For anyone interested in old books, good food, and, of course, Shakespeare, the perfect weekend destination is Staunton, Virginia. Just over the mountains from Charlottesville, this small town is home to the American Shakespeare Center and the only replica of the Blackfriars Playhouse, Shakespeare’s original indoor theater. Surrounding the theater are a host of cafes and coffee shops serving fresh and local food, all sorts of small book shops stocked with old and new books and an assortment of antique and art shops that you're sure to find something in.
The ASC and the beautiful Blackfriars Playhouse are definitely the highlight of any trip to Staunton. At the Blackfriars, a talented cast performs plays from Shakespeare and his contemporaries using original staging practices. This means that the sets are minimal, the language is priority and the house lights stay on. The ASC aims to recreate the mixture of natural light and candlelight that would have illuminated the space in Shakespeare’s day. This allows the actors to see the audience and interact with them, transforming the audience from silent observers to an active, integral part of the show. Tickets prices range from $18 to $59, but if you see an open seat during the first act, you are welcome to snag it for the second. If you can’t make it to a show but don’t want to miss the theater, don’t worry. Tours of the Blackfriars Playhouse are only $7 and take you all over the building — including onto the stage.
Cranberry’s Grocery & Eatery
If you get hungry or thirsty while exploring downtown Staunton, you will be pleased to find that there is an abundance of cafes and coffee shops. However, Cranberry's Grocery & Eatery is a standout. This local cafe prides itself on its healthful, organic menu that will have you “leaping tall buildings in a single bound,” according to its website. It is the perfect place to grab coffee and a bagel for breakfast or a wrap or sandwich for lunch. Even if you're not interested in the eatery, you can still explore the grocery section of the store, which features natural medicines, locally roasted coffee beans and natural body care products. Whether you’re a health food enthusiast or just want a nice place to grab breakfast, Cranberry's is the place to be.
This diner is a little way out from downtown, but the experience is definitely worth going the distance. Wright’s Dairy-Rite was founded in 1952, and it hasn’t aged a day. The menu is full of all your favorite diner classics, such as burgers, hot dogs, chili and milkshakes, that you call in to order on the phone by your table or booth, or you can order from your car and have the original drive-in experience that Sonic can only imitate. Either way, lunch at Wright’s Dairy-Rite is sure to satisfy your cravings for good diner food and that inimitable diner atmosphere.
If you like Shakespeare and little coffee shops, chances are you like books. Staunton boasts multiple used bookstores, chief among them Barristers Books and Black Swan Books and Music. Barristers specializes in used and rare books and began in September 2008. It is situated on the corner in an unassuming little building from the mid-1800s. The inside is light, cozy and filled with books of every kind. Black Swan has an advantage that sets it apart from the other bookstores in town music. In addition to a wide range of books, varying from cookbooks to Star Trek, the store has an impressive collection of vinyl records.
No doubt, Staunton is a lengthy drive away, but for anyone who likes authentic local food or first-rate Shakespearean theater, it's well worth the trip.