How much vacating can we get done in 72 hours, anyway?
September 10, 2014 2:12 PM   Subscribe

I need some fabulous 72-hour vacation ideas from DC! Mr. bowtiesarecool and I enjoy travel when we can, and we're in a good life stage for it (good jobs, some discretionary income, no kids, no sick relatives, no pets, no houseplants, easy to up and go when we want). Mr. bowtiesarecool has three-day weekends every week, but basically no leave beyond that. Please help me come up with an idea stash of fun, worthwhile ways we can get the heck out of Dodge in those three-day, two-night chunks!

The limits:
  • It really does need to be three days and two nights, maximum. Hard stop.
  • I would prefer that total travel (car, train, plane, taxi, boat, security line, car rental counter, whatever) not be more than 6 hours each way from/to DC.
  • We do own a car, and we both have up-to-date passports.
  • No staycations. We've both lived in the greater DC area our entire lives. Yes, there's a lot to do here, but part of the fun is getting away.
Things we enjoy:
  • Dense, walkable places with lots to do
  • Kitsch and novelty (big hits have been staying in a renovated Airstream trailer, the Pinball Hall of Fame and Neon Museum in Las Vegas, amusement parks, boardwalks, and World's Largest anything)
  • Historic houses and unusual museums, tours, or historic sites
  • Games, arcades, water slides, ropes courses - any kind of play, really
  • Loafing in hot tubs, saunas, and beaches
  • Unpretentious restaurants, diners, soft-serve stands, tiki bars, burger joints, french fry shacks, noodle houses, fondue, and dim sum spots
Things we don't generally like:
  • Wineries, breweries, and fine restaurants
  • Loud live music
  • Scary/creepy/gross things (Mr. bowtiesarecool gets squirrely around taxidermy; the Mutter Museum is right out)
  • Swimming in open water or with sea creatures, SCUBA, and snorkeling
  • Hiking and "real" camping
  • B&B's that feel a bit too much like staying in someone's house
  • Being cold - and after last winter, warm or indoor destination suggestions are greatly appreciated!
We've done Las Vegas, Orlando, the Jersey/Delaware shore, cruises, and day trips to New York for matinees in recent memory, so I'd prefer not to repeat those right away, but otherwise everything is fair game!

Where should we go? What should we do after we get there?
posted by bowtiesarecool to Travel & Transportation (29 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Some ideas:

- Puerto Rico! If you stay in the right neighborhood in San Juan, you can be near the beach but also within easy driving/cabbing distance to Old Town. Lots of great food there too. If you take an early flight the first day and a late flight the last day, you'll have a good ~50+ hours to enjoy it.

- Lots to do in West Virginia that doesn't involve camping. This fall you could stay in a hotel near Shenandoah and do some leaf-peeping, plus stopping in cute old towns with kitsch to spare.

- What about a longer weekend in Brooklyn? Vastly different from the experience of daytripping for a Broadway show. So many great places to eat and drink. You could go to Coney Island for your helping of kitsch.

- Boston is easy to fly to, and there's lots to do, see, and eat, especially if you're interested in history. The Freedom Trail takes you through all the major Revolutionary War sites in Boston, and is a fun way to spend the afternoon.
posted by lunasol at 2:39 PM on September 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

it's a 7hour drive (but there are a bunch of really cool caves to stop in along the way), but Dollywood is all kinds of awesome...not just country's in the woods, lots of old-timey crafts, a bald eagle farm, etc, etc...and the food is really good...basically, it hits ALL the points on your wish list, plus, if you stay in Knoxville, both sides of the highway between there and D'wood are completely lined with mini-golf, go-karts, 'as seen on tv' stores, aaannd FIREWORKS! :D There's rides and stuff, but (unlike disneyworld/land, which is just like standing in a long line in a parking lot all day IMO) theres's not really any lines (their philosophy is all about preserving the local environment...there's even a creek running through it)
posted by sexyrobot at 2:41 PM on September 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Charleston SC
New Orleans
Key West
posted by sandmanwv at 2:46 PM on September 10, 2014

Best answer: I think you might really like the Homestead, in Hot Springs, VA.

Drive is about 4.5 hours. There is a game room (bowling, pool, arcade games, etc.), a theatre, and a pool with slides and a lazy river, plus loads of "outdoorsy" things to do (see: falconry, archery, etc.). I found their main dining room to be stuffy, but the other on-site restaurants to be low-key. And the spa. THE SPA. It is my favorite place in the world. When the dentist tells you to imagine you're someplace else while he drills your cavity? Yeah, I think of the Homestead's spa.

Highly, highly recommend, even though it doesn't meet all of your specs. Hope you have a great getaway!
posted by schroedingersgirl at 2:48 PM on September 10, 2014

Have you done Williamsburg, VA? It would check all of your boxes, is a few hours' drive from DC and downtown W'burg is super walkable. Colonial Williamsburg could be a full-time experience for 72 hours, otherwise you could visit for a day and spend the rest of your time exploring. There are also Jamestown and Yorktown, a quick drive from Colonial Williamsburg, and bonus, you get to drive on the gorgeous Colonial Parkway to get to them. Hotels of various luxury levels abound.

(Oh, and if you're not veg, check out Pierce's Pitt BBQ in James City County -- it's the kind of dive-y-but-quality restaurant I bet you'd like.)
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 2:51 PM on September 10, 2014

Come to Fredericksburg (aka FredVegas or Fxbg)? You can't go wrong with a place the WaPo recently dubbed "Brooklyn on the Rappahannock," can you?

Seriously though, the downtown area is dense and walkable thanks to the ever-increasing number of DC commuters who live here, with a number of locally-owned and unpretentious restaurants and shops. (There are also some pretentious restaurants and shops, but you will be able to spot them from a mile away.) Be sure to check out Carl's, the local destination for frozen custard (cash-only).

There's plenty of history here thanks to the Battle of Fredericksburg, a very pretty campus named after George Washington's mother, and a couple of places where the Washingtons grew up and/or lived.

If you like to walk, there is a very pretty river path / canal trail that forms a 3-mile loop and is also easily accessible on foot from the downtown area. If you come while the weather's still nice, you can take a river trip or go tubing.

On weekends there is a small but serviceable farmer's market.

I wouldn't define Fxbg as having "lots to do," necessarily, but there's certainly enough to comfortably fill a couple of long weekends, and we're only an hour south on 95.
posted by zebra at 2:56 PM on September 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Since I see you're located in Fairfax, how about a little road trip around Virginia, West Virginia, and/or Maryland? That'd be perfect for your 72-hour-timeframe, especially if you were to focus on perhaps two or three. Let me know if any of the following appeals to you and I can give more specific suggestions!

Some personal VA favorites include Norfolk (and all over Hampton Roads, so much to do!), Fredericksburg (perhaps combine with Richmond and/or stop in Ashland), Winchester (close, charming, and could mix with Shenandoah National Park), Lynchburg (way underrated and pairs well with its better-known neighbor, Charlottesville), Staunton (an absolute gem and so close to Harrisonburg, too), and Roanoke (plus Lexington and then other places in the SW like Floyd, etc.)

In West Virginia, you could head south or stick to towns in the Eastern Panhandle like Shepherdstown, Martinsburg, and Berkeley Springs.

In Maryland, how about Ellicott City (ghost tour!), Baltimore (of course!), Frederick (especially if also heading west towards nature), Westminster (small but sweet), or some of the cute towns on the Eastern Shore?
posted by smorgasbord at 3:27 PM on September 10, 2014

Also, how about Philadelphia or Pittsburgh? Both are wonderful places with so much to do!

(I'd recommend Ohio locations, too -- I loved Columbus!!! -- but it'd be a lot of road time for a short trip.)
posted by smorgasbord at 3:32 PM on September 10, 2014

I'll nth the historic district of Charleston and throw in the historic district of Savannah. Both are very walkable. You don't necessarily need a car to be able to see and do many things. Either would meet your expectations for "historic houses and unusual museums, tours, or historic sites", as well as lots of low key restaurants. There are scary/creepy things in Savannah, but you can avoid those by focusing on historic and architectural tours. If you rent a car while in Savannah, you may be interested in visiting Tybee Island (Savannah's beach).

Both cities also have an abundance of beautiful parks. Charleston's Waterfront Park is a particular favorite of mine.

And of course they both have plenty of hotels (including neat little boutique hotels). You won't have to stay in a B&B unless you want to.
posted by jazzbaby at 3:35 PM on September 10, 2014

Best answer: visit Fallingwater in rural Pennsylvania then go to Pittsburgh and hit the Warhol museum and other attractions.
posted by jayder at 3:35 PM on September 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Berkeley Springs, WV is my hidden secret. Stay at Ambrae House B&B. It doesn't feel like someone's home and the rooms are HUGE (I stayed in the Burgundy Room; it has an awesome jacuzzi that comfortably seats two - pick that one!). Berkeley Springs is a very walkable town, is known as one of American's great "art" towns so it's got kitsch/novelty too, and has excellent but unpretentious restaurants. I won't talk it up too much, but do a little research on your own and see if Berkeley Springs really does appeal to you. Ambrae's on site chef whips up the best B&B breakfast I've ever had, and he's really laid back and chill.

I'm really sad to say I won't be making a visit this fall, because it's beautiful in October.

Oh, and there's a weird gothic castle.
posted by nightrecordings at 3:46 PM on September 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Interestingly, the ideas that immediately come to mind are all in southern and central Pennsylvania, which is a reasonable drive from DC.

You mentioned lounging around in hot tubs and saunas -- would you consider a couples' massage (or other services -- I once had a service that was effectively sitting in a big Jacuzzi for a half hour) at The Spa at Hotel Hershey? While you're at the hotel, their Sunday brunch is wonderful -- though it may fall into the "pretentious" category (you said "unpretentious" restaurants) -- it's a bit expensive but worth it in my opinion.

Gettysburg is an obvious choice for the history enthusiast. I'm ashamed to say that I haven't been there even though I've lived 20-25 minutes from there for three years.

I've never been, but Longwood Gardens is supposed to be nice.
posted by tckma at 3:53 PM on September 10, 2014

Best answer: Berkeley Springs

Bermuda Bermuda Bermuda!

Nonstops are over for the year AFAIK, but USAirways has some flights via Philly that are not that long. Stay at the Fairmont Southampton, take their trolley to their beach, and then walk through the gate to Horseshoe Bay Beach. Upgrade your room to "deluxe harbor/golf view" and ask for harbor!!! Love it! (Beach view gets trolley and cab noise.)

With USAirways, you will get there (to the beach!) by mid afternoon, as the cruisers are leaving. Before dusk and gate closure, walk back to their beach and hang out in the chairs. Go up the stairs to the Ocean Club, sit outside and have some tuna tartare. Go back to your room and hang out on the balcony. Join the President's Club (free) to use the gym, which overlooks the Atlantic. You can swim in the indoor pool after 6p and any time in the outdoor pool.

Buy a two-day bus/ferry pass at the hotel concierge desk. The bus takes coins only, so a pass is especially good to have, and they make nice bookmarks later. Some cab drivers are also tour guides. Ferry rides are very pleasant. The Bermuda Music Festival is next month. A lot of things are closed on Sunday, including the Gibbs Hill lighthouse Tea Room, as I learned one year after hiking up there in the million-percent humidity. I enjoy the Bermuda Arts Centre (not so much the rest of the Dockyard complex), and if you have money to spend on art, so much the better! There are several Bermuda Asks on here to check out.

IMO, an upgraded room at a full-service resort there is the best way to maximize that duration of stay -- my duration of stay, as a matter of fact. You could do VRBO and cab or bus to restaurants.

(NB: I'm not affiliated with Fairmont; it's simply the only "resort" in Bermuda I've stayed at, although I've stayed other places there.)
posted by jgirl at 3:55 PM on September 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Unusual museums: Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill. Stay in old Shaker buildings, watch docents make 18th century objects, soak up the peace and architecture, eat Shaker meals on site. Google suggests flying into Lexington (else the drive is 8.5+ hours). P.S., I'm one of your neighbors!
posted by apartment dweller at 4:00 PM on September 10, 2014

Another place you might not have considered (it would require a flight, and I'm not sure if it's within your 6 hour limit) is St. John's, Newfoundland.

The city itself is indeed "dense and walkable," though in some places you might need to rent a car or use public transit. While I was there, I did a haunted walking tour, and visited Signal Hill and Cape Spear, and went on a whale watching boat (spur-of-the-moment decision).

(I also visited other parts of the province and was there for a whole week -- I spent maybe 2-3 days in St. John's, if I remember correctly.)
posted by tckma at 4:03 PM on September 10, 2014

Dollywood is in Pigeon Forge, TN which is outside of Gatlinburg. It's a fair schlep from DC. But I love it there.

The Greenbriar in White Sulphur Springs, WV. When I get a pile of dough to blow, I'm going there. I'm going to stay in a cottage, tour the bunker and have high tea. It will be glorious.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:21 PM on September 10, 2014

Best answer: Bermuda is SUPER close!

Puerto Rico is really easy to get around in - no need to exchange money, cheap rental cars if you want to go explore the island, or free airport pickup from some hotels in San Juan if you want to relax at a less nice and more crowded resort beach (I think you can tell which option I prefer hehe).

Have you explored Philly and NYC (beyond the day trips for matinees)?
posted by at 4:28 PM on September 10, 2014

My wife and I just did Labor Day weekend in Annapolis, not even an hour from DC without traffic. We stayed at a B&B downtown and didn't move the car until we left.
posted by COD at 4:56 PM on September 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Adding to the Pittsburgh trip:

Falling Water (unless that is a separate trip with Frank Lloyd Wright, Ohiopyle and Kentuck Knob and sliding down the natural water slides)

Pittsburgh North Side
B&Bs or hotels
Warhol Museum
Mattress Factory (contemporary art)
Children's Museum - really, this could be fun for you
National Aviary
Max's Allegheny Tavern - German food, potato pancake reubens, yes
Nicky's Thai Kitchen
Legends North Shore (restaurant, Italian)
Pirate game?
Steeler game?
The North Side is a pretty small area but not necessarily walkable at night though easily drivable.

This is just the north side. Other Pittsburgh stops that come quickly to mind:
Ropes course at North Park
Ross Park Mall?
Oakland - Lulu's noodles, Cathedral of Learning, Frick House, Art & History Museum
Strip District - Saturday or any morning except Sunday
Pittsburgh Glass Center
posted by RoadScholar at 5:08 PM on September 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Kitch and novelty you say? How about Luray Caverns with a side trip to Dinosaur Land? We have only done it as a day trip, but I think there are spa-type places to stay too.
posted by JoanArkham at 5:34 PM on September 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Nthing Bermuda. It's both drastically different and ridiculously close.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 5:43 PM on September 10, 2014

Providence, RI. Take the Acela. Rent a car for a day trip to Newport where you can tour the mansions.

If you are into art at all, the Williamstown/North Adams, MA area is good. Travel time might be too great, though.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:45 PM on September 10, 2014

This time last year, my husband and I flew from DC to Myrtle Beach to go to TIGERS which was really amazing. Flights were reasonable and short, hotels were cheap and close to the beach. And I think there is just enough to do in Myrtle Beach for a weekend.
posted by kat518 at 6:00 PM on September 10, 2014

I love this question and plan to make good use of the answers. Thanks!

I was really impressed by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. It has a great American and European design collection that seems to go on forever, and there are some WWI related exhibits on now that look good, as well as one on the Forbidden City. And Richmond is a university town so there are interesting shops and restaurants.

The American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore is always fun. Go visit Book Thing and spend some time hanging out in the Hampden neighborhood.

My husband put together a great fall weekend trip to the Moravian tile factory in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, the Corning Glass Museum, and Watkins Glen State Park. (Although there were a couple of wineries involved as well.)
posted by marguerite at 6:07 PM on September 10, 2014

Asheville NC is pushing the very upper limit of the 6-hour criteria but I think it'd be pretty much what you are looking for. I've done it as a 3-day weekend from the DC area and it was a lot of fun.

The drive up and back can actually be part of the fun, depending on what routes you take. (We did wineries but if that's not your thing there are lots of antique stores and weird Roadside America stuff.)
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:59 PM on September 10, 2014

Virginia Beach is dense and walkable and plenty kitschy. There are nice resort-ish hotels and weird b&bs and old school motels. There is every kind of weird and tacky beach tourist attraction, plus historic stuff and a great aquarium, plus really good food.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:34 AM on September 11, 2014

Best answer: I recommend getting a copy of The New York Times: 36 hours 150 weekends in the USA & Canada which is a compilation of travel articles based around spending 36 hours somewhere - and it often makes me want to visit places I hadn't really considered before.

There are also mini-versions for different regions of the US and Canada, as well as other parts of the world, if you want to focus on a particular region.

If you don't want to buy the book, or if you want a sense of what it is like before it earns a place on your coffee table, have a read of the archive of columns at the New York Times, all 678 of them!
posted by AnnaRat at 4:43 AM on September 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Montreal or Quebec City. Both are just a couple hours flight but still have a fun change of culture. Quebec City is more of a change from the U.S., but smaller, though still plenty to keep you busy for 3 days; Montreal is a much larger city so it would be easier to find things that match your list.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 6:19 AM on September 11, 2014

Response by poster: I knew I could count on the hivemind to think of things I hadn't already! Obviously, I can't pick one favorite, but I marked some good 'uns.

smorgasbord and JoanArkham, I didn't mention this in the OP, but I used to live in the Shenandoah Valley! So while I agree that it is all kinds of picturesque out there, and Dinosaur Land is pretty much the epitome of awesomely weird, probably not going to put it on the list (other people should, though).

schroedingersgirl, definitely putting the Homestead on the short list because of your spa enthusiasm. I have similar feelings about the Qua Spa at Caesars in Las Vegas, which you should check out if you haven't.

So, now on the list for sure: Pittsburgh, central PA, the Homestead, San Juan, Bermuda, and Montreal! Thanks, all, for broadening my scope a bit! I can't wait to start planning and going to some of these places.
posted by bowtiesarecool at 11:39 AM on September 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

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