ENTERTAINMENT EXPLORER: Hidden Gems in Hip, Historic Charleston, West Virginia

Alisa Bailey, Entertainment Explorer

With unique food, art, recreation and music, a visit to Charleston, West Virginia, is the Mountain State’s best kept secret. The Capital City with small-town charm, Charleston harbors many hidden gems that only locals know about but are more than happy to share.

Who would think to begin their visit to Charleston at a cemetery? On the National Register of Historic Places and perched atop the hillside, Springhill Cemetery, Park and Arboretum offers the best views of the city as well as historic and unique statuary. Grave markers read like a who’s who of Charleston’s history and reflect the street names and points of interest that are a major part of the city still today. Charlestonians also know the cemetery for its extensive paved roads and walkways —perfect for hiking and biking.

Tucked away downtown in the basement of Taylor Books Annex Gallery, a 29-seat micro theater screens indie films that can’t be seen at mainstream multiplexes. Appropriately named the Underground Cinema, this tiny spot is so popular advance tickets are recommended.  And yes, there’s popcorn!

You must drive through a gated community to get to this mountaintop restaurant with stunning views of the River City, but Adventures Bar & Grill will gladly give you the passcode to get into the Eagle View complex. While it boasts an Impressive wine list and eclectic menu, most locals opt for one of the delicious burgers—like the Big Greek!

Want to see a cool band in a barber shop, tee shirt shop or vintage record store? Travel to the Elk City neighborhood on Charleston’s West Side, home to Bully Trap Barber Shop, Kin Ship Goods and Elk City Records. Set in historic buildings, these businesses periodically feature a variety of local artists alongside their unique products and services. Swing round to Gonzoburger and take in the extraordinary array of local art while enjoying a crafted burger and adult beverage.

Unassuming cinderblock building on the outside, you can rub elbows with lawmakers, government employees, reporters and laid-back locals at the Red Carpet Lounge in Charleston’s Historic East End. Just down the street you can catch live music every night at the Empty Glass. Some say, “dive bar,” but don’t let this establishment’s rough-around-the-edges atmosphere fool you. More award-winning regional and national artists have played this venue than any other in the city.

First-timers to downtown Charleston are often impressed by the historic and magnificent architecture across the river in South Hills. What they may not know is that the Bridge Road Shops boast some of the city’s best boutique shopping. Independently owned stores like Yarid’s, Geraniums and Eclectics are interspersed with great food options like Lola’s Pizza and South Hills Market & Café.

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Alisa Bailey has traveled the world and led state tourism efforts in both West Virginia and Virginia, but her love of Charleston had her returning home to head up the Charleston Convention & Visitors Bureau. She loves off-the-beaten path restaurants, shops and attractions, she calls “hidden gems,” to share with visitors to Hip, Historic…Almost Heaven Charleston.

This post was last updated on March 17, 2022