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Washington, D.C. Day Trip: Clifton, Virginia Food Tour

Washington, D.C. Day Trip: Clifton, Virginia Food Tour

Escape Washington, D.C.'s hustle and bustle with a short day trip to the countryside in Clifton, Va. Just a 40-minute drive from Washington, D.C., the tiny town (as of the 2010 census, only 282 people live here) feels worlds away from the chaos of the city.

Clifton was once the hunting grounds for Native Americans, and a railroad track ran through the town during the Civil War. More recently, the screenplay for Sleepless in Seattle was written on the street in town where so many dining gems lie.

After traveling on a winding, hilly road past looming mansions and vast expanses of greenery, you’ll arrive on Main Street. Park by the old railroad car, and get ready to explore.

If you’re looking for a casual dining experience with the locals, check out The Main Street Pub. This haunt offers traditional bar food like chicken wings and burgers, but rounds out their selection with wraps, salads, sandwiches, and soups. It also serves six beers on tap, bottled beer, and wines by the bottle or glass. Plus, this place is easy on your wallet — the most expensive item are the Chesapeake jumbo lump crabcakes for $17.99.

The Clifton Café provides lighter fare in an equally relaxed setting. The small menu includes espresso, coffee, tea, and iced beverages along with sandwiches, soup, bagels, breakfast pastries, but the savory and sweet crêpes are must-trys. The options range from "Doris’s Danish" (melted butter, powdered sugar, and white chocolate) to "Julie’s Fetish" (spinach and feta).

Housed inside what was an historic hotel dating back to 1869, Trummer’s on Main is one of the area’s best formal restaurants. It offers a wine tasting room, bar and lounge, and a dining room, but what really makes it stand out is its creative menu, which deviates from typical small-town fare. First plates include smoked salmon and citrus salad served with cucumber, orange and mint; and egg yolk ravioli with bacon purée and Parmesan froth. Main dishes range from oven-roasted and honey-glazed pork shoulder paired with plum wine pineapple, bay leaf crumble, and sweet potato to seared big-eye tuna served with celery root purée, Pink Lady apple, and American caviar. The menu changes daily and a tasting menu is available every night, but call ahead if you plan to order the tasting menu.

Open from March to mid-November, Peterson’s Ice Cream Depot is a charming, not-to-be-missed ice cream parlor. It’s easy to pass right by it, but look for the sandwich board sign outfront. From there, walk down a small path lined on one side with a wooden fence draped with lights. The creamy, made-in-house flavors rotate weekly, but you can always find chocolate and vanilla on the menu. Order plain ice cream or have it served as a malt, shake, float, sundae, sandwiched between two cookies, or dressed with toppings including candy, fruit, nuts, and syrup. For those seeking a savory snack, Peterson’s also serves french fries, specialty hot dogs, nachos, salads, and chicken tenders. On some nights, they also host live musicians. Check the website or the weather to ensure they’re open before you go; they close in inclement weather or whenever the temperature drops below 50 degrees.

Teresa Tobat is the Washington, D.C. Travel city editor for The Daily Meal. Follow her tweets @ttobat88.


16 Fantastic Virginia Day Trips Near Washington DC

These 16 fantastic Virginia day trips near Washington DC offer fun and interesting places to visit, whether you’ve got a few hours or a full day to explore. Our list includes parks and hikes towns and cities historic sites and museums and local wineries and breweries. Whether you want a romantic outing, family fun, a learning experience, or all of the above, you’ll find day trips from Washington DC for every interest on our list.

Our Virginia day trip destinations are based on our 25 years of living in Northern Virginia, exploring with and without children. Destinations are organized by topic—parks, cities and towns, wineries and breweries, and historic sites Follow the links in each section for more information to plan your day trips from DC. And use the handy map at the end of the article to check distances and directions from your location.


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Things to Do in Washington DC (by a Local)

Outside view of the National Museum of African American History with the Washington Monument in the background in Washington DC.

Spend the morning in a museum

You might be thinking that the museums are an obvious and totally not local-recommended choice for Washington DC. But, to be honest, Washington DC has some of the best museums in the world, and I&rsquod be totally off base to tell you not to visit them. However, you probably also want to avoid museums that are crowded AF.

To steer clear of the many school groups and herds of people, I recommend choosing 1-3 museums you want to see and visiting when they open in the morning at 10:00 AM sharp. That way, you&rsquoll get a head start in the security lines (yes, every museum has a TSA-like security protocol) and make it into the museum before the crowds. Weekdays and holidays are typically less crowded than weekends.

There are literally dozens of museums in DC, and which ones you&rsquoll visit depend on your interests and timing. The famed Smithsonian Institution has 19 museums all over the city, and in addition to those, there are some other amazing ones like:

  • The Newseum: The Newseum is my absolute favorite museum in DC, I&rsquove been a paying member forever. There are all kinds of exhibits about journalism, reporting, and current events in the United States across time. Some of my favorite long-standing exhibits in the museum include the Pulitzer Prize winning photographs hall and the FBI exhibit. There are also temporary/rotating exhibits throughout the museum that change every few months based on current events.
  • The Holocaust Museum:This museum is a somber tribute to the victims of the Holocaust, including a detailed historical account of Naziism and the horrifying events that occurred during the Holocaust. I&rsquove never walked through this museum without crying &ndash it&rsquos a very heavy but important piece of history that I think the museum does a great job of portraying and educating.
  • The National Museum of African American History and Culture(NMAAHC): The city&rsquos newest Smithsonian museums an eye-opening history of African Americans in the United States, including a walk through the times of slavery, the Civil Rights movement, and modern-day movements and pop culture. Everything is free to visit in the museum, but requires booking tickets in advance. To really dive into the history of African Americans in the USA (and to understand why we&rsquore STILL reeling from that history) check out this guidedAfrican American History Tour, which also includes entry to the NMAAHC.

Marvel at monuments&hellip at night

If it&rsquos your first time in Washington DC, you&rsquoll definitely want to see some of DC&rsquos many iconic monuments.

However, if you&rsquore like me, you probably don&rsquot want to see these monuments while sandwiched between thousands of other sweaty tourists, selfie sticks, and school groups. So, instead of heading to these attractions during the daytime, when the crowds are at their peak, I suggest paying them a visit in the early evening and into the night.

All of the monuments are lit up after hours, making for some spectacular photo opportunities and breathtaking views. You won&rsquot have to maneuver through many hordes of people, either!

Some tour companies also offer tours of DC by night if you&rsquod rather have a guide who can teach you interesting facts and history about said monuments and memorials. Check out this bus tour at dusk, this trolley tour at twilight, and this evening walking tour. Is it just me or do all of those sound low-key romantic?

Here are my picks for must-see monuments in Washington DC:

  • The Lincoln Memorial &ndash Built in 1915, this is a beautiful, columned memorial dedicated to Abraham Lincoln. It&rsquos situated at the end of a large reflecting pool that overlooks the WWII Memorial and the Washington Monument.
  • The Jefferson Memorial &ndash Situated on the edge of DC&rsquos Tidal Basin, the Jefferson Memorial is located in an iconic sand-colored dome. In the springtime, cherry blossoms surround the monument and it&rsquos super pretty.
  • The Capitol &ndash Visitors to Washington DC can see the building which houses the activities of the United States Congress. The Capitol Building offers free tours and special exhibits throughout the year.
  • The Washington Monument &ndash This is DC&rsquos iconic pointy-tipped monument that stands at the edge of the grassy National Mall. While visitors could go up to the top of the Washington Monument in the past, the elevators are now closed for renovations until 2019.
  • The WWII Memorial &ndash The serene WWII Memorial is a tribute to all who served and died fighting in WWII. A beautiful testament to those who worked to protect our country, the memorial is located across the reflecting pool from the Lincoln Memorial.
  • The National Mall &ndash The National Mall is basically Washington DC&rsquos backyard &ndash it&rsquos a grassy lawn where visitors and locals hang out on sunny days. Full of world-class museums (we&rsquoll get to this later) and fun festivals, the National Mall is the center of many activities in the city.

Visit the Library of Congress

In addition to the monuments and museums, there&rsquos one more touristy thing I&rsquod still recommend as a local: a visit to the Library of Congress. It&rsquos a really unique and spectacular attraction that, unfortunately, many tourists to DC skip. In fact, a lot of people don&rsquot even know that it exists or that it&rsquos open to the public!

Here, you can take a guided tour of the historic Thomas Jefferson Building (which is SUPER beautiful and picturesque), see some of the rotating exhibits (there&rsquos a really fun one called Baseball Americana, for all of you baseball fans out there!), and even register for your own library card.

The library houses a musical instrument collection in the Whittall Pavilion that visitors can view on certain pre-set dates, and a variety of public events, which are events that happen each week that range from historical discussions to famous authors to current events and musical shows.

Perhaps one of the coolest aspects of the Library of Congress, in my opinion, is its Reading Rooms, where you can literally just sit and chill and read a book or people watch for a few hours in one of the coolest buildings in history. Additionally, it&rsquos free to enter, so you can save that moolah for some of the other activities below!

Cascading fountain at Meridian Hill Park, in Washington, DC &ndash the best place to get in touch with your inner hippie while visiting DC.

Channel your inner hippie in Meridian Hill Park

If you happen to be in Washington DC on a Sunday, pass through Meridian Hill Park and observe for a bit. Unlike the suit-clad, high-profile people you&rsquoll see walking stony-faced through the streets on Monday mornings, Meridian Hill Park offers a bit of a different experience.

Here, on sunny Sunday afternoons, you might find people sitting outside with friends, having picnics, hula hooping, doing yoga, and singing. In the words of Forrest Gump, &ldquoyou never know what you&rsquore gonna get.&rdquo

Perhaps the most unique aspect of Meridian Hill Park is the drum circle, which happens during the warmer times of the year at 3 PM on Sundays. Strangers and friends from around the city gather &rsquoround with drums and just beat away to a common pace. Is it totally weird? Absolutely. But it&rsquos a DC local thing and it&rsquos pretty freakin&rsquo awesome to watch (or participate in).

Chill by the river (or on the river)

In recent years, DC has really upped its river walk game. For ages, the king of river walking areas in DC was in historic Georgetown, which is full of upscale restaurants, cute dessert shops, and people posing for Instagram selfies on parked sailboats in the sunset. Georgetown is a cute and colorful area to wander around and catch a glimpse of the Potomac River. Home to Georgetown University, this neighborhood combines the &ldquouniversity town&rdquo vibe with the history of being one of DC&rsquos oldest standing neighborhoods. In fact, the oldest house in Washington DC is here, and you can even peek inside!

You can get to Georgetown on public transportation (the Circulator bus is only $1 and drops you off right in the middle of the neighborhood!). Once you arrive, you can grab a famed cupcake from Georgetown Cupcake or a latte from Baked & Wired and stroll by the waterfront on a sunny afternoon. You might run into some impromptu waterside activities too, like tango dancing or a street festival.

Recently, DC recently opened its newest river hangout area, the Wharf, which is giving Georgetown a run for its money. The Wharf is located next to the up-and-coming Navy Yard area and is full of new shops, restaurants, and The Anthem, a live music venue that hosts amazing artists many nights a week. Head to La Vie for a bite to eat (the crab cakes rock!) and great drinks in a relaxed atmosphere with waterfront views. If you&rsquore up for a sunset stroll, a bite to eat, or a morning run with beautiful views of the river, both Georgetown and the Wharf are wonderful places to go.

You can also take a boat tour of Washington DC, many which are cruise-style boats that offer lunch or dinner while you view the city from the unique perspective of the Potomac. I&rsquove never actually done one of these, but I always used to see them passing by and people look like they&rsquore having a ton of fun on them.

Shopping at the outdoor Eastern Market in Washington DC.

Sample International foods

What&rsquos a better way to get to know a city than by its food scene? Lucky for you, DC&rsquos dining can take you to almost any region or country in the world! From Eritrean eateries to Georgian khachapuri joints, Lao food that will make you sweat and fresh Peruvian ceviche, DC has something for literally any food craving you might encounter. It&rsquos just a guess, but I attribute this to the diversity of people that come in and out of DC, as well as the well-traveled diplomats that call the city home.

One of my favorite restaurants in the city that serves all kinds of international dishes is called Compass Rose, which is perfect for any world traveler (like you!). They serve shared plates from all over the world, including Bangladesh, Korea, Peru, and more. Founded by a woman who has lived in and traveled around many countries, she brought her favorite recipes home to the dinner table in DC. My favorite thing to order at Compass Rose is their Georgian khachapuri, which they have year-round. The rest of the dishes rotate throughout the year and their menu changes all the time, so be sure to check online for the latest offerings.

For other international food offerings, some of my favorite gems in (and around) the city include:

    Actually located in Rockville, MD, you&rsquoll need a taxi, ride share, or car to get here, but their soup dumplings (xiao long bao) are to die for.
  • Purple Patch: Serving an amazing brunch, Purple Patch is one of my favorite weekend spots in the city. Purple Patch specializes in Filipino food and their ube chicken and waffles is an amazing Filipino-American fusion dish. Be sure to make a reservation if you want to come for brunch, as this one fills up quickly! Arguably DC&rsquos best Mexican food and drinks. They really make the effort to make their food and experience as true-to-Mexico as possible. Their al pastor tacos and cocktails are fantastic, and they have an amazing happy hour as well.

For something a little more casual, Union Market is an indoor food market that has stalls from various places, ranging from local seafood to Korean tacos to Burmese desserts. There are picnic tables all around the outside of the market where you can sit and eat after you&rsquove grabbed some food. If you&rsquore looking for lots of food variety in a communal atmosphere, it&rsquos the perfect place to grab dinner and spend the evening.


The 20 Best Things to See & Do in Georgetown

Shopping isn’t the only thing to do in Georgetown. Washington, DC's oldest neighborhood is full of charm, Michelin-approved restaurants, fantastic events for the whole family and plenty of scenic views. Pick your adventure – from the exciting waterfront all the way up to Book Hill – and get exploring in this centuries-old part of the District.

Get active on the Potomac River

Georgetown's waterfront offers a wide range of on-the-water fun, so head down to the banks of the Potomac for your next adventure. Pick up a kayak or standup paddleboard at the Key Bridge Boathouse and enjoy Instagram-worthy panoramas of the DC and Virginia skylines while also getting a great workout.

Tempt your taste buds

A plate for every palate and a bite for every budget. With more than 100 restaurants representing nearly a wide range of ethnicities, Georgetown’s diverse food and drink scene is only growing. Wherever your taste buds take you, a picture-perfect backdrop awaits – from Georgetown’s vibrant waterfront dining to cozy drinks on tucked-away patios and power lunches among politicos.

Shop to your heart's content

No trip to Georgetown is complete without some retail therapy. Fashionistas know to browse designer duds at Alice & Olivia, Billy Reid and Rag & Bone alongside department store offshoots and local boutiques like Hu’s Wear. You can check out these shops and more in our Georgetown shopping guide. More interested in snagging a bargain? There's a TJ Maxx/Home Goods on M Street, and a number of upscale secondhand stores in the neighborhood.

Splash, skate and more at Washington Harbour

Georgetown’s waterfront is home to tons of great restaurants – many, including Sequoia, Tony and Joe's Seafood Place, Farmers Fishers Bakers and Fiola Mare, offer patio seating in warm weather – and plenty of outdoor activities. In summer, children (and adults, too) can splash in the sprinkler-style water fountain, watch the boats and feed the ducks. In winter months, one of our favorite places to ice skate opens for the season.

Stroll along the C&O Canal

Back when Georgetown was a bustling tobacco port, the historic Chesapeake and Ohio Canal began its 184-mile route right here in Washington. These days, what remains is a serene, unhurried towpath that’s perfect for walking, running and cycling – or just taking in a quiet moment of peace.

Tour the gorgeous Tudor Place

This historic landmark has been a fixture in DC since 1816, serving as a home to descendants of Martha Washington for six generations. Inside the elegant house, discover furnishings, household items and fascinating Washington-related artifacts. The five-plus acres worth of gardens on the estate make for a wondrous and scenic outdoor experience.

Explore the gardens at Dumbarton Oaks

Secluded and lush, the grounds of this beautiful park have been described as being like the Secret Garden and it’s no surprise why: Manicured greenery, winding pathways and classical fountains comprise a 27-acre historic park that sits atop the highest hill in Georgetown. An adjacent museum specializes in Byzantine and Pre-Columbian art.

Exorcise and exercise

Get those demon carbs out of your body and run up all 75 of the super-steep infamous Exorcist steps at the corner of 36th and Prospect streets. The steps had their moment of fame as the spot where Father Karras tumbled to his demise in the in the cult horror classic The Exorcist. Locals flock to the steps to get their sweat on, so you’ll be in good company.

Ogle famous homes

Georgetown has been home to lots of celebrities: Julia Child taught cooking lessons and tested recipes for her legendary first cookbook while living in the yellow wood-frame house at 2706 Olive Street in the 1950s – the home sold for nearly $1 million in 2015. Or learn about the rich history of the Kennedy family in Georgetown – including the house John F. Kennedy lived in at 3307 N Street while running for president.

Walk in the steps of JFK

Retrace the steps of one of America’s most iconic presidential couples – John and Jacqueline Kennedy – with a self-guided Kennedy walking tour around the neighborhood. You can visit the the church where they worshipped and go to the restaurant to sit at the booth where JFK proposed in June 1953.

Catch some live jazz at Blues Alley

Blues Alley Jazz Club - Historic Georgetown - Washington, DC

Founded in 1965 and modeled after the jazz clubs of the 1920s, this supper club-style music venue is hidden away in an alley carriage house and hosts live jazz musicians almost every night of the year. Throughout its history, such legendary performers as Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie and Tony Bennett have taken the stage at the Washington institution.

Book it to Book Hill

Small, independent boutiques, galleries, and restaurants make up the charming area known as Book Hill, located along Wisconsin Avenue from O Street to Reservoir Road. From Book Hill Park you can take in a panoramic view of Georgetown, the Potomac River and Virginia.

Make a memorable lunch date

Lunch at Malmaison in Georgetown - Places to eat in Washington, DC

Georgetown is loaded with beloved lunch spots. If you’re looking for a quick, casual bite, hit up the homegrown chain Sweetgreen for healthy-yet-delicious salads, Good Stuff Eatery (owned by former Top Chef contestant Spike Mendelsohn) for decadent burgers and milkshakes, or Stachowski’s for out-of-the-box butcher sandwiches. Don’t forget to swing by Olivia Macaron afterwards for a sweet treat that’s totally Instagrammable.


10 Great American Food Trail Road Trips

On the North Carolina Barbecue Society Historic Trail, each of the 24 stops had to meet the strict criteria of being in the business for 15 years or more, cooking on wood or charcoal pits, creating their own sauces, and earning positive reputations within their communities. Much of the action takes place near Lexington, but stops are spread out across the state beginning in Ayden and continuing to Murphy. Smoked pulled pork sandwiches are a staple dish at most trail locations, and sauces vary between vinegar or tomato-based blends.

New York States’ Finger Lakes region contains more than 100 wineries thanks to sloping vineyards and lakes that created a micro climate especially favorable to Rieslings. The beautiful setting is even more spectacular during vibrant fall foliage. There are three wine trails with similar appeal: Seneca Lake, Cayuga Lake (pictured), and Keuka Lake—Seneca Lake is the largest with 35 wineries and two cider producers. Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards and Glenora Wine Cellars are two of the oldest on the trail.

With influences from Cajun and Creole heritage, Louisiana is a culinary dream, and the Bayou Bounty Trail shines with unbelievable food and a steady soundtrack of Zydeco music. The trail spans from Houma to its main hub of Lafayette. To earn a spot in the network, each location must serve authentic Louisiana cuisine, so there are dishes such as pork and crawfish boudin at Legnon’s Boucherie in New Iberia, alligator tenderloin at Cafe Vermilionville in Lafayette, or breakfast biscuits with crawfish étouffée at Café Des Amis in Breaux Bridge, known for Zydeco music in the mornings.

Following the release of a book called 100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama Before You Die, the state introduced a culinary map. Each restaurant is voted on by a panel, with menus showcasing Alabama classics like Southern tomato pie and fried catfish as well as trendy, contemporary dishes that follow the farm-to-table concept. On the Northern Trail, don’t miss Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q in Decatur (pictured), a landmark that got its start in 1925. Or, combine the Northern Trail with the Magic City Trail to discover the Irondale Café, the inspiration for the Fannie Flagg book (and film), Fried Green Tomatoes—which also happens to be a delicacy cooked to perfection at many stops on the trail.

Route: I Love Alabama Food trail map

Kentucky produces 95 percent of the world’s bourbon and Congress declared it America's only native spirit. Formed in 1999 to teach the science of producing bourbon, in the past few years the Kentucky Bourbon Trail has boomed, attracting millions of visitors from around the globe. It takes about three days to complete, and tours (current guides are listed on its website) include transportation so you won't have to worry about driving after a rough day of tastings. Household names such as Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark (pictured) are found on the trail—which can also be combined with the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour to discover lesser-known distilleries. A free Bourbon trail passport grants a tee-shirt for those who collect all nine stamps.

Colorado has 2700 craft breweries and counting—more per capita than any other state. With such an overwhelming number spread in such a large area, the Denver Beer Trail is a great place to start. The trail includes more than 20 breweries often coupled with food trucks for a truly happy combination. Located in an old garage, Denver Beer Company’s Platte Street Taproom (pictured) has one of the city's largest open-air seating areas and excellent brews on tap such as Graham Cracker Porter and Incredible Pedal IPA. Fiction Beer Company takes a literary approach to beer, with events that include author signings and book clubs. Travelers can appreciate themed beers like Old Bums and Beat Cowboys, a pale ale inspired by Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.

Wisconsin’s love affair with cheese dates back 175 years and today, it's an art form that manifests in more than 600 varieties. The state produces 2.8 billion pounds of it each year, and with so many options, Travel Wisconsin created the Great Wisconsin Cheese Tour, a three-day itinerary that begins in Madison and blends hands-on learning with tastings and some of Wisconsin’s best beer. Start things off at Fromagination (pictured) for tastings of local artisan cheese as well as classes (for larger groups), or take a tour of the Emmi Roth Cheese Factory in Monroe and view the production process.

What started as an effort to promote New Hampshire’s dairy farms after years of decline has grown to more than four dozen participants. In addition to ice cream shops selling Northeastern favorites such as maple walnut and moose tracks, visitors can meet professional ice cream makers at places like Brookford Farm (pictured) and Connolly Brother’s Dairy Farm to get a reminder where the milk comes from. The state has an affection for its quaint ice cream stores, and there are plenty of them, such as Dewey’s Ice Cream Parlor and Café, located near New Hampshire’s natural attractions like beautiful Lake Winnipesauke.

The Willamette Valley in Oregon is home to more than 500 wineries and tasting rooms that are easily accessible from Portland. The region is renowned for pinot noir and is broken into several wine routes with enough options to keep travelers busy for weeks. On the Northern Willamette trail, visitors will find great wineries, and on winding route 47, some more unusual options including a sake brewery and a cider producer, plus fabulously scenic wineries such as Montinore Estate and Apolloni Vineyards.


—Michelin 3-Star Dining in 18th Century Style—

Savor the subtle flavors of Virginia at a prestigious 3-Star Michelin restaurant, located in a charming small town in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Inn at Little Washington Restaurant (Washington)

Luxurious Lodging: One of only 42 inns or restaurants in the U.S. to be named an esteemed Relais & Chateaux property , The Inn at Little Washington is located in Washington, another charming small town of Virginia that was surveyed and founded by George Washington in 1769. All of the 23 rooms and suites at the inn provide elegant accommodations, but for over-the-top opulence, book room six, which was inspired by the plush Ritz Hotel in Paris. All stays include a welcome cocktail upon arrival, afternoon tea, house breakfast, complimentary valet parking, and a guaranteed dining reservation each evening at the inn’s restaurant, which has been awarded three Michelin stars.

The Inn at Little Washington (Washington)

Fine Dining & Drinks: The obvious choice for luxury dining is The Inn at Little Washington’s Restaurant , the only 3-Star Michelin restaurant in Virginia or even the greater D.C. area. Helmed by James Beard-winning chef Patrick O’Connell, the restaurant has been rated the number 1 inn in North America and number 2 in the world in Travel + Leisure Magazine’s World’s Best Awards. Other local upscale dining options include Griffin Tavern and Foster Harris House .

The Inn at Little Washington Restaurant (Washington)

Upscale Activities: Traverse Skyline Drive , the winding scenic drive that runs through Shenandoah National Park . One of the park’s four entrances is only a few miles from the inn, giving you a prime access point to the route. Stop along the way to hike through some of Virginia’s most magnificent landscapes .

Hazel Mountain Overlook – Shenandoah National Park (Sperryville)

Spend a day wine tasting when you visit The Inn at Little Washington. The Faquier County Wine Trail stretches north of Washington and has almost 30 wineries and cideries, including Linden Vineyards , Delaplane Cellars , Philip Carter Winery , and RdV Vineyards , an exclusive appointment-only winery where your visit entails an in-depth tour of the property and a tasting paired with locally-sourced cheese and charcuterie.

RDV Vineyards (Delaplane)

With scenic views of leaves, covered bridges and lighthouses, these road trips show the best of fall

Admit it: You’ve got cabin fever, and it’s getting harder to resist. It was easy enough to put off leaving the house in the summer, when the heat and humidity made going farther than the local park a chore. But now the trees are exploding with vibrant colors, and cool temperatures and dappled sunlight are an inviting reason for a short road trip to a national park, an outdoor sculpture garden or a picturesque red covered bridge.

Whether you want to spend a day or a couple of hours exploring, one of these options will inspire you to discover something new. Stops are listed in the order in which we made them, but the itineraries can easily be reordered or shortened depending on your schedule.

The Bridges of Frederick County

Of the six covered bridges still in use in Maryland, Frederick County is home to three, all of which are on the National Register of Historic Places. Take an afternoon to see and drive through these romantic spans, visiting historic sites, hiking trails and one very impressive slide along the way.

This secluded covered bridge is the longest in Frederick County, and it’s hard to believe it was once almost twice as long. The original bridge crossed the Monocacy River on the nearby Devilbliss Road from around 1850 until 1889, when it was washed away by a flood. Half of the bridge was saved and reconstructed in this spot, over the much calmer Fishing Creek. The 101-foot span is on a quieter road than the other covered bridges, meaning it’s easier to walk through, but it also has fewer amenities: There’s a small layby just over the north side of the bridge, with room for two or three cars to park while taking photos and admiring the wooden arches inside. The bright red wooden structure, surrounded by fields and lazing cattle, easily transports visitors to a much simpler time — especially if you’ve driven up Interstate 270 to get there. 7720 Utica Rd., Frederick.

A large furnace in the Catoctin Mountains began turning ore into pig iron in 1776. It provided cannonballs for George Washington’s army at Yorktown and steel plates for the U.S. Navy’s first ironclad warship during the Civil War. Today, the remains of a three-story stone furnace known as “Isabella” stand in the Catoctin Furnace Historic District, surrounded by a village of 18th- and 19th-century structures. The chimneylike furnace is impressive, but there are better reasons to pull off Route 15: a wide, grassy lawn for picnics the dramatic ruins of the iron master’s 18th-century mansion and two self-guided walking trails, one of which leads to an African American cemetery in the neighboring woods. 12698 Catoctin Furnace Rd., Thurmont.

Catoctin Mountain Park is known for its hiking trails, scenic views and for being home to Camp David, the presidential retreat. As soon as you get out of the car, you can get on a trail: From the visitors’ center parking lot, there’s a 2.8-mile hike leading to Cunningham Falls, Maryland’s highest cascading waterfall, or an easy 0.6-mile walk through the woods to the Blue Blazes Whiskey Still, a famous moonshine operation that was raided by police during Prohibition. The kaleidoscope of fall colors is best enjoyed from higher elevations, so spend a few hours on one of the longer trails, or drive your car up the steep slopes to the parking lots near the Thurmont Vista or Blue Ridge Summit Vista. At the latter, you’ll only need to climb for around a third of a mile before you’re rewarded with stunning views of the mountains. 14707 Park Central Rd., Thurmont.

A picturesque red structure over a rocky stream, the Rocky Road Covered Bridge is the archetype of covered bridges. If the cozy 40-foot span looks almost too perfect for a bridge that dates from 1856, that’s because it was extensively repaired after an oversize box truck drove through it in June 2016, destroying the cross beams and rendering much of the original structure unusable. A small park next to the bridge offers swings, covered picnic tables, restrooms and access to the banks of Owens Creek. 14760 Roddy Rd., Thurmont.

Drive south through the Roddy Road bridge on the way to the third of Frederick County’s covered bridges, the Loy’s Station Covered Bridge. This one also dates before the Civil War — there are stories that the Union army crossed it before and after the battle of Gettysburg, and a Civil War historic marker is in the park next door — though the bridge was almost destroyed by arson in 1991 and was rebuilt using as many original materials as possible. This is the easiest covered bridge to enjoy, with park areas on both sides of Owens Creek. The northern side has a pull-off for a few cars, and a picnic table and grill with easy access to the creek through the bridge, Loy’s Station Park has a large playground, picnic pavilions, horseshoe pits and trails. 13506 Old Frederick Rd., Rocky Ridge.

At 35 feet tall and 100 feet long, the Big Slide lives up to its name. Built by volunteers in 1950, the slide, which resembles a covered bridge, has delighted generations of children, who slide down the hardwood boards and are dumped in a pile of sawdust, before clambering out and scampering up the steps to do it again. (Burlap sacks are provided at the park, but parents in the know bring kid-sized towels from home.) In addition to the slide, the park contains playgrounds, picnic areas and other ways for kids to stretch their legs. 13616 Motters Station Rd., Rocky Ridge.

The bright lights of Southern Maryland

You don’t have to head for the mountains to be charmed by fall: Southern Maryland’s lighthouses, museums and a forest full of sculptures are just as rewarding — especially with the chance to try a regional delicacy.

The Calvert Marine Museum tells the story of Southern Maryland’s waters, touching on the megalodons that left their fossils in Calvert Cliffs millions of years ago, battles in the War of 1812 and the more recent boatbuilding and seafood industries. Like many museums, it has adapted to the current situation with reduced capacity, one-way traffic through exhibits and two midday closures to allow for cleaning high-touch areas. (Visitors can reserve tickets for two-hour blocks starting at 10 a.m., 12:30 p.m. or 3 p.m., but sadly, they’re no longer allowed to pet the skates and rays that swim in an indoor tank.) The museum also has a large outdoor area, with historic boats, an otter habitat, a walkway through a marsh and the historic Drum Point Lighthouse, which was moved to the museum in 1975. On Thursdays and Fridays through Oct. 31, visitors can take a one-hour cruise around Solomons Island on the Wm. B. Tennison, a converted oyster dredge boat. The tour sets sail at 2 p.m., so plan on touring the museum after. 14200 Solomons Island Rd., Solomons. Open daily. Museum admission $4-$9 Cruises $4-$7. Both free for ages 5 and younger.

It’s not often that a walk in the woods leads to a modern sculpture by Jules Olitski, Minoru Niizuma or Gerhard Marcks, but that’s what makes the Annmarie Sculpture Garden one of the area’s most engaging art experiences. Visitors to the 30-acre sculpture garden follow trails winding past clearings and under the trees. Sometimes the art is next to the path, and sometimes it’s first seen from a distance. (In the case of “A Surveyor’s Map,” by Maryland artists Jann Rosen-Queralt and Roma Campanile, the art itself is meant to be explored.) While the sculpture garden has its own permanent collection and indoor art space, much of the art is on loan, including 23 pieces from the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, and two from the National Gallery of Art’s collection. With areas for children, including a riverside playhouse plant displays and a separate “Women’s Walk” looking at bronze female forms, this is a garden that appeals to many different audiences. 13470 Dowell Rd., Solomons. Open daily. Suggested donation $5.

Once owned by one of the first governors of Maryland, and restored by the daughter and son-in-law of J.P. Morgan, this Tidewater plantation has become more famous in recent years, thanks to the efforts of Baltimore resident Agnes Kane Callum. While tracing her family history, she learned that her grandfather had been born enslaved at Sotterly in 1860 and that Sotterly had an original slave cabin that was still standing. Today’s tours of Sotterly do not gloss over the cabin, where as many as a dozen enslaved people lived and slept in a 16-by-18-foot space. Nor do they ignore that a ship carrying 218 Africans from the Gold Coast docked at Sotterly in 1720, where the human cargo was unloaded and sold. There are, of course, other parts to the Sotterly story, including the farm buildings, the lovely gardens and the early-18th-century house, which is a National Historic Landmark. But by telling the whole story — including how, at the 1864 Battle of Petersburg, a former enslaved person fought against the son of a plantation owner — Sotterly has become a model for others to follow. 44300 Sotterley Ln., Hollywood. Open daily. Guided outdoor tours available Friday through Sunday through Nov. 22. $5 $10 tour. Children 5 and younger free.

If you’re not from Southern Maryland, you might not be familiar with stuffed ham, and it’s probably time to fix that. Stuffed ham is a regional dish that’s often served around holidays, usually Easter or Thanksgiving, and made by filling a corned ham with a mix of cabbage, collard greens, kale or whatever else the chef’s tastes call for, plus a mix of pepper and other seasonings, and then wrapping the whole thing in cheesecloth and boiling it. There’s debate about where the recipe and preparation come from — probably a mix of English and African traditions — but what’s important is that it tastes good. There aren’t many places still making stuffed ham year-round, but one of them is W.J. Dent, a grocery and deli that’s been in Tall Timbers since 1927. You can buy stuffed ham by the pound, in egg rolls, or as a to-go sandwich. Grab the latter ($7.50) and a soda before hopping in the car one more time. 44584 Tall Timbers Rd., Tall Timbers. Open Wednesday through Sunday.

The oldest lighthouse on the Potomac River has been sitting on this spot since 1836. The conical white tower is squat (38 feet tall) and efficient, not like the elegant screw-pile Drum Point Light. Years of silting means it’s no longer right on the water. But the Piney Point Lighthouse, visited by presidents Franklin Pierce and Theodore Roosevelt when this area was a fashionable escape from Washington, is a survivor. The nearby museum is closed, but the park includes a long recreational fishing pier, a shady spot with picnic tables, a sandy beach and a few historic markers. From the pier, you can sit on a wooden bench and look for ospreys, or just watch the tide roll in while gazing across the Potomac. 44720 Lighthouse Rd., Piney Point.

A smarter way to approach Skyline Drive

Over the first weekend of October, 14,000 cars entered Shenandoah National Park. If that sounds like a lot, it is — the same period in 2019 saw 7,000 cars arriving. The second weekend in October saw cars waiting up to two hours at the park entrances, says Claire Comer, an interpretive specialist at the park.

As a result, Comer says, “Everything is crowded. We have 500 miles of trails, so it is possible” to experience nature without seeing many other people, as long as you avoid the biggest draws. In fact, the National Park Service now publishes a list of off-the-beaten-path trails in the park, because “we’re assuming that most people are looking for an experience that doesn’t include those types of crowds.”

Like Old Rag, for example. “Old Rag — just don’t do it on a weekend,” Comer says. “Just don’t.” Parking lots are usually full by 9 a.m., and on a recent weekend, there was a two-hour wait to go up the section of rock scrambles known as the Chute.

This doesn’t mean you need to avoid visiting Shenandoah — just approach it differently. The reason the Front Royal entrances get so backed up, Comer says, is because visitors from the D.C. area drive straight out I-66, and then through Front Royal. Instead, take Route 29 south and enter the park via U.S. 211, which enters the park at Thornton Gap, east of Luray, or U.S. 33 for the Swift Run Entrance Station. And no matter what, when you get on Skyline Drive, keep driving. “Go further in,” Comer advises. “What’s happening is the first four or five overlooks [closest to the entrance] are crowded. There are 65 of these, guys, the length of Skyline Drive.”

Pro tip: Purchase a vehicle pass from recreation.gov in advance, which will allow you to use a “pass lane” instead of waiting in line with cars paying cash. Also, make sure you download the pass to your phone or print it out — you might not have cellphone reception at all park gates.

If you follow Comer’s advice, we like getting on the highway at Route 29, and taking a drive through the country toward Sperryville and Little Washington. Here are stops for before, or after, your leaf-peeping adventures.

Chef Andrea Pace, formerly of Fairfax’s Villa Mozart, serves the cuisine of his native Sud Tyrol, the region where Northern Italy meets Western Austria. That’s reflected in the dishes, such as the chef’s “signature rye ravioli, so thin you can see the fresh spinach slipped inside, and rounded out with mountain cheese,” reported food critic Tom Sietsema in a 2018 review. Since the restaurant and inn reopened in May, Pace and partner Reem Arbid have served guests outside, on the spacious covered patio, from Thursday through Sunday, except during inclement weather. 675 Zachary Taylor Hwy., Flint Hill. Open Thursday through Sunday.

The owners of this winery have an outsize presence in the tiny, historic village of Washington, with the Wine Loves Chocolate shop on Main Street a block south of the renowned Inn at Little Washington, and two wine-tasting rooms, the Little Washington Winery on Christmas Tree Lane, and the Little Washington Winery at Skyline Vineyard, just to the east. Sipping a peppery cab franc on the patio or at an Adirondack chair on the lawn, with a view of Old Rag and the mountains in the Shenandoah National Park in the distance, is a nice reward after a long drive. The tasting’s room’s “Dirt Road Tour” allows visitors to taste the winery’s own products in a flight alongside similar wines from Europe and South America, which is something you don’t see at most Virginia wineries. 72 Christmas Tree Ln., Washington. Open Thursday through Monday.

Pen Druid is one of the most fascinating breweries in the Mid-Atlantic, wholeheartedly embracing techniques like spontaneous fermentation, brewing with wood-fueled fires and aging in wooden wine and spirits barrels. Beer lovers often had to make an effort to get out to the brewery’s converted apple barn in Sperryville, but they were sure to be rewarded with intriguing sour ales closer to Belgian-style lambics, sometimes aged on local fruit.

Now, there’s a completely different experience to enjoy: Earlier this month, Pen Druid moved to farmland just outside Sperryville’s main drag, where a small taproom is surrounded by acres of green grass, picnic tables and priceless views of the mountains. Even when dozens of cars fill the parking lot, there’s still room for adults to picnic and kids to run and turn somersaults. When the three brothers who run Pen Druid agreed to take over the land last year, “We thought, this is going to be great — we’ll have a killer taproom and all this room for people to hang out,” says Jennings Carney. “I want the customer to feel like you’re on a working farm. Just go out and spend some time, sit and be in the farm.” Carney’s immersive vision was inspired by a visit to vineyards in the Rhone. “Seeing the fruit, looking at the soil, breathing the air. It creates this whole other aspect of being there.”

Customers should know that the brewery is open limited hours, Friday through Sunday, and beers can go quickly. Pen Druid launched its first “extremely low-intervention” hard cider — just local Arkansas Black apples fermented in barrels “without adding sulfur or yeast or extra sugar,” and “once we run out,” Carney says, “we’ll be out until the next season. It’s about farming.” 3863 Sperryville Pike, Sperryville. Open Friday through Sunday.

Sperryville’s Corner Store is the kind of country store you wish you found more of — well, if you wanted your rural market to sell fresh rib-eye, local produce and decent wine, and have a wood-fired pizza oven in the back. Rappahannock Pizza Kitchen, open Friday through Sunday, turns out blistered sourdough pies topped with local sausage, mushrooms and herbs. Stromboli, cheesy sandwich melts and lasagna are also available. Lines can be long on weekends, so order ahead and get a pizza to snack on down the road at Pen Druid. 3710 Sperryville Pike, Sperryville. Open Friday through Sunday.


Friday

Make for The Wharf first, the mile-long swath of shops, restaurants, and entertainment that debuted last fall, and check into the InterContinental. Situated right on the Potomac, many of its rooms and suites have sweeping riverfront views, and all guests have access to the rooftop pool and cocktail bar. On street level, the hotel is home to a rosé garden, opening soon to the public and pouring craft cocktails and local beer, so plan to make it for happy hour, if you can, and start your weekend with a glass of pink wine, soaking up views of the boats dotting the water.

For dinner, take a short stroll over to Mi Vida—the celebrated new Mexican restaurant from chef and restaurateur Roberto Santiba༞z of New York City’s Fonda𠅏or tender enchiladas, gooey queso fundido served with hand-pressed tortillas, and a bowl of hand-crushed guacamole with housemade chips that you won’t want to share. Order a frozen margarita, made with mango and ginger, and opt to dine al fresco at a table just feet from the river.

On the way back to the hotel, brave the line at Dolcezza for a cup of made-daily gelato. The mini-chain does not mess around when it comes to sourcing, relying on local farms and in-season ingredients to make its small, handmade batches. Choose one of the blink-and-you’ll-miss flavors like Avocado Honey Lime and Strawberry—the latter hotly anticipated for its brief run, only available for five weeks each year.

Before heading back to the hotel, make one more stop. Cordial carries refrigerated craft beers, locally-distilled booze, and a carefully curated selection of wine to fit any taste and budget. Ask the helpful staff for recommendations, and take a bottle back to your room for a memento of the trip, or for a nightcap.


Saturday

On Saturday morning I emerged from the Columbia Heights Metro stop to follow the neighborhood’s Heritage Trail, one of 15 quite manageable neighborhood walks available for download from the nonprofit Cultural Tourism DC’s website (culturaltourismdc.org). The tour started on 14th Street, across from the mammoth DC USA shopping mall, anchored by Target. That did not convey “heritage” to me, but my iPad filled me in: These blocks — where the soon-to-be-hoteliers Marriotts begin their Hot Shoppes chain and sell their first tamales in 1927 — had been devastated by fire in the riots that took place in 1968 after the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Only a few old buildings, like the 1924 Tivoli Theater, were still in place — but the trail led me through a lovely residential neighborhood, which had been split into black and white sections by housing covenants and is today in the process of gentrification. I figured that out myself when, after passing many African-American residents, a bearded young white man strolled by with a reusable shopping bag bursting with kale. A few blocks later I was on 11th Street, lined with brunch spots, including one (the tour narrative pointed out) where a celebrated African-American gay bar, Nob Hill, stood until 2004.

I had already taken care of brunch, having stopped for the ultimate cheap D.C. meal at Gloria’s Pupuseria, a hole-in-the-wall made more inviting by whitewash with homey pink trim. (Remember when I said I didn’t spend a dime on entertainment? I lied: I paid a dollar to replace blaring reggaeton on the jukebox with calmer, old-school bachata music.) My two pupusas revueltas — tortillas stuffed with cheese, beans and pork — were served burning hot from the griddle. I ripped off a piece with my fingers, stuck in a pinch of cold coleslaw called curtido and stuffed it all in my mouth, letting the contrasting temperatures battle it out on my tongue.

It was too nice a day not to shell out $7 for a day’s use of the Capital Bikeshare system, and I rode down to the Mall and visited the engrossing Franklin D. Roosevelt and Dr. King memorials. They even had a soundtrack: the surprisingly clear voice of Mary J. Blige carrying across the Tidal Basin from the free Global Citizen Earth Day concert. I cycled out New Jersey Avenue to meet an old friend, Jamal Simmons, for an evening in the Shaw and Bloomingdale areas, where he moved five years ago and which he described as “a great blend of the old working-class black neighborhood that has been here forever and a diverse new, upwardly mobile enclave.” (He added that rising housing prices meant that mix wouldn’t last forever.)

My challenge to him: Get me dinner and drinks for $25 of my dwindling budget. He did a fine job — we split a $13.50 “pep pep” pizza (ground lamb and pepper) and an $8 kale salad, sitting outdoors at Rustik Tavern.

With a beer my share came to about $21, leaving enough for a $3 Stroh’s at the otherwise pricey Boundary Stone bar, a former movie theater, furniture store and industrial kitchen. I did the unhip thing and took the Metro back to the ’burbs to stay with my friends Joel Najar and Jessica Porras in Falls Church, Va. they had promised me a hole-in-the-wall Mexican spot for breakfast the next morning.


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