Editor's note: This is part of a series on small towns within driving distance of Chattanooga that are big on charm and amenities while still offering space to spread out.
Filled with friendly locals and overloaded with charm, small towns make the perfect getaway for those looking for a change of pace, a place to ditch city life for just a bit. And during the pandemic, they've become popular with travelers looking for a way to escape.
According to Airbnb's 2021 U.S. Travel Report, 51% of respondents said they are "more interested in being isolated beyond major tourist areas than they are in being surrounded by people and energy (24%)." Sixty-two percent said they wanted to vacation within driving distance of home.
Vrbo, another short-term rental site for homeowners around the globe, also notes that its customers are preferring to escape to destinations closer to home, seeking nature-oriented experiences when they do.
Drive time from Chattanooga: 3 hours, 30 minutes
This picturesque town was voted Best Small Town Food Scene in the Country by USA Today's 10Best in both 2019 and 2020. Walking its historic streets, you might spot signs in restaurant windows sporting the Rooted in Appalachia logo, a testament to a restaurant's mission to serve local Appalachian fare and connect diners to the vibrant food heritage of the mountains. Though you should also connect with the Blue Ridge peaks in person.\
What to Do
Virginia Creeper Trail
Abingdon Trailhead, 300 Green Spring Road
This 34.3-mile Rails to Trails path snakes its way across the mountains, connecting users to Damascus, Virginia, and points in between. Walk, run or bike it and you'll be treated to amazing views of Mount Rogers, the highest point in the state. Access is easy and there are bike rental shops that will shuttle riders to the highest point along the trail for a modest fee, then you pedal the easy section — it's all downhill from there.
Abingdon Historic District
Get your shopping fix along old brick-lined sidewalks in this 20-square-block holdover. The architecture spans two centuries, the oldest being The Tavern restaurant. Home to a large concentration of shops and restaurants, the area also hosts a thriving farmers market every Tuesday and Thursday where you can pick up a peck of pickled okra or grab a bottle of muscadine wine. Along the way, duck into Wolf Hills Brewing Co. for some local suds, or see local artists at work in The Arts Depot. If it's the architecture you came for, grab a map from the Abingdon Visitor's Center at 335 Cummings St. and take a self-guided tour.
127 W. Main St.
Standing proudly on the square is the nation's longest-running professional theater. Used to be, townsfolk could pay 40 cents or barter with vegetables, dairy products or livestock in order to see plays. The 88-year-old theater is still in business today, but tickets will run you $20 or more. In light of the pandemic, the theater is hosting its live summer performances at the Moonlite Drive-In. Coming up is "Always Patsy Cline," running June 18-July 10, followed by a concert series: "Doo-Wop at the Drive-In" July 16-24 and "Barter Sings Broadway" July 30-Aug. 7. Visit the theater's website for need-to-know admittance info.
Where to Dine
Rain Restaurant and Bar
283 E. Main St.
This is a place that considers perfect mashed potatoes a work of art and its homemade Szechuan chili oil so sexy it will liven up any dish, especially the spicy garlic eggplant and beef noodles. The gourmet dishes are served in a warm and eclectic atmosphere that seems to invoke the coziness of the home it clearly once was.
170 E. Main St.
A breakfast place, lunch haven and weekend dinner favorite, this modern cafe is dedicated to using the most regional ingredients possible. You'll find local eggs at breakfast, along with small-batch, cold-pressed juices; and local beef in the burgers and greens in the salads at lunch and dinner.
222 E. Main St.
Located in the oldest building (1779) in Abingdon, this restaurant has had a few years to get it right — and it has. Said to be the most popular restaurant in town, it also boasts the state's oldest bar, which is the eighth-oldest in the nation. North Carolina rainbow trout over wild rice and Springer Mountain chicken over local wild mushroom risotto are just two uses of regional fare. The Tavern also serves a variety of German favorites, such as jagerschnitzel (thin, fried pork cutlets) and kassler rippchen (brined and smoked pork chops) made using local pork. Reservations are not necessary, just recommended.
Where to Stay
The Martha Washington Inn
150 W. Main St.
Known as "The Martha" by locals, this historic inn began life as the home of Gen. Francis Preston, his wife and their nine children in 1832. Today, it's a luxury hotel and spa that retains much of the original character in the original brick residence, including its grand staircase and many original furnishings. It opened as a hotel in 1935 and now boasts 63 rooms and suites, as well as an on-site restaurant with a Southern focus, Sisters American Grill.
White Birches Inn Bed & Breakfast
268 White's Mill Road
Located in an early 20th-century English country-style home, this welcoming B&B has five suites, all named after famous playwrights, a nod to the town's connection to the Barter Theatre. Complimentary beer and wine are offered in each suite, along with cookies and chocolates. White Birches is also the city's first B&B to go green, utilizing motion lighting, timers, low-energy bulbs, and water minimization and conservation in all showers and toilets, among other measures.
A Tailor's Lodging
119 Park St. SE
Occupying a home built in 1840 on a lovely tree-lined street in Abingdon's historic district, this inn is small — just three guest rooms — but is conveniently located in downtown Abingdon. A sister property next door, Black Dog Inn, has three guest rooms, as well.