From steeplechases to blooming gardens, the nation’s capital ushers in the season in outdoorsy style.
One of the many great things about Washington, DC, is its proximity to other intriguing locales in the Mid-Atlantic region. You might visit them at any time of year, but some make for especially good spring vacations, when flowers are blooming, temperatures are temperate, and seasonal traditions are underway. For your spring break this year, consider one of these five getaways, whether you’re most enchanted by the gardens of Richmond, the wines of Charlottesville, or one of Maryland’s storied steeplechases.
1. Wine and History in Charlottesville
Driving time: 2.5 hours
With so much to offer when it comes to food, culture, history, and wine, you can happily visit Charlottesville any time of year. But it’s particularly lovely at this time of year, as the temperatures rise little by little. Make Monticello your first stop and learn about Charlottesville’s history as the home of Founding Father Thomas Jefferson. Tour this late 18th century house to see how Jefferson lived and stroll through the flower, vegetable, and fruit gardens of the former presidential farmer. You can enjoy more of the outdoors on the four-mile Saunders-Monticello Trail that leads you through the forest nearby.
While you’re there, don’t miss the Monticello Wine Trail. Jefferson had hopes in his day that Virginia might one day become a winemaking territory—and he was right. There are several great wine regions across the state, but this trail takes you to several of the best local wineries, including Barboursville, Early Mountain, and Blenheim. Make reservations at the James Beard semifinalist Alley Light, which focuses on French shared plates, or at the classic and seasonally changing Ivy Inn.
2. Shenandoah in Bloom
Driving time: 1.5 to 2.5 hours
This spring marks the 30th anniversary of Shenandoah National Park’s annual Wildflower Weekend, which celebrates the 850-plus species of flowering plants that can be found across the park. This year’s festival, held May 7 - 8, features a whole slate of wilderness walks, hikes, talks, workshops, and even an art contest for local elementary school children. Look for birdfoot violets while hiking Bearfence Mountain, or learn about the interdependence of flora and fauna in a presentation at the Byrd Visitor Center.
Also blooming in the northern Shenandoah Valley this spring are its iconic apple blossoms. Drive past the fragrant apple orchards and stop in Winchester, Virginia, from April 22 to May 1 for the annual Apple Blossom Festival. This iconic festival celebrates with a talent competition, wine festival, cider tastings, and orchard tours at Winchester Cider Works, and an apple pie baking contest. There’s also a coronation for Queen Shenandoah.
3. Cruise Annapolis
Driving time: Less than an hour
If it’s spring, it’s time to start thinking about getting onto the water again. From April 22 through 24, the city of Annapolis will host its Spring Sailboat Show featuring workshops for beginning sailors, schooner cruises, free sailboat rides, free food and drink tastings, live music, and more than 100 sailboats on. Tickets are $12 per adult and free for kids 12 and under.
Annapolis is an easy (and worthwhile) trip to make at any time, where in good weather you can take a cruise or rent kayaks to take out on the Chesapeake Bay. April also marks the beginning of Maryland’s blue crab season, so be sure to stop in at stalwarts like Cantler’s Riverside Inn for an epic crab feast—one that you can and should return for again during the summer as crab season progresses.
4. A Day at the Races in Baltimore
Driving time: Approximately an hour
‘Tis the season for thoroughbred and steeplechase racing throughout the Mid-Atlantic region. Baltimore is home to some of Maryland’s most important ones, including the Maryland Grand National Steeplechase (April 23), the Maryland Hunt Cup (April 30), and, of course, the Triple Crown race Preakness Stakes (May 21).
While you’re in Baltimore, visit the six acres of tulips—as well as azaleas, magnolias, and flowering cherries—at Sherwood Gardens. Chef Spike Gjerde represents seasonal Chesapeake regional cuisine in the best way possible at Woodberry Kitchen, or check out the local beer scene at the Union Craft Brewing taproom.
5. Richmond’s Gardens
Driving time: Two hours
There are so many reasons why Travel + Leisure named Richmond one of its best places to travel in 2016. There’s the Civil War history, the art galleries, and the capital city’s ascendant food scene, of course. But Richmond also has a lot of beauty to share with its visitors. A few years ago, the city’s Beautiful RVA coalition launched the Richmond Garden Trail. These eight Richmond gardens—from the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden and 100-acre Maymont estate gardens to the Enchanted Garden at the Edgar Allen Poe Museum are all a special sight to see each spring. (Here’s a sample itinerary.)
Then, make time in the vibrant city center—especially to dine on the spicy Sichuan cuisine of Peter Chang China Cafe, the farm-to-table cooking from Rappahannock, or Southern favorites at The Roosevelt. You can also grab pastries at Sub Rosa and sausages at JM Stock before making your way back.