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35 Best Things to do in Harrisonburg, VA

Harrisonburg is located in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley with the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests to the west and the Shenandoah National Park to the east. The natural beauty of the outdoors is juxtaposed with a bustling downtown and 2 large universities, James Madison University and Eastern Mennonite University.

Scott and I both attended JMU where we spent four years exploring every last inch of this town! While the town has undoubtedly changed a bit since we graduated, some of the longtime staples and iconic activities remain the same.

From the oldies like hiking Reddish Knob and eating Kline’s ice cream to the new like offroading at Big Boys Playground, here is the definitive list of things to do in Harrisonburg, VA.

Best Things to Do in Harrisonburg, Virginia

Bring the kids to explore more discovery museum

Because we have two young kids, we are always thrilled when there is a children’s museum in town. The Explore More Discover Museum is an interactive, multi-sensory space for children of all ages (although I’d probably recommend 1 – 13).

Exhibits include a theatrical stage, a well-equipped service center for “repairing” cars, and a TV studio where kids can deliver live from the anchor desk. The Maker Space features special equipment to try laser cutting, sewing, and even woodworking.

TIP: Admission is FREE on the first Friday of every month thanks to the Harrisonburg Kiwanis Club.

Find local treasures at some of the best antique and Country Markets in the Shenandoah Valley.

The Rolling Hills Antique Mall has been selling antiques and collectibles for over 30 years. The Shenandoah Heritage Market is a massive antique mall featuring numerous specialty vendors that sell items such as Amish-made furniture, handcrafted goods, Civil War memorabilia, baked goods, and more. The Country Canner is one of the popular vendors at the market, selling over 180 different items including apple butter, jams, pickles, relishes, and pie fillings.

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Grab a drink at the local breweries

Within the last 10 years, Harrisonburg has become a hub for top-notch breweries. The Friendly Fermenter is a must-visit Harrisonburg brewery as it is both a craft brewery and a local supplier of beer-making equipment and ingredients.

Other recommended Harrisonburg breweries and wineries include Three Notch’d , Pale Fire Brewing, Sage Bird, Cider Works, Bluestone Vineyard, and Brothers Craft Brewing.

Dine in an old railroad car.

L&S Diner in Harrisonburg VA - Harrisonburg attraction

The L&S Diner is a Harrisonburg landmark. The locally-owned restaurant has been serving up breakfast and American classics since 1947. The menu is no frills and perhaps the cheapest bite you can find in town.

As their menu clearly states, “Everybody knows everybody at the L&S Diner”. It’s where you want to go if you want to catch up on the local gossip over a cup of Joe and their famous Garbage Omelet.

Spend a romantic evening at the Joshua Wilton House

The Joshua Wilton House is an elegantly restored Victorian home that is included on the Register of Historic Places. The award-winning bed and breakfast is located in downtown Harrisonburg. It boasts five historic bedrooms, renovated with modern amenities and accented with Victorian decor.

The restaurant features an extensive wine list, farm-to-table ingredients, and an impressive menu of upscale American fare.

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Enjoy Pizza, ping pong, and Pool at Ruby’s Arcade.

If you are looking for both good food and entertainment, look no further than Ruby’s Arcade. At Ruby’s, you can nosh on delicious wood-fired pizza over a round of ping pong. If that’s not your thing, they also have classic duckpin bowling, air hockey, modern arcade games, and more.

Sample lavender infused wine at White Oak Lavender farm

Located just 20 minutes outside of Harrisonburg is a fragrant Lavender farm that you won’t want to miss. The White Oak Lavender Farm and Purple Wolf Vineyard host many activities including:

  • animal encounters with miniature horses
  • tours of the farm with distilling demonstrations
  • live performances from local musicians
  • interactive gardens with a walking labyrinth, pond, life-size checkerboard, and adult-sized swings
  • seasonal crafting classes to learn wreath making, wand weaving, and other experiences
  • Lavender shop with over 100 locally made products

White Oak Lavender Farm also has a tasting room featuring ice cream, fine wine, craft beer, and hard cider all infused with lavender grown on-site.

Visit lambs at simple hill farm.

Simple Hill Farm sells 100% fine merino wool sourced from their flock of sheep. They also host several workshops teaching the art of fiber dying, spinning, and weaving. During your visit, be sure to visit with the 40+ sheep and lambs grazing their fields.

Explore the slopes of Massanutten.

Hitting the slopes of Massanutten is, without a doubt, the most popular winter activity in Harrisonburg. Did you know that Massanutten is a year-round resort? Beyond the skiing and snowboarding in the winter months, the resort also has hiking trails, an indoor water park, a miniature golf course, and so much more to explore.

Grab a bagel at Mr. J’s Bagels

Located in a simple strip mall, you’d never guess that Mr. J’s is the most popular spot in town to get New York-style bagels. As a student at JMU, Mr. J’s was my go-to for a quick bite before class. Make sure to try their bagel bites, their signature bagels baked daily.

Explore over 40 activities and attractions at Back Home on the Farm

If you are looking for things to do in Harrisonburg with kids, you need to take them to Back Home on the Farm. The 240-acre farm has 40+ activities. Some are seasonal like the popular cornfield maze and pumpkin patch, however, most activities are open all year long.

You can easily spend a whole afternoon at the farm trying out the zipline, meeting farm animals, riding the carousel, and exploring countless other attractions.

Enjoy a Horse-Drawn Carriage Ride along the scenic trails of Massanutten.

There is something magical about taking a horse-drawn carriage ride. In contrast to the historic carriage rides found in downtown Lexington, Circle M Carriages provides a scenic ride through the Virginia countryside.

Tours last approximately one hour and highlight the gorgeous scenery along Massanutten’s Western slope.

Ride a pony or pet donkeys at the Woodstone Meadows Stables.

Massanutten Petting Zoo

Located adjacent to the Massanutten resort is the independently owned Woodstone Meadows Stables. They offer year-round horseback riding for adults or pony rides for children ages 2 and older. Don’t miss the opportunity to meet and feed alpacas, donkeys, and a variety of other animals at their petting farm.

Peruse the shelves of Downtown Books.

In a world that has shifted to everything online and electronic, it is a wonder that a used bookstore can still survive. Downtown Books is one of those few that have managed to find a way to make it work. Although it hasn’t been easy, Downtown Books has maintained a reputation for being the “one-stop shop for comic books, DVDs, postcards and pins in addition to books”.

With almost everything in the store costing less than $2.99, the owner Bob Schurtz is not motivated by profit. He truly wants to share his love for books, making them affordable and accessible to other book and comic book lovers in the community.

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Sculpt your own pottery at Friendly city Clay and Art Center

The Friendly City Clay & Art Center is a new community studio and art space located in Harrisonburg. While memberships are available, you can also pop in for a one-time class to try your hand at pottery, drawing, fiber arts, or jewelry-making.

Funky skate center

Funky Skate Center is one of the top things to do in Harrisonburg with kids, however, it’s also popular for dates and really anyone else looking to have a fun time.

Kids can sign up for one of their skating lessons, or simply show up and skate around to upbeat and funky music.

Go Thrifting at Glen’s Fair Price Store

Glen’s Fair Price is known locally as “Harrisonburg’s most unusual store”. I can personally endorse this reputation.

Glen’s Fair Price was always my go-to for finding used Halloween costumes and other unique items for themed parties in college. Of course, there is so much more to explore in this unusual store from camera equipment and collectibles to toys and nostalgic candy.

Get authentic Mexican inside a gas station.

Mexi-Deli is truly a hidden gem in Harrisonburg and a must-visit for any foodie. The unassuming restaurant has been located within the Exxon station on Reservoir Street since 2019. Owned by a mom and daughter duo from Guanajuato Mexico, they serve up authentic dishes from street tacos with homemade tortillas and tamales to queso birria and menudo.

Do yourselves and your tastebuds a favor. Stop by Mexi-deli for your next foodie fix.

Go fishing at Lake Shenandoah

Lake Shenandoah is a great location for novice anglers. The lake is stocked with largemouth bass, bluegill, crappie, common carp, channel catfish, and musky.

Adjacent to the lake is the Pollinator Trail, a 1.5-mile loop around the perimeter of the lake. Interpretive signs line the trail providing information about the wildlife, habitat, and conservation practices.

Grab a cone of frozen custard at Kline’s Dairy Bar.

The first Kline’s Dairy Bar was opened over 80 years ago on the first floor of the Kline family home in downtown Harrisonburg. Over the years, the family-owned ice cream shop has become a Harrisonburg staple and has now expanded into other cities including Staunton, Waynesboro, and Lynchburg.

In addition to the more classic flavors, check out their “flavor forecast” to see what new and creative flavors they are serving up.

Camp out at Hone Quarry Campground

With its central location in the Shenandoah Valley, there are countless places to go camping around Harrisonburg. One of our favorites is Hone Quarry Campground where you can enjoy rock climbing, picturesque streams, and a nearby 15-ft waterfall.

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Go offroading at Big Boys Playground

Big Boys Playground provides a wide range of activities for the off-roading enthusiast in a safe and supervised environment. They have a single-track motorcycle trail, rock gardens, a drag strip, and some challenging mud pits for you to try to not get stuck in.

Marvel at the Grand Caverns.

Discovered in 1806, the Grand Caverns is the oldest continually operating show cave in the United States. 70-minute walking tours are offered daily

Try Axe Throwing.

I don’t know how Axe Throwing and cocktails got approved by safety experts, but yes it is a thing. Beards & Broads off Evelyn Byrd Ave offers a sports-bar style setting for American food, axe throwing, and cocktails.

Catch a show at the Forbes Center for the Performing Arts.

The Forbes Center for the Performing Arts is the home to JMU’s School of Theatre and Dance and serves as a venue for the School of Music. The center’s website provides up to date information on upcoming shows and ticket sales.

Discover one of Virginia’s natural wonders at Natural Chimney’s Regional Park.

natural chimneys park

The Shenandoah Valley was once the floor of a great sea. The water slowly receded resulting in these incredible geological formations. The 7 Natural Chimneys now tower 120 feet above the surrounding terrain.

The park has numerous hiking trails, caves for exploring, and a campground for spending the night. The Natural Chimneys Regional Park is located in Mt. Solon, about 16 miles from Harrisonburg.

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Free Things to do in Harrisonburg

Go for a hike.

Harrisonburg is located in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley. Therefore, it is in close proximity to some of the best hiking trails in the Shenandoah! Some of the popular hiking trails near Harrisonburg include:

  • Bearfence Mountain – a quick 1-mile hike
  • Dark Hollow Falls – a 1.4-mile hike leading to a 70-foot waterfall
  • Mary’s Rock – a 3.7-mile hike leading to a panoramic viewpoint at the summit
  • Old Rag – a challenging 3.9-mile trail and arguably Virginia’s most popular hike
Mary's Rock, Shenandoah National Park

Snap a photo with the LOVEwork installations.

The official LOVEwork installations of Virginia State Tourism can be found all over the state from Richmond, the bustling capital city and Natural Bridge in the Blue Ridge Mountains, to the breezy town of Chincoteague on the Eastern shore.

Harrisonburg has several LOVEwork installations throughout the city.

  • Oasis Fine Art & Craft – 103 S. Main St. Harrisonburg, VA 22801
  • Sage Bird, Ciderworks, 325 N Liberty St. Harrisonburg, VA 22802
  • Downtown Harrisonburg – 311 S Main St. Harrisonburg, VA 22803
  • Back Home on the Farm – 2915 Willow Run Rd. Harrisonburg, VA 22802

Enjoy sunset from the summit at Reddish Knob.

Reddish Knob is an ideal place to catch sunset for a few reasons. With an elevation of 4101 ft. it is one of the highest points in Virginia providing gorgeous views of the surrounding George Washington National Forest, especially during the fall when you can view some of Virginia’s best fall foilage. There are several hiking trails to reach Reddish knob including the 5.4 mile out and back or the longer and more challenging 18.2 mile trek.

If you are not a hiker, no worries. There is a narrow and very steep paved road leading to the summit. Do not attempt this drive when there is snow on the ground. Don’t ask me how I know.

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Watch a free Planetarium Show.

The John C. Wells Planetarium at JMU is a “state-of-the-art hybrid facility” offering free shows to the public on Saturdays between September and May.

Family shows are recommended for families with young children (ages 4-8) and feature shows like One World, One Sky: Big Bird’s Adventure and a Teenager’s Guide to the Galaxy. Feature shows are great for an older audience and feature shows like Wonders of the Universe and Black Holes: To Infinity and Beyond.

Fun fact: As an Astro-Physics major at JMU, Scott had the opportunity to study at the Green Bank Observatory in West Virginia and take classes inside the John C. Wells Planetarium. He was also a member of the astronomy club and helped to usher audience members to their seats during planetarium shows.

Stroll through the flowers at JMU’s Arboretum.

The Edith J. Carrier Arboretum is a woodland sanctuary located on the outskirts of JMU’s campus. The grounds consist of 125 acres and 3.5 miles of trails. It is a popular destination for picnicking families, sun-bathing students, and nature enthusiasts. These public gardens are kid-friendly, dog-friendly, and free for all to enjoy.

Enjoy Virginia’s one and only quilt museum.

The Virginia Quilt Museum was founded in 1995 with the mission to cultivate and preserve the quilting arts in Virginia. The museum has three floors of gallery space with a regular rotation of exhibitions. In addition to tours, the museum also offers educational programs and events.

Visit the Harrisonburg fire department museum

One of the lesser known attractions in Harrisonburg is the local Fire Department Museum located on the third floor of the Public Safety Building on North Main Street.

This free exhibit features a display of historic fire memorabilia including uniforms, medals, equipment, old fire alarms, and photographs.

Climb an old fire tower.

high knob fire tower hike near harrisonburg

The High Knob Fire Tower is one of our favorite hikes in Virginia. A 2.9-mile hike in the George Washington National Forest will take you to this newly restored fire tower. From the top of the tower you’ll be rewarded with 360-degree views over the West Virginia mountains to the west and the Blue Ridge Mountains to the east.

Cool down in a swimming hole.

Harrisonburg is abundant in rivers and streams to cool off during the toasty summer months. Check out these swimming holes near Harrisonburg.

Where to stay in Harrisonburg

There is a large selection of places to stay around Harrisonburg from the mountain retreats in Massanutten and the boutique hotels downtown, to the romantic Joshua Wilton House mentioned above.

Recommended Bed & Breakfast – The Friendly City Inn is a cozy B&B with vintage decor and luxury furnishings for a relaxed and comfortable stay. Guests will enjoy a signature breakfast each morning on the shaded outdoor patio. The historic home is just a few steps away from fine dining, craft breweries, live music, and other downtown attractions.

friendly city inn harrisonburg B&B
Photo Credit: Friendly City Inn

Recommended for families visiting JMU Hotel Madison is the number 1 pick for families visiting JMU. The brand new facility features sophisticated guestrooms and suites with both mountain and downtown views.

Hotel Madison has several onsite dining options including Quills Casual Dining for light fare and drinks, and Monty’s Restaurant for a more upscale experience.

Hotel Madison Harrisonburg
Photo Credit: Hotel Madison

Recommended stay near Massanutten – The Gingerbread House features 4 bedrooms and comfortably sleeps 12 making it an ideal getaway for families and groups of friends. This stay is located 1.2 miles from Massanutten Resort and 13 miles from Harrisonburg.

airbnb near massanutten harrisonburg
Photo Credit: Booking.com

Frequently Asked Questions about Visiting Harrisonburg

Is Harrisonburg, VA worth visiting?

Absolutely. Harrisonburg has evolved over the years from a small country town to a college town and now to a vibrant hub for music lovers, foodies, and outdoor enthusiasts. With its mix of historic sites, bustling downtown activities, and cultural experiences you will not run out of things to do.

Where is the scenic drive near Harrisonburg?

scenic drive skyline

Skyline Drive runs 105 miles along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains from Front Royal to Waynesboro. There are 4 entrances to Skyline Drive, the closest of which is the Swift Run Gap Entrance (mile 65.5) by Rt. 33 in Elkton. Skyline Drive is largely considered one of the most beautiful scenic drives in the country and is a favorite destination for fall leaf peeping.

What is that smell?

Having lived there for 4 years, I often wondered that myself. It won’t take you long to notice a very particular smell drifting through the Harrisonburg air, especially after a strong rain. That aroma that you are experiencing is actually poultry feed used in the chicken farms surrounding the area. While yes the aroma is a little…different…don’t let it distract you from enjoying all that this Shenandoah town has to offer.