Friday, August 3, 2018

Want 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, but 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. 

Exterior of the front of the Virginia State Capitol

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. 

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 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. 

(Not the "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 trip for you. 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 tour the outside only. Payment is 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 and it was definitely worth the wait. The tour was interesting and informative and it amazing to see the home's interior. 

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. 

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 last November. 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. 

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, excavations are ongoing and they were making some new discoveries at the time (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.

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 and think we covered some pretty good ground and 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 definitely 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. 

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 New Jersey while you're there, a great summer trip we did in August 2017! Spent time in Cape May at the beach and walked around to see the Victorian homes. Next time, we plan to explore historic Lewes. 
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. (We've done an overnight to this area but I haven't had time to write it up yet.)
  • 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.