by Jim Weaver
The gleaming 289 foot tall gold dome of the state capitol (designed after the U.S. Capitol) can be seen miles away as you approach this West Virginia city on Interstate 79, 77 or 64. Charleston may not be high on most people’s “must visit” list, but that does not mean it doesn’t have a lot to offer. In fact, you might think it was a much larger city than it is when you consider the full range of great events and attractions available for locals and visitors.
My wife Barbara and I had the pleasure of visiting Charleston for a June weekend and participating in its annual FestivAll (arts festival). There were outdoor concerts at a performance center along the Kanawha River and art shows at multiple locations around the city. Street food of all kinds was plentiful and a “Smoke On The Water” chili competition was an exciting event that drew crowds of hungry spectators.
The Civic Light Opera Guild presented the delightful Broadway musical “Barnam” at the Charleston Civic Center theater. With a large cast of talented singers (the leads were all experienced professionals), it was an enjoyable musical treat for a summer evening. The following morning, we strolled through the Capital Street Arts Festival with its many vendors, exhibitors and performers. Here we caught the FestivAll Arts Parade, featuring dozens of young people dressed in colorful, elaborate, and fanciful costumes. Some walked on stilts while others danced their way along the street entertaining children and adults alike.
Charleston is a great city for the arts year-round.
The West Virginia Symphony, located here, performs a full season of concerts each year at the city’s Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences. There is also Charleston Ballet, Charleston Chamber Music, Charleston Stage, Civic Light Opera Guild, and Kanawha Players Community Theater. The city is also home to Marshall University, West Virginia University, and the University of Charleston and all have arts programs open to the public.
The State Capitol, located at the east end of the city near the river, and the Governor’s Mansion nearby are both open to the public.
Tour information and reservations are available by calling the Cultural Center at (304) 558-4839. There are also several historic homes that offer public tours. The Craik-Patton House “Elm Grove” is a restored Greek Revival-style home (cir.1834) adjacent to Daniel Boone Park along the banks of the Kanawha River. It’s open for tours from April through October.
Charleston’s minor league baseball team “West Virginia Power” is a farm club of the Toronto Blue Jays and plays its home games at the city’s Appalachian Power Park. The Park will host the World Chili Cookoff in October with competitors from around the nation.
If racing is what excites you, enjoy year-round live racing action at Tri-State Racetrack and Gaming Center. Also, bet on your favorite at (thoroughbred or greyhound) tracks around the country in one of its state-of-the-art simulcast areas. The casino here offers slots, table games, and power poker.
Downtown Charleston is very walkable. There is a great indoor shopping mall, Charleston Town Center, with Macy’s, Sears, and J C Penney anchor stories and dozens of other name retail outlets. There are also plenty of good places to eat here including Tidewater Grill, which we found exceptional. The Town Center mall features events throughout the year and draws shoppers from throughout the region.
Because the city attracts many conferences and conventions there are also a number of good hotels located downtown. We stayed at the convenient and comfortable Town Center Marriott across the street from the shopping mall and just a block from the Convention Center. Another attraction not to be missed is the city’s Capitol (farmers) Market. Located inside a former railroad station, it features the best in area produce and meats, plus an excellent Italian restaurant (Soho’s) and a great candy shop (Holl’s Swiss Chocolate).
To learn more about the many things Charleston has to offer visitors view www.charlestonwv.com.