Bedford is an interesting place. The town is off the beaten path in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s home to the National D-Day Memorial because of the history of the Bedford Boys. There’s a haunted house, a single brewery, and a handful of restaurants serving savory foods.

It’s a country town where people are introduced with first names and big smiles. From just about any point in town, the Peaks of Otter towers in the not-so-distance. When the obligatory four-lane bypass highway was built, it left downtown a peaceful bastion for afternoon walks between the restaurants and shops.

I had been near Bedford many times while road tripping on the Blue Ridge Parkway. But I was always eager to spend the daylight hours on the Parkway and roll into Roanoke just in time for dinner and a hotel. That was a mistake – there was so much I had missed in Bedford.

After years of skipping the small town, I finally had the chance to spend a few days there. I traveled to the countryside markets and took a lengthy trip to Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest. At the crossroad of Main Street and Bridge Street, I had about a block in each direction to explore downtown. My jaw dropped at the National D-Day Memorial and dropped again when I met Ken Parker at the Bedford Boys Tribute Center.

Bedford is an interesting place – and I think everyone needs to take a day trip to visit this small Virginia town.

The impressive entrance to The National D-Day Memorial.
The impressive entrance to The National D-Day Memorial.

No. 01

Visit the National D-Day Memorial

On June 6, 1944, “Operation Overlord” commenced with over 156,000 American, British, and Canadian soldiers landing on a 50-mile stretch of beach in occupied Normandy, France. Over 4,000 soldiers died in twenty-four hours during some of the most brutal fighting of World War II.

In the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, The National D-Day Memorial is an impressive recreation of that gruesome day and commemoration of all the Allied soldiers to lose their lives. Everything from the color of the concrete to the shape of flower gardens holds a symbolic meaning explained through guided tours of the memorial.

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READ MORE: Learn the Stories of Veterans at the National Veterans Memorial and Museum in Columbus, OH

Casual visitors should plan to spend an hour walking through the memorial, enjoy the view of the nearby Peaks of Otter, and visit the gift shop. An in-depth visit should include a guided tour followed by a self-guided walk through the memorial that will take about two hours.

3 Overlord Circle, Bedford, VA | 540-586-3329 | www.dday.org

Did you know? D-Day is a military term designating the launch day of an operation. But after the pivotal events of “Operation Overlord” on June 6, 1944, “D-Day” has come to represent that specific event in history.

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No. 02

Visit the Bedford Boys Tribute Center

In 2018, Ken Parker began reading books about D-Day and “Operation Overlord” for the upcoming 75th anniversary of the pivotal WWII battle. The 14th book he read was The Bedford Boys by Alex Kershaw – and that changed everything for Ken and Linda Parker.

Just a year later, the couple moved from Oklahoma City to Bedford and, six months later, opened the Bedford Boys Tribute Center. The museum is dedicated to the stories of the soldiers from Bedford County who made landfall in Normandy on June 6, 1944.

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The museum is in the historical building of Green’s Drug Store from 1942 until 1974. “The corner drug store was the local hang out,” Parker explained. “The National D-Day Memorial is great, and I suggest everyone visit, but the Bedford Boys’ footprints are here,” he said, pointing at the grey carpet beneath his feet.

Visitors to the Bedford Boys Tribute Center can learn the history of the soldiers who fought during WWII, see artifacts like Western Union telegrams announcing their deaths and Purple Heart medals, and speak with Ken Parker, the expert on anything related to the Bedford Boys.

102 North Bridge Street, Bedford, VA | 540-425-5598 | https://bedfordboystributecenter.com

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No. 03

Explore the Bedford Museum & Genealogical Library

The first floor of this three-story brick building serves as the county’s genealogical library – hundreds of books, census records, and research materials fill bookcases and cabinets in a small room.

But the upper floors of the building are reserved for the town’s history museum. Beginning with Native American history and stretching through to today’s military services, the museum paints a complete picture of Bedford’s people, places, and businesses. Themed rooms feature display cases and interpretive panels to explain the history, and with free admission, there’s no reason not to take a walk through.

201 East Main Street, Bedford, VA | 540-586-4520 | www.bedfordvamuseum.org

No. 04

Discover Art at the Bower Center for the Arts

Opened in 2006, the Bower Center for the Arts is a place for visual and performing arts education and appreciation. When the art academy was founded in 2005, the organization purchased the 1847 former St. John’s Episcopal Church and remodeled it for studios, classrooms, and art galleries.

One-day classes are taught throughout the year, though typically only on weekdays. Learn how to play musical instruments, make beautiful pottery, or learn a new visual art. Explore the exhibitions in the galleries or visit one of the resident artist studios to see them hard at work.

305 North Bridge Street, Bedford, VA | 540-586-4235 |www.bowercenter.org

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Many pieces of furniture are original to Historic Avenel, a welcome treat during a guided tour.

No. 05

Take a Guided Tour at Historic Avenel

The historic Avenel house is haunted. At least, that’s the story the tour guides talk about at the nearly two-century-old plantation house. Built in 1838 for William and Frances Burwell, the house was on a 70-acre plantation at the edge of Liberty, the town’s original name. In 1985, the Avenel Foundation bought the house from the Ballard family, who had owned it for almost eighty years.

Besides the occasional appearance of a specter, the house is frequently used as a wedding venue. With a wraparound porch, modern kitchen, and meticulous restoration, it’s a gorgeous place to say, “I do.” But if you’re not getting hitched, visitors can schedule a guided tour of the property through a contact form on their website.

413 Avenel Avenue, Bedford, VA | 540-816-9385 | www.historicavenel.com

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No. 06

Go for a Walk at Cloverlea Farmhouse and Memorial Gardens

Built in the 1780s, Cloverlea Farmhouse features one of the most impressive views of the Peaks of Otter anywhere in the state. Today, the University of Lynchburg owns and operates the farmhouse and property. The house is one of the most popular wedding venues in Virginia.

But for day trip visitors, the grounds are open during normal business hours. Visitors can hike the 7.5 miles of hiking trails, explore around the farmhouse, and enjoy the stunning view behind the house at a reflecting pool.

Pro Travel Tip The quickest way to get from Bedford to Cloverlea Farmhouse is to turn onto Cloverlea Lane. However, this is not the best route. The better option is to continue along Virginia Route 43 to Woods Road and turn toward the Claytor Nature Center. This route is only five minutes longer but significantly easier.

1650 Cloverlea Lane, Bedford, VA | www.lynchburg.edu/cloverlea

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Adirondack chairs welcome visitors to sit back and enjoy the view of Sharp Top and Abbott Lake.
Adirondack chairs welcome visitors to sit back and enjoy the view of Sharp Top and Abbott Lake.

No. 07

Go for a Drive to the Peaks of Otter on the Blue Ridge Parkway

It’s easy to spot the Peaks of Otter from just about anywhere, with Sharp Top jutting 3,875 feet above sea level. It’s also one of the most popular destinations on the Blue Ridge Parkway through Virginia.

A day trip adventure to the Peaks of Otter begins at the visitor center, where visitors can collect their National Park Passport cancellation stamp and pick up a map for the Parkway. Across the road, the Sharp Top Store is open seasonally – this is where visitors can book a ride almost to the top.

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READ MORE: Road Trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway

The Sharp Top Trail is a 3.3-mile out and back trail that ascends a whopping 1,300 feet to reach the mountain’s summit. It’s a strenuous trail and one of the most popular in the state. An easier way to the top is the Sharp Top Shuttle. A shuttle bus carries hikers to a point just 600 feet lower than the summit. Whichever way you take to the top, the view is worth the effort.

At the heart of the Peaks of Otter is Abbott Lake. A trail wraps around the lake’s periphery – a great place to go for a walk after enjoying a savory meal at the restaurant. But better than a meal at a restaurant with a gorgeous view of Sharp Top would be a room with a balcony with a gorgeous view of Sharp Top.

85554 Blue Ridge Parkway, Bedford, VA | 866-387-9905 | www.peaksofotter.com

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No. 08

Visit Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest

When Thomas Jefferson needed to escape from the endless deluge of visitors at Monticello, he retreated to Poplar Forest. Construction had started on the octagonal house in 1806, three years before his term as president was completed. Although the retreat was never completed, it is considered one of Jefferson’s most significant architectural achievements.

READ MORE: The Definitive List of Every Presidential Home You Can Visit in the U.S.

Visitors can take a guided tour of the house, learning about Jefferson’s time at Poplar Forest with his family and the international architectural styles. Go for a walk around the property to the stand of poplar trees in front of the house. Before leaving, browse through the gift shop to find something more than memories to take home.

1542 Bateman Bridge Road, Forest, VA | 434-534-8120 | www.poplarforest.org

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No. 09

Enjoy an Evening at the Peaks of Otter Winery

Near the base of Sharp Top, on an unmarked two-lane country road, the Peaks of Ottery Winery is an excellent place to spend an evening. Visitors can sample eight wines in flights at a rustic building cobbled together over decades – you can spot the previous log home and old barn topped with a modern aluminum structure.

But there’s more than just wine at this mountain venue.

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During the peak seasons, visitors can pick their own fruit from hundreds of apple trees at Johnson’s Orchard. If you’re not interested in picking your own, it’s easy to select from baskets filled with fresh fruit each day.

But the most intriguing weekend activity is goat snuggling. Visitors can book 30-minute sessions with resident goats just to hang out or, for an additional fee, feed them milk and enjoy a glass of wine for yourself.

1218 Elmos Road, Bedford, VA | 540-586-3707 | www.peaksofotterwinery.com

No. 10

Get a Drink at Beale’s Beer

A giant treasure map covers a towering wall in a renovated rubber factory across the railroad tracks from downtown Bedford. According to local folklore, Bedford County native Thomas Beale buried treasure somewhere in the county in the 1800s – and it has never been found.

In 2017, Trapezium Brewing Co.’s co-owner Dave McCormack decided to open a satellite brewery in Bedford. He named it after the local story of a pirate and buried treasure, Beale’s Beer Co.

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Three brewmasters work around the clock to keep the craft beer flowing through the 30-barrel system. Lagers, IPAs, stouts, and ales are commonly available. Visitors can enjoy samples, beer by the glass, or take home 4 packs, 6 packs, or crowlers.

But there’s more than beer and hidden treasure at Beale’s. A pit master smokes and marinates meats daily. The menu features barbecue, pulled pork and chicken sandwiches, and burgers. But the best item on the menu is their nachos – pulled chicken, pork, or brisket piled high with jack cheddar cheese, beer cheese, sour cream, tomatoes, and onions on homemade chips.

510 Grove Street, Bedford, VA | 540-583-5113 | http://bealesbeer.com

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Pan fried catfish and sides for lunch at Liberty Station.

Where to Eat

It’s nice when destinations offer things to do, interesting attractions, and gorgeous drives, but it really comes down to the food. In Bedford, local restaurants serve a variety of savory food perfect for lunch or dinner during a day trip visit. In addition to the aforementioned Beale’s Beer, here are some other places to get great food in Bedford.

Driving past Mountain Fruit & Produce between the Peaks of Otter and Bedford, you wouldn’t know there is excellent home cooking inside. The roadside market is a great place to find jams and jellies, but it’s also a great place for burgers and sandwiches made to order and delicious desserts baked fresh every morning.

Covered outdoor seating overlooks the railroad passing through town at the Bridge Street Café. But don’t worry, they have lots of comfy indoor seating as well. It’s an excellent place for breakfast or lunch throughout the day, with interesting coffee drinks, pastries, and sandwiches.

Clam Diggers is an oddity – it’s a seafood restaurant in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Although it’s not the freshest seafood, it’s still delicious to the last bite and worth visiting. Comfortable tables and booths are spread throughout the small restaurant.

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The Blue Lady offers one of Bedford’s most unique dining experiences – the restaurant is located inside a renovated bank. Bistro tables are wedged between rows of Ippolito Candy made by the owner, Jay, the former bank teller windows. In the back, a small table occupies the former bank vault. Meals are made to order with sandwiches for lunch and exquisite bagel sandwiches for breakfast.

If Azul looks like a service station, that’s because it was once upon a time. Today, the Tex-Mex restaurant features outdoor seating in front of the roll-up garage doors and a few tables inside. Visitors browse the menu hanging on the wall and pick a noodle or rice bowl filled with meat and veggies. The dinner is cooked fresh and served in plastic baskets.

In a charming former home, Town Kitchen & Provisions features one of the best menus in Bedford. Quirky names like Sir William, Romanian Nightmare, and Loretta Lynn fill out the menu but don’t worry, each item is explained. Friar Cluck was one of the best options – a breaded and fried chicken breast topped with slaw, crack mayo, and pickles served on a soft bun. Enjoy the meal inside the house’s various rooms with comfortable tables, or head outside to the deck in the back.

Liberty Station offers a chance to enjoy fantastic food while also taking in a bit of history. The restaurant is in the former train station – the same train station the Bedford Boys used to depart for World War II. The gorgeous interior features hardwood floors, large windows, and murals on the walls. Their menu features a vast array of appetizers, steaks, and sandwiches.