Day Trips From Washington, D.C., High In Charm and Good Food
Things get rather hot and humid in Washington, D.C., at this time of year, which makes it a perfect time to get out of the city. Even if you only have one day to spare, there are many worthy destinations nearby, and we’ve whittled it down to three favorites, plus what to do and where to eat while you’re visiting them.
A perennial hotspot for a summer day trip, Annapolis is high on historic charm, shopping, boast—and Eastern Shore crabs. Washingtonians regularly make the pilgrimage (in truth, little more than an hour’s drive or an hour and a half ride via public transport) to the iconic Cantler’s Riverside Inn, which serves platters of steamed Maryland blue crabs with sides like hush puppies, cole slaw, potato salad and more. The wait for a table can be long on a weekend day, but it’s a pleasant wait if you grab beer from the bar and hang out on the restaurant’s dock.
While crabs are rightfully the main draw at this waterfront city in summer, there’s also plenty else to round out the day. Rent a kayak, or book a two-hour sail on a 74-foot schooner that’ll take you past the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, Thomas Point Lighthouse, and more. There’s also coveted shopping along the Annapolis Harbor, and you can tour the Maryland State House, the oldest state house still in use.
Winemaking has boomed in Virginia in recent years, and Northern Virginia has its own piece of wine country in and around the little town of Middleburg. Rent a car or hire a driver, and spend a day hopping from Boxwood Winery, which produces red wines in the Bordeaux style, to Chrysalis Vineyards, where you can taste wine made from the Norton grape, native to Virginia. Both wineries have beautiful properties with outdoor seating available in case you want to buy a bottle and hang out—and plan to eat lunch in downtown Middleburg, which is not short on upscale eateries.
For an outdoorsy kind of day, the Sky Meadows State Park offers hiking, fishing, and picnicking on the eastern side of the Blue Ridge Mountains. There are several trails here of varying difficulty, and you can even follow about two and a half miles of the Appalachian Trail that run through this park. After your hike, stop for a meal in the courtyard of Hunter’s Head Tavern in Upperville. The restaurant is best known for its French dip sandwich, but you can build a burger or order British pub standards like bangers and mash or Shepherd’s pie.
Harpers Ferry, WV
While the greater D.C. area boasts many historical sites, one of the most interesting is Harpers Ferry, best reached by car (the drive is less than two hours). On October 16, 1859, it became the site of abolitionist John Brown’s raid and attempted slave insurrection. It was later a major Civil War battle site and transportation hub for both sides; according to the National Park Service, the town changed hands eight times between 1861 and 1865. Park rangers offer lectures and tours on this rich history, all of them free with admission to the Harpers Ferry National Historic Park.
Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, there is also plenty of hiking nearby (including more access to the Appalachian Trail), where the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers meet. If you’re in no hurry and up for a detour, head some 18 miles south, and stop into the Catoctin Creek Distillery for a tour and a tasting of the local whisky, gin, and brandy that is making its way into more and more of D.C.’s restaurants and bars. Or travel 17 miles southeast toward Washington for a meal at the lauded Restaurant at Patowmack Farm, whose chef Tarver King is a James Beard finalist and respected as among the best in the Mid-Atlantic region.