Who doesn’t love a good day trip? Life often gets busy, and sometimes you need a change of scenery to recharge. Recently on a beautiful fall day, my husband and I ventured to Harpers Ferry with two dogs for a hike and lunch, and were reminded how refreshing a day trip can be. Luckily in the DC area it’s easy to escape, with many options that are just a short drive away. Here are 5 of my favorite places for a quick escape, each with something unique to offer.
1. Annapolis, Maryland. Home to the U.S. Naval Academy and the historic Maryland State House, this capital city offers the day visitor so many options for spending the day. To me, just strolling the streets of this quaint waterfront town, combined with a local seafood meal is the perfect day. When the weather is nice, there are plenty of choices for getting out on the water, including an early morning guided kayak tour. My family took this tour several years ago through Kayak Annapolis, and loved listening to our tour guide as we rowed past the United States Naval Academy and headed into the famous City Dock. I haven’t experienced sailing on the Schooner Woodwind yet, another water favorite for many people, but it’s high on my list for spring/summer 2017.
For those who don’t like to get their feet wet, there is plenty to do on dry land. Take one of several popular tours at the Naval Academy, including a guided, historical walking tour. Another tour at the top of my to do list is the Urban Adventures Original Annapolis Seafood Crawl, described as a two hour tour highlighting the food specialties of the Chesapeake Bay. If it’s anything like the Urban Adventure tour I took in Philly, it will be an entertaining experience and fun-filled adventure. Save time to enjoy some local seafood, after all, you are in Maryland! Day trippers may want to check out Chick and Ruth’s Delly and try their famous crab cakes or an overstuffed sandwich. In the summer, it’s worth the short drive to Cantlers Riverside Inn for hard shell crabs, a Maryland speciality, Whatever you do, don’t forget to stop for ice cream at Annapolis Ice Cream Company, consistently voted the best ice cream in Annapolis.
2. Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. History and hiking make Harpers Ferry National Historic Park and the surrounding area a perfect outdoor day trip. It’s a place where the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers join together, so the views are definitely photo worthy! During our recent visit, we opted for a leisurely stroll along the C&O Canal towpath, covering just a small portion of the 184 mile path. You’ll find something for all level of hikers, leading to scenic mountain vistas, Civil War battlefields and parts of the Appalachian Trail.
Start your day at the Visitor Center, which is also the main parking area for the town. Parking in the rest of town is pretty limited, so it’s best to park here and take the shuttle to the Lower Town (otherwise it’s a long walk downhill, which makes it a long walk uphill on the return trip!) The Lower Town is the area with shops and historic buildings, including the Information Center, along with John Brown’s Fort, the site of the famous raid in October, 1859. The fascinating history of the fort extends from before the Civil War all the way through the 1900’s. The fact that the fort was dismantled and moved on several occasions makes the history even more interesting.
When it’s time to eat, there are several good choices, especially for a town of this size. Plenty offer outside seating in nice weather, like the Potomac Grille, Cannonball Deli and The Coffee Mill, which was perfect for us with two dogs. If we didn’t have the dogs, we would have wandered into the True Treats Historic Candy Shop, instead of spending our time window shopping. All in all it’s a small town with plenty to keep you busy.
3. Baltimore, Maryland. Over the years, we’ve taken many family trips to Baltimore for the day. No matter the season, there is always something fun to do. Last year I shopped my way through the Christmas Village, an indoor and outdoor holiday market in the Inner Harbor. This year the market will be open from November 24th through December 24th, and I am looking forward to another visit. One of my favorites for any time of year is visiting the National Aquarium at the Inner Harbor. Whether you are strolling through Shark Alley, or catching the latest movie in the 4-D Immersion Theater, the aquarium never disappoints. You can read more about why I think it’s a cool place for teens. Museum goers will enjoy spending time at the nearby, highly acclaimed Walters Art Museum. With free admission, this hidden gem of a museum has treasures spanning centuries, with over 35,000 objects in their collection along with a fascinating history of how the artwork was collected by William Thompson Walters and his son, Henry. Other favorite places that we’ve visited around town include Fort McHenry National Monument and the Maryland Science Center.
Like Annapolis, Baltimore has some excellent food choices featuring local Maryland seafood, plenty of which are around the harbor. The Rusty Scupper has good food with a water view, and LP Steamers is popular if you are near Fort McHenry. Head to Faidley’s Seafood at Lexington Market if you are in the mood for award winning crab cakes. Then finish off the day with dessert in Little Italy. You can’t go wrong with a cannoli from Vaccaro’s!
4. The Eastern Shore of Maryland. If you live in the DC area, you probably have made at least one or two trips to the Delaware and Maryland beaches, or in my case, too many to count! But along the way, you’ll find several quaint small towns just off Route 50, including Easton, St. Michael’s, Oxford and Cambridge. Each of these towns offer their own brand of small town charm, and are worthy of a day visit. At the far end of what I consider day trip range from DC is the town of Cambridge, home to the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge contains a third of Maryland’s tidal wetlands, and you’ll have a pretty good chance of seeing bald eagles most of the year, If you like seafood, stop in for lunch at the popular Rock Lobstah. Another one of my favorite places to visit is the town of St. Michael’s, a popular tourist town, with boutiques, art galleries, and wonderful restaurants. Visit the Crab Claw when the weather is nice, and spend the afternoon cracking crabs and drinking beer, a Maryland tradition. Bike riding is popular here too, with flat roads and wide shoulders. My husband and I have fond memories of days spent bike riding here, and are looking forward to exploring the Eastern Shore on our bikes again in the near future.
If you want to extend your day trip, the Eastern Shore is actually perfect for easy overnight getaways, with accommodations ranging from simple to luxurious. I think the amenity-filled Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Golf Resort, Spa and Marina in Cambridge is worth the splurge. You’ll also find that St. Michael’s has plenty of options for spending the night, including several popular B&B’s along with the luxurious Inn at Perry Cabin by Belmond. Whatever you decide, any time spent on Maryland’s Eastern Shore is time well spent.
5. Loudoun County, Virginia. You won’t have to travel far to be out in the country, for a day of small town shopping, farm fun, history, wine and beer tastings, and plenty of fresh air. Some of my favorite day activities are hiking at Bears Den, spending a day at a farm, such as Great Country Farms, or relaxing at one of 40 wineries. Grab a bike and hit the W&OD trail, where you can follow the Brews by BIke trail.
Each season brings small town and special events and activities, but fall in Loudoun County brings numerous opportunities for leaf peeping around the bend of every country road. Like Harpers Ferry, hiking and history often go hand in hand, especially at places like Ball’s Bluff Battlefield Regional Park, adjacent to the Potomac River, or Morven Park in Leesburg. Winter brings the old fashioned Christmas & Holiday Parade in Leesburg and the classic Christmas in Middleburg. For information about current happenings in any season, the Visit Loudoun website has the most up to date information. And be sure to read my post, 5 Ways to Spend the Day in Loudoun County Virginia.