Charleston is the capital of West Virginia, the Mountain State, and the place I called home for 44 years. From strolling the beautiful state capitol grounds to a state-of-the-art museum and music venue, eating the best Indian food to exploring the historic downtown, there are plenty of things to keep you busy in this friendly capital city. Here is your weekend itinerary for Charleston, West Virginia.
Friday Evening in Charleston
Charleston has a few great places to hear live music, such as the clubs on Kanawha Boulevard and Capitol Street, Charleston Coliseum & Convention Center (that just had a $100 million renovation), Municipal Auditorium, Clay Center, and Mountain Stage (see below). Check to see what’s playing and where on your visit.
Live on the Levee (canceled for 2020) is a popular, free Friday night concert series at Haddad Riverfront Park on the Kanawha River waterfront. It will be back in full force next season with weekly concerts from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
If you visit Charleston in April through September, see the West Virginia Power (Pittsburgh Pirates farm team) play baseball at Appalachian Power Park. You can also unleash your inner artist with a fun painting session or cooking class at Uncork and Create. Bring your own wine (or other beverage) and snacks.
For dinner, sink your teeth into a fabulous charcuterie platter from Bricks and Barrels or a perfectly prepared steak and all the fixings at The Chop House. Try the Chicken Tikka Masala from Sitar of India if you are adventurous and a fan of international cuisine. It is sensational!
Start your weekend itinerary for Charleston Saturday morning with a classic West Virginia breakfast at Tudor’s Biscuit World. How does a Peppy (pepperoni and melted cheese on a biscuit) or a Super Breakfast (eggs, bacon or sausage, breakfast potatoes, fried apples, biscuit, and gravy) sound? If biscuits aren’t your thing, pick up a slice of quiche, a muffin, or pastry from Sarah’s Bakery.
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If you’ve never been to Charleston, you will definitely want to walk around and photograph the West Virginia State Capitol. It is stunning! While you are there, take a few minutes to sashay through the WV State Museum, more commonly known as the Cultural Center. There are some fantastic interactive exhibits, including Civil War history, with my favorites being the WV-made glass collection and celebrities from the Mountain State archives. You can buy a piece of locally-made Fenton or Blenko glassware in the impressive gift shop.
Spend the afternoon exploring downtown Charleston. Park your car near Capitol Street and make your way to The Peanut Shop for a bag of salty snack mix, nuts, or malted milk balls, or Rock City Cake Company for pepperoni rolls (a West Virginia creation), cupcakes, or delicious cake balls.
Charleston is full of delicious snacks, and my favorite is Ellen’s Homemade Ice Cream, the beloved local ice cream shop. I recommend a scoop of coconut, or go for broke with a banana split, as pictured below.
Enjoy the boutique shops along Capitol Street, a handful of street murals, historical buildings, and Kanawha Riverfront views at the beginning of the tree-lined street. Oddbird Gifts is my favorite, with a great selection of trinkets, whatnots, and gotta have.
Then, stop in the local independent Taylor Books bookstore, a Charleston institution. You can enjoy a delicious cup of coffee or tea while browsing the terrific selection of books, magazines, cards, and unique gifts.
You may want to drive over to Kin Ship Goods, a cute locally-owned t-shirt and accessories shop in Charleston’s Elk City Historic District. It is in Charleston’s up and coming neighborhood, with some adorable murals nearby.
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Shopping Over the Bridge
You can check out the best shopping Charleston offers by crossing the South Side Bridge for the Bridge Road Shops at South Hills. You’ll find a vast array of gifts, accessories, custom stationery, bath products, and home decor at Eggplant, upscale ladies fashions and accessories at Charlie Boutique, and designer threads including Lilly Pulitzer and Eileen Fisher at Geraniums. Don’t miss the designer shoe selection at Yarid’s, one that could easily compete with high-brow stores in any big city.
Lunch Time in Charleston
For lunch, we’ve got three options for America’s favorite food on your weekend itinerary for Charleston. Pies and Pints serves gourmet pizzas and have a killer selection of beers on tap. Lola’s Pizza at South Hills offers mouth-watering Neopolitan-style pizzas, yummy salads, and flawless sangria in a charming little house with an inviting patio. A third choice would be to sink your teeth into a slice of Graziano’s Pizza. This no-frills staple in downtown Charleston has been there for as long as I can remember.
Charleston has more to offer than a typical Saturday night activity, like seeing a movie, singing karaoke, or bowling.
Crowder Auctions has been selling QVC goods (and plenty of other items) for over 30 years now. When you arrive, get your bidding number, and you will quickly see how smoothly things run. It is great fun, super casual, and you can grab a hot dog for dinner while you are there.
A second choice is to get your gambling fix at the Mardi Gras Casino. Most people wouldn’t expect a casino of this caliber to be in West Virginia, but it is pretty spectacular. Mardi Gras has 20+ table games, 1000+ slot machines, poker, and live entertainment. There is a dedicated non-smoking area, three restaurants, plus greyhound racing here.
My favorite thing to do in Charleston on Saturday night is to play bingo at the Dunbar Bingo Hall. Payouts and jackpots are high dollar, plus they sell tips, the highlight of my experience. The bingo hosts a few hundred people each week. You may want to try some of the meals and desserts sold there (mostly under $5), but you may also bring your own food and drinks.
I should warn you that my friends and I call it “black-lung bingo” (see the correlation to the coal mining state?). Regardless of where you sit, the smoke is horrible, but playing Bingo here is a hoot. Plus, the crowd is eager to help if you are a newbie.
If you prefer a quiet dinner and glass of wine, Bridge Road Bistro is a neighborhood favorite with soft music, upscale cuisine, and an inviting atmosphere. Bistro’s cuisine is impressive, but a flavorful Caesar Salad and bowl of French Onion Soup are just as good.
It wouldn’t be a great weekend itinerary without a delicious brunch to enjoy. My top-pick is Black Sheep Burrito, an eclectic eatery in downtown Charleston with excellent craft beer. I love two brunch items: the Cast Iron Shakshouka (Middle Eastern tomato stew over eggs, garlic naan, and feta) and O.G. Chicken & Waffles. The chicken & waffles with candied jalapeño, honey-nut breaded fried chicken, and sage-infused maple syrup have been raised to the next level with special touches and flavors.
If you’re not in the mood for brunch, have lunch at Cozumel, Charleston’s best Mexican restaurant. The Pollo Con Arroz can’t be beat!
You’ll find a nice year-round farmer’s market in the downtown area, definitely worth visiting for your weekend guide to Charleston. Capitol Market’s indoor-outdoor venue (an old train station) has fresh flowers, produce, and crafty items on the outside. The 16,000 square-foot inside area offers a gourmet shop, cheese & wine restaurant, West Virginia marketplace, a spectacular chocolate shop, coffee bar, and sushi garden on the inside. There are lots of special activities always taking place there, plus free Wifi and parking.
Another must-see attraction in Charleston is the Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences. This state-of-the-art venue houses three facilities devoted to the visual and performing arts, and sciences. Avampato Discovery Museum’s portion of Clay Center is for kids. They can experience a fun climbing structure and hands-on exhibits like a music studio, engineering, and waterworks. Concerts, Broadway in Charleston series, stage productions, and the WV Symphony can be seen and heard in the Clay Center concert hall.
Lastly, the Juliet Art Museum, yet another part of the Clay Center, has thought-provoking permanent and temporary galleries with pieces from artists and museums around the country. It boasts landscape, pop-art, West Virginia artists, and the Anne Shrive collections, to name a few. There is also a planetarium, great for educational sessions, and relaxing.
Charleston’s Biggest Draw
A top activity would be attending a live recording of Mountain Stage, a popular public radio show that airs on National Public Radio (NPR), since 1983 to be exact. See host Larry Groce and a handful of talented musicians every Sunday afternoon at the WV State Museum on the West Virginia State Capitol complex. Mountain Stage is broadcast at a later date on 240 stations. Lineups change weekly, but past concerts have included Jason Mraz, REM, Joan Baez, Cake, Buckwheat Zydeco, Jason Isbell, and Vince Gill.
Enjoy A Weekend in Charleston: The Pride of the Mountain State
I hope you will enjoy your visit to “Almost Heaven, West Virginia,” using this weekend itinerary for Charleston. If the suggestions above are not what you are looking for, then the majestic mountains, beautiful scenery, and friendly locals are worth your trip alone.
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