Sunday, January 5, 2020

Great trips from DC: Take a Step Back in Time at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello

Today's blog post is going to take a trip away from the DMV to Charlottesville, Virginia where Thomas Jefferson's home, Monticello, is located in beautiful Albemarle County. It's approximately a 2-hour ride from Northern Virginia/D.C.

Since the early 20th century, Monticello has been maintained as a historical landmark and has been open to tourists. The property is probably one of Virginia’s best-known landmarks. 

Monticello in Charlottesville VA
Front entrance of Monticello/credit Leigh Goessl/All rights reserved

Centuries ago, Jefferson had chosen Charlottesville as the location to build his new home. Today, it's a booming area and centered around the University of Virginia (UVA), the college of which Jefferson himself is the founder. There are also many vineyards and other fine attractions in the area if you're looking to take a day or weekend trip - or an off-shoot excursion - from the District.

Construction of Monticello

Construction of this grand house began in 1769 and was a work in progress that spanned more than 40 years. Jefferson was known as one of the first - and best - architects in America in his time. He took his time building his masterpiece which he referred to as “his essay in architecture”, according to the National Parks Service. 

Touring the home and property, it's clear Jefferson took pride in his construction of what he must have viewed to be the ideal house. The build took on several different styles over the years as Jefferson changed things along the way. In spite of having changed his mind during construction to reflect newer styles, the final result is magnificent. 

Thomas Jefferson's Monticello
Image credit: Leigh Goessl/All rights reserved

Many of the other grand homes of this period are restored to what is interpreted by what records are found at any given time, but this is often difficult since there is always tons of research that consistently entails new discoveries uncovered which can change a property's historical interpretation. (As an example, for years George Washington’s Mount Vernon was white, but in the 2000s researchers discovered the home was actually more of a beige color for the period they were interpreting, and a change was made to reflect accuracy). 

However, in the case of Jefferson and Monticello, he took such meticulous records, the interpretation visitors see today appears to be pretty spot on. His documentation provided the future generations a very detailed history to follow. 

The house was originally supposed to have 14 rooms (by the 1780s it still only had eight rooms), but by completion, rooms totaled more than 40 with 33 being in the house itself. In 1784 Jefferson had traveled to France on official business and spent a total of five years there. “Smitten with the new Neoclassical architecture that he saw,” Jefferson then made a number of changes to the design of his home to show this admiration of architectural style. 

Jefferson lived in his masterpiece until his death in 1826. 
Monticello in Charlottesville, VA
The grand Monticello and its reflection in Jefferson's pool. A sign states "fish pond" and our guide told us that freshly caught fish were stored here before being sent to the kitchen. Image credit: Leigh Goessl/All rights reserved

Inside the Home

Jefferson various tastes and interests are very clear in Monticello's d├ęcor. The entryway shows Jefferson's interest in westward expansion, Native American life, exploration, and technology. Many of his original pieces still are intact and placed where he originally positioned them, including a large clock he’d designed. The dining room showcases sliding glass doors that lead to a tea room and also has a wine dumbwaiter, which is interesting to see.

Of importance to Jefferson was his “book room” which is adjacent to his office, which connects to his bedroom. His library boasted a number of very large bookcases, showcasing his love of books. The books visitors see on their tour are not originals, but a large percentage of them reflect - or are reproductions of - the books he did actually have in his collection. (His original books are currently on display at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., as he’d sold his collection to the government to replace the books that had been lost when the British burned the U.S. Capitol during the War of 1812).

Overall, the interior of Monticello is remarkable. The upstairs is not part of the traditional tour, but there is a special tour that can be booked. I haven't yet had the pleasure of doing it during my visits. 

The Property

Monticello (or “little mountain”), is indeed located on top of a mountain. The views are stunning, it’s no wonder he chose to build such a grand home on the property left to him by his father, Peter Jefferson. The gardens are spectacular and much restoration has been done on the property to bring it back to the way it looked during Jefferson’s time. There are flower and vegetable gardens are extensive (and to my understanding, many of them are planted with heirloom seeds). 

Looking down mountaintop from Thomas Jefferson's Monticello
Views of the orchard and gardens can be seen from the upper grounds of Monticello. Image credit: Leigh Goessl/All rights reserved
The orchards are also quite impressive, he called it his "fruitery" which included the South Orchard, two small vineyards, a nursery for his plants and a number of "berry squares". Over the years he planted more than 1,000 fruit trees, including:
  • 18 varieties of apples
  • 38 types of peaches
  • 14 cherry varieties
  • 12 pears
  • 27 variations of plums
  • 4 nectarines
  • 7 kinds of almonds
  • 6 apricots
  • 1 quince
This is just another example of the detailed accounts Jefferson kept and left behind for future generations to know. I've visited a lot of historic sites and, while many have detailed records, Monticello probably has the most specific records kept by its owner that I've seen to date.

Adjacent to the majestic house is "Mulberry Row" which is where daily activities primarily took place. It had over 20 dwellings, workshops, and storehouses. The many rooms each had a singular purpose. Today visitors can walk through and see how plantation life was during Jefferson's time. There are also many artifacts that can be viewed. Jefferson's visions and innovations are clear both inside and outside of the grand structure.

Thomas Jefferson's Monticello
Image credit: Leigh Goessl/All rights reserved

Things to Know For a Visit

In addition to touring the home and gardens, on the property, there is a movie theatre, hands-on discovery center for the kids, museum, and much more. Additionally, a family cemetery is also located on the grounds and Jefferson’s grave is visible through the gates.

Throughout the property, there are many areas available to tour and learn the stories that took place during Jefferson’s time, including the Jefferson family and the history of the hundreds of both free and enslaved people that lived on the plantation. There are detailed family trees located in the museum and tells the stories of the people who lived at Monticello.

Other things to know:

  • Peak season can be rather crowded. Usually, you can get tickets for a general tour, but if there are any special tours you do not want to miss, book these ahead of arrival.
  • The second floor is not a part of the regular tour; this is a special tour with a separate fee. 
  • There is a child-friendly version of the house tour. The regular tour is OK for kids too, but the presentation of this one is geared towards the little ones. 
  • No photography is allowed inside Monticello or at the museum located on the property. 
A whole day can easily be spent at Monticello to explore and learn about this era in U.S. history and how Jefferson contributed to it. In terms of architecture, Monticello is probably one of my favorites I've visited so far. These old grand homes are interesting for me in terms of architecture and what contents are inside that belonged to the original owners.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Why Washington DC is definitely a year-round vacation destination

Washington, D.C. is one of those destinations that is a great place to visit any time of the year. Regardless of the season, you'll find there is plenty to see and do, and the weather is not a big deterrent for most visitors. Like any other destination, there are seasonal things to see that can't be seen any other time of the year (like the beautiful cherry blossoms around the Tidal Basin) but, for the most part, many of the main attractions are year-round. 

Looking down at Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall
Image credit: Leigh Goessl (all rights reserved)

While the winters may be a little chilly and the summers typically get pretty warm, the energy flowing through the District is enough to make most visitors forget the temperatures. With so much to see and explore, chances are the weather will take a back seat in favor of taking in all the scenes. 

National Mall

If you're like most, one of the primary reasons you're coming to D.C. is to see the majestic monuments built on the National Mall. There's the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, FDR Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial, National WWII Memorial and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. Other lesser-known memorials include the George Mason Memorial and the District of Columbia WWI Memorial. 

Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington DC
Korean War Veterans Memorial. Image credit: Leigh Goessl (all rights reserved)

There is also the widely-recognized reflecting pool situated between the WWII Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial. This iconic pool makes for a beautiful sight as you stand on one end of the mall looking towards the other, no matter the season. While you'll need to dress according to weather since there isn't much indoor shelter when walking along the National Mall, seeing the amazing detail and thought put into the memorials' architecture and care is definitely worth a visit at any time of the year. 

If there is an opportunity (and availability!), I recommend you take the elevator up the Washington Monument to see the spectacular views. In the winter, we've been able to get tickets on the same day (they are free), but I recommend reserving tickets online and paying the $1.50 per ticket. More often than not, tickets go quick and, if you're only here once, you don't want to miss out (you can read more about getting tickets here). The only days the Washington Monument is closed is on July 4 and December 25.

See or Tour the Capitol Building 

The Capitol Building is the central hub of U.S. Government and is a big visitor attraction. Visitors can stand outside the Capitol and take photographs at various angles and/or take a tour inside this incredible landmark building. You can contact your local representative for tickets or book a tour online

taking a US Capitol tour
Inside the Capitol Rotunda. Image credit: Leigh Goessl (all rights reserved)
If possible, I recommend seeing the inside, however, just seeing the building close up is worth the trip to this side of the mall. It's relatively easy to reserve Capitol tickets, the availability doesn't go as quick as it does for places such as Washington Monument or Ford's Theatre. We were even recently able to add two extra tickets last minute when we unexpectedly had more company. 

Update 2021: Due to COVID-19 and subsequent events occurring on Jan. 6, 2021, even when pandemic-related restrictions lift, chances are admissions and security protocols may change. Check the official website before planning a visit.

Library of Congress and Supreme Court

If you do take the Capitol tour, there is a tunnel that connects to the Library of Congress where you can head straight over (or enter from the street if you want to go here first). This is another fabulous piece of architecture with many interesting things to see within its walls. 

Library of Congress in Washington DC
Image credit: Leigh Goessl (all rights reserved)

To date, I've only been inside the Jefferson Building (which has the main attractions), but there are also two other buildings that are part of the LOC. There are free tours you can join if you are interested. Go to the visitor's desk when you arrive and ask to be put on the list.

Also, if your visit falls on a Monday through Friday, next door to the LOC is the Supreme Court, which is open to visitors as well. You can sit in on a docent-led talk if Court is not in session or, if Court is in session, visitors are invited to walk around to see the exhibits. 

U.S. Botanic Gardens

The United States Botanic Gardens are located near the U.S. Capitol and is open year-round. Throughout the year there are numerous permanent exhibits, such as the World Deserts Exhibit, and also seasonal ones, such as the "Seasons Greetings" display during the holidays. And, if you're lucky to be in town when it happens, you might even see something rare and unusual, such as the blooming of a corpse flower. 

US Botanic Gardens corpse flower
Image credit: Leigh Goessl (all rights reserved)

I was fortunate enough to see the latter in 2013. It was exciting (as I'd waited a few years to see one) and was thrilled to get the chance. During the warmer months, there are also some beautiful outdoor gardens. 

White House

Visiting the White House is another highlight for visitors. Every day, many visitors to the city walk down Pennsylvania Avenue to get a close-up and personal view of this famous landmark. Tours of the White House typically need to be scheduled far in advance, but if you book early enough, seeing the inside of the White House through a tour is a terrific outing at any time of the year. All federal buildings have strict security, but there are tighter restrictions with this tour on what visitors can carry inside the building, so be sure to check the official website before making any plans to know current requirements. 

Smithsonian Museums

Another amazing aspect of Washington D.C. is the wealth of information and spectacular exhibits housed at any of the Smithsonian Museums. Most of the museums are pretty close in proximity which makes it an excellent all-weather activity to enjoy. There are 19 Smithsonian museums in Washington, and most of them are located between the U.S. Capitol Building and the Washington Monument. 

Taken inside of the Butterfly Pavilion at the National Museum of Natural History

The most popular of the Smithsonian museums are the Air and Space Museum, National Museum of American History and the National Museum of Natural History. However, there are many other less known, but amazing, museums such as the Freer & Sackler Gallery, National Museum of the American Indian, National Museum of African Art and the National Portrait Gallery. Additionally, the National Zoo, which houses several Giant Pandas, is a part of the Smithsonian Institution. (The Smithsonian also has the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, a part of the Air & Space Museum, out in Chantilly, Virginia).

In addition to the above attractions, you can take in a show at or tour Ford's Theatre, see an event at the Capital One Arena, or simply enjoy sampling the various ethnic cuisines located in the numerous restaurants throughout the city. Literally tons to see and do year-round in our nation's capital.

Another of my favorite things to do is to head over to the Old Post Office (now the Trump International Hotel but the elevator is still run by NPS) and take the elevator up the bell tower to see the city views. This is a good secondary option if you can't get tickets for the Washington Monument or if its elevator is out of service (which seems to be a lot in recent years due to various problems).

View of US Capitol from Old Post Office bell tower
Taken from the top of the Old Post Office bell tower. Image credit: Leigh Goessl (all rights reserved)

Washington D.C. is often considered to be one of the best year-round vacation spots in the United States. Very few attractions are weather-dependent.

Even as a local, I tend to go downtown throughout the year and see what there is to explore. It just never gets old for me whether I'm exiting at the Metro Station at the Smithsonian stop or driving in from Virginia over one of the bridges.

Friday, September 20, 2019

10 fun facts about the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool on the National Mall

The Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool is an iconic sight on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. It sits directly between the Lincoln Memorial and the World War II Monument with the Washington Monument just beyond the WWII Memorial. 

view of Lincoln Memorial National Mall

Many people are familiar with the Reflecting Pool because of this famous scene in the fictional Forrest Gump movie. While it’s true this man-made body of water has had a front-row seat to many real-life pivotal and important scenes in history, it has also got an interesting history of its own. 

10 fun facts about the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool

1. Work began on the Reflecting Pool on Dec. 16, 1920, and took over two years to finish, with the work being completed on Jan. 5, 1923.

2. The Reflecting Pool is approximately 2,028 feet long, 167 feet wide, and, while it looks deeper, is only about 18 inches deep at either side. Its deepest part is in the center which is about 30 inches, and it's the largest of any of Washington’s reflecting pools.

3. The pool holds almost 7 million gallons of water and pulls water from pipes leading to the nearby Tidal Basin.

4. Henry Bacon, a prominent U.S. architect, was chosen in 1913 to design the Lincoln Memorial – but the Reflecting Pool was not a part of his original design. After a complicated process and a shift in direction from the earlier plans for this space (it was originally supposed to be a cruciform shaped pool which was determined in the early 1900s as a part of the McMillan Plan), Bacon was ultimately tasked to design the pool.

5. On the Lincoln Memorial end of the pool, there are 87 steps from the reflecting pool to reach the memorial (and another 58 steps to climb up to the chamber where the statue is). 

6. On Aug. 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech overlooking the Reflecting Pool with 250,000 people in attendance.

Washington Monument and reflections

7. The Rainbow Pool, which is now integrated into the WWII Monument, was originally part of the Reflecting Pool project design.

Fountains at the WWII Memorial

8. In 2010, Reflecting Pool underwent a massive renovation. It was closed for about two years with the pool essentially being reconstructed. Work was performed by a company called Louis Berger. We've seen the DC Reflecting Pool drained in recent years for cleaning, removal of algae, or elimination of parasites.

9. Swimming and ice skating are not allowed to take place in or on the Reflecting Pool.

10. The Reflecting Pool is the largest of the several pools on the National Mall. The water to fill the large pool comes from the nearby Tidal Basin.

The Reflecting Pool adds a beautiful complementary component to the overall Mall’s theme. Every year, the National Mall sees about 25 million visitors. If you're in the area, definitely come by the Reflecting Pool. The Lincoln Memorial at night is spectacular, but during the day also offers beautiful views and reflections in the water.

Monday, November 26, 2018

5 fun things to do in Washington DC region during the holidays

The holidays are a special time of year and if you're looking to bring a little extra fun or magic into your days this season, there are plenty of things to see and do in the Washington D.C. region. Here are five fun and festive things to do this holiday season.

1. Go see millions of twinkling holiday lights

If Christmas lights and displays are your thing, you'll find plenty of options in the D.C. metro region from drive-through festivals to wandering through pathways in brightly lit parks or at the National Zoo, there is something for everyone at one of the many annual festivals that take place. 

2. See beautifully decorated Christmas trees

The most well-known events in the area are the

White House and Capitol tree lighting ceremonies, which of course, are always an option. However, if you are in the area, there are plenty of other lovely trees to be seen

Check out Union Station, Mount Vernon, Old Town Alexandria, National Harbor, Library of Congress and other festive public spots throughout the region for holiday family fun - also be sure to read the well-rounded list DC Curbed has for local Christmas trees.

3. Watch a Christmas parade

One thing I never experienced when I lived in the Northeast part of the U.S. were Christmas parades. That being said, I have no idea if Christmas parades are a regional thing here in the mid-Atlantic or if they are a newer trend across the U.S. Whatever the case, there are many fun parades that brighten up the holidays each year in the DMV (scroll down to the bottom of this post for a list of winter parades in D.C., Virginia, and Maryland). 

4. Go see a show

Once Halloween passes, many holiday-themed productions have their opening nights and last through the New Year. 

Check out the many holiday shows, Destination DC and Kid-Friendly D.C. has some great roundups of the local shows. We saw "A Christmas Carol" at Ford's Theatre on opening weekend 2018 and it was a wonderful show. We plan to see Encore Theatrical Arts Project's annual show coming up in December (this one has become a family tradition in my house). 

5. Visit a holiday market

Holiday markets can be found all throughout the D.C.

region. From small locally organized festivals to large-scale annual events, there is something for everyone to be found. 

TripSavvy has a pretty comprehensive and updated list of where these can be found. I haven't been able to do an updated post yet, but here is a list of previous holiday and craft festivals in Northern Virginia (please keep in mind dates are from an earlier year and not correct but the events themselves are typically recurring each year). 

One of the great things about the D.C. area is there is never a lack of things to see and do in winter or any of the other three seasons. If you know of any other great things to see in the region, please let me know in the comments!

Happy Holidays!

Friday, November 2, 2018

Weekend holiday trips: Sesame Place - 'A Very Furry Christmas'

If you're looking for family fun as the weather gets
cool and you have little ones, Sesame Place makes for a great overnight or weekend trip. Located in Langhorne, Pa., Sesame Place is a theme park featuring, who else? Those lovable Sesame Street characters.

The park opens up in April and runs through December (with brief breaks in September and October to prepare for the seasonal festivals). During the warmer months, the park is open daily with water rides and summer fun, however, once the temperatures cool, the park transforms itself to reflect the holiday season and is only open on weekends.

Limited days during the fall and winter months does 
not mean the fun has to stop. For instance, once the Halloween events end, the park shuts down for the first two weeks of November during this time Sesame Place transforms into a winter wonderland and holiday celebration. From mid-November through the end of December, the park presents "A Very Furry Christmas".

The official arrival of "A Very Furry Christmas" at Sesame Place typically comes in the second half of November, just before Thanksgiving. While Sesame Place is mostly geared towards the toddler through the early elementary school-aged set, the park is fun for all ages, especially for those who grew up watching "Sesame Street"; a definite feeling nostalgia emerges as one wanders through the park adorned with Christmas cheer. Visitors to "A Very Furry Christmas" are welcomed by multi-colored Christmas trees prior to the ticket entrance, and once inside, the full effect of Christmas on "Sesame Street" comes to life.

Once inside the park, there is plenty for the family to do. However, not so much that it is overwhelming, especially for the little ones. For instance, the park is nowhere near as large as any of the Disney parks.


One of the highlights of "A Very Furry Christmas" is the Christmas-themed shows featuring popular favorites such as Elmo, Big Bird, Bert, Ernie, Cookie Monster, Abby, Zoe, the Count and more. In typical Sesame Street fashion, the show has a teaching angle that relates to the holidays. 

Usually, there are several shows running multiple times during the day, and, from what I can tell, the shows change every year. However, the 1-2-3 Christmas Tree Show, a musical light show displayed on the park's large Christmas tree, and the 'A Very Furry Christmas' Parade seem to be annual staples. 

There are two parades, one in the late afternoon and one nighttime parade. The traditional year-round "Neighborhood Street Party Christmas Parade" celebrates Christmas as holiday-themed songs and winter garb is worn. The evening show is pretty, as "Sesame Street" comes to life all lit up.

'Dry' rides

Throughout the visit, in between shows and character meets, there are plenty of "dry" rides to enjoy. There is "Big Bird’s Balloon Race", "Grover's World Twirl" (this one resembles the teacup ride at the Magic Kingdom), various Elmo-themed rides, a carousel and more.

Other things to do during 'A Very Furry Christmas'

Throughout the day there are numerous opportunities for meet and greets and photo ops with the various "Sesame Street" characters and also, Santa. Additionally, there are playground-like activities where kids can do what they do best - be kids! There are also several snack carts, featuring festive winter snacks, such as cookies and hot chocolate" and a couple of cafes. There are also carnival games (for an additional cost).

"A Very Furry Christmas" is a family-friendly 
event at Sesame Place, highly recommended if you have young children. From the D.C. area it's about a three-hour ride, so you'll probably want to stay overnight. We did it a few years ago and drove home. It was way too long of a day. To see what's offered and dates the festival is open, see the official website for current details.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Annual parades in the Washington D.C. area

Independence Day in Washington DCAs 2019 creeps closer, I started musing about things to do next year. That got me thinking about all the different parades we see in and around Washington D.C. throughout the year – and there are many!

The first of which starts in January. However, being it's currently October, I realized there is a flurry of events happening right around the corner because many of them take place between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Here’s a rundown of the different annual parades broken down by month that you can find in the region.

January & February

In January on Martin Luther King Day, the annual Peace Walk takes place. A 2-mile walk, everyone is welcome to join. This parade has been a tradition since 1979.

Mardi Gras isn't just in New Orleans. If you're in the D.C. area, you can enjoy parades, floats and fireworks right downtown at the District Wharf. Across the Potomac in Arlington (Clarendon), there is also an annual Mardi Gras parade that takes place (check the website for updates, it seems due to other events in the region taking place simultaneously, this one may get shifted to another date).

Chinese New Year is a big event in the D.C. region. This celebration starts either in January or February, depending on which month the New Year falls on in any given year. As part of the festivities, there is always a big parade held downtown.

Alexandria, Va. is the location for the annual parade to celebrate George Washington. Washington owned nearby Mount Vernon and spent a lot of time in Alexandria proper, so it seems fitting this city would be the chosen location for this celebratory parade. The event always takes place on the third Monday in February (President's Day).

(Note: I combined these months due to the overlap in Chinese New Year between January and February)

March & April

St. Patrick’s Day is the big event in March throughout the D.C. region. You'll find many parades taking place in D.C., Maryland and Virginia. Most of them will shift toward the weekend either before or after March 17 (and in some cases on other weekends during March which is great news for the rest of us since it offers a chance to see more than one!)

St. Patrick Day's Parade, Washington D.C. 
Cities and/or towns in the region that host St. Patrick's Day parades during the month include:
  • Washington, D.C.
  • Alexandria, Va.
  • Manassas, Va.
  • Annapolis, Md.
  • Gaithersburg, Md.
Many of these communities also have other fun celebratory events for St. Patrick's Day.

Late March to mid-April brings the National Cherry Blossom Festival to downtown Washington, D.C. The festival offers both a parade and fireworks. In the past, they've held the parade first and with the fireworks taking place on the last weekend of this three-week festival

National Cherry Blossom Festival performance

(Note: March and April also combined due to overlap in the National Cherry Blossom Festival between the two months.)


As the month of May comes to a close, the biggest Memorial Day parade in the U.S., the National Memorial Day Parade, takes place along the National Mall to honor those individuals who have given their all.

Arlington National Cemetery

Other events in May include the DC Funk Parade and the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival Parade (the latter is a bit off the beaten path, about 60-90 minutes west, depending on where you're driving from, but would be a great day or weekend trip).


Every June, the Capital Pride Parade takes place in the Dupont and Logan Circle neighborhoods, celebrating diversity and pride. To find out the current date/year of this annual event, visit the official website and click "calendar view". 


The Fourth of July is the big parade (and fireworks!) event for July. The nation's Capital city hosts these amazing events every year and more. You probably can't find a better place to be on July 4th than Washington, D.C. to experience the National Independence Day Parade if you don't mind the crowds.

Other Fourth of July parades you can find in the DMV region include:
  • Great Falls, Va.
  • Fairfax, Va.
  • Leesburg, Va.
  • Dale City, Va.
  • Annapolis, Md.
  • Laurel, Md.
  • Takoma Park, Md.
  • Kensington, Md.
  • Montgomery Village, Md.
Many of these events include other holiday fun, along with fireworks. 

Later in the month, the Baltimore Carribean Carnival Parade kicks off. An annual event that takes place in mid-July, their website is active but at the time of this writing contains no information. It may be updated as July comes closer.

August & September

I'm not aware of any parades in the region that take place in August but there are a couple of local Labor Day parades in September. One is located in Gaithersburg. Md. (marching for more than 80 years!) and the other in Kensington, Md (marching for more than 50 years!)


As of now, I am also not aware of any October parades, but hopefully one day soon we’ll see an MLB World Series Championship (Let’s go Nationals!) parading down D.C.’s streets. Based on MLB's latest playoff schedules, I suppose it could theoretically take place in October, but more likely early November.

Update Oct. 31, 2019: And November it is! Congratulations to the 2019 Washington Nationals organization, its fans, and to the city of Washington, D.C.!!! What an awesome season and a fab ending!



November brings the annual Northern Virginia Veterans’ Day Parade to honor and pay respect to our brave Veterans who selflessly give so much of themselves. This annual parade takes place in Manassas and marked its 10th year in 2018. 

(This photo was actually taken in Washington D.C. during another parade)

Every November, on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, the Montgomery County Thanksgiving Parade comes to town. The Reston Holiday Parade is an annual tradition since 1991. It takes place at the Reston Town Center, usually on the day after Thanksgiving.


December brings many holiday parades to the region. Perennial regional favorites include:

  • Scottish Christmas Walk Weekend  (Old Town, Alexandria, Va.) (Note: There are usually a ton of events going on throughout Old Town Alexandria to coincide with this annual special weekend after the parade). 
  • Greater Manassas Christmas Parade (Manassas, Va.)
  • Warrenton Christmas Parade (Warrenton, Va.)
  • Leesburg Holiday Parade and Festival (Leesburg, Va.)
  • Christmas in Middleburg Parade (Middleburg, Va.)
  • Winterfest (McLean, Va.)
  • Alexandria Christmas Lights Boat Parade (Old Town Alexandria, Va.)
  • Annapolis Holiday Boat Parade of Lights (Annapolis, Md.)
  • Purcelleville Christmas Parade (Purcelleville, Va.)
  • Cambridge-Dorchester Christmas Parade (Cambridge, Md.)
  • Mayor's Christmas Parade (Baltimore, Md.)
For more information about the specific Virginia Christmas and Holiday parades, I invite you to visit my other post that contains more detailed information and links to official websites).

Leesburg Holiday Parade & Festival (2012)

Every season brings plenty of parades to the D.C. and surrounding regions! I'll update this post as I discover new information. 

Friday, August 3, 2018

Ready to get out of town? Great weekend trips from Washington, D.C.

Living in the Washington D.C. Metro area means there are a ton of great things to see and do at any given time of the year. However, sometimes you just want to get out of town for a change of scenery. 

Fortunately, there are several fab places to visit that are within driving distance of the District. Over the years we've ventured to parts north, west and south for both weekend and day trips. This year we've done some new exploring. 

1. Richmond

There is so much to see and do in Virginia's capital city. Honestly, we haven't even scratched the surface. In May we took a quick weekend trip to Richmond and really enjoyed what little we did have time to see. The Capitol building was our first stop and we spent quite a bit of time there. 

Statehouse located in Richmond Virginia
Exterior of the front of the Virginia State Capitol

State Capitol Building in Richmond
Statue of George Washington inside of the statehouse

After touring the Capitol inside and out, we walked by the Valentine First Freedom Center Exhibitions and Monument and decided to stop in; interesting exhibit. 

Next up we walked downtown towards the canal and had some lunch. We saw there was a canal history tour so decided to wrap up our day with a nice boat ride. 

Tours in historic Richmond, Virginia

The next day we drove through parts of the city to get another taste but unfortunately needed to get home. Richmond is definitely on the list of must-return places to visit for a weekend trip.

2. Shenandoah National Park

A favorite of ours for day trips, last summer we decided to spend an overnight which gave us the opportunity to see the park in the evening and also give us time to really explore some of the trails. When looking at lodging we decided on Big Meadows Lodge

The main building at Big Meadows Lodge

Over our two days, we took in a couple of ranger talks and hikes, along with doing several other trails we explored on our own. I love going during the summer to the park because of all the beautiful butterflies and other critters to be found. Spending more time in the park and wandering off Skyline Drive also allowed us to have our first bear sighting which was pretty exciting. 

Bear spotted near Big Meadows at Shenandoah National Park
(Not our "first" bear sighting in the park, but it is the better picture I was able to get a few weeks later!)

3. James River Plantations

This was a fun trip we took in May 2017. If you are interested in architecture and/or early American history, this would be a great excursion. We started out early on a Saturday morning and took the ride down to the Charles City area of Virginia. Our intention was to visit as many of the historic houses as we could. 

Our first stop was Sherwood Forest, the home of the 10th president, John Tyler. To drop by, you can only tour the outside. Payment is based on the honor system by dropping cash in a box. If you want an indoor tour special arrangements must be made (there is a higher fee attached). The home is still owned and run by the Tyler family since 1842 but the house itself is much older, early 18th century. 

Exterior of Sherwood Forest

Next up was Shirley Plantation, the oldest plantation in Virginia. Still owned and lived in by the family, this tour includes the first floor of the mansion and the grounds. The plantation dates back to 1613 and the current house was completed in 1738. This property had been on my "must-see" list for years. It was definitely worth the wait. The tour was interesting, informative and it was amazing to see the home's interior. 

Historical James River plantations - Shirley Plantation
Front view of Shirley Plantation's main house

Our last tour for the day was at Berkeley Plantation, the home of two presidents, William Henry Harrison (#9) and Benjamin Harrison (#23). The family patriarch, Benjamin V. Harrison, was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. The mansion dates back to 1726 and the property claims to have held the first Thanksgiving in America in 1619. This tour was excellent and the (costumed) guide very informative; we enjoyed this tour a lot. It was probably my favorite tour of the day.

Side view of Berkley (with tour guide in front of the door)

To conclude the day, we booked a hotel just outside of Richmond, making the ride home the next day a relatively short one (about two hours). 

4. Jamestown/Yorktown

This was a trip we took during a chilly November weekend. Our day started off at Historic Jamestowne where we toured the original site where the settlers landed back in 1607. We spent quite a bit of time on the island. 

James River view from original Jamestown landing
Signage posting this was the landing site for Jamestowne settlers. There are numerous foundations, graves, a church and some replica structures throughout the island to explore. It's an interesting place to tour. You can take guided or self-tours (guided tours are by topic).

New discoveries are constantly being made and we had visited at a good time because excavations are ongoing. At the time, they had made some new discoveries (and from what I've read, another exciting discovery was recently made). 

On the way out, we stopped to see glass being made Colonial-style at the Jamestown Glasshouse. We didn't visit the Jamestown Settlement Museum on this particular trip but have been before, it's pretty expansive. Not to mention, the replica boats are pretty amazing to see (and you can board them, weather permitting). Also, there is an interesting museum and replica settlement to see. If you're in the area I recommend visiting both Historic Jamestowne and the Jamestown Settlement Museum.

Jamestowne Museum and replica boats
Boats at Jamestown Settlement
After Jamestown, we took a ride over to Yorktown and visited the battlefield and museum. Since it was late in the day, we didn't have a lot of time but tried to see as much as we could. We did a quick run-through of the driving tour. I think we covered some pretty good ground considering our time limitations - and we still had time to check out the small museum. 

If you're in the area for the full weekend, you could probably fit Williamsburg in too. We didn't have enough time since we could only do one night. From what I've read, you need at least one full day, maybe more, to really get the experience over at Williamsburg. 

It was a little cold for a November visit, next time will most likely be in the spring or fall. Once again, we stayed at a hotel outside of Richmond and then made our way back to D.C. in the morning.

5. Annapolis

A hop, skip and a jump from D.C., even if you live in Northern Virginia (like me), Annapolis a relatively close trip, easily done as a day trip too. We've made a few trips up there to tour the state's Capitol building and walk around the waterfront. We haven't done nearly enough exploring of Annapolis but we have a weekend trip planned very soon. Very much looking forward to seeing what else this beautiful city has to offer. 

Maryland state capitol building
Inside Maryland's statehouse

If you're looking for other ideas for great weekend trips, try:
  • Baltimore - I can't properly write this one up yet since to date my visits here have been limited. In June we went up to tour Fort McHenry (and took a ride through the Inner Harbor and did a drive-by of Camden Yards while we were there) before heading back to our hotel near Arundel Mills for a dinner at Medieval Times.
  • Lewes, Delaware - Take the Cape May-Lewes Ferry across to Cape May, New Jersey. While you're there, there is plenty to see and do. Or, simply enjoy the beach (you do have to purchase beach tags). This was a great summer trip we did in August 2017! We'd spent time at the beach and then walked around to see the Victorian homes before taking the ferry back to Delaware. Next time, we plan to explore historic Lewes. 
Cape May-Lewes Ferry trip
Lighthouse in the Delaware Bay as seen from the ferry
  • Charlottesville - Lots of terrific places to see in this wonderful city. (If you're interested, my earlier post has far more detail)
  • Luray - If you love nature, a recommended trip.
  • Natural Bridge - If in town, make a visit to the Virginia Safari Park while you're there. It's a fun drive through and you can also park and see the other animal exhibits.
  • Philadelphia - A three-hour ride from the District, Philly is a terrific city to visit. We've made a couple of weekend trips and still have so much more to see! 
While Washington D.C. is pretty awesome in itself, there are so many other terrific places to visit in the region without having to hop a plane.