Almost Heaven:

Charleston, WV

Home sweet home, the beautiful riverbanks of Charleston, WV.

There’s no place like Charleston

By Suzannah Condit

It had been too long since I’d last seen my hometown of Charleston, West Virginia. When I decided to attend college in Colorado, I did so with that careless ease 18-year-olds are blessed with, not knowing that my future there would soon include a husband, Greg, and two kids, 9-year-old Iris and 7-year-old Spencer. It had been almost 10 years since I last saw the capital city and my parents were insistent that it was time for us to come to them for a change.

I wholeheartedly agreed—I missed my hometown, where the natural beauty is matched only by the vibrancy of the community. So, we took family road-trip, riding the curves of those West Virginia roads. Greg rolled down the windows to breathe in the smell of honeysuckle after last night’s rain.

“Mom, so this is where you grew up?” Iris asked, peeking over her copy of Wonder.

The beautiful riverbank of Charleston WV, with the capitol dome shining in the background.
Home sweet home, the beautiful riverbanks of Charleston, WV.

“Yes, indeed,” I smiled back at her as we approached the city, that iconic gold dome of the State Capitol glistening in the afternoon sun. In just a few short months, these lush trees would turn vibrant orange, red and yellow, making for postcard-perfect pictures.

On long car rides, our family plays “that’s my house,” calling out our favorites as we pass by. The kids had never seen anything like the Neo-Classic beauties and Doric columns that make up many of Charleston’s historic homes, and Iris and Spencer dissolved in giggles and shrieks as they lay claim to dozens of houses. But I stayed quiet, knowing that the best was yet to come.

There it was—home.

A classic red brick, English Tudor beauty, with my basketball hoop still standing in the driveway. My mom is an artist, my dad a (now retired) professor, who have both long claimed that their house is perfect. It’s close to the hubbub of downtown but with a large yard that has hosted countless parties and campouts over the years. After many hugs, kisses and exclamations of “Look how big you are!” we got settled in and visited late into the night.

A day of play

Science and fun collide at the Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences.

The next morning, we decided to take the kids to the Clay Center for the Arts & Sciences. In a beautiful building, the Clay Center for the Arts & Sciences is an art museum, discovery museum, planetarium, theater and performance hall all in one. The minute we walked in Iris and Spencer wanted to climb the towering Ashton Climbing Sculpture which rises several stories with places for onlookers to watch from each level.

Science and fun collide at the Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences as a little girl plays at the water station.
Science and fun collide at the Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences.

Their faces lit up as they led us from room to room checking out the hands-on exhibits and learning how water creates energy, how the body works, and how sound waves travel. They put on a play for us (their favorite part was opening and closing that red velvet curtain), created a stop-motion animated film, and built a rocket ship.

“Look,” my mom whispered to me. “They’re having so much fun they don’t even realize they’re learning!

When Iris begged me to sign her up for Clay Center activities like the watercolor class they were hosting later that month, it pained me to tell her we wouldn’t be here.

From puppet shows to climbing sculptures, there’s something to delight everyone.

A wild and wonderful adventure

Be it fall, winter, spring, or summer, Kanawha State Forest has something beautiful to offer.

We started the next day with a hike in Kanawha State Forest. This state park is practically in town, although it feels like you are far from civilization. Hiking is one of my favorite free things to do in Charleston, and my parents were in their zone, pointing out native birds, spiders and butterflies to the kids. At the end of the hike, we rolled up our pants and waded in the creek, using our nets to try to catch minnows and frogs. This was the stuff my childhood was made of—mud and adventure. It filled my heart with joy to see how much Iris and Spencer enjoyed this simple outing.

“I’m starving,” Spencer announced.

This is the place for beautiful nature and worthwhile hikes.

Taking in the Capital City

No matter what you’re looking for, you can probably find it at Capitol Market.

“I know just the place,” My dad replied. We piled into our cars and headed toward Capitol Market. West Virginia has a rich farming heritage and Capitol Market is just the place to go to experience—and taste—that firsthand. It’s a huge indoor/outdoor farmers market located in a historic train depot, shopping and dining destination open year-round. This is the place to go for locally grown fruits and veggies, meats, flowers, hot coffee, and decadent chocolates. With a wine and cheese shop, a sushi bar, and a boutique that features West-Virginia-made products like Blenko glassware, Fiestaware, JQ Dickinson Salt-Works, and kitchen utensils made from Appalachian hardwoods, there’s not much you can’t find at Capitol Market.

Racks of wine at The Wine Shop at Capitol Market in Charleston, WV.
No matter what you’re looking for, you can probably find it at Capitol Market.

We ate our lunch outside to enjoy the live music and watch as folks perused the rows of plants, ripe tomatoes, sweet peaches, and summer squash. Greg surprised me with a handful of wildflowers as he kissed me on the cheek.  

“For our queen of West Virginia,” he said. I smiled and wondered why we didn’t come here every summer. I could tell Greg was falling for this place, too.

Next, we took them to the West Virginia State Museum and Culture Center, on the grounds of the State Capitol. A state history museum may not jump to the front of your mind when thinking of things to do in Charleston with kids, but trust me on this one. This interactive museum features animatronics and video, bringing history to life decade by decade as you experience what life was like during the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the Mine Wars, and beyond.

History comes to life at the West Virginia State Museum and Culture Center.

Life is sweet

These cupcakes are almost too pretty to eat–almost.

I was eager to show off Charleston’s thriving music scene to Greg, so in the evening we headed to Haddad Riverfront Park. Boats and people gathered along the river for Live on the Levee, a free concert with rotating bands that happens throughout the summer. There was a good mix of college kids, families and couples—everyone wanted to be part of this vibrant atmosphere! An hour later it was time for dinner, and we opted for the nearby Adelphia Sports Bar & Grille’s patio. Our feast began with a stack of Greek nachos, followed by gyros and burgers and pastas. With barely enough room for dessert, we walked across the street for my tried-and-true favorite: Ellen’s Homemade Ice Cream. We ordered cones of espresso Oreo, black raspberry, mocha almond, and coconut.

“My favorite is Ellen’s pawpaw ice cream,” I said as I licked my spoon. “You can only get it during pawpaw season—late summer or early fall.”

“What’s a pawpaw?” Iris asked.

“They call it an Appalachian banana. It’s a native fruit that tastes like a banana, mango and cantaloupe all mixed together. It’s so good.”

“Then we’ll have to come back, Mom.”

I smiled in agreement.

Rows of colorful cupcakes at Rock City Cake Company in Charleston WV.
These cupcakes are almost too pretty to eat–almost.

As we walked back to the SUV, I was delighted by the hustle and bustle of the downtown area. So many hip-looking eateries and boutique shops had sprung up since I was last here and I was sorry we didn’t have the time to try them all. I was particularly tempted by the new Rock City Cake Company—their cupcakes looked almost too pretty to eat. A band was setting up for a concert at the bakery later that night, and Greg winked at me, knowing I would have loved to stay for more music.

That night, I found I couldn’t sleep. I hadn’t realized how much I missed this place, the people, and the scenery. Greg was awake, too.

“Your hometown is full of surprises,” he said. “This has been a great trip.”

“It has,” I said. “And the kids had a blast. Maybe it’s time to consider relocating to Charleston…We’d be close to family and so much outdoor recreation. Iris and Spencer could have the childhood we want for them—it’s such a tight-knit community.”

Greg squeezed my hand as we fell asleep.

We started house hunting the following week. Iris would get her watercolor class after all.

Find your family fun in Charleston, West Virginia