Travel

Head Out of Washington DC For These Scenic Road Trips

You could use a break.

Deep Creek Lake
Deep Creek Lake in Wisp, Maryland | aceshot1/Shutterstock
Deep Creek Lake in Wisp, Maryland | aceshot1/Shutterstock

Between the COVID-19 pandemic and a fraught election, 2020 has been the most stressful in recent memory for many. And while most of us couldn’t jet off to Paris or the Bahamas this year, a short day trip or multi-day getaway can help us relax and recharge as we await to see who will lead the US next year. We’ve rounded up nearby cities, waterfront towns and mountain retreats in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia where you can escape, whether you leave this week or later this month or next. You’ll find museums, restaurants, wineries, and holiday events that will drive away the winter blues.

Baltimore, Maryland

Distance from DC: One hour
Baltimore contains world class museums and indoor attractions with new social distancing guidelines in place, making it a perfect stop in the winter. Known for its extensive Matisse collection and contemporary art, the recently reopened Baltimore Museum of Art is offering timed entry passes to keep crowds in check. Reserve on the website and don’t forget your mask, which is also a requirement for visiting the Walters Art Museum or the American Visionary Art Museum . The National Aquarium in Baltimore , which is open at 25% capacity, requires face coverings and temperature checks for guests. Science buffs can head to the Maryland Science Center , which is open on weekends at reduced capacity and with regular cleaning of high touch areas. Put on your parka and head to the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore to view pandas and polar bears illuminated with more than 50 holiday lights from November 20 to January 3.

Stay overnight in the new Canopy Hilton Baltimore Harbor Point , which just opened in the waterfront neighborhood in October and welcomes dogs. Dine on locally sourced seafood while enjoying the water views from the floor-to-ceiling windows at the hotel restaurant, Foreman Wolf’s Cindy Lou’s Fish House . Head to Harbor East for some indoor fun at The Four Seasons Baltimore, which will reopen its ice rink on its fifth floor November 13 through January 2021. Warm up afterward with hot toddies, cocoa and s’mores. 

Charlottesville, Virginia

Distance from DC: Two hours, 30 minutes
Virginia offers several scenic outposts where you can escape from the hectic pace of city life with a quick getaway. Wine lovers should explore the Monticello Wine Trail , which lists more than two dozen wineries that have reopened with mask-wearing and social distancing policies in place. Purchase bottles from the Black-owned Wisdom Oak Winery , open Friday through Sunday by reservation only. Reserve a canopy tent or make a brunch reservation at Veritas Vineyard and Winery in Afton. Take a leisurely ride up the Blue Ridge Mountains to Bluemont Vineyard, where you can sip a cabernet while enjoying the view of 10,000 illuminated with holiday lights. The experience starts November 27 and continues through the end of the year. 

Rehabbed historic spaces in Charlottesville have been turned into drinking and dining destinations. Head to the Wool Factory , a former textile mill with a coffee and wine shop, Selvedge Brewing and a soon-to-open restaurant. New food hall the Dairy Market features a cocktail bar, pizza, baked goods and more in a former ice cream parlor built during the early 20th century. Also be sure to visit one of these Black-owned restaurants in Charlottesville . With ski season upon us, the 6,000 acres at Massanutten Resort offer plenty of space to hit the slopes while maintaining plenty of distance from other skiers. There’s also an indoor water park, ukelele, and sketching classes for those who prefer to stay warm.  Check out its social distancing and cleaning policies.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Distance from DC: Four hours
This former rust-belt town has become a magnet for food, beer, and arts lovers looking for an affordable weekend of restaurant and museum hopping. The four museums that comprise the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh , have reopened with new guidelines in place for visitors, including timed reservations and requiring guests to wear face masks. Make the Warhol Museum your first stop on a cultural tour. Featuring exhibits and interactive experiences on eight floors, it’s bound to enhance your appreciation of pop art’s most famous proponent. Nature and bird lovers can head to Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens and the National Aviary .
 
Pittsburgh officials have sectioned off sections of areas in several neighborhoods to facilitate outdoor dining . Some of the best bets for al fresco dining include food hall Federal Gallery , which contains four restaurants and a bar, brewpub Church Brew Works and the Porch at Schenley.

Deep Creek Lake, Maryland

Distance from DC: Three hours
With abundant state parks and a freshwater lake that covers 3,900 acres, Deep Creek Lake offers the perfect escape for your socially distant getaway.  While the area attracts outdoor enthusiasts during the warmer months, winters in Western Maryland were made for skiing, the perfect outdoor socially distanced activity. 

Wisp Resort features 33 slopes covering 11 miles and ranging in difficulty for the novice and expert skiers and snowboarders. The resort also offers lessons for those who have never hit the slopes or need a refresher. Cross-country skiers can head to one of the trails in the county’s seven state parks.

Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Distance from DC: Two hours, 20 minutes
Drive through the rolling hills in bucolic Pennsylvania Amish country and stop at area roadside stands selling produce from nearby farms. Many of the tours and activities have reopened with reduced capacity and increased sanitation measures. First-time visitors eager to deepen their knowledge of Amish life can stop at Amish Village to tour an 1840s farmhouse while wearing a face mask. Be sure to stop at a country store to pick up whoopie and shoofly pies, freshly baked cinnamon buns, and other goods.
 
For a more urban experience, discover antique shops and local boutiques on the 300 Block of North Queen Street in downtown Lancaster. The walkable historic downtown is also home to Lancaster Brewing , where you can sit outside (on a warmer day) and drink Shoo-Fly Pie Porter. Dine at gastropub the Pressroom Restaurant , which is taking guests’ temperatures before entry. The trip downtown wouldn’t be complete without a stop at the Lancaster Central Market , which houses more than 60 vendors selling locally sourced meat, poultry and cheese. During December, bring the kids to enjoy a nostalgic train ride and story time during the Night Before Christmas journey. It’s one of Strasburg Rail Road’s three holiday rail trips offered this season.

Easton, Maryland

Distance from DC: One hour, 30 minutes
While the waterways of Eastern Shore get all the glory, the area possesses plenty of attractions that make it an idyllic getaway for food, wine and art lovers during the winter months. Dubbed the cultural capital of the Easton Shore, Easton is home to Studio B Art Gallery , the Trippe Gallery and other art venues where you can purchase a painting that depicts the area’s stunning landscapes. Visitors can visit the latest exhibit at Massoni Art Gallery in Chestertown  by appointment.

Architecture buffs will find a treasure trove in downtown Easton’s rehabbed historic buildings. Bluepoint Hospitality Group has many of them and turned them into glitzy restaurants, lounges, and cafes filled with priceless art and eye-catching details. Pick up wine, food products and other epicurean delights at The Wardroom and browse the collection at Flying Cloud Booksellers , the newest businesses to open. Dine indoors at  The Stewart whiskey lounge, which boasts two paintings from Peter Caulitz, a court painter to Frederick the Great, and a single-malt Scotch collection worth half a million dollars. Fine dining establishment Bas Rouge displays an Austrian Lobmeyr crystal chandelier as the focal point.

Virginia’s River Realm

Distance from DC: Two hours, 30 minutes
Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay region captivates visitors during the warmer months with its watersports and state parks overflowing with hiking trails. But with fewer crowds, the Middle Peninsula and Northern Neck regions hold a quiet charm during the colder months.

The Virginia Oyster Trail contains worthy stops in this region, including the Rappahannock Oyster Co ., where visitors can get oysters and other seafood dishes to go from the restaurant Merroir Tasting Room . Pair fried or raw oysters with chardonnay and chambourcin at the Dog and Oyster Vineyard in Irvington while sitting next to a firepit or heater on its gravel porch or open-air tasting room. Call ahead as the winter schedule is weather dependent. Stay overnight at its B&B, the historic Hope and Glory Inn, a former boarding school that dates to 1890. 

The area is home to other quaint B&Bs and boutique hotels. Stay in a Victorian charmer Kilmarnock Inn or a Greek Revival mansion Essex Inn Bed and Breakfast . Irvington’s the Tides Inn reopened in May after implementing new cleaning and safety standards. The hotel offers an assortment of classes—from yoga, to pottery, cooking and jewelry-making classes—to ensure guests have something to do on colder days. Enjoy the view by the waterfront bonfire while roasting s’mores or savor coastal cuisine at its two restaurants. Learn how to shuck oysters and pair them with wine at its Virginia Oyster Academy, which runs Fridays and Saturdays through the end of November. The holiday offerings include a pie-making workshop leading up to Thanksgiving and an appearance from Santa Claus during the December holidays.

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Julekha Dash is a Maryland food, travel, and arts writer who is always looking for her next weekend getaway in the Mid-Atlantic. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram and check out her Contently portfolio.