Vacation within a vacation. Where to go for 3-day trip outside D.C.?
May 1, 2019 9:21 AM   Subscribe

We're taking a family vacation to D.C. this summer. We'd like to take a 3-day trip inside that vacation to a location within 3-4 hours drive. Where should we go?

Loose parameters:
Historical places not so important (we'll be doing plenty of that in D.C.)
We're open to both outdoors/lightly populated spots and fun mid-size towns, but don't want to add a second large city to our travel plans.
Mountains good.
Oceans good.
Family of four with two teenage daughters.
posted by mcstayinskool to Travel & Transportation around Washington, DC (20 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Since Baltimore is out, here are a few smaller options:
Frederick MD - antiques and beer and arts and outdoors. It's a pretty hip place to visit.
Harper's Ferry - historicall important, some antiques/arts/crafts, lots of outdoors activities
Ocean City MD - the boardwalk and beach. Some non-beach nature trails etc too I think. Disclaimer: very touristy.
Savage River Lodge
Deep Creek MD - lots of outdoors and mountains. In the winter there's even skiiing.
posted by postel's law at 9:29 AM on May 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

You just said "maybe not" to historical places, but I'd recommend Williamsburg VA, about 3hrs from DC. It's a different kind of historical from monuments and museums in DC, it's famous for the colonial re-enactment village. You're not at the ocean, but you could easily also do a beach day at Virginia Beach or Newport News, from the same home base.
posted by aimedwander at 9:31 AM on May 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

When I was a teenage girl in the Washington DC area, I liked Harper's Ferry, it had a cute downtown with antiquing if that's an interest and whitewater rafting if there's enough water. If you're staying in true DC proper, Ocean City MD and Rehoboth Beach DE are between 3-4 hours away. I liked Ocean City more when I was a teenager, and you can get away from the touristy crap by staying above 100th St. You'll need to get lodging settled now, though, because it fills up in advance. Bonus, if either girl loves horses, you can hit Chincoteague and Assateague Islands. Annapolis, the MD state capital, is also kind of neat and very unusual for a city. And if you're in the mood for atypical historical, and have a car... there are vast swaths of the Underground Railroad that go through Maryland.
posted by juniperesque at 9:54 AM on May 1, 2019 [4 favorites]

Seconding Deep Creek.

Every year we go car camping at Cape Henlopen State Park, Delaware, located just north of the beach town of Rehoboth Beach. The state park has sand dunes and former military installations to explore, a non-boardwalk ocean-facing beach, and a bay-side beach crawling (literally) with horseshoe crabs. The boardwalk attractions of Rehoboth Beach are about 45 minutes away via a birdwatching-bike path.

The campsites book quickly, though -- for holiday weekends, people book as soon as the reservations open, usually the year before. There are also a few cabins (with AC!) available.

If you don't want to camp, the beach towns of Delaware and Maryland (Ocean City, Md., Rehoboth, Bethany) are about 3-4 hours away from DC.
posted by hhc5 at 9:58 AM on May 1, 2019

Teenagers who need a break from the museums of DC might like Bethany Beach, DE - safe, family friendly, nice boardwalk, a very east coast beach summer destination. It also depends on when in the summer you are thinking - in June, the ocean will be cold but in August the water will be quite nice. Camping and hiking could be pleasant in June but July/August humidity can make a camping trip pretty awful.
posted by everythings_interrelated at 10:33 AM on May 1, 2019

If you’re looking for the ocean, Bethany, Fenwick, or Rehobeth, DE are much better options than Ocean City (which is swarming with tourists and cheap souvenir shops). I’d avoid Ocean City at all costs! Also consider Lewes, DE.

For rivers/mountains, you can’t beat Shenandoah! You’d want to look anywhere starting in Front Royal, VA and near Skyline Drive.

Lake Anna, VA and Deep Creek Lake, MD are other popular options.
posted by sallybrown at 10:47 AM on May 1, 2019

Seconding Harper's Ferry, because it's effing hot here in the summer.
posted by aspersioncast at 11:09 AM on May 1, 2019

Berkeley Springs, WV. It's my little secret but I am sharing it here anyway. Small artsy community and historic spa town, good restaurants and shops, lots of local hiking and nature (Cacapon Mountains), only about 2 hours from DC. If you're interested, Memail me and I can point you to some good places for lodging, as well as some off the beaten path nature spots that only the locals know.
posted by nightrecordings at 11:32 AM on May 1, 2019 [4 favorites]

Just chiming in to caution you about the traffic potential of some of these places. Driving to Ocean City, the Delaware beaches, or Deep Creek on a Friday could take you a great deal longer than 3-4 hours. If it's a midweek trip, you're good.
posted by missrachael at 12:01 PM on May 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

Airbnb a place in Rehoboth and spend some quality beach time.
posted by trbrts at 12:01 PM on May 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

Seconding Williamsburg! Colonial Williamsburg is cool and very absorbing, but also if you want something a little less educational, Busch Gardens and Water Country USA are right there, too. Combine them for a good long weekend.

If you choose Harper's Ferry, hire an outfitter to rent floats and go tubing on the river. That's what people in DC do on the weekends to escape the city heat. There's also a bit of the Appalachian Trail (and a headquarters office) that runs through there, if you want to hike a bit just to say you did. There's also a smattering of outfitters in the area (probably the same people who do tubing) that offer ziplining/ropes courses.

You can visit Shenandoah, Lake Anna, and Deep Creek without properly camping (most places have vacation rentals), but definitely book early if you want to do that, because summers are busy and capacity is limited.

I like Assateague a lot - there's something really special about wild horses on the beach - but I'd combine it with something else and do it as a single day. You can camp there, right on the beach, but the horses are as bad as bears for rooting through campsites for food, and the flies are BRUTAL if it's not windy enough.
posted by bowtiesarecool at 12:20 PM on May 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

You might consider it to be in DC, but the Smithsonian has an outpost at Dulles airport for the really big rockets and aircraft including a space shuttle. See here.
posted by SemiSalt at 3:42 PM on May 1, 2019

Charlottesville + Monticello

Richmond + rafting/paddleboarding/tubing/etc on the James River (and Museum of Fine Arts or Civil War Museum if you want more museum stuff)

Hike the Billy Goat trail at Great Falls for lots of physical activity and gorgeous views of the Potomac River + picnic

Also, seconding SemiSalt's Udvar-Hazy recommendation - a truly amazing experience with IMAX and cafeteria
posted by the thought-fox at 4:05 PM on May 1, 2019

Best answer: ...maybe this is too obvious, but Shenandoah! It’s gorgeous, loads of nice hikes and an easy drive from DC. We visited Charlottesville and Monticello on the same trip (we also spent about three days).
posted by goodbyewaffles at 4:12 PM on May 1, 2019

When I lived in DC my favorite getaways were Cape Henlopen and Chincoteague. Nature, beaches, good times! Traffic can be intense getting to these places on a gorgeous weekend, though. I second missrachael’s tip about trying to go midweek.
posted by kittydelsol at 5:50 PM on May 1, 2019

Three notes about Chincoteague:Bring the strongest mosquito repellent you can. The flies are also awful. And you will pass right by NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, in case anybody in the family grooves on that sort of thing.

I was just at Harper's Ferry. Pretty river! Gorgeous mountains! Nice walking trails. Maybe you want to go tubing? (Not an endorsement; random outfit.) Kelley Farm Kitchen is a six- or seven-minute drive from the park entrance.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:42 PM on May 1, 2019

Best answer: Yes, Charlottesville. It's about 3 hr drive from DC proper (I-66 to Rt 29 at Gainesville, then just follow the yellow brick road) and has plenty to keep you occupied for several days.

C'ville is a good base for hiking at Shenandoah (Old Rag is a perennial fave but can get crowded on weekends; White Oak Canyon is also very good) or the Blue Ridge Parkway (Humpback Rocks in particular). You can go tubing or kayaking on the James or the Rapidan as well.

You'd also be right close to Rt 151 in Nelson County to go to Blue Mountain Brewery and Veritas Vineyard or Pippin Hill -- there is plenty to do for non drinkers, and the views are spectacular. Veritas does a monthly outdoor concert that's really fun, and C'ville also has an in-town Friday night free concert series called Friday's After Five (but it gets really crowded, just FYI).

And of course, Monticello is well worth the visit, even if you think you're historied out. The Monticello Saunders trail is a paved boardwalk running up the hill to the house, but you can also take a shuttle if you want.

Great restaurants in town as well. Have breakfast at Bodo's Bagels every day; I lived in NYC for 5 years and Bodo's is still the best.
posted by basalganglia at 7:11 PM on May 1, 2019

I don't want to yuck on somebody else's yum, but there are many, many better ways to spend your time and money than in Williamsburg (and at Colonial Williamsburg in particular). Many of the people involved in founding it were more interested in glorifying the Confederacy than the Colonial era (through play-acting the things they believed the Confederacy was trying to preserve in the War of Northern Aggression), and Rockefeller didn't have the greatest record on that front either. If you substituted "Confederate" everywhere you saw "Colonial" you wouldn't be as wrong as you'd think based on the marketing. Once you know that background it's pretty hard to excuse all the other faults (like community theater acting). Plus it's just really hot there in the summer and there's not much shade as you walk around the "town."

But I mean, if your kids are into "Hamilton" they would maybe get a kick out of Yorktown Battlefield (Take the bullets out your gun! WHAT?). The entrance fee for that also gets you into Historic Jamestowne (the one managed by the National Park Service, not to be confused with the Jamestown Settlement theme park with reenactors). When we went the archeological research on site was actively rewriting the history of the settlement as they discovered foundations they had assumed were completely lost, which was really cool. But as you listen to a ranger talk about what we now know and still don't know you'll still keep hearing the musket demonstrations at the theme park next door, so :-/.

Personally I'd probably go back to Shenandoah (I've been many times) or Harper's Ferry (only once, but I'd like to go back) before making time for the "Historic Triangle" of Williamsburg, Yorktown, and Jamestown. Once you've seen the battlefield and Historic Jamestowne I don't think there's really enough of interest there, just mediocre food, outlet malls, and lots of history-for-fun-and-profit. Between Shenandoah and Harper's Ferry, there's more to do in Harper's Ferry (not just hiking or fishing in the park) but I just really like spending time in Shenandoah. I haven't spent enough time in Charlottesville to really be able to give pros or cons. I've been to Ocean City and Dewey Beach and had nice enough times in both, but I wouldn't want to fight summer weekend traffic to get there or back. Once you commit to a route you don't really have an effective alternate, and those drives can get really long. Really, any drive out of DC runs the risk of an extra hour (or more) in traffic. You can get to Harper's Ferry on the train in under an hour and a half!
posted by fedward at 8:16 PM on May 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If you're heading out to Skyline Drive, you should check out Luray Caverns.
posted by whuppy at 9:29 AM on May 2, 2019

Best answer: I;d vote Shenandoah or Monticello.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 4:35 PM on May 2, 2019

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