Almost Heaven

23 almost heaven logoLinda Burton posting from Charleston, West Virginia – Looks like I’m stuck with that John Denver tune. “Almost Heaven” seems to be a popular phrase here in Charleston; it appears on mugs and tee-shirts and postcards; it’s used in business names for everything from auto repair to home inspection to hot dogs. Charleston is cozy; there’s just enough room at the bottom of the mountains for the Kanawha River, the Turnpike, and 51,400 people (2010 US Census). Plus all the amenities and necessities that make it a heavenly place to live. The sun was shining this morning; I headed out for my introductory overview drive. There’s the Kanawha River; the four-lane Boulevard let me drive alongside for block after block; there’s the capitol, right on the 23 brick houseriverbank, with spacious grounds and a gleaming golden dome. I drove past beautiful historic homes facing the river, and attractions that begged me to come back; families were lined up outside the Clay Center, and traffic was brisk near the West Virginia State Museum. I stopped at First Watch, that “daytime café that’s open every day” for some chicken hash 23 yellowwith zucchini and red peppers, and potatoes, of course; and studied the Visitors Guide with a pot of coffee at hand. A blue-eyed baby caught the corner of my eye; she seriously chewed on a piece of toast under the eyes of doting parents, out for their Almost Heaven Saturday. The Visitors Guide, hmm, where do I start? There’s a welcome from Mayor Danny Jones; he tells about the family-friendly city (yes!), the walkable community, the riverfront. There’s a welcome from the Charleston CVB, explaining the Guide; and there’s a list of Twelve Must Sees. So there’s the plan.

One. The West Virginia State Capitol, 1900 Kanawha Boulevard East. Constructed in three 23 capitol lincolnstages between 1924-1932; the top of the magnificent gilded gold dome is 293 feet; on the grounds are the Governor’s Mansion, the Culture Center, and other landmarks, including a bronze statue of Abraham Lincoln. West Virginia seceded from the Confederacy and became a state June 20, 1863 by a proclamation signed by Lincoln. Tours of the capitol available except Sundays, 304-558-4839,

Two. The West Virginia State Museum and Culture Center, 1900 Kanawha Boulevard East. The state’s history, culture, art, paleontology, archaeology, and geology are featured here; a prehistoric coal forest, early western settlement, present-day wonders. The journey is an interactive path suitable for all ages. The State Archives and Collections and a library for genealogical research are here too. Free, closed Mondays. 304-558-0220,

Three. The Governor’s Mansion, 1716 Kanawha Boulevard. The 30-room mansion is home to the governor and first lady; it was completed in 1925 and has welcomed national and global dignitaries. The foyer’s checkerboard floor is black Belgium and white Tennessee marble; the ballroom’s white marble mantle is from an old Irish castle. Tours by reservation Thursday and Friday mornings. 304-558-3588,

23 riverfront parkFour. Haddad Riverfront Park, 700 Kanawha Boulevard. A retractable canopy over 2,500 seats; views of the river and downtown Charleston. The covered stage hosts free concerts and events; Live on the Levee, Charlie West Blues Fest, and the symphony. Boaters can dock at the edge. 304-348-6860.

Five. Heritage Towers Museum, 612 Virginia Street East. American Heritage from life in West Africa to travel along Underground Railroad trails; also the history of African American coal miners. A collection of galleries tells the story; educational and cultural reflections of time. 304-343-3250,

Six. Clay Center for the Arts & Sciences, 1 Clay Square. A 240,000-square-foot facility featuring art exhibits, science galleries, live performances; home to West Virginia 23 clay centerSymphony. The Avampato Discovery Museum has two floors of interactive exhibits, and ElectricSky Theater, which shows large format films and planetarium shows on a 61-foot dome. 304-561-3570,

Seven. Magic Island Park, 101 Kanawha Boulevard West. A flat five-acre island with walking trail and beach volleyball courts; the park hosts SportsFEST, WV Games, family movie nights. More popular in summer months but open year-round. 304-348-6860.

Eight. The Spirit of West Virginia. This is a seasonal attraction which I won’t get to use; however it’s good to know it’s there; sightseeing cruises on this sternwheeler are ideal for families, business groups, and weddings. 304-419-2497,

23 power ballNine. Appalachian Power Park, 601 Morris Street. The West Virginia Power plays here, a Class A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates; the Park has a Party Deck which can be used for parties and gatherings and it hosts concerts and other events when baseball isn’t going on. 304-344-2287,

Ten. Charleston Civic Center, Little Theater, and Municipal Auditorium, 200 Civic Center Drive. The Hunting and Fishing Show, the Auto Show, Sports Show, Taste of Charleston, Arts & Crafts Fair; all kinds of fairs and events here; Little Theater and Light Opera Guild too. 304-345-1500,

Eleven. East End. The oldest and most diverse neighborhood; restaurants, nightclubs, 23 bridge river skylinethat funky urban style; it’s where the State Capitol and State Museum are; in the spring (sorry I’ll miss it) you can tour 25 gardens; there’s an annual East End Yard Sale too.

Twelve. Shopping. Charleston Town Center Mall, 3000 Charleston Town Center. 130 stores on three floors, American Eagle to Ann Taylor; a food court and street-level restaurants; Starbucks in the center and parking garages all around. 304-345-9525, . Renaissance Village, downtown, specialty shops and boutiques in the city’s historic buildings; dining and art galleries too.

That’s a beginning, watch for the outdoorsy stuff and the city’s freebies in later posts. I’ll bet that little blue-eyed baby gets to do something new every weekend; her parents were holding hands as they exited the restaurant.