West Virginia Culture
When I told my friends and family that I was planning a trip to Huntington, West Virginia, for Labor Day weekend, most of them asked, “…why?”
Part of why I want so badly to see all 50 states is to absorb all the different cultures that make our country great. Up until this weekend, I had been all over Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, and I’d seen Ohio, but I’d never actually stopped in West Virginia.
The culture is a mix of southern and northeastern. As in, you won’t see the hundreds of barbecue and fried chicken restaurants that you see in Tennessee, but you also won’t find pizza on every corner like you will in the northeast. People say “y’all”, and we saw some dude selling corn on the side of the road, but it doesn’t quite feel like the south – it feels like the northeastern suburbs.
As far as the city of Huntington goes, it’s the second largest city in West Virginia, second only to the capital, Charleston. Part of me wishes that we had driven the extra hour from Nashville to Charleston, instead, as there’s more to do there, but experiencing the culture of Huntington was quite an adventure.
Note: We stayed at a very nice but affordable Holiday Inn Express in Barboursville, about 20 minutes outside of downtown, but the drive to everything was easy.
Huntington is truly a college town. Marshall University is here, and everywhere we went there were at least two or three people proudly wearing Marshall green. We parked on the street (free metered parking on weekends) and ate at Huntington Ale House. We picked it mainly because the menu includes several varieties of mac and cheese dishes. I went with a mac and cheese burger, and it was the best meal of the weekend.
Pullman square is a small section in downtown Huntington (which isn’t very big to begin with). It was a great post-dinner hang out on a Saturday night. We parked in a small garage around back (we would’ve walked from the restaurant but weren’t sold on the safety of the neighborhood). The square itself felt very safe, well-lit, and populated. There were college students and families alike wandering from store to store. We stopped at the bookstore – Empire Books and News – and may or may not have bought a few coloring books and a 2018 black cat calendar. It’s a cute book store. It’s pretty small, but it has a big discount book section. We finished out the night at Cold Stone Creamery.
Butter It Up is a quaint, semi-hidden little coffee shop that I don’t recommend for breakfast. Based on the reviews, I expected much better. My omelet was small, overcooked, and flavorless. My partner-in-crime’s french toast looked like four pieces of sandwich bread, a.k.a. lazily homemade (that said, he enjoyed it). I was equally disappointed in the coffee. Other reviews of this place make it seem like a real hit-or-miss, but I wouldn’t take my chances again. I’d rather stop at West Virginia chain Tudor’s for fast food breakfast or find an IHOP or Waffle House.
Right around the corner from Butter It Up is Harris Riverfront Park. It’s smaller and sketchier than what I hoped for, but it was pretty. It reminded me a bit of Smale Riverfront Park In Cincinnati, which may be because both have you looking at bridges that cross over the Ohio River. At any rate, it was a nice way to spend an hour walking back and forth and watching the ducks.
Immediately after leaving Harris Riverfront Park, we drove about 15 minutes over to Ritter Park (photos in the section below). It’s much larger and much more populated. We walked on one of the walking trails for a half hour or so and people-watched from a porch swing. There were LOTS of dogs – college students, dog walkers, and families filled the park.
Before we actually got to the park, though, we got a little lost and ended up on a beautiful, scenic drive through the suburban hills of Huntington. We saw GORGEOUS houses, and at the end of the road, we accidentally found the Huntington Museum of Art! It’s tucked away in the neighborhood and it has its own hiking trails, which I thought was awesome. We decided to kill an hour and a half or so at the art museum, oohing and aaahing at sculptures, paintings, glasswork, and an arboretum that included a monarch butterfly habitat. It was cheap and fairly small, but we saw some really cool things. I’ll admit that I get bored at most art museums, but I enjoyed this one.
The College Scene
After our park adventure, we were hungry again (Butter It Up was not very filling), so we headed over to Fat Patty’s for lunch. It was a bit similar to Huntington Ale House (where we had dinner the night before) but had even more of a college scene. It was close enough to the campus to where I imagine it’s a major spot for game nights and such. Plus, they have really good bar food. Our Bavarian Pretzels (complete with queso) were amazing. Super-soft pretzels, perfectly spiced melted cheese. I decided to keep it simple and had a chicken tender basket for my meal, and I definitely enjoyed it. We needed to head back to the hotel for a good hour long nap after walking all morning and then stuffing our faces, but we had big plans for that night. Kind of.
Don’t go to Camden Park. I won’t judge you if you do because we were curious too, but wow. The place is well over 100 years old, and it shows. I don’t think they’ve touched any of the rides in 100 years. Their biggest ride, a wooden roller coaster, looks like you could blow on it and knock it over – but there were still people riding it! Based on reviews, we knew most of this going in, but we just had to see it for ourselves. It was worth it for the laugh and the funnel cake.
The admission price was high, but we got half-off tickets because we didn’t show up until 6 PM. We didn’t ride any of the rides, since they all looked like death traps, but we did spend an extra $6 to play a painfully slow game of mini golf. It actually was a pretty good game of mini golf, I’m just impatient and there was a big and slow moving party in front of us. I also wish we didn’t have to pay after already paying an overpriced admission (regular price $22). Other than that, we just walked around and prayed for the people who did decide to risk their lives on the rides. The funnel cake was actually really good, and the soft pretzel I had could’ve been worse.
The main reason we went that Sunday night (aside from our curiosity) was the Labor Day fireworks display, but we ran out of things to do about two hours before the display was scheduled to start. It’s really like being at a small state or county fair, with rides that look like they’re going to crumble but funnel cake that makes it all worth it.
Huntington is great if you’re curious or don’t know how else to spend your weekend, but it’s not really a tourist town. It’s fun if you know someone attending Marshall University, or if you’re visiting the capital city of Charleston and feel like driving 45 minutes to see something else. The bars were cool, and the lifestyle is easy, but chances are I won’t find myself back there.
I did miss out on seeing Heritage Farm, as it was closed for the Labor Day holiday, and I suppose we missed out on some hiking trails, but I don’t know that I’d make a trip back just for that.
Part of the fun of the trip was the drive there and back from Nashville. We stopped in Cave City, KY, both times, but that’s a whole blog for another week. Keep checking back for stories about caves, dinosaurs, and petting kangaroos.