Thursday, August 13, 2015

Tips for using the Metro Lines in Northern Virginia

If you want to pick up the Metro in Northern Virginia, you have a few options because you can take the Orange, Blue, Yellow or Silver Lines. Taking the Metro is convenient because you don't have to worry about the car parking dilemma once you get to D.C., especially during special events.

Parking in general, special events or not, can be difficult and the free parking down by the monuments typically fills up quickly. It's more financially feasible to take the Metro in most cases rather than park in one of the pay parking areas in downtown D.C.

Here's a quick rundown of each Metro line and the stops you can access in Northern Virginia:

Blue Line: The Blue Line picks up in Springfield, the only station in Fairfax County, then runs to Van Dorn Street on the outskirts of Alexandria. From here it goes into the heart of Alexandria at King Street. From King Street the train continues through Alexandria at the Braddock Road stop to the Ronald Reagan National Airport, Crystal City, Pentagon, Arlington Cemetery and then at Rosslyn. From here the line turns and heads into Washington D.C. through to Maryland at the other end of the line at the Largo Town Center.

Yellow Line: The Yellow Line also only has one stop in Fairfax County and this is located at the Huntington Station. From here it turns into Alexandria and stops at Eisenhower Avenue, King Street, Braddock Road, Ronald Reagan National Airport, Crystal City, and Pentagon. At this point, the Yellow Line goes east and heads into Washington D.C. proper.

Orange Line: The Orange Line runs west in Fairfax County. The stops are located at Vienna (one end of the line), Dunn Loring-Merrifield, West Falls Church, East Falls Church, Ballston-MU, Virginia Square-GMU (George Mason University), Clarendon, Courthouse and Rosslyn. After Rosslyn, the rail crosses the Potomac River and you'll hit the Washington D.C. stops which then lead to Maryland and ends at New Carrolton, the other end of the line. A popular line being it crosses the Smithsonian Station stop.

Silver Line: Opened in July 2014, the silver line is still a work in process. Eventually, it will run out to Dulles International Airport, but currently the route is from Wiehle-Reston East to Largo Town Center. Basically, it shares track with the Blue and Orange lines, but hits different areas of Northern Virginia the existing lines do not reach.

There is also a Red Line, but this one runs through Maryland and D.C. There are several options for starting or ending your journey in Northern Virginia by Metro. The Orange, Blue, Yellow and Silver lines are pretty accessible and parking is available. Additionally, many Metro buses run to the various stations.

You can view the Metro Rail Map on the Metro's website to give you a better visual of all the stops in Northern Virginia, Washington D.C. and Maryland. This map includes the Red and Green Lines as well, which may help you navigate any train transfers you may need to take in order to get you closest to your destination.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Fun with the kids: Visiting the Leesburg Animal Park

If you're looking for a good time with the kids in Northern Virginia, Leesburg Animal Park is a great place to spend a few hours or the day. The park is located on a quiet highway in Loudoun County, Va., but is one of those places you're happy to find when you come across it.

The Leesburg Animal Park isn't overly large, but it does offer lots of stuff for the kids to see and do. Because of the high interactive component, I feel it is more impressive than some of the other animal parks you might see. Children are allowed to feed and pet most of the animals, although there are a few exceptions.

Some highlights of the Leesburg Animal Park:

Meet the animals

This animal park is pretty hands-on and visitors get a good chance to get up close and personal with the animals. There are two primary areas where animals who can be fed reside. One is located just inside the entrance gate and is comprised of wooden pens that the smaller animals wander in and out of, and the larger animals can poke their heads out.

The other area is just a bit further down (very close and stroller friendly) and is constructed as a large fenced in area. In this section the animals wander completely free. Visitors are welcome to go inside and have a true close encounter with many animals.

For the most part, the animals are extremely friendly, but some are aggressive as they nudge you for food, perhaps just being overly friendly. Kids either love or hate this part of the experience, it really depends on the child. If yours are afraid of animals being too “in your face”, you might want to let them watch the side rather than going into the fenced area. And if you are visiting with a little one who knocks over easily or is intimidated by animals, you may want to pick them when visiting this section of the park. 

Although, there are the less intimidating smaller animals in there too, such as baby goats which are typically a hit with the little ones. 

Exotic and domestic animals

There are also other animals which the kids cannot get up close and personal, but they can see other animals they likely don't get to see that often. There's lemurs, peacocks, macaws, and the amazingly large Aldabra tortoises. 

The gibbons are extremely playful and are a hoot to watch. There's even a porcupine! 


There are several other neat things for the kids to do at Leesburg Animal Park. For
instance, there is a playground and moon bounce. Another fun activity is the tractor ride. A staff member pulls the group in a wooden wagon with a farm tractor. The ride is about 10 minutes to the back of the park. The wagon offers plenty of space and feels more like a real tractor ride than some other places we've been, complete with bumps and all.

Around the back are zebras where the kids can catch a look. After the zebras the driver makes a stop at the pond around back. As soon as the fish hear the motor they come in swarms followed by the ducks and geese. 

It is pretty amazing to see the fish jump all over one another as they anticipate being fed. The fish actually respond to the sound of the tractor arriving. The driver gives every rider some food to feed the ducks, geese and fish. The kids are bound to get a kick at of this aspect of the park.

This is incredible to watch
There’s also a new indoor play space. I’ve not seen it yet.

All of these activities are included with the admission price.

Pony rides

For an additional fee, smaller children (not sure of the weight limits on this, but pretty sure there is one) can have the opportunity to ride a pony. This section is located right near the animal pens and in very close proximity to all the activities.

There is a small gift shop on premises where you can buy light snacks. Picnics are welcomed on the premises and there are plenty of tables spread throughout the park to sit and enjoy your lunch. There's also a playground and plenty of open space for the kids to run about if they need to let off some steam.

To learn more about pricing and hours of operation, check out the Leesburg Animal Park website for more information. If you're in the Washington, D.C., Northern Virginia or Southern Maryland area and are looking for something a little bit off the beaten path, this destination might be just the place you're looking for to take the kids.

Side notes:

  • According to this year’s calendar, the park is closed on Mondays this summer

  • The Leesburg Animal Park is also located practically next door to the lovely Oatlands property