One of our favorite things to do when we travel, whether it’s internationally or as a quick day trip, is to scout out characteristics that make the location unique. We love to learn about local traditions that make a place special; when you learn about the heritage of a place and its people you can build a true connection with it, and its in that space that travel can truly change you. For us, this is especially true in Virginia; the more we learn about its rich history, the more it feels like home to us.
One part of Virginia that we really hadn’t explored until recently is the southeastern region. This part of the state is especially famous for gourmet peanuts, and their tradition of peanut farming goes back more than 150 years.
We originally had big plans for the last week of January. January marked our 10 year wedding anniversary and my 40th birthday, so we hoped to spend some vacation time overseas for a once-in-a-lifetime trip to mark both milestones. At one point, we were making plans to visit places like Perth, Australia or Iguazu Falls in South America, and we also considered returning to Bulgaria to see the Kukeri Festival, which usually falls on or around my birthday every year. All those plans were put on hold when the world shut down. We’ll still make those trips someday, but the cancelled vacations from pandemic travel restrictions created an opening in our late-January plans. That was when we discovered the Salty Southern Route and began to research some of the fun things we could do in Virginia Peanut Country.
In the snack world, peanuts don’t necessarily get the credit they deserve. They star in the classic PB&J (although Stephanie’s Boston roots lead us to enjoy fluffernutters more often), and we’ve enjoyed treats like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups at Hershey Chocolate World (and, of course, on our couch). We had a terrific time learning about what makes Virginia peanuts special, and if you find yourself in the Old Dominion we think you’ll enjoy it, too!
A Very (Very) Brief Introduction to Virginia Peanuts
Peanuts are one of the most important crops in Virginia, and you may be surprised to find that, despite the name, peanuts are not technically a nut. Peanuts are actually legumes, which are edible seeds in the same family as things like peas and beans. Additionally, the name Virginia Peanuts tell us much more than just where they were grown; a Virginia Peanut is one of the main varieties of peanuts (along with Spanish Peanuts, Runner Peanuts, and Valencia Peanuts). Virginia Peanuts are typically larger than other common peanuts, and they’re considered gourmet due to their high quality. Another fun fact: you know those big peanuts you enjoy at Baseball games? Ever had peanuts at a circus or carnival? Those are Virginia Peanuts! If you ever see a peanut question come up on Jeopardy!, we hope you remember you learned a few facts from us!
Peanuts have a long, storied connection to the Commonwealth of Virginia dating back to 1842, when the USA’s very first commercial crop was established. Virginia-born US president and founding father Thomas Jefferson farmed peanuts at his Monticello estate in the 1780s, but he used them for animal feed as was common at the time. In the 1800s, George Washington Carver helped change the view of peanuts into more of a culinary and medicinal product. Born into slavery in 1862, he would go on to make major contributions to the field of industrial peanut farming and invent more than 300 products using the peanut. Another early pioneer was P.T. Barnum, who helped popularize peanuts as a snack at his traveling circus shows.
Peanuts are not native to Virginia—or even North America; they trace their roots to South America, but the fertile, sandy soil in the southeastern part of the state provides the perfect growing conditions for the crop. If you’re looking for peanut farms, there are more than 200 farms in the southeastern part of the state, and they produce millions of pounds of peanuts each year.
Peanut Shops on Virginia’s Salty Southern Route
The Salty Southern Route is a tourist/commerce trail in Virginia’s southeastern region that showcases some of the best places to enjoy and learn about two of Virginia’s main products: Virginia Ham and Virginia Peanuts. We focused on peanuts for our trip. Here are the shops we visited during our day exploring the region!
► Hubs Peanuts
We discovered Hubs Peanuts during a visit to Old Town Alexandria about a decade ago. At first, we were drawn to the name (a common nickname I’ve had throughout my life is “Hub” or “Hubs” as a shortened version of my last name), so it only felt right to buy a can of Hubs Peanuts. To our surprise, these were no joke; in fact, they were some of the best peanuts we had ever had. Hubs holds the distinction of being the oldest continuously family-owned and operated peanut processor in Virginia, and their peanuts are made in the same house where it all started in 1954. They were early pioneers of the “blister fried” cooking process with extra large peanuts, which is now common among other companies, so a stop at Hubs is a must if you want to experience some real Virginia peanuts history. Of course, it certainly helps that their peanuts are absolutely incredible. We bought a can of Hubs Sweet Heat flavored peanuts during our visit—a flavor we had not seen or tried before—but the original plain salted option makes a great introduction to Virginia peanuts.
More Information: HubsPeanuts.com
This video from Hubs provides a great introduction to the brand and peanuts in general.
► Adams Peanuts
Family-owned and producing peanuts since 1928, Adams peanuts are a must-visit location along the Virginia Peanut trail. We stopped by their country store and picked up a can of Honey Toasted Peanuts (my favorite!), and were warmly welcomed by the owners during our visit. Adams peanuts are cooked and sold just a mile from the location of the very first commercially grown peanut crop from 1842. We were thrilled that the owners took time to share their own perspective on local history, sharing some framed pictures from around the store and helping to bring it to life for us in a way that’s hard to do without firsthand knowledge. We thoroughly enjoyed the time we spent at Adams Peanuts and Country Store.
More Information: AdamsPeanuts.com
► Virginia Diner
Open since 1929, Virginia Diner is a classic icon of the region that’s been serving up home-cooked meals for generations. They’re also famous for their selection of Virginia Peanuts, and you’ll see that immediately when you walk into the building. We were surrounded by an enormous selection of flavor options (probably the most of anywhere we visited that day), and we ended up with cans of Chocolate Peanut Butter covered peanuts, Old Bay peanuts, and Sriracha Honey Roasted peanuts. As an added bonus, we were intrigued by the signs advertising their famous Peanut Pie, so we decided to pick up a couple of slices to take home with us. Similar to pecan pie, it was a wonderful treat to go with our peanut cans.
More Information: VAdiner.com
► Plantation Peanuts
Located directly across the street from the famous Virginia Diner, Plantation Peanuts specializes in gourmet Virginia Peanuts that use family recipes handed down through three generations. We had tried Plantation Peanuts at a local wine tasting years ago, so we were excited to visit their main store during our trip. We ended up leaving with three cans of peanuts: Maple Bacon, Lemon Crab, and Chocolate Covered Peanuts. It was hard to say no to the rest of the incredible variety of flavors they offered in their shop; we were surprised by how many types of sweet and savory combinations they sell.
More Information: PlantationPeanuts.com
► Wakefield Peanut Company
Our visit to Wakefield Peanut Company provided us with a chance to see the peanut factory in action, as we watched trucks and workers moving bags around and had a moment to appreciate the real work that goes into peanut farming. Family-owned for more than 40 years, their retail shop has a great selection of peanut flavors as well as local items like jams and artwork. We purchased two cans: one Butter Toffee and one Salt & Pepper. We also couldn’t leave without a squishy peanut stress ball as an added binge purchase—for research purposes and to support the economy, of course.
More Information: WakefieldPeanutCo.com
► Virginia Peanut Company
Located in downtown Franklin, the Virginia Peanut Company has a huge selection of peanuts with both traditional and creative flavors. We’ve been buying Virginia Peanut Company cans for years from our local grocery store, but this was the first time we had a chance to visit their brick and mortar shop in southern Virginia. The shop is right off the main highway and not far from Hubs, providing easy access for our day along the Salty Southern Route! We picked up a can of Garlic flavored peanuts during our visit.
More Information: VirginiaPeanutCompany.com
► Planters Peanut Center
Planters Peanuts is famous for being the home of Mr. Peanut, and the Planters Peanut Center in Suffolk is the place to go for all things Mr. Peanut. While the Planters Peanut company originated in Pennsylvania, they have called Suffolk, Virginia home since 1913. Today, fans of Planters Peanuts can visit the shop in downtown Suffolk to shop for Mr. Peanut merchandise and choose from a variety of peanut flavors to purchase. It’s a great place to stop after you’ve visited the various Mr. Peanut landmarks around town. Although Planters is a staple in grocery stores around the country, there’s nothing quite like buying a can or two in Mr. Peanut’s hometown!
More Information: SuffolkPeanuts.com
Mr. Peanut, Museums, and Additional Stops along the Virginia Peanut Trail
There’s a lot to see on the Salty Southern Route, and if your day takes you through Virginia Peanut country, be sure to add these places to your trip!
► Visit Mr. Peanut in his hometown!
Any discussion of peanuts should include the requisite shout-out to one of America’s most famous commercial mascots: Mr. Peanut! Did you know Mr. Peanut calls Suffolk, Virginia home? He was “born” in 1916 as the mascot for Planters Peanuts, and his real name is actually Bartholomew Richard Fitzgerald-Smythe. Seriously. He’s not just a sharply-dressed peanut with a monocle, though; he’s also a patriot! Mr. Peanut was used in government propaganda posters during World War II, and he has a spot in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, DC.
Mr. Peanut gained some newfound notoriety in recent years when there was a misguided attempt to “kill” him in a Super Bowl commercial, but we won’t talk about how that was a cheap ploy to rebrand him as a baby peanut (and was, perhaps, an attempt to benefit from the wild popularity of the Mandalorian’s Baby Yoda). Fortunately, the campaign ended in February 2021, and Mr. Peanut is once again depicted as the all-grown-up character we know and love.
If you’re a fan of Mr. Peanut, Suffolk has a state historic marker dedicated to him at 112 Hall Avenue and two statues of Mr. Peanut located at Character Corner (101 E Washington St) and outside the Suffolk Visitors Center at 524 N Main Street. No trip to Virginia Peanut country is complete without a selfie with Bartholomew Richard Fitzgerald-Smythe: Mr. Peanut!
► World’s Oldest Peanut (Isle of Wight County Museum)There’s a lot to see in the Isle of Wight County Museum, from prehistoric fossils to colonial artifacts, and you’ll find many exhibits that showcase the history of the region. But the main attraction for us was the World’s Oldest Peanut, which is on display inside the museum! The peanut was grown in 1890 for P.D. Gwaltney, who used it for advertising his peanut business. As an added bonus, the museum is also home to the world’s oldest edible ham, which has its own Twitter account and a live video stream called the “Ham Cam” in case you want to check on how it’s doing from anywhere in the world.
More Information: HistoricIsleofWight.com
► First Peanut Museum in the USA
Of all the museums you visit on vacation, we wouldn’t be surprised if this is the first peanut museum recommended to you, but it really is worth a visit! The name says it all: it’s the very first peanut museum in the United States. Located in Waverly, the museum is part of the Miles B. Carpenter Folk Art Museum, and it’s about two miles from the location of the first commercial peanut crop in the United States.
A visit to the First Peanut Museum in the USA is a great way to learn about the rich history of peanut farming through displays, artifacts, and exhibits. Stop by to learn more about what has become a significant part of so many memories and experiences, especially in the United States!
More Information: MilesBCarpenterMuseum.com
► Virginia Peanut LOVEworks
We’ve talked about our love of the Virginia LOVE signs found throughout the state, which are more specifically known as LOVEworks. When we found a peanut-themed LOVE sign along the Salty Southern Route, we knew we had to visit! The town of Emporia has an awesome LOVEworks installation that has the word LOVE spelled out in peanuts. It was the first stop of our peanut road trip as we exited I-95 and began our drive east toward Virginia Beach. Check out the link below to learn more and to find the address for directions.
More Information: Virginia.org/LOVEworkinEmporia
If you enjoy the LOVEworks signs, be sure to take a look at our post for more ideas around the state!
Map of Virginia Peanut Country
We covered a lot of ground during our day exploring Virginia’s Salty Southern Route. If you’d like to see where we went, or if you want to plan your own peanut shopping adventure, check out the Google Map we created below to help you get started!
Be sure to visit the main website for the Virginia Salty Southern Route to discover more places to visit along the way!
More Information: SaltySouthernRoute.com
Enjoy Virginia Peanuts!
We didn’t know what to expect when we started our journey into Virginia Peanut Country, but we ended the day truly amazed by all we had learned about one of the state’s most important crops. The best part is that we just scratched the surface; there are even more peanut shops and historical locations in that part of Virginia that we hope to visit in the future, which means another day trip will be something to look forward to one day soon.
Our road trip through Virginia’s Salty Southern Route may have been a last-minute adventure, but sometimes those experiences can be the most rewarding ways to travel. We returned home with a car full of cans of peanuts and a day full of fun memories to inspire us. Learning more about the places we call home is always a great way to spend vacation time, and we hope your vacation time offers you the same rewards. And if your trip takes you to Virginia Peanut Country, we know those rewards will be delicious!
We always enjoy writing about our home state of Virginia! Here are a few more places to check out.