Nothing has that “hey, y’all” small town charm more than an old-fashioned, family-owned country store.
Yet, the legendary Darden’s Country Store in rural Smithfield, Virginia is something more. A working farm and locals’ landmark, Darden’s has been curing Virginia hams using time-honored techniques since the early 1950s, and foodies and aficionados from around the world have taken notice. Now a must-stop for epicureans, history buffs and lovers of all things farm-to-table, Darden’s is just one example of the unique blend of down home goodness and Southern sophistication that is Coastal Virginia’s hammiest hamlet, a great place to escape the grind and unwind.
Less than 10 miles from Darden’s iconic brick-red store front is the heart of Smithfield’s picturesque Main Street, where shopaholics, adventure-seekers, arts lovers and hungry travelers of all persuasions will find plenty to explore, learn and enjoy. Start with a visit to the Smithfield and Isle of Wight Visitor Center, which shares a space with the Arts Center @319 gallery and gift shop and has done an excellent job of curating unique itineraries and experiences for visitors who want to make the most of a day trip or weekend adventure in Genuine Smithfield with friends or family.
This is “Hamtown USA,” of course, known for its pork and peanuts, and you’ll want to be sure to head down the block to the Isle of Wight County Museum, which not only enlightens guests on colonial history, the Smithfield ham industry, the Blackwater River, the Civil War and the Cold War, but is also home to the world’s oldest ham (yes, it has its own Twitter account) and the world’s oldest peanut. The history lessons continue on the other end of Main Street where the School House Museum details the education of African-American children in the early 20th century in Isle of Wight Count.
In between, you’ll find shops and eateries galore. There’s Beyond Main, featuring fun, comfortable fashions and jewelry with a coastal vibe, and Perfectly Natural Soap, where natural, eco-friendly bath and beauty products make perfect gifts or, better yet, treats for yourself. Get in the festive spirit any time of year at Christmas Store or go wild for flowers, home décor and more at Fleur De Fou. And then there are shops you just have to visit because of their clever names. Check out When Pigs Fly Magic Happens for whimsical and, of course, porcine-themed baubles and The Strip Joint, specializing in refurbished furniture and unique vintage finds.
Elegant Victorian era homes and more than 50 buildings of architectural significance grace the historic district as well, and the friendly and knowledgeable staff at the Visitor Center will be happy to provide you with everything you need for a self-guided walking tour, or you can book a guided tour several weeks in advance. Among the remarkable structures along Main Street is the Thomas House, also known as the Mansion on Main Bed and Breakfast, which is one of several unique options for overnights stay along with the storied Smithfield Inn.
Speaking of stays, you’ll find yourself wanting to kick back and hang a while to enjoy the hospitality, warmth and waterfront views at Smithfield Station, not far Main Street’s main attractions. Whether you’re staying the night or not, this modern waterfront complex boasts gorgeous sunsets along the Pagan River, a 44-room waterfront hotel, luxury accommodations, shops, conference spaces, marina, pool and, let’s not forget, a restaurant where you can share fan favorites like classic Oysters Rockefeller, Genuine Smithfield Ham Rolls, nosh on lighter fare like the Station Seafood Caesar or dig into to a decadent burger or Bourbon Street Chicken with Smithfield ham.
Other exciting eats abound around town with options for the whole family to love. Leave the calorie counting behind and take your taste buds on a vacation to one of Smithfield’s newest offerings, the Farmer’s Table, featuring decadent burgers made with grass-fed beef raise by Virginia Farmers, ice cream, fries, tater tots and more. The grown-ups can get a fresh-brewed wakeup call at locally owned Cure Coffee House or sip and savor adult libations at SummerWind Vineyard, Wharf Hill Brewery Company or Blue Sky Distillery. Meanwhile, the kids will scream for ice cream, doughnuts, cakes and more at hot spots like Cone Slingers, Yummaries Bakery and RingO’s Donuts.
All that eating calls for some fresh air and exercise, and there’s lot to see and do outside in Smithfield. Windsor Castle Park is a definite don’t-miss. Dedicated in 2010, this 208-acre riverside park has green spaces for days including a system of wooded trails, picnic areas, a dog park, kayak and canoe launch, fishing pier, mountain bike path, scenic overlooks and historic Windsor Castle, which—sorry, royal watchers—is not a summer home for any kings or queens but rather a manor house built on the site of a farm once owned by a family member of Smithfield’s founder, Arthur Smith IV. Also, don’t pass up a quick trip to nearby St. Luke’s Church & Museum, the oldest church building in the state of Virginia.
There’s so much to do in Smithfield, in fact, the Visitors Center has come up with a series of cool one- and two-day itineraries called Family Field Trips, each with a different theme. From Plants & Animals to Agriculture, Art to History, these trips highlight many of the attractions included here and much more for outings that are educational and fun without all the fuss of deciding where to go next. From Lynchburg and surrounding areas, Smithfield is easily accessible by way of a scenic drive east on Route 460.