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The Short Version: Harrisonburg, Virginia, is nestled in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley and offers a romantic outdoor getaway for couples. The city has a diverse, welcoming community and plenty of natural, artistic, and cultural attractions. It is home to museums, modern lodging, sophisticated restaurants, and James Madison University, which imbues the city with a balance of youthful energy. For offering couples a vibrant, natural getaway, Harrisonburg, Virginia has earned our Editor’s Choice Award.
When couples plan a romantic getaway, they may be interested in a wide range of activities. Maybe they’d like to tailgate at a college football game with 20,000 fans on a crisp autumn afternoon. Or, perhaps, they’d enjoy a quiet hike along the Appalachian Trail and a trip to a local vineyard for a sunset wine tasting.
No matter what couples are looking for in an excursion, Harrisonburg, Virginia, likely has it. The city offers beautiful nature, diverse ethnic restaurants, top music events, artistic attractions, and college sports. There’s something for just about everyone, and many couples visit the city to make memories each year.
“It is such a lovely city, and we like to share it with other people,” said Jennifer E. Bell, Tourism Manager for the City of Harrisonburg. “Some people have their first date here and then come back for the wedding. And it’s great to be such a special part of people’s lives.”
The city is in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley and features a charming downtown and a diverse population that creates a welcoming environment for visitors. Some couples and families come for its outdoor events, including music and international festivals scheduled throughout the year. Others prefer to spend a quieter time enjoying nature, art, music, interesting cuisine, and lodging ranging from rustic to luxurious.
The city is home to about 52,000 people, many of whom work and study on the James Madison University campus. That makes for a small-town feel, but with many of the same cultural and artistic opportunities that big cities enjoy.
Jennifer said the college environment doesn’t overwhelm the community, allowing many more types of visitors to enjoy the city.
It may come as a surprise to first-time visitors, but the Harrisonburg community is quite diverse. It balances an agricultural history with modern multiculturalism.
Jennifer said that more than 50 languages are spoken at the city’s high school.
“We have a more cosmopolitan feel and diversity than other parts of the area,” she said. “That makes us really welcoming, and we’re very friendly.”
Thanks to its diversity, it offers a wide variety of restaurants, cultural explorations, and a vibrant art community. Jennifer said the city has more than 250 restaurants, and they cover the spectrum of international cuisines. Any foodie couple can explore a new taste here from Indonesian to Thai.
It also has 20 name-brand hotels, as well as more intimate lodging for adventurous couples. The historic Joshua Wilton House, for example, offers 20 rooms, or couples can rent an entire cottage at the charming By The Side of the Road Getaway Lodging. Those who prefer staying just outside the city can book a stay at the Massanutten Resort, which includes a waterpark and full-service amenities right on the property.
Couples can enjoy a JMU football game or simply walk around downtown admiring its public art and murals. The local farmers market, which takes place on Tuesdays and Saturdays, is another perfect date opportunity for couples to grab lunch at one of the food trucks and buy some fresh veggies to cook together.
After lacing up their hiking boots, couples can stop by the Heritage Bakery renowned for its tasty, prepackaged to-go meals. Couples can take their picnic lunches on a romantic hike along the nearby Appalachian Trail or a drive along the picturesque Skyline Drive.
Some choose to rent a trail bike and head out to one of the city’s biking trails that offer three levels of difficulty. Harrisonburg plans to add more trails in the future and has earned a designation of “strong bronze” from the League of American Bicyclists for its impressive trail maintenance. The city’s trail systems have also been recognized as a Ride Center by the International Mountain Bicycling Association for its outstanding, destination-worthy mountain bike trails.
George Washington National Forest and other nearby parks offer waterfall hikes and private trails that are perfect for quality time together. After a day on the trail, some couples may want to head over to Ruby’s Arcade, where they can grab a drink before dinner. The arcade has wood-fired pizzas and appetizers, and offers indoor duckpin bowling lanes.
“It’s a nice cozy place to sit, relax, and engage in some fun activities. It’s not a bowling alley; it’s a whole different experience,” Jennifer said.
After drinks, couples can head right next door for a fancy dinner at Clementine’s, which features beautiful murals and classy outdoor seating. For couples who want to linger late into the evening, Jennifer recommends stopping by one of the city’s pocket parks that offer plenty of tables to cuddle while enjoying a cup of coffee.
Harrisonburg offers other options for couples planning to head out on the town. The university’s Center of the Arts often brings in interesting performances, including Bollywood troupes and musical acts. The city also boasts many independent live music venues, including Corgans’ Publick House and the Golden Pony, that often bring in regional and national acts.
Many couples travel to Harrisonburg for a romantic getaway that offers both natural and cultural attractions. And plenty of those couples choose to get engaged at popular landmarks in and around the city.
The city has vineyards, orchards, and farms for both apple-picking and stunning engagement photos. Those spots, along with the Madison Convention Center and its six microbreweries, are also popular for weddings and receptions.
The Edith J. Carrier Arboretum is one of the most popular places for wedding photos, Jennifer added.
The Hugo Kohl Museum of American Jewelry Design and Manufacturing is one of the most unique places to pop the question. Not only will visitors learn about the intricacies of jewelry mass production, but they can even design their own ring.
“This is a one-of-a-kind opportunity for someone who doesn’t want the traditional jewelry store experience. They want to design their ring, and they can pick out the gem and everything right there at the museum,” Jennifer said. “It is an opportunity to get that perfect romantic jewelry piece.”
Whether it’s the Virginia Quilt Museum, with its modern and traditional exhibits, or the Horizon Edge Sports Complex, with its climbing walls and state-of-the-art sports facilities, Harrisonburg has plenty to offer any visitor.
Jennifer said it’s also a perfect place for couples with children who may be considering blending their families. There’s a Discovery Museum in the city that has many floors of fun for kids who love crafts, cooking, and science.
“If you are dating as two families coming together, this is a great place to bring and get to know each other and the kids,” she said. “You’ll love the charm of the downtown area, but we’re also close to natural beauty.”