Charleston (West Virginia)



The West Virginia State Capitol

Charleston, established in 1794, is the state capital of West Virginia. With a population of about 49,000 in 2020, Charleston is the largest city in West Virginia. It's at the junction of Interstates 77, 79, and 64, as well as the confluence of the Elk and Kanawha Rivers, the latter of which flows prominently through the city.

Understand[edit]

Flowing west from New River Gorge National Park an hour's drive east of Charleston, the gorge of the New River gets wider and shallower after the New River meets the Gauley River to become the Kanawha River 37 miles east of downtown Charleston. It is in this steep valley where downtown Charleston is sandwiched in the narrow strips of flat land between river and cliff, an appropriately striking setting for the capital of the 'Mountain State', with striking views of the downtown skyline while driving in from every direction. The steep hillsides covered with greenery give Charleston a laid-back, lush atmosphere especially in summer. These steep hillsides make development difficult and costly, so Charleston has a much more dense, urban character than one may expect for a metropolitan area of roughly 250,000.

Downtown skyline

Its location an hour west of New River Gorge National Park makes it the closest large city to the park, putting Charleston in proximity of numerous outdoor recreational attractions; it's also a major hub of commerce for the vast rural southern coalfields regions of West Virginia, as well as the sparsely populated rural lands and cute tiny towns to the north, and Mountain Lakes region to the northeast.

Charleston has experienced noticeable population decline through the second half of the 20th century and into the 21st, as the United States has de-industrialized, and Charleston has some resemblances to a rust belt city despite being farther south. It is most similar in culture and architecture to its sister city, Huntington, along the banks of the Ohio River, 50 minutes to the west along I-64. Together, they make a combined metropolitan area of around 650,000; thus making the combined Charleston-Huntington area the largest metropolitan area for several hours drive in every direction.

Generally off the tourist radar, Charleston has much to offer the curious traveler, and prices tend to be relatively affordable compared to larger and more touristy cities and towns.

Neighborhoods[edit]

  • Downtown: Central Business District. Most shops and restaurants are on or near Capitol St.
  • East End: Riverfront mansions, the West Virginia State Capitol complex, houses with porches. Business district along Washington St.
  • West Side: Across the Elk River from downtown, contains the Elk City business district, blocks of modest homes.
  • South Hills: Across the Kanawha River from downtown, very steep and windy streets with impressive homes.
  • Kanawha City: On the south side of the Kanawha River, southeast of the east end. Many large riverfront mansions.
  • Edgewood: Larger older homes in the hills north of the West Side
  • Oakridge/Greenbrier: 1950s-70s vintage suburbs in the hills north of downtown.

Suburbs[edit]

  • South Charleston: Located west of the City of Charleston
    • Downtown South Charleston: A vibrant neighborhood business district around the Criel Mound, older homes, industrial facilities.
    • Spring Hill: Business district along MacCorkle Ave., tidy older suburban homes.
  • Mink Shoals/Big Chimney/Pinch/Elkview: Listed as progressively farther from downtown, this chain of unincorporated suburbs following the Elk River upstream from downtown along I-79 and US-119 is mostly residential and quiet.
  • Dunbar: Older suburban homes, and a downtown business district that has seen better days and been the subject of several unfortunate urban renewal schemes.
  • Institute: Home of West Virginia State University
  • St.Albans: A small downtown business district on the Coal River, a mix of older suburban homes and 1950's-60's vintage suburbs.
  • Cross Lanes: Big box retail, suburban homes mostly built from the '50's- '80s.
  • Nitro: WW1-era industrial suburb
  • Sissonville: Spread-out unincorporated suburb north of the city limits on I-77.
  • Teays Valley: newer suburban subdivisions of mcmansions and big box retail sprawling along I-64 west.
  • Hurricane: newer suburban subdivisions of mcmansions and big box retail sprawling along I-64 west.
  • Eastern Kanawha County: A very industrial region along the Kanawha River east of the Kanawha City neighborhood, this collection of riverside neighborhoods and towns has a mix of some very economically depressed pockets and some well-maintained neighborhoods. Urban development roughly peters out to picturesque smaller towns as one approaches the county line.

Get in[edit]

Charleston is accessible by three interstates - I-77 goes from Parkersburg in the northwest to Beckley and Bluefield in the south; I-64 goes from Huntington in the west to Beckley and Lewisburg in the southeast; and I-79 begins in Charleston and continues to Morgantown in the northeast. I-64 and I-77 run together along the West Virginia Turnpike, a toll road, from the far eastern end of Charleston to Beckley, and the Turnpike continues as I-77 to Princeton, near the state border with Virginia. However, tolls are not collected on the Turnpike in the immediate vicinity of Charleston; the nearest toll barrier is about 17 miles (27 km) south of downtown Charleston. US-60 and US-119 are the major US highways through Charleston. US-60 mostly parallels I-64 in West Virginia, except in the Beckley and New River Gorge National Park area to the east of Charleston, where US-60 stays well to the north of I-64. US-119 continues as a four-lane highway to the south, providing access to the towns of Madison, Logan and Williamson in the rugged coalfields of southern West Virginia and into Eastern Kentucky, connecting with US-23 in Pikeville, KY, 2 hours away. US-35 begins in Charleston's western suburb of Teays Valley at an intersection with US-60, crosses I-64, and follows the Kanawha River northwest as a four lane highway to Point Pleasant, and into southeastern Ohio, allowing access to the Hocking Hills region of Ohio and Columbus (2.5 hours away), and continuing directly to Dayton.

By plane[edit]

By train[edit]

See also: Rail travel in the United States

Get around[edit]

Map
Map of Charleston (West Virginia)

Most of Charleston's urban development is built along the banks of the Kanawha River in a linear fashion; thus, from the center of downtown, one can find 1960's-vintage suburbs within a 15 minute drive into the hills, but 30 minutes away along the river are also old industrial suburbs with housing stock as old as in the city center. I-64 crosses the Charleston area from east to west, roughly parallel to US-60 and the Kanawha River, crossing the river on 4 separate occasions until both highways deviate toward the west to the suburbs of Teays Valley and Hurricane, and eventually the Huntington metropolitan area. MacCorkle Ave. follows the south bank of the Kanawha River through most of the Charleston area, US-60 follows MacCorkle Ave. east until after South Charleston where it deviates, crossing the Patrick Street Bridge to the north side of the Kanawha River, where it continues east through downtown and eventually through the Kanawha Valley towards New River Gorge National Park.

The South Side Bridge connects Dickinson Street downtown with MacCorkle Ave. via Ferry St and Thayer St, as well as to Loudon Heights Rd. and Bridge Rd. towards the Bridge Rd. business district in the South Hills. The southbound Kaufman Memorial Bridge (35th St) and northbound Bob Basil Memorial Bridge (36th St) connect the East End neighborhood and I-64/77 with the Kanawha City neighborhood. (Access to the bridges from I-64/77 westbound requires exiting at exit 97 and following Kanawha Blvd to a right turn on Chesapeake Av. and right on Washington St; getting on I-64/77 eastbound requires taking the exit to Washington Street from the bridge, and then turning left on Chesapeake Av. and left on Kanawha Blvd, following until the on-ramp to I-64/77.) Other useful bridges include in the western suburbs: the Dunbar Bridge connecting the suburb of Dunbar on the north side of the Kanawha River to the Spring Hill neighborhood of South Charleston; and the Saint Albans Bridge, connecting the suburb of Saint Albans on the south side of the Kanawha River with the suburb of Nitro on the north side; and in the far eastern suburbs: the Admiral TJ Lopez Bridge connects US-60 on the north side of the Kanawha River with I-64/77 on the south side of the river, this is the last exit before the first toll plaza on the turnpike.

Charleston can have tight streets, sharp corners and steep hills, the downtown street grid is not especially rigid, and consists of many sometimes-shifting one-way streets. Important turn offs can be poorly signed, and certain maneuvers can seem unintuitive or directionally backward, owing to the engineering needed to construct highway infrastructure in steep terrain.

In Charleston, as is the case in general with West Virginia, drivers tend to strictly follow the 'autobahn rule' of staying right, passing left while on multi-lane and interstate highways; speed limits and curve warning speeds are generally set appropriately for the road, and following them as posted is advised, especially the first time driving in the area.

See[edit]

  • Clay Center
    1 West Virginia State Capitol, 1900 Kanawha Boulevard E, +1 304 558-4839. M-Sa 9AM-7PM, Su noon-7PM. Guided tours available M-F 9AM-3:30PM. The largest state capitol dome in the country, covered in 23-karat gold leaf. The complex also contains the Culture Center, the Governor's Mansion and the Holly Grove Mansion, as well as many historical statues on the grounds. West Virginia State Capitol (Q2920261) on Wikidata West Virginia State Capitol on Wikipedia
  • 2 The Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences, 300 Leon Sullivan Way, +1 304 561-3575. W-Sa 10AM-5PM, Su noon-5PM. Two floors of interactive science exhibits, an art gallery, and giant-screen films and planetarium shows in the ElectricSky domed theater. Museum $9, add Planetarium Show $4. Clay Center (Q5129847) on Wikidata Clay Center (West Virginia) on Wikipedia
  • 3 West Virginia State Museum (West Virginia Culture Center), 1900 Kanawha Boulevard East, +1 304 558-0220. M-Th 9AM-8PM, F Sa 9AM-6PM, Su noon-6PM. Three floors of exhibition space in the West Virginia State Museum, and research materials housed in the State Archives library. Free. West Virginia Culture Museum (Q111352227) on Wikidata
  • Appalachian Power Park
    4 West Virginia Power, Appalachian Power Park, +1 304-344-BATS (2287). The local baseball team, a Class A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Games played from April through September. Tickets are $7 for one game, up to $490 for a season pass. Appalachian Power Park (Q4780853) on Wikidata Appalachian Power Park on Wikipedia
  • 5 Craik-Patton House, +1 304 925-5341. Free. Craik-Patton House (Q5181774) on Wikidata Craik-Patton House on Wikipedia
  • Criel Mound
    6 Criel Mound, 301 7th Av. (at the center of the South Charleston business district). The second-largest native american burial mound in the state. From the top, views of the surrounding neighborhoods, river and industrial facilities. Criel Mound (Q5185117) on Wikidata Criel Mound on Wikipedia
  • 7 J.Q. Dickinson Salt-Works, 4797 Midland Dr. Locally made, world-famous salt. Tours available.

Do[edit]

The MacCorkle Mansion

Charleston is home to Kanawha State Forest a 9,300 acres (3,800 hectares) recreation area located near the community of Loudendale, West Virginia. There are many scenic walking, hiking, biking, and riding trails in the state forest. There is also an outdoor pool that is open in the summer, various camp sites, a shooting range, a small lake for fishing, and stables. Hunting and fishing are allowed in-season. Picnic shelters are available throughout the park and can be rented for parties. There are led walks at various times of the year, information on which is available on the website. Kanawha State Forest hosts an annual trail run called the "Dirty Dog 15K".

There are also various parks throughout the city such as Magic Island, a nice park located at the confluence of the Elk and Kanawha rivers in The City of Charleston's West Side area which is a favorite haunt for runners, volleyball players, and frisbee lovers. It has a walking track, sand volleyball court, and picnic areas. Coonskin Park, accessible from the Mink Shoals exit from I-79, features a golf course, athletic facilities and a small pond. Wine Cellar Park on Dutch Hollow Rd in Dunbar has its namesake ruin of a wine cellar, as well as a small man-made lake. Ridenour Park in Nitro also has a man-made lake. Cato Park in Charleston's Edgewood neighborhood has walking trails and athletic facilities.

Kanawha Blvd features a riverfront walking path its entire length through the city center, from the Kaufman Memorial Bridge in the East End to the Patrick Street Bridge in the West End.

A stones throw from downtown, in Charleston's South Hills, the Carriage Trail is a beautiful and historical trail that leads to former Governor William MacCorkle's hilltop mansion, the former site of the Sunrise Science Museum. At the bottom of the trail lies the burial ground of two Confederate spies executed by Union troops in 1863.

Learn[edit]

The city also has one university within its limits, and a second is in an unincorporated community about 8 miles (13 km) west of downtown. A two-year community college moved from the second university to a campus about 4 miles (6.5 km) from downtown in the separate city of South Charleston, and merged with another community college located about 30 miles upriver in Montgomery.

  • 1 University of Charleston, 2300 MacCorkle Avenue SE, +1 304-357-4750, toll-free: +1 800-995-GO-UC (46-82) (4682). A private, co-educational, residential university founded in 1888, offering baccalaureate degrees in 29 fields, associate degrees in 5 fields, and master's degrees in business administration and human resource management. University of Charleston (Q117251) on Wikidata University of Charleston on Wikipedia
  • 2 West Virginia State University (WV Route 25, Institute), toll-free: +1 800-987-2112. A public coeducational university founded in 1891 for the state's African American community. Following the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954, it transformed from a primarily residential black college to a predominantly commuter college with a heavily white student body, although its administration remains heavily African American to this day. "State", as the school is locally called, offers about 70 different bachelor's degrees in 20 different departments, plus master's degrees in biotechnology and media studies. West Virginia State University (Q7986919) on Wikidata West Virginia State University on Wikipedia
  • 3 BridgeValley Community and Technical College, 2001 Union Carbide Drive, South Charleston, +1 304-205-6700. A public two-year college formed in 2014 by the merger of Kanawha Valley and Bridgemont Community and Technical Colleges (respectively in South Charleston and Montgomery). Both campuses had started as community colleges associated with four-year schools—KVCTC with State and Bridgemont with WVU Tech (originally the West Virginia Institute of Technology)—but were separated from the four-year schools early in the 21st century (WVU Tech has since moved its four-year campus to Beckley). Offers over 40 associate's degree programs and nearly 20 certificate programs. The South Charleston campus is at a large office park that had been a major R&D facility for chemical manufacturer Union Carbide until being largely abandoned after that company was bought by Dow Chemical. Alternate location 619 S. 2nd Avenue, Montgomery, +1 304-205-6600 BridgeValley Community and Technical College (Q6360819) on Wikidata BridgeValley Community and Technical College on Wikipedia

Buy[edit]

Downtown Charleston
  • 1 Capitol Market, 800 Smith St (at the top of Capitol St). Housed in a repurposed train depot, features several permanent indoor stalls, as well as one of the largest seasonal outdoor markets in the state. A great place for local fruits, vegetables, flowers, and souvenirs.
  • 2 Taylor Books, 226 Capitol St. Well-known bookstore downtown, also features a small art gallery.
  • 3 Charleston Town Center Mall, 3000 Charleston Town Center, +1 304 345-9525. M-Sa 10AM-9PM, Su 12:30PM-6PM. 130 specialty stores, three major department stores, Picnic Place and specialty restaurants, and an atrium with a three-story waterfall and extensive greenery. Charleston Town Center (Q5084190) on Wikidata Charleston Town Center on Wikipedia
  • Across the Elk River and I-64 from downtown, the Elk City business district in the west end: 4 Elk City Records, 311 W Washington St.. 5 The Bullock Distillery, 121 W Washington St. 6 Elk City Cycles, 708 Bigley Av. #B.
  • Southridge, about 4 miles/6.5 km southwest of downtown along US 119 (locally known as "Corridor G", its designation in the Appalachian Development Highways System), is a large auto-oriented area developed since the mid-1990s. Split almost 50-50 between Charleston and South Charleston, it consists of four adjoining centers along Corridor G—The Shops at Trace Fork and Dudley Farms Plaza on the north side, and Southridge Center and The Terrace at Southridge Centre on the south side. Consists mainly of "big box" stores, with the usual array of fast-food and chain restaurants.
  • The Kanawha City neighborhood features a long strip of businesses, grocery stores and restaurants along its length of MacCorkle Avenue, including 2 of Charleston's international grocery stores: 7 Spice of Life, 3808 MacCorkle Av. SE. International spices and groceries and 8 Pacific International Market, 5304 MacCorkle Av. SE. International spices and groceries. 9 Budget Tapes & Records, 3708 MacCorkle Av. SE. Used records, etc. with a hippie vibe
  • The independent city of South Charleston features a cute, compact downtown business district around the Criel Mound, including the largest east asian grocery store in this part of the state: 10 New Asian Market, 226 7th Av. South Charleston.
  • The grocery store chains in the area are: large regional chains Kroger, Piggly Wiggly, and Huntington-based Foodfair, local Walmart locations have a large grocery section, and discount grocers are Aldi and Save-a-Lot.

Eat[edit]

Although it isn't exactly a capital of cuisine, Charleston is the capital of cuisine for West Virginia, with a variety of options catering to different tastes and budgets. One of the best things about eating here is that there are very few tourist traps, since major tourism in Charleston has not yet caught on. Unfortunately, the lack of tourism also means that the restaurants can be generic; chains like T.G.I. Friday's, Outback, Olive Garden, and Red Lobster are common. There are, however, some more unique local eateries:

Budget[edit]

  • Rice Bowl, 121 Goff Mountain Road, +1 304 776-6888. Daily 11:30AM-10PM. In Cross Lanes. Chinese.
  • 1 Ellen's Homemade Ice Cream, 225 Capitol Street, +1 304 343-6488. Has various flavors, including new weekly sorbet and ice cream flavors. This shop also sells coffee and various lunch foods including soups and several vegetarian dishes.
  • 2 Tudor's Biscuit World, 1506 Washington St E, +1 304-346-2008. 5:30AM-3PM. Local counter-serve chain featuring signature biscuits & other American classics from breakfast to dinner. Another location is located at 217 Lee St West.
  • 3 Chow Thai, 426 1/2 B Shrewsbury St, +1 681-265-3800. 11:30AM-6PM. A limited menu of Thai classics & some updated items, served at a counter in a simple setting.
  • 4 Super Weenie, 805 Quarrier Street. 11AM-3PM. Restaurant that specializes in hotdogs and artisan sausages including traditional West Virginia hotdogs.
  • 5 Swiftwater Cafe, 405 Capitol St #105, +1 304-342-2443. M-F 7AM - 2PM. Laid-back diner serving up classic daytime eats, including eggs, bacon, hot dogs, sandwiches, wraps, & salads.
  • 6 Elephant Thai, 228 7th Ave. Thai classics, well-executed with fresh ingredients.
  • 7 Rollin Smoke BBQ, 4008 Pennsylvania Ave (take either the Mink Shoals or Big Chimney exit from I-79). BBQ served overlooking the Elk River.
  • 8 Sitar of India, 702 Lee St. E.. Downtown eatery with classic punjabi-american dishes.
  • 9 Yen's Sandwiches, 606 D St. Sandwich shop serving Vietnamese banh mi and bubble tea, other limited menu options.
  • 10 Pho Vinh Long, 601 D St.. Vietnamese classics, including phở.
  • 11 Black Sheep, 702 Quarrier St.. The Charleston location of a Huntington institution, with quirky fusion burritos and locally brewed beer.
  • 12 Smokehouse, 1549 W Washington St.. Old-school neighborhood-style restaurant.
  • 13 Dem 2 Brothers And A Grill BBQ, 423 Virginia St W. Well-known, well-regarded staple for barbecue; also can be found as a food truck at local festivals.
  • 14 Barkadas Restaurant, 100 Cantley Dr. Filipino-American fusion.
  • 15 King Kabab, 4860 MacCorkle Av. SW, South Charleston. Mediterranean kabab in the Spring Hill neighborhood of South Charleston.
  • 16 Vinny's Pizzeria, 5006 MacCorkle Av SE. Pizza and more
  • 17 Pepperoni Grill, 4002 MacCorkle Ave. SE. Pizzeria
  • 18 Guadalajara Modern Mexican, 3901 9th St. Nitro.
  • 19 Katherine's Cafe, 4 Bank St. Nitro. Excellent old-school neighborhood restaurant, famous for their burgers.

Mid-range[edit]

  • 20 Leonoro's Spaghetti House, 1507 Washington Street, +1 304 343-1851. M-Th 11AM-8:30PM, F 11AM-9PM, Sa 3PM-9PM.
  • Fresh Seafood Co. Market & Restaurant, 6230 MacCorkle Avenue, +1 304-768-9728. M-Sa 10:30AM-10PM, Su noon-8PM. In St. Albans; Capitol Market (+1 304-343-3134) M-Sa 9AM-6PM, Su noon-5PM.
  • Tidewater Grill, 1060 Charleston Town Ctr (at the edge of the Charleston Town Center Mall), +1 304 345-2620. Serves seafood and pasta.
  • Kaifu Japanese Cuisine & Sushi Bar, 150 Court St, +1 304 344-0500. Opposite the mall, walking distance from the downtown hotels.
  • 21 Lola's Pizza, 1038 Bridge Rd, +1 25314 304 343-5652. In South Hills.
  • 22 Rio De Grill Brazilian Steakhouse, 3600 MacCorkle Ave SE, +1 304-926-5555. Tu-Su 11AM-. Brazilian steakhouse.
  • 23 Nawab Fine Indian Cuisine, 200 35th St SE, +1 681-265-9777. 11AM-9PM. Indian restaurant which also offers delivery.
  • 24 Los Amigos Mexican Restaurant, 2911 7th Ave, +1 304-205-6353. 11AM-10PM.
  • 25 Karubee's Jamaican Restaurant, 714 Lee St. Authentic Jamaican classics in an unassuming downtown storefront.

Splurge[edit]

  • 26 Joe Fazio's, 1008 Bullitt St, +1 304-344-3071. Authentic Italian food, with delicious steak and pasta options and a good wine selection. Reservations are recommended but not necessary.
  • 27 1010 Bridge, 1010 Bridge Rd. Fine dining, reservations recommended

Other[edit]

  • 28 Charleston Bread, 601 Capitol St. Artisanal breads made fresh daily.
  • 29 Loopy Leaf, 700 Virginia St E. Vegan restaurant.
  • 30 Appalachian Tea, 613 Ohio Av. Tea house.
  • 31 Mea Cuppa Coffee Lounge, 715 Bigley Av..
  • 32 Daily Dose Cafe, 5206 1/2 MacCorkle Ave. SE.

Drink[edit]

Sleep[edit]

Connect[edit]

Go next[edit]

  • Huntington is about 1 hour west on I-64.
  • Beckley is about 1 hour south on I-77/64 southeast.
  • New River Gorge National Park and Preserve is 1 hour east on US-60 or I-64/77 southeast, anchored by the towns of Fayetteville, Beckley and Hinton.
  • Fayetteville Small town famous for outdoor recreation, anchors the north end of the national park
  • Hinton Small town at the bottom of the New River Gorge, anchors the south end of the national park.
  • Summersville Summersville Lake is the largest in West Virginia, half an hour north of Fayetteville. 1.5 hours east from Charleston.
  • Logan 1 hour south on US-119. A regional large coal mining town.
  • Sutton 1 hour northeast on I-79. A tiny, picturesque town near a locally popular lake.
  • Spencer about 1 hour north on US-119, the West Virginia Black Walnut Festival is held here.
  • Parkersburg is about 1.5 hours north on I-77.
  • Weston is about 1.5 hours northeast on I-79.
Routes through Charleston
CincinnatiHuntington  W  E  White Sulphur SpringsWashington, D.C.
LexingtonHurricane  W  S  BeckleyCharlottesville
CantonParkersburg ← Jct W E  N  S  BeckleyWytheville
MorgantownSutton  N  S  Merges into
LexingtonHurricane  W  E  → Jct S NLewisburgAmherst


This city travel guide to Charleston is a usable article. It has information on how to get there and on restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please feel free to improve it by editing the page.