My sister-in-law and brother-in-law both graduated from James Madison University, so when I think of Harrisonburg, Virginia, I’ve often thought of it as just a college town. Luckily after a weekend stay with my husband and three kids, I learned that Harrisonburg, located in the Shenandoah Valley, is a four-seasons town with so much to see and do. Harrisonburg is also known for its vibrant downtown; the first designated Arts & Cultural District and the first Culinary District in Virginia.

My family arrived at the Harrisonburg Farmers Market bright and early and began exploring the historic town. I downloaded the excellent Traipse app on my phone so we could follow one of the self-guided tours through charming downtown. We opted to follow the Main Street tour with stops at the WWI Memorial and the Warren Sipehouse. We ate lunch at Rocktown Brewery which had excellent food and service. We paid a visit to the Quilt Museum where my inquisitive seven-year-old and I explored three floors of galleries displaying quilts and other exhibits and artifacts.

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Writer, Kat Hoke, with two of her kids on a scenic hike./Kat Hoke

We stayed in the well-appointed and very clean Hotel Madison. With our community pool in Northern Virginia closed for the summer, it was such a treat for my kids to be able to swim! There are so many great dining options in downtown Harrisonburg but we chose to dine on-site at the Montpelier restaurant and were so glad we did. The staff was lovely, wine delicious, and the shrimp and grits were perfection. I’m sure dessert would’ve been amazing too but we walked to Kline’s Dairy Bar for a treat and another opportunity to see the lively downtown.

Our last morning in Harrisonburg was very special. We had what we called a “breakfast picnic” at The Edith J. Carrier Arboretum, which is an arboretum and botanical garden on the James Madison University campus. We sipped coffee and ate our breakfast sandwiches and Krispy Kreme donuts in a shady spot of the garden and then wandered the trails.

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Although JMU is a proud part of Harrisonburg, Kat and her family discover all the town has to offer beyond the campus./Kat Hoke

After a driving tour of the beautiful JMU campus, we headed over to Massanutten Resort. I’ve stayed at the resort before but never in the warm months. My older kids and I had such an amazing experience riding the ski lift up the mountain. The pictures I got of the beautiful view are phenomenal but my kids’ reactions to the ride are even better. They are still talking about how cool it was riding into the clouds. My husband had to stay behind with our under 36-inch infant but he snacked on flatbread and sipped a beer at the basecamp restaurant below.

We drove back home along Shenandoah Skyline drive which is known mostly for its fall foliage but the summertime vistas were spectacular as well.

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Kat Hoke

Harrisonburg is a real hidden gem and a town worth visiting. Next time we plan to explore more of the Beerwerks trail, bike, and do some boutique shopping. Harrisonburg has a lot to offer families and we will definitely be back.

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