Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Touring inside the Supreme Court

Over the summer I posted some fun facts about the Supreme Court building, and in my post, I mentioned I would like to go inside the building to see inside the highest court in the nation. About two weeks ago I got my chance being we were downtown on a weekday (the court is closed to visitors on weekends and federal holidays).

Entering the building was pretty straightforward, we went through a security scan, which is standard in federal buildings. Once inside, tours are self-guided. There are a number of exhibits about the building, the court's history and the justices. You can explore the ground floor and a part of the first floor.

Supreme Court hallway
Ground floor hallway in the Supreme Court

John Marshall statue at the Supreme Court
Statue of John Marshall can be viewed on the Supreme Court's ground floor

Justice O'Connor gavel on display at the Supreme Court
Gavel belonging to Judge O'Connor when she was on the Arizona court

I didn't realize there was so much to see on the ground floor of the court! The interior itself is gorgeous to look at, very ornate. I love architecture and this building is a beauty. After viewing the exhibits, we did take the stairs to the second floor and took a quick peek into a courtroom and the hallways. 

Courtroom located at the US Supreme Court
Docent was giving a lecture in the courtroom
Supreme Court spiral staircase
Spiral staircase (taken while looking up). This beauty is closed to the public but you can peek up

In addition to the exhibits, there are also ongoing courtroom lectures led by a docent (9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. when the court is not sitting) and a film - we didn't get to do either these. Nor did we look into how to attend a court session (these are first-come, first-serve basis and being we had a Capitol tour scheduled, we didn't have time anyway).

We spent maybe about 40 minutes just wandering around before heading over to our Capitol tour. I'd like to go back again someday and listen to a lecture and see the film. 

Friday, September 25, 2015

Photos on Friday: Flowers at the US Botanic Garden

Last week it was great to be able to get downtown again and visit some of my favorite places. After touring the Capitol and popping into the Library of Congress and Supreme Court building, we stopped in at the U.S. Botanic Garden.

It's been a while since I've posted a "Photos on Friday" entry and thought the USBG would be a nice topic. These plants and flowers are so warm as we're starting to see the autumn chill peek in here in the Northern Virginia/DC area.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Visiting Potomac Mills Mall Outlet Center, Woodbridge Va.

If you are living in or visiting northern Virginia or Washington D.C. and you are a shopping enthusiast, Potomac Mills is the place to go. Many vacation spots offer great outlet centers or malls, but this one truly is a shopping experience. Especially now as we head towards the holiday shopping season.

With hundreds of retail brand name stores, a movie theatre with numerous screens, a large food court and multiple specialty shops, Potomac Mills is a shopper's dream. You can easily spend hours in this outlet center and still not see everything it has to offer. I'm not a huge shopper, but I do like heading out over there every once in a while.

Image credit: Ben Schumin, CC accessed via

Describing the outlet center as large is a gross understatement. The shopping mall is so extensive the building is broken up into "neighborhoods". There are approximately five of these smaller shopping communities located within Potomac Mills. The neighborhoods are all interconnected with visible signs directing you towards the stores you are looking to shop.
With stores such as Old Navy, JC Penney, Lego Store, Correlle, Disney Store, to name a few select, there is truly a diverse selection to choose for your shopping; the outlet center even contains a nurse's uniform store. Anything you're looking for from generic shopping items to brand names and niche stores, you'll probably find it here.

Through many shopping experiences it has illuminated to me how a shopper can truly find great bargains at Potomac Mills. One word of advice, before indulging in a shopping spree here, it is good to know your prices, because despite appearances, not all stores charge outlet prices as you might think based on the advertising. Many do, but if you don't want to overspend, do some price checking online on specific items you are looking for before you head out.

In my experience, stores such as JC Penny, Correlle and Disney do charge lower than their counterparts would in other traditional malls, but there are a few stores and shops that appear to charge high end prices under the guise of a "deal".

Additionally, dozens upon dozens of specialty niche-oriented kiosks are spread throughout the center in addition to the traditional brick and mortar shops. During the holidays or even for other special occasions, there are often some nifty gifts you can find at one of the kiosks, the kind of stuff you usually don't find any place else.

Navigating the mall is easy because there are plenty of signs and directories throughout the corridors. Additionally, there are plenty of benches if you need to stop and take a break for a few minutes.

As an added bonus, in addition to the outlet center itself, there are many anchor stores and other smaller merchants located in the immediate vicinity. This area of Prince William County is highly commercial. Navigating the many side roads and parking lots can be a little confusing in my opinion, but you'll certainly not lack for any place to shop or stop and have a bite to eat.

Potomac Mills is located conveniently near I-95 just south of Washington DC, maybe 30 minutes or so depending on traffic, the Potomac Mills outlet center is open daily. The mall address is 2700 Potomac Mills Circle, Prince William, Va. 22192.

If you love to shop until you drop, Potomac Mills is worth exploring. It's been a while since I've visited, and I'm thinking I'm due a visit later this year.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Great places to eat BBQ in Chantilly, Va.

Chantilly, Va, is an area just south of Dulles International Airport, that contains a hub of technology companies and other commercial retail. The town is also home to several restaurants, including BBQ. For those looking to indulge in a bit of barbecue, you can easily find a place in this town nestled just about 20 miles outside Washington D.C.

Texas Roadhouse

Texas Roadhouse is a part of a chain that is housed in almost all 50 states in the U.S. and one is located right off Route 28 in Chantilly, just about 10 miles up the way from the airport and about 4 miles south of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and Sully Plantation.

The Roadhouse has been named in both Forbes and Consumer Reports as a winner. The d├ęcor and ambiance is western-style, and there is both a dining room and a bar area.

Texas Roadhouse Ribs & Chicken. Image credit: Krista on Flickr/CC by 2.0 

The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner and patrons can choose from a large menu featuring both BBQ style foods and general menu fare. There's an early bird dinner menu (currently $8.99) that offers limited selections as discounted prices on weekdays. If steak is what whets your appetite, you can choose your own (these are typically more expensive than the standard menu steaks). Texas Roadhouse ribs are very good and there are a variety of sides to choose from; the in-house rolls with specially flavored butter are fab.

The Chantilly Texas Roadhouse is located at 4993 Westone Plaza, Chantilly, Va. 20151

Famous Dave's

Famous Dave's is a chain which houses restaurants in numerous states, at least five of which have a home in Northern Virginia. The restaurant features a wide menu and highlights its ribs, pork, beef brisket and BBQ sides. Most of the menu is BBQ-centric, but there are some other options such as burgers, salads and soups for those looking for something along the lines of more traditional fare. The restaurant has both a dining and bar area and is a large establishment with plenty of seating.

Famouse Dave's rib platter. Image credit:  Vox Efx via Flickr, License CC by 2.0

The Chantilly-based Famous Dave's is located in a large shopping area at: 14452 Chantilly Crossing Lane, Chantilly, Va 20151

Willard's Real Pit BBQ

Residing in a small strip mall off Route 28, it's easily accessible, but not in full view to those in the area and, if you're not looking, can easily miss. Despite this, its location is convenient, as it is a hop, skip and a jump from the Dulles Expo Center and Route 50. Their menu is expansive and offers a wide variety of good eats. The dining area is small and this restaurant is more casual, but the food is tasty. You can order ala carte of the menu, which can be seen on a large blackboard when you walk in, or even order a family meal.
Willard's is located at 4300 Chantilly Shopping Center (Willards Road), Unit #1A, Chantilly, Va. 20151.  

Chantilly is home to a variety of restaurants, and if you're looking for something that is a bit different, you can also search out some of the local Japanese barbecue restaurants as well. Finding barbecue in the Northern Virginia area is plenty, and if you're staying in Chantilly, or heading out to points west of Washington D.C., these are some of your best bets that I've found.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Fall festivals in Northern Virginia for 2015

This Throwback Thursday post was originally posted last year and revisits past fall family fun festivals in Northern Virginia. I thought today would be a good time to post this since many festivals in NoVa start this weekend and next weekend.

Today's post has information and photos based on my own personal experience. I did update last year's post to include 2015 information for these festivals. This is a beautiful and enjoyable time in the region. Let the fall fun begin!

Northern Virginia has a ton of fall festivals going on in the fall months of September and October. If you're in the area and looking for fall seasonal fun, many of these events may be just what you're looking for as an outing to take the family.

Most of these festivals are annual events designed with family fun in mind. Some events are one or two day events while others run throughout the entire fall season, so keep in mind any specific dates if you're looking for a particular activity. Here are some good picks of family fun festivals for fall:

Corn Maze in The Plains

People navigate Corn Maze at The Plains (2012)
This festival I've been to a number of times. Corn Maze in The Plains is conveniently located off I-66, every year a new corn maze theme is introduced. It's fun to see what theme the farm has come up with each year. There is a play area for the kids and you can buy your seasonal pumpkins and other decorations. There is also a farmer's market very nearby that I usually stop in on our way out when it's open.

This year's maze theme is "Maze Attack." I'm not quite sure what this means, but it sounds interesting to find out! This fall festival opens on Sept. 26 and runs through Nov. 9 - see official site for hours and directions.

Ticonderoga Farms

Families choose their pumpkins at Ticonderoga Farms
If big slides, hayrides, hot apple cider and pumpkin picking is your thing, Ticonderoga Farms has it all and much more, including a large jump and bounce pillow. In my experience, the kids, even the older ones, really love this one. 

There are also several fire pits to roast marshmallows (bring your own or purchase at the farm). This year's fall festival starts on Sept. 19 and runs through Nov. 8. See the farm's website for admission and directions.

Fall for Fairfax KidsFest


This fall festival first launched in 1992. The annual family fun event is held on the grounds of the Fairfax Government Center and admission is free! There are many kid-friendly fun events listed in each year's schedule which includes model trains, pony rides, a midway with carnival rides and even scarecrow making; all this and more. Admission and many activities are free, but there are a handful of activities that do charge a fee. The 2015 Fall for Fairfax KidsFest takes place on the weekend of Oct. 3-4.

Leesburg Animal Park's Pumpkin Village Fall Fest


Leesburg Animal Park is a great day trip for the family full of family fun. 
Pumpkin Village Fall Fest (formerly known as "Pumpkinville") is the park's annual fall event, opens on Sept. 19 and runs through Nov. 3. The park is set to include seasonal activities for the kids.  

There's hay mazes, giant slides, a pumpkin patch, apples, cider, scarecrow making, pumpkin and face painting, tractor rides, live entertainment, a spooky pirate ship, and some other new things listed for 2014. Check out the official website for price information and other details.

Cox Farms

Out in western Fairfax County, one of the season's biggest events takes place. Every year Cox Farms throws a fall bash that starts in mid to end of September and generally runs through the beginning of November. This year's "preview" weekend for members opens on Sept. 19. Kickoff for the season starts Sept. 26.

Each year offers some pretty cool stuff for the kids and promises to be full of family fun. To see hours, admission prices and all else that's at Cox this fall, including its popular "Fields of Fear" (this runs through October), please visit their website and check out 'Fall festival'.

Mount Vernon


Every year Mount Vernon [see my post on visiting this historic site] hosts its Fall Harvest Family Days. This year's event takes place from Oct. 24-25 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. In addition to admission to the property and mansion for regular tours, there will be 18th century dancing, a straw bale maze, apple roasting and corn husk doll making. 

Update: We were able to make it to this one in 2014 and had a great time!


Gunston Hall


This one sounds like fun. I've toured Gunston Hall many times and in 2014, I picked up a calendar while I was there and noticed there was a Halloween event. This year's event takes place on Sat., Oct. 31 from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. There will be story tellers, pumpkin and face painting and treats. There will also be burying ground tours by lantern. 

UPDATE for 2015: This is another one we were able to make it to last year and enjoyed seeing Gunston Hall all dressed up in its "spookiness". I'm not sure but I think this is a relatively new event. Last year we toured the mansion, dodged spirits roaming the family graveyard and listened to ghost stories. Face painting and doing seasonal crafts were a blast too!


A corn maze, pumpkin picking, annual barn dance and dinner, and lots of other family fun farm fall activities. There are many things to see and do on the farm, and while many of the events are designed for younger kids, the older ones have fun too. 
This year's fun starts on Sept. 18, check out the farm's website to see what's on the calendar. This year's corn maze theme is "Make it a Dairy Good Day".

I haven't been down this way since 2009, but we had a good time that year. Probably best for the little ones.

Great Country Farms


Great Country Farms' apple picking has already begun, and as summer winds down, its fall festival will arrive. The farm is located in western Loudoun County in Bluemont, so is a bit of a ride from the Beltway, but it’s a nice day outing. I've been out there once and we had a great time pumpkin picking and playing on the grounds.  

Update 2017: I haven't been here in about 4-5 years during the fall but they have added a lot to do during the summer months. I recommend checking out the website to see what's happening this year. 

Town Celebration Days


Fall is a time of year where some of the sections in Fairfax County celebrate their towns. The towns of Clifton and Centreville each hold an annual celebration. For 2015 Centreville Day will be held on Sat., Oct. 17, and Clifton plans its celebration on on Sun., Oct. 11. Typically these celebrations include arts and crafts, antiques, demonstrations, vendors/flea markets, live music entertainment, food and activities for the kids. 

Burke Nursery's Garden Centre's Fall Festival 


In 2015 Burke Nursery hosts its 21st annual fall festival and pumpkin playground. The festival is open daily from October 1st through October 31st and is a good local event with fun for all ages, but I'd say this one is probably better suited for the little ones. Visit the Burke Nursery Garden Centre's website for more information.

There are a ton of other Fall activities going on in the Northern Virginia region, these are just a few of my top picks. Every year I try and explore something different and I'm sure there is still lots to see.