Graziano’s are all within walking distance. It’s a really cool street to walk down. We just parked and enjoyed a stroll.
Bricks and Barrels
We dined at Bricks and Barrels, and it was fantastic. The service and experience were top-notch. We enjoyed the company of the owners for a drink after dinner, and learned about their vision for creating a fine-dining restaurant in Charleston that was both upscale and affordable. Their menu had a lot of good options. I had a hard time deciding. I had it on good authority that the restaurant had the best bartenders in Charleston, so I was anxious to try a cocktail.
Everything we had was high-quality and delicious. The cocktails were great. I highly recommend this restaurant if you want something made fresh with quality ingredients. The portion sizes are generous. You’ll leave full and happy.
Sohos at Capitol Market
We had brunch at an Italian joint called Soho’s. They had a lot of interesting options and specials for the day. Two of them were breakfast lasagna, and baked steak and eggs. I opted for the baked french toast and practically licked my plate clean. It was so good. We had good service, too. I enjoyed the server’s sense of humor and the chef’s attention to detail.
Ellen’s Homemade Ice Cream
Ellen’s had me at “homemade” and “ice cream.” Because I just love ice cream. I ordered a hot fudge sundae and when she said, “what kind of nuts do you want?” I was puzzled. Don’t sundaes only come with peanuts? Not this place. You could have peanuts, almonds or walnuts. Walnuts it is! I’ve also heard you have to try some of their rare seasonal flavors like Paw Paw. Let me know what that tastes like!
Graziano’s Pizza offers pizza by the slice. We stopped in here for a quick bite before we headed to the Craft Brew festival. The place was a little dark and dingy for my taste, so we grabbed our pizza and ate it in the park. It was cheap and good.
Base Camp Printing Press
Base Camp Printing Press was a step back in time with a glimpse into the future. Two savvy sisters use a cast-iron printing press to create art, as well as posters for bands, businesses and organizations. They have been trained by those who have worked in print shops, and have received lots of support from people who want to ensure this doesn’t become a dying art. They mentioned even receiving supplies from people who would rather not just throw it away if someone can get use out of it. From a historical perspective, I was fascinated that they’ve resurrected something that, for all intents and purposes, has become a dying technology. From an artistic standpoint, the prints were beautiful. I bought one that featured one of my favorite areas in West Virginia. You have to check this place out.
Capitol Market is similar to what we know in Columbus, OH, as the North Market. You can grocery shop here, get brunch here, and buy seasonal, or artisan products. We found a large assortment of jellies and fruit butters that didn’t include sugar. It’s hard to find sugar-free jellies that don’t include massive amounts of chemicals and aspartame. So if you like your fruit jellies to have just fruit, check this place out. Oh, and I bought a gray pumpkin, because it’s fall, y’all.
This place is a little gem within Charleston. You’ll see it all over the internet and on blogs. I’ve heard their coffee is amazing, but we had already had our afternoon coffee and were about to stuff our faces with ice cream. We walked around and looked at their used book sale, as well as their local art gallery. It was a really cool space.
The locals will tell you to make this your first stop when you visit. It’s a “who’s who” of Charleston, and also provides a great view of the city. (Here I go again with the “great view” recommendations). When we arrived at the cemetery, our first thought was “This place is huge!” Turns out, it’s the largest cemetery in West Virginia. There are many gravesides, monuments, views, trees and an area memorializing veterans of the Civil War.
I didn’t realize South Charleston was not part of Charleston. I thought it was just an area of the same city, but it’s actually an entirely different place. We were on the hunt for a down-to-the-earth diner and found a restaurant that kept coming up online. So we decided to check it out. Some of the locals laughed when we told them we ate here, because it’s sort of like a local version of Tudor’s Biscuit World. (As a side note, I’ve eaten at Biscuit World and would recommend it for a cheap eggs and bacon plate. Never dog Biscuit World; it’s a local legend.)
Suzi’s Hamburgers was serving it up though. Their prices and signage look like they haven’t changed in 20 years. For less than $4, I got the BLT sandwich.
Jared got a giant breakfast platter for less than $5 that included bacon, eggs, a biscuit and hash browns. Hard to go wrong with those prices. Am I right?
Across the street was a little grassy area that looked interesting to us. Turns out, it was interesting. It was the Criel Mound; a Native American burial ground that was excavated in 1883. The excavation (performed by a member of the Smithsonian Institution) found multiple skeletons, arrowheads, shells and pottery fragments. You can walk up to the top of the mound and sit on a bench to take a view of South Charleston. It’s always cool to run into ancient history by accident!
When you’re in town for the annual German-style craft brew festival, you just gotta go. The area the festival is held in is becoming quite the spot. A lot of older, well-preserved historic buildings are being revitalized. New businesses, a new college campus, restaurants and public art are popping up all over.
I was told this area is going to continue to grow as one of the up-and-coming areas of the city. It was in this area we visited Base Camp. It’s a perfect spot for a place like that.
Of course the festival had some great beer. I tried some unique options like a cold brew beer and a pumpkin-style beer. We both loved the beers from Greenbrier Valley Brewing Co., and so did everyone else. They’ve won a decent amount of awards for their brews. Cheers.
Charleston is a great little place only 3 hours from Columbus. The drive was easy and the city had a lot of great things to do and see! If you’re from Columbus, you gotta plan a little weekend getaway here. Bon voyage!