The region and states around the nation’s capital offer a wonderful variety of weekend getaway destinations. Within a few hours’ drive, you can visit big cities, beaches, and mountains as well as enjoy a wide range of activities, including shopping, golfing, hiking, and exploring historical sites.
Just 45 minutes east of Washington, D.C., Annapolis is an easy weekend getaway. Visitors can stroll along the city dock, which has many boutique shops and upscale restaurants. Besides being the state capital of Maryland, Annapolis is also the sailing capital of America. Take a sightseeing cruise or walking tour and learn about the history of this beautiful seaport. Annapolis is the home of t the United States Naval Academy and St. John’s College, the third oldest institution of higher education in the United States.
Baltimore is one of the major seaports in the United States. The up-and-coming city, an hour north of the capital, features many family-friendly attractions like Inner Harbor, Fells Point, Maryland Science Center and Davis Planetarium, Camden Yards baseball stadium, the historic 19th-century Fort McHenry, and the National Aquarium, which has more than 700 species of fish, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals.
Eastern Shore, Maryland and Virginia
The Chesapeake Bay’s eastern shore is characterized by historic towns, beaches, and beautiful nature areas popular during the summer months. Assateague Island National Seashore in Maryland is famous for its 300 wild ponies who wander the beaches. It’s also a great place for bird watching, seashell collecting, and clamming. Meanwhile, Virginia’s Chincoteague Island has lighthouse tours and a national wildlife refuge. Ocean City, Maryland, is one of the most popular spots on the Eastern Shore. The bustling beach town has 10 miles of white sand along the Atlantic Ocean as well as an iconic boardwalk and amusement park.
Step back in time and visit Colonial Williamsburg, the world’s largest living history museum, encompassing 301 acres of restored, reconstructed, and furnished buildings. As the 18th-century Virginia capital, Williamsburg has been preserved to look as it did during the American Revolution. Beating drums, trilling fifes, firework displays, theatrical programs, and interpretive characters are just a few of the entertainment elements.
Old Town Alexandria
Alexandria is a quaint historic town and a fun place to explore. Just six miles south of downtown Washington, D.C., you can easily combine a visit with some time in the nation’s capital. Old Town Alexandria is the third oldest historic district in the United States and contains more than 4,200 historic buildings dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries. Some of the top attractions include the George Washington Masonic Memorial, Fort Ward Museum and Park, and the Torpedo Factory Art Center, one of the largest visual arts centers in the U.S. Set along the Potomac River, the three-floor waterfront art center features 84 working studios, five galleries, two workshops, the Art League School, and the Alexandria Archaeology Museum.
This important Civil War site, known for its three-day battle in 1863, attracts visitors from all over the country. Here, you’ll find living history demonstrations, Junior Ranger programs, and the Gettysburg Cyclorama, a massive 360-degree oil painting of the Battle of Gettysburg. The historic town is full of antique shops and galleries to browse, or just outside the city is Adams County apple country, home to the National Apple Museum and the Gettysburg Wine and Fruit Trail. This area is a prime destination for food tours and agri-tourism experiences.
Deep Creek Lake, Maryland
Deep Creek Lake, the largest freshwater lake in Maryland, has 65 miles of shoreline to explore. Three hours west of D.C., you can enjoy hiking, bicycling, picnicking, boating, fishing, camping, swimming, and horseback riding in warmer weather and skiing, snowboarding, snowtubing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling during the winter months. The 6,000-square-foot Discovery Center at Deep Creek Lake State Park features nature exhibits on turtles, foxes, and black bears, as well as an on-site aviary full of rescued and rehabilitated birds. In the summer, there are popular campfire programs for kids, too.
New York City
There’s always something to do in New York City, whether it’s seeing a Broadway show, visiting the top of the Empire State Building, biking through Central Park, or taking a ferry to the Statue of Liberty. Culture lovers will also appreciate the many museums on hand, including the famous Metropolitan Museum of Art or the September 11 Memorial and Museum. Just make sure to save some time for the unique Manhattan neighborhoods south of Midtown—like SoHo for high-end shopping, East Village for affordable but savory restaurants, Chelsea for its independent art galleries.
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
The 200,000-acre Shenandoah National Park is located in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, just 75 minutes west of the capital. Cruise along the Skyline Drive, a 105-mile road that winds through the park and overlooks forests, streams, and thundering waterfalls. If you’d rather travel by foot, there are more than 500 miles of hiking trails, including a 101-mile section of the Appalachian Trail. There’s also fishing, mountain biking, and wildlife viewing areas as well.
Harpers Ferry, West Virginia
Within an hours’ drive, you can get away from city life and enjoy a variety of cultural, historical, and recreational activities in the mountains of West Virginia. Learn about American history at Harpers Ferry National Park, which was the site of John Brown’s attack on slavery and the largest surrender of Federal troops during the Civil War. The sprawling park, which covers over 2,300 acres and crosses into three states (West Virginia, Maryland, and Virginia), features ranger-guided tours, artisanal craft shops, and whitewater rafting along the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers.
Brandywine Valley, Delaware
Two hours north of Washington, D.C., Brandywine Valley offers historic attractions, art museums, and scenic countryside. Key attractions revolve around the DuPont family estates, including the Hagley Museum and Library, the Winterthur Museum, and the Nemours Mansion and Gardens. The main site is Longwood Gardens, a year-round treasure with 1,077 acres of gardens, woodlands, and meadows. Visitors can stop by to see flower shows, gardening demonstrations, and craft workshops.
This charming Virginia town, set along the Rappahannock River, was the childhood home to George Washington, a major port during the colonial era, and the site of major Civil War battles. It contains 350 original 18th and 19th-century buildings and is home to many living history museums, restaurants, shops, and art galleries. Hop on a 75-minute trolley tour to get the lay of the land, then head to A. Smith Bowman Distillery to taste hand-crafted bourbon and other small-batch spirits.
In the Shenandoah Valley region of Virginia, the small town of Winchester is just 72 miles northwest of D.C. and 22 miles north of Shenandoah National Park. Old Town Winchester hosts great festivals throughout the year; the Bluemont Concert Series and the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival are favorites. History buffs should stop by the Old Court House Civil War Museum, the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley, and Stonewall Jackson’s Headquarters Museum.