Drive Me Crazy (DC area)
December 22, 2023 6:22 AM   Subscribe

Looking for quirky driving routes or fun places to visit NEAR the DC area but not IN the DC area. Highways need not apply.

We love to take driving day trips from our home in the general Washington, DC area. A lot of our enjoyment is in the driving itself but sometimes we'd like a focus, a modest goal or a cool destination to check out beyond the Beltway. We want to drive AT LEAST ONE HOUR (each way) but not more than three hours (each way) ... and avoid highways!

Where can we drive to see a cool old general store? A giant tree? An amazing set of roadside art? A board game store? A quirky monument? A weird bridge? An awesome diner? A giant consignment shop? Something else you love?

We've lived here a long time so assume we are well-versed in general sightseeing destinations and "best of" driving routes.
posted by nkknkk to Travel & Transportation around Usa, Japan (12 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Many people swear that The Sunshine General Store's burgers are worth the trip (I have yet to go). It's not far from Brookeville Beer Farm, another place I have yet to visit but their beer is very good. Similarly, very close to Waredaca Brewing and Elder Pine both of which, you guessed it, I have yet to visit.

In warmer weather (and not hunting season), I recommend driving a bit farther and going for a hike in Soldier's Delight Natural Environment Area, which for ecological reasons having to do with the soil reportedly resembles Texas instead of Baltimore County (I have only barely been to Texas (I went to San Antonio once) and can't really confirm this). But I have been to Soldier's Delight and highly recommend it (though it's mostly full-sun, no shade).

Or head east and visit Jug Bay (though also best in warmer weather and also you can not bring dogs).

It seems entirely probable that you have been to the American Visionary Arts Museum in Baltimore, but I mention it just in case you haven't. The Reginald F. Lewis Museum is also very good. If it's the correct Saturday and you're in Baltimore, also check out The Book Thing.

Doubtless, you know Shenandoah National Park's Front Royal Entrance is not too far of a drive from DC. Have you stopped by The Apple House or Spelunker's? The former serves great breakfast sandwiches in the morning, great barbecue the rest of the day, and perfect apple cider donuts constantly. The latter is a wonderful classic burger joint. I've heard very good things about nearby Sky Meadows State Park but, alas, have not been.

Anyway those are just some ideas.
posted by timdiggerm at 7:19 AM on December 22, 2023 [3 favorites]

You could visit one of the two natural lakes in Virginia. Lake Drummond is the closest, but may be just outside the 3 hour limit, depending where you are starting from in the DC area. If those are two far, West Virginia's only natural lake is Trout Lake ( and is the answer to the riddle I like to tell 'Virginia used to have 3 natural lakes but now has 2, what happened to the other?' )
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 7:35 AM on December 22, 2023

Oh my. Ya. Head west you! Luray caverns. Montpelier. Skyline drive. Washington VA. All 2-3 hours max and once you leave the immediate dc/nova area on 66 you can get off and take all sorts of nice roads. We used to take 66 to Haymarket and then take... I wanna say 511 or 522 and end up on skyline drive. Some of the best driving on the east coast.
posted by chasles at 8:12 AM on December 22, 2023 [4 favorites]

The Cathedral Shrine of the Transfiguration, two hours away, built of local stone and consecrated in 1925. It's the centerpiece of the Episcopal retreat center Shrine Mont, which was originally a fashionable resort where people came to take the waters. Route 263, which dead-ends in Orkney Springs, is a very fun drive.

Shrine Mont is closed during the winter, but during the summer you could stop for their country cooking. If you eat meat, there's a fried chicken lunch on Sundays.

If you hike, there's a hike that goes to the top of Spring Mountain and then the top of Great North Mountain with a very pretty view, but it is really a hike, not just a walk you could add in without planning for it.

Also stop and have a tour of Route 11 Potato Chips, or wander down the Valley hitting antique shops.
posted by jocelmeow at 8:39 AM on December 22, 2023 [2 favorites]

The three hour limit depends on where in NOVA you are, but I present to you the T-Room. Order a cheesy (western) all the way or a bowl all the way. It used to be cash only, and I haven't been in literally decades, so that might have changed. Gosh I miss their relish.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 9:52 AM on December 22, 2023

Winchester VA has an interesting downtown & a couple of great museums to visit - the discovery museum is great science/kids museum downtown and the Museum of the Shenandoah further out.

Front Royal is also great to visit and has a cool arcade .

Frederick, MD & Shepherdstown WV are also fun to visit

White's Ferry is a historic car ferry across the Potomac, but check if its open first. You can combine with a visit to Sugarloaf Mountain or the animal sanctuary at Poplar Spring
posted by rupello at 10:32 AM on December 22, 2023 [1 favorite]

Winchester VA has an

Oh ya. I totally forgot. 2nding Winchester for sure. We loved it so much we seriously considered and just commuting to nova when we lived in the area.
posted by chasles at 11:00 AM on December 22, 2023 [1 favorite]

Try this map of scenic roads in Virginia if you are heading west.

You can avoid I-66 by taking 29 to Culpeper; at the Library of Congress' Packard Campus, you can see screenings of classic films on Thursday and Friday nights (free). Or if you want to head more directly west, try 29-211 (as we called it years ago): e.g., 29 to Gainesville; 15 to Warrenton; then 211 over to New Market. You'll go through a lot of the places already listed.

Outside of Woodstock, and heading west (you could combine this with a visit to Shrine Mont), is the Big Schoss hike in the Wolf Gap Recreation Area.

The Blue Ridge Hospice thrift shops are especially neat, organized, and friendly and if you feel like a day of thrifting, you can start in Leesburg and head west, then south on 11, for a day of it.

White's Ferry has been closed since December 2020 due to litigation between the Virginia landowners and the Maryland ferry operators; I hope it reopens someday but it isn't now.
posted by apartment dweller at 11:46 PM on December 22, 2023

Strasburg Hobbies in Strasburg VA has slot car drag racing competitions. Town is quaint, some nice little restaurants, and a few nice antique stores.
posted by Sophont at 12:21 AM on December 23, 2023

If you're going to Baltimore, swing by the firehouse in Arbutus for their monthly record show. You can also eat at DePaolo's if you want to eat quirky burgers for science - there's even a fried macaroni and cheese topped burger.

Winchester has a giant fiberglass apple, because of course they do.

Get a burger and milkshake at Beef N' Buns N' Paradise in Frederick.
posted by champers at 3:14 AM on December 23, 2023

In New Market, VA: Jon Henry General Store--full of neat things; follow their Facebook page for daily sales

In Winchester, VA: Ever been to a grocery outlet, like the kinds you'd find in the Amish country of Pennsylvania? Sharp Shopper is a small, Mennonite-owned chain of grocery stores with aisles of canned, boxed, refrigerated, and frozen goods that are near or a little past their best-buy dates. I always bring a cooler. Includes a few aisles of pre-packaged bulk foods like you'll find in Amish markets. Closed Sundays.

Wardensville, WV, pop. 267, not too far from Strasburg, VA, has some intriguing shops and a bookstore/puzzle store.

Pembroke Springs Retreat, a whole-house, Japanese themed rental complete with ofuro baths, again not too far from Strasburg.

Giant consignment shop: On Second Thought in Woodstock, VA. Next door to Valley Treasures.
posted by apartment dweller at 9:53 AM on December 23, 2023 [1 favorite]

Cool old general store in Shepherdstown, WV (~2h drive) - the whole town is lovely. Rumsey Monument park has some nice views of the Potomac.

Same trip could potentially also hit Harpers Ferry, which has historic stuff and gorgeous river views (and a neat rock).
posted by anotherthink at 11:56 AM on December 26, 2023 [1 favorite]

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