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Exploring 'The Star' of Virginia

LYSA ALLMAN-BALDWIN | 11/12/2012, 12:58 p.m.
In our first exploration in Roanoke, Va.--located at the southern tip of the Shenandoah Valley--we...
Exploring 'The Star' of Virginia

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Exploring 'The Star' of Virginia

In our first exploration in Roanoke, Va.--located at the southern tip of the Shenandoah Valley--we took a little time to grasp its early history, the lay of the land and a bit of its African-American history.

The first full day here, we hit the ground running! First, I want to share my experience as a guest at the Sheraton Roanoke Hotel & Conference Center. Newly designed with a recent $18 million renovation, the hotel is an oasis of comfort and down-to-earth style, featuring a very warm and welcoming staff, beautiful open relaxation and dining areas, spacious and comfortable rooms, a great fitness center, indoor and outdoor pools and lush foliage all about the property. It is a wonderful place to start and end the day, whether traveling for business or pleasure.

For breakfast, we ate at the aptly named the Roanoker Restaurant, a staple in the city since 1941 and recently named by Southern Living magazine as one of Virginia's five best breakfast spots. For breakfast, lunch and dinner, you'll find a wealth of sumptuous homemade and Southern specialties with a bit of Southern and Virginia flair, including their famous Roanoker breads, including biscuits and rolls.

Next, we took off to visit the city's literal star attraction: the Roanoke Star and Overlook. Located on Mill Mountain some 1,045 feet above the city, it is over 88 feet tall, weighs 10,000 pounds and is currently the world's largest freestanding illuminated manmade star. Originally installed in 1949 as a seasonal Christmas decoration, it is actually three stars in one illuminated by 2,000 feet of neon tubing, making it visible for 60 miles. The panoramic views of the city and beyond from the Star are stunning, and you can check them out via their Starcam.

Other attractions on Mill Mountain include the Discovery Center, offering exhibits, activities and more that highlight the distinctive natural environment of the hundreds of acres of rugged forests surrounding it; the Mill Mountain Zoo, home to more than 175 animals, including several endangered species; and wonderful trails and walkways for walkers, cyclists and others who enjoy the mountain ambiance.

Back in Town

Popping back downtown to the Historic Market District--in addition to another leisurely walk through the Historic Roanoke City Market--we got a sneak peak at the expansion and re-invention of Center in the Square (opening spring 2013). Entities here will encompass the Mill Mountain Theatre, presenting high-quality theater productions; the History Museum of Western Virginia, which, through a wide array of permanent and traveling exhibits, offers the largest repository of material devoted to tracing the human history of Western Virginia; and the Science Museum of Western Virginia, providing hands-on, interactive exhibits that engage the senses and stimulate curiosity for learning about science and technology, among other entities.

Just a short stroll from there is the historic spot well worth the visit--the city's David R. and Susan S. Goode Railwalk, a unique, half-mile outdoor museum walk paralleling train tracks, featuring historical signage and memorabilia such as displays, whistles and other elements that detail the history of the railroad in Roanoke up to the present day.