Town guide: Wheeling
Victorian charm, quaint attractions and soul-satisfying cuisine makes “the Friendly City” an idyllic weekend trip.
Puckish yet sophisticated, Later Alligator doesn’t take itself too seriously. But the fresh sandwiches, appetizers and salads have a flair you’d find at more expensive eateries. For instance, there’s the “Bindar Dundat” wrap: a curried chicken sandwich entwined with scallions, tomatoes, spinach and mango chutney yogurt.
There’s also the playful “Belt Buster,” a BBQ-and-coleslaw sandwich with “more pork than the last appropriations bill!” Vegetarians also have a taste in the game with equally imaginative wraps, zesty salads and sandwiches like “Mac West” — grilled garlic bread with mozzarella, pesto and tomato. Later Alligator even has crepes; order them savory or sweet.
Ye Old Alpha’s humorous, tacky ambience makes for an entertaining dining experience. Christmas lights loop around mounted deer heads and hooves, while plastic fish swim in pools along the wall.
Menu options run the gamut of casual family fare. Pick entrees like Philly cheesesteaks, club and chicken tender sandwiches, hearty steak dinners and gyros. If you have friends in tow, share grilled mesquite or chipotle wings. Order ‘em by the pound, along with any kind of sauce you can imagine. Even Mondays have perks, thanks to the Alpha’s extensive Mexican menu.
For “one of the 33 best burgers in America,” head to Avenue Eats. In 2015, the Thrillist food and travel company raved about the “Diner Burger.” It’s simple but delicious with sharp cheddar cheese, lettuce, pickle, special diner sauce and a fresh kaiser bun. But you won’t go wrong with the tangy Barbeque, Smoked Gouda or Brie & Pear patties, either.
Coleman’s Fish Market is a Wheeling highlight. Humble, affordable and unpretentious, this isn’t fine dining by any stretch of the imagination. But it’s worth going for their famous sandwich: fried and breaded white fish, caught between white or wheat bread. Served piping hot with cups of tartar sauce or your desired topping, it’s a simple but addictive lunch.
Other options include ready-to-go meals like chicken sandwiches, fries, chowder and soup. Most are well under the $4 range. While you’re there, explore the rest of the Victorian-era marketplace. You’ll see plenty of locals browsing the fresh seafood section for lump crab cakes, fancy salmon pinwheels and fresh fish fillets.
The Kruger Street Toy & Train Museum isn’t just for kids. The large collections of action figures, dolls and familiar childhood favorites appeal to adults, too. There’s a moving Lego train, an old Nickelodeon (despite its name, you’ll have to feed it a quarter) and an entire neighborhood of dollhouses. You’ll also meet up with nostalgic toys like Barbie, Rainbow Brite, Cabbage Patch Kids, vintage rubber dolls and classic Raggedy Ann and Andys. The museum even has a rich assortment of Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars, miniatures, military ships … all the delights of childhood!
The Good Zoo is one of West Virginia’s best animal attractions. From African wild dogs and meerkats to poison dart frogs and spectacled bears, it has a large selection of wild residents. You can even see 20 endangered species! Best of all, the animals are kept in spacious, attractive and clean habitats. And unlike many zoos, you can actually pet some friendly creatures. Sign up for an encounter with lemurs, red pandas and kangaroos!
If your idea of a good time involves concerts and plays, put The Capitol Theatre on your list. Built in 1928, it brims with extravagant Beaux Arts glamor; look for garlands, arched windows and scrolled cartouches. Celebrities like Loretta Lynn and Johnny Cash have performed on the 44-foot-wide stage, and top personalities still flock to West Virginia’s biggest playhouse. When you visit Wheeling, treat yourself to live music, a comedy skit or Broadway classic; the Capitol’s schedule is always full.
Centre Market, home of Coleman’s famous fish sandwiches, out dates West Virginia itself.
The Victorian-era mall contains 2 shopping sections; 1 partition, built in 1853, is the oldest cast-iron market in America. Today, you’ll find eateries, antique shops, salons, bakeries and cafes.
Kids especially like the SMART Centre Market. This little museum boasts minerals, rocks, telescopes and fascinating fossil replicas — like a terrifying megalodon shark jaw. When you’re done browsing the exhibits, get some homemade ice cream!
If you’re a human magpie, The Jeweled Bird will pull you in like a magnet. As a former 1930s church, the shop sparkles with stained glass windows and shiny things. Glittery, gaudy chandeliers hang from the ceiling and fountains gurgle in the background. You’ll also find a colorful array of jewelry, soap, scent and local arts and crafts.
Good Mansion Wines overflows with sophistication and variety, thanks to the owner’s Italian heritage. Dominick Paul Cerrone stocks his shelves with German, French and Spanish vino. As for Italian wine, you’ll find the largest selection in the area! Good Mansion has weekly tastings and themed events, too.
Want to pair your Old World bottle with a savory delicacy? Cerrone’s charcuterie has a rich assortment of fine cheeses, meat, gourmet olive oil and vinegar, pasta and European condiments. You’ll want to package these and save ‘em for later, though. That’s because Good Mansion’s Parisian chef makes flaky, buttery pastries and desserts every day.
The Paradox Bookstore is a reader’s treasure trove. Tom the owner has lovingly maintained the shop ever since he was 17, so expect decades’ worth of accumulated riches. Bookshelves crowd the walls like tapestries, and you’ll find every genre imaginable under Paradox’s little roof. Store hours are almost as varied as Tom’s books, but you’ll definitely want to come for that next paperback or rare find.
At Wheeling Park, old-fashioned pleasures abound. Since 1925, the sprawling attraction has collected art, scenery and venues over the decades. There’s a quaint rock garden, “Madonna of the Trail” statue and whimsical bandstand. Other attractions include an ice rink, 1920s golf course and lake. Board a pedal boat and journey across its placid surface! During summer, you can also watch live performances at the outdoor theater.
You can tour the city by foot or by bike, too. Thanks to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, 18 miles of paths are yours to explore! Hop on the Wheeling Heritage Trail System and observe barges and waterfowl. If you stick out the entire route, you’ll also come across an old, atmospheric tunnel.
Travelling with kids? Pull over at Oglebay Resort & Conference Center. Activities from horseback riding to putt putt will keep everybody content. The many golf courses are a major attraction, too. Swing your irons at the 2 championship greens, or perfect your aim at the driving range.
Anyone seeking serenity will surely find it at Oglebay, too. Wander scenic paths or lose yourself in Bissonnette Gardens. Brick lanes lead you along 16 acres of seasonal flower beds, shade trees and fountains. Oglebay’s spa is another relaxing destination, too. Sign up for massages, facials, manicures and pedicures!
Visiting in winter? Oglebay’s Ski Area guarantees hours of vigorous merriment. The snowmaker keeps precipitation going even when Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate, so bring your boots and snowboards! Don’t own any skis? Oglebay’s rental area will set you up nicely.
Victorian architecture isn’t just limited to frilly houses. The Wheeling Suspension Bridge, a venerable 1,307-foot-long structure, has ferried vehicles over the Ohio River since 1849. As you might imagine, it’s the oldest suspension span in America that’s still in use!
Passionate about history? Pay a visit to West Virginia Independence Hall, which witnessed the Mountain State’s creation. Now a museum, the lofty Italian Renaissance Revival building boasts an extensive collection of Civil War battle flags. You can also tour the courtroom and wander past offices stuffed with 19th-century decor and furniture.
The Oglebay Institute Glass Museum hoards more than 100 years’ worth of fragile history from the Ohio Valley. No matter your interests, you’ll surely be impressed by the enormous Sweeney Punch Bowl — the world’s largest piece of lead crystal at 5 feet tall and 225 pounds. Other highlights include hands-on workshops, artist demonstrations and early 19th-century glass.
Where to stay
What do General Grant, Marilyn Monroe, JFK, Woodrow Wilson and Teddy Roosevelt have in common? The McLure Hotel! This towering inn has seen a cast of American characters since its opening in 1851. Today, you can pick rooms of all sizes (including suites with kitchenettes) and even bring a small dog.
Oglebay Resort has a really unusual perk: “In-Room Encounters” with animals from the Good Zoo! Meet exotic critters like skunks, pythons, tortoises in your cottage or room.
Even if you don’t want to make friends with 4-legged beasts, there’s plenty of reasons to stay at Oglebay. The Wilson Lodge has modern, spacious rooms with TVs, Internet and coffee makers. You can also swim in an indoor pool, complete with attractive palms and potted plants. There’s also a sauna, Jacuzzi, kids’ wading area and fitness room.
Minutes away from Oglebay Resort is Bonnie Dwaine Bed & Breakfast in Glen Dale. This cosy Victorian house is crammed with antiques, period ambience and charm. Wake up to a candlelit breakfast before hitting the town.
Each room comes with a fireplace, private bath and TV. You’ll also have access to a laundry room, and the owner always has a stash of snacks and sodas. Guests rave about the innkeeper’s ample continental breakfast, which she prepares on weekends.