While there are many reasons to love Washington, DC, and plenty of things to explore in the city this winter, everyone enjoys getting away every once in awhile. Conveniently, Washington is just a few short hours’ drive from a variety of destinations -- from ski slopes to seaside resorts -- and it’s easy to find somewhere that will scratch that travel itch. Here we’ve curated a couple of locations we think you’ll really want to check out -- all within five hours' driving distance from the nation’s capital.
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50 minutes, 32 miles
The home of the Naval Academy, Annapolis is charming, picturesque, and the closest destination on our list. With plenty of opportunities to catch glimpses of the water, it’s a sailor’s dream -- or just a great excuse to admire some really big boats and enjoy some great seafood.
Where to stop:
Slurp up some oysters at McGarvey’s before walking the Naval Academy Grounds or the Maritime Museum and imagining what your life would look like at sea. If you’re feeling particularly posh, try to catch a croquet match between Navy and St. John’s College -- while the Annapolis Cup is scheduled for April 2017, it’s never too early to familiarize yourself with the sport.
Should you prefer to just sit on the dock of the bay and relax, Pusser's Caribbean Grille Restaurant is your go-to -- you might recognize the name from their own brand of rum, used to make their surprisingly stiff drinks.
1 hour, 38 miles
Baltimore gets a bad rap from people who only know it through the context of The Wire -- and while David Simon’s HBO show is brilliant, it casts an unfair, outdated perception of Charm City as decrepit and dilapidated. The reality is that Baltimore is a thriving town with a vibrant arts and live music scene, incredible food, and plenty of fun neighborhoods, each with its individual character.
Where to stop:
Chef Spike Gjerde’s Woodberry Kitchen gets a lot of acclaim -- and rightfully so -- for being one of the regional pioneers of the farm to table movement, and they continue to serve up extraordinary quality food that celebrates the culinary traditions of the Chesapeake Bay. If you aren’t one to plan that far ahead, swing by Verde Pizza in Canton for Neapolitan style eats in a low-key, rustic setting or hit up Lexington Market for authentic Maryland eats: We hear you can get the city’s best crab cakes at Faidley’s Seafood, and Berger’s makes some pretty famous cookies...
The National Aquarium (that’s right, the NATIONAL Aquarium) in the city’s Inner Harbor area is often regarded as one of the best in the world, and is an all-ages friendly destination the whole family can enjoy. Of course, you can always go catch an Orioles game at Camden Yards, but keep in mind that baseball season only runs from April to September/October.
1 hour and 25 minutes, 50 miles
Welcome to horse country! Middleburg has long been at the heart of anything and everything equestrian related in the Mid-Atlantic region, where you can find steeplechase in the fall and spring, fox hunting year round, and polo when the weather permits. If your idea of fun is getting on a 1200lb animal and going 30 or so miles per hour, Middleburg is your heaven -- seriously, they’ve even got the National Sporting Library and Museum, celebrating the famous stallions and mares of horse racing’s history.
Where to stop:
The Salamander Resort & Spa offers luxury and comfort for all, even if you’re not much of a jockey yourself. Set on 340 acres of land in the Blue Ridge Mountains and boasting over 160 rooms, the Salamander is the perfect place to get away for some pampering.
If you’re looking for an outstanding meal experience with that Old Virginia feel, The Red Fox Inn & Tavern is your destination -- the building dates back to the 18th century, and they keep their fireplace crackling all during the winter months. Fortunately, they take decor, service, and cuisine just as seriously, with fresh flowers, candlesticks, and hearty fare during breakfast, brunch, and dinner service in their tavern. Make sure you bring your appetite.
3 hours, 118 miles
Best known as the home of the University of Virginia, Charlottesville has a lot more to offer beyond the historic strip known to students as “The Corner” or Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello -- though both are very much worth your time as well. Drive down I-66 and US-29 to make it to what is often ranked amongst the best college towns in the US.
Where to stop:
Take your pick from any number of breweries in the area -- seriously, Charlottesville has plenty -- including Blue Mountain Brewery, Champion Brewing, Devils Backbone, South Street Brewery, or the grandaddy of them all: Starr Hill -- just make sure to always have a designated driver. If you’re more of a wine drinker, the area surrounding Charlottesville is ripe with vineyards nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Charlottesville’s Historic Downtown is a pedestrian-only area that stretches for approximately 10 blocks, and boasts two fantastic music venues -- the recently restored Jefferson Theater as well as the open-air Charlottesville Pavilion. Leg it a couple of blocks further for incredible, affordable dining options in the quirky Belmont neighborhood, including Lampo Pizza, Mas Tapas, and Brazos Tacos. If you’re feeling like a late-night dance party, skip the frat houses and head to Mono Loco or Escafé for some great tunes and affordable drinks (by DC standards).
Chapel Hill/Durham/Raleigh, NC
4 hours and 50 minutes, 271 miles
While it might be unfair to lump the three cities in the Research Triangle together, they do it to themselves -- so we’ll follow suit. The Chapel Hill-Durham-Raleigh area is a hotbed of culture, food, and fun.
Where to stop:
While the area offers plenty by way of natural beauty, with gorgeous hikes in the Piedmont Plateau, some of its better-kept secrets are man-made: The North Carolina Museum of Art has a fantastic permanent collection that includes major holdings in European painting from the Renaissance to the 19th century -- including a couple of Dutch Masters, while the surrounding Museum Park offers 164 acres of fields, woodlands, and art installations cool enough to give the Storm King Art Center a run for its money.
Of course, the schools in the region are known for their historic domination in college basketball, and the fierce rivalries at both ends of Tobacco Rd. Try to catch a ticket to a game, or go watch at Top of The Hill in Chapel Hill -- just make sure you’re not wearing the wrong color when walking into enemy territory. Enjoy one of many fine local brews, and stop by Foster’s Market or Gugelhupf for some of the best breakfast in the region.
5 hours and 5 minutes, 275 miles
All right, so it may be a little cold to get in the water -- we get that. But visiting the beach during low season means you can score a great place to stay for relatively little, and who doesn’t love the idea of a bonfire on the sand? We’ve always found the Outer Banks to be great for unplugging and unwinding, and a few days listening to the waves roll in might be just what the doctor ordered.
Where to stop:
The Blue Point restaurant is well-known for its locally sourced high-end seafood with a Southern slant, and it has been serving quality food for over 27 years. If you’re feeling like you’d rather DIY, how about hosting a clambake on the beach? The Outer Banks are blessed with relatively mild weather year-round, meaning that the temperature rarely drops below the mid 50s even in the Winter. We’ll pack our flip-flops, then.
4 hours and 15 minutes, 242 miles
The Steel City may not be as celebrated as its loving brother down the road, but Pittsburgh has plenty to offer for folks looking to enjoy a culture-rich weekend getaway -- for relatively affordable prices. Boasting teams in three of the major sports leagues, a burgeoning craft brewery scene, and a surprising number of unique museums, this ain’t your the rust-belt town you thought you knew.
Where to stop:
The Warhol Museum is sure to please your inner artist, and offers exhibits, lectures, and new installations dedicated to celebrating the life of pop art’s most famous exponent. The Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens and the National Aviary are two other great educational stops. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, check out any of Pittsburgh’s many excellent Italian restaurants -- our handy guide is right here.
5 hours, 240 miles
Over 250 acres of skiable terrain within a day’s drive from Washington, Snowshoe is a small town and community in the Allegheny Mountains. Developed in the early 1970s, the area is centered around the Snowshoe Mountain Resort, which enjoys a reputation as offering some of the best skiing in the mid-Atlantic area.
Where to stop:
The Village at Snowshoe is a short distance from the action, and has a nice stretch of bars, restaurants, and retail shops with a Euro-style aesthetic, lending it an air of sophistication and charm that feels more Alpine than Atlantic. Snowshoe Mountain also offers a tubing park -- open to all skill levels and ages -- where the entire group can barrel down the mountain together.
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1. McGarvey's Saloon & Oyster Bar8 Market Space, Annapolis
2. Pusser's Caribbean Grille80 Compromise St, Annapolis
3. Woodberry Kitchen2010 Clipper Park Rd, Baltimore
4. Verde641 S Montford Ave, Baltimore
5. Lexington Market400 W Lexington St, Baltimore
6. Faidley's Seafood & Fresh Fish Market203 N Paca St, Baltimore
7. Red Fox Inn and Tavern2 E Washington St, Middleburg
8. Blue Mountain Brewery9635-9689 VA-151, Afton
9. Champion Brewery324 6th St SE, Charlottesville
10. South Street Brewery106 W South St, Charlottesville
11. Starr Hill Brewery5391 Three Notch D Rd, Crozet
12. Lampo205 Monticello Rd, Charlottesville
13. Mas Tapas904 Monticello Rd, Charlottesville
14. Brazos Tacos925 2nd St SE, Charlottesville
15. Escafé215 Water St. SW, Charlottesville
16. Foster's Market2694 Durham Chapel Hill Blvd, Durham
17. Guglhupf2706 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd, Durham
18. The Blue Point Bar & Grill1240 Duck Rd, Kitty Hawk
McGarvey's has been a Downtown Annapolis staple since 1975, maintaining its solid selection of craft beer and seafood (oysters, in particular) over the years -- not to mention, its historic 19th-century saloon space. A tin ceiling, mahogany bar, and brick walls set the scene at the handsome neighborhood pub, which is always packed with locals and Naval Academy members sipping brews alongside fresh Maryland, Virginia, and Delaware oysters. If you're looking for a heartier meal, the menu also offers pub favorites like fish & chips, cheeseburgers, and Maryland crab cakes.
Situated along Ego Alley in Downtown Annapolis, Pusser's is a dockside oasis with waterfront views, top-notch Caribbean cuisine, and tropical cocktails. Alongside a stiff Pusser's Painkiller, the restaurant's signature drink spiked with Pusser's own rum, you can wake your tastebuds with favorite dishes like bacon-wrapped shrimp skewers, Jamaican jerk tuna, and curried chicken sauté. Lively and nautical (you'll find sailing gear, artwork, and knickknacks all over the place), it's a welcome spot for dates, families, and groups alike, but expect a college scene on summer nights.
At Woodberry Kitchen, farm-to-fork means cuisine that is curated, specifically, to Maryland's seasonal agricultural offerings. In the warmer months, the restaurant serves whole, baked Pink Lady apples, and flanks of black bass with salt clams, while the winter menu boasts wood-roasted lamb sausage with root vegetables, and marinated squash with wheatberries and cabbage. At any given time, Woodberry sources only the best of what local Chesapeake growers have to offer, basing their menu around the freshest ingredients available to them. The space itself is built of exposed red brick and heavy wooden communal tables, with chopped logs stacked against the walls. The bar is central, and the open kitchen offers an unobstructed view of the chefs, dancing around the wood-fired oven. The patio is decked with string lights, the cocktail program is whiskey-forward, and the food is incomparably fresh.
A rustic-chic space with wood-beamed ceilings and penny-tile floors, Verde in Canton is as stylish as it is scrumptious, serving up killer Neapolitan-style pizza that's become a Baltimore favorite, plus local craft beer, signature cocktails, and Italian wines & microbrews. There are plenty of starters on the menu, including some homemade mozzarella specialties, but don't let them distract you from the endgame: getting your hands on Verde's light and airy pies that are baked for just 90 seconds in an 850-degree wood-fired oven. The intense heat produces a perfectly char-blistered crust that you can enjoy with the traditional tomato-mozzarella-basil trifecta, or with unique topping combos like mussels, pancetta, and Parmigiano-Reggiano.
One of the longest-running markets in the world (it’s been around since 1782), Lexington Market is Baltimore’s ultimate food destination. The breadth and depth of its 100 vendors are unparalleled, spanning cuisines and alimentary orders as disparate as soul food, Indian, Malaysian, and delicatessen specialties, in addition to fresh seafood, local produce, world-famous crab cakes, corned beef, and fried chicken all in one large, hangar-like hall. Come for a snack, your weekly grocery shop, or a memorable meal, and share in one of the city’s most significant urban centers.
Faidley's handmade crab cakes typically draw a crowd that spills out into the halls of Lexington Market. The Market itself is one of the country's largest daily indoor food markets, while Faidley's real estate consists only of a singular kiosk. This does not, however, seem to deter customers. Found in 1886, the sea-food purveyor has become a serious Baltimore staple, serving tall orders of over-the-counter fresh fish, in addition to catering all across Baltimore. The seafood mainstay offers everything from shrimp and trout to oysters and calamari, and all fresh fish can be cleaned, cut, and cooked to-order. And while all the fish Faidley sells is of the highest quality, the crab cakes are so incomparably good, the local fish-mongers were hired to develop a crab cake for the crew of the United States Space Shuttle. You might even say they're out of this world (sorry).
Established in 1728, the Red Fox Inn and Tavern is a historical gem in quaint Middleburg. The intimate tavern invites guests to share in hearty breakfasts, dinners, and brunches in a magnificent setting, complete with oak tables, handcrafted furnishings, stone fireplaces, hand-hewn ceiling beams, and thick fieldstone walls. The menu is heavily centered on Southern coastal cuisine, offering shrimp and grits, crab cakes, braised beef short ribs, and fried chicken. Perched above the tavern is the Night Fox Pub, which features the full Tavern menu, a selection of bar snacks like sweet potato fries, and a full bar pouring up craft cocktails and Virginia beers on tap.
In this alpine beer mecca, imbibers can enjoy their brews while surrounded by sweeping fields of the very hops they are sipping. Tucked inside a white clapboard farmhouse, positioned just off the Blue Ridge trail, Blue Mountain Brewery boasts panoramic views of the surrounding mountains, all of which can be enjoyed from the brewpub's expansive patio seating. The selection of beers barreled in-house is impressively wide (the Full Nelson is the fan-favorite) and the food menu is equally lengthy, offering various pizzas, burgers and classic bar staples like nachos and soft pretzels.
Charlottesville’s Champion Brewing Company’s taproom brewery is suitable for any mood. Whether you are looking for a destination to spend time with friends or even a spot to bring your laptop and catch up on some work, Champion provides a lively environment with board games, an outdoor patio, and a regular rotation of the best food trucks in the area. Favorite brews include Missile IPA, which is citrusy and hop-forward, and the Falconer, a hoppy wheat ale.
South Street Brewery in North Downtown Charlottesville is an industrial-chic brewpub housed in a converted brick-walled warehouse. Beer offerings encompass both South Street originals and selections from neighboring craft breweries, while the food program incorporates bar fare like three-cheese mac and cheese (to be designed at your mercy with toppings like bacon, ham, garlic, and corn), sandwiches, burgers, salads, and snacks, like pub pretzels and cheese curds. Top your meal off with a decadent donut bread pudding à la mode, with raisins, apricots, vanilla bean, and warm caramel sauce.
Originally housed in what was the legendary Starr Hill Music Hall, this local brewery is the second oldest in all of Virginia. Starr Hill and its attached taproom are nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, where craft beers and panoramic mountain views go hand in hand. The award-winning brewmasters crank out over 250,000 barrels each year, most of which are shipped throughout the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast regions. The taproom features 16 rotating house-beers on draft, all of which are served in signature glasses to guests seated around heavy wooden communal tables. The brewpub often hosts live music, and on the weekends, a variety of food trucks set up camp on Starr Hill's patio, so beer fans can fuel themselves to keep drinking.
Lampo is a Belmont neapolitan pizzeria with a serious commitment to authenticity. In addition to the ambitious variety of wood-fired pizzas the menu offers, the restaurant boasts a selection of plated fresh meats and cheeses, a full antipasti bar, and a diverse wine selection. Still, the neapolitan pies, topped with everything from pork meatballs and San Marzano tomatoes to oyster mushrooms and aged provolone, consistently steal the show. The doughy creations are delectably original, always served hot, and littered with fresh aromatic basil. The restaurant itself is low key, with dark wood, exposed red brick, and an Italian-inspired cocktail program.
In spite of the growing fast food scene in Charlottesville, Mas Tapas is concentrated on curating slow, conscious meals, with high-quality, organic ingredients. Mainly inspired by traditional Spanish tapas, the menu offers a variety of small plates crafted of meats, cheeses, grains, herbs and produce from local Virginia farms. While the portions are small, guests are encouraged to try a variety of the tasty samplings. The menu offers everything from grilled chorizo and handcrafted ashy goat's milk cheese with apricots, to apple cider-roasted carrots and duck confit empanadas. The space itself is social and casual, with an impressive wine bar and ample patio seating, and the food itself is eclectic, wildly flavorful, and carefully hand-crafted.
At Brazos Tacos, the chefs maintain that no time is a bad time for tacos. Best known for their extraordinary selection of breakfast tacos, the place starts turning out corn and flour tortilla creations as early as 7am. While "El Guapo" -- a tortilla stacked with bacon, cheese, scrambled egg, black beans, and avocado -- is the most popular of the breakfast items, the morning dishes can be topped with everything from sautéed spinach and salsa roja, to crisped yams and chorizo. The lunch and dinner items are equally inventive, drawing on an impressive variety of meats and vegetables, and all of BT's tacos san be served on greens, corn or flour tortillas, or simply in a cup. The service is fast, the patio is decked with string lights, and the guacamole is to die for.
This Water street live music hub is known for great food and great jazz. Since 1995, the American eatery has been a local staple, serving lunch and dinner daily in addition to acting as a functional event space. Housed in a narrow brick building with bright blue doors, the dining room features Virginia-inspired murals extending across rust-colored walls, hanging paper lanterns, and a wide, protruding formica bar. You can order snacks and small plates like portobello mushroom fries or black bean egg rolls, while sipping cocktails at the bar, or you can stay for dinner, and feast on an eclectic menu boasting everything from bison burgers and crab cake sandwiches to Harissa pork loin cutlets (all of which are typically served with a side of live jazz). And if that's not your cup of tea, you can stop by for a beer and some Wednesday night karaoke, instead.
Foster's is a little bit of everything -- a full-service coffee bar, a lunch counter, a boutique grocery store, and a wine emporium. Helmed by noted cookbook author, Sara Foster, the local market makes nearly all of its products in-house. The shop is known for its versatile collection of homemade preserves and nut butters, sauces and syrups (Foster's BBQ sauce is notoriously delicious), and fresh-cut meat and cheese products. The café provides plenty of open seating, and a menu of scratch made soups, sandwiches (stuffed with meats cured, roasted and grilled in-house), and a full list of egg-based breakfast options. And if you weren't totally satisfied with your pepper jelly-topped, seven-cheese grilled cheese sandwich, Foster's bakes fresh pastries all day long.
Helmed by Munich-trained chef, Claudia Kemmet-Cooper, this German-style eatery is equal parts café, restaurant, and bakery. The place is a gluten mecca of sorts, churning out ciabatta and challah loaves along with danishes, croissants, macaroons and lemon bars -- Claudia will even make your wedding cake. The adjoining café offers breakfast and lunch, and most importantly, a full-service coffee bar, all in a tasteful lavender-painted dining room filled with chipped, white wooden chairs and marble table tops. The restaurant space, open exclusively for dinner, is much larger with dim hanging lights, a wood-beamed ceiling, and ample garden seating. Like the bakery/café, it serves German-style local, seasonal fare -- things like oxtail ragout, rabbit pot pie, and German pork-mushroom dumplings in Onion broth. The wiener schnitzel comes highly recommended, and is, of course, best enjoyed with a cold German beer.
First opened in 1989, Blue Point is a local beachside eatery, breathing some serious life into the sleepy little town of Duck. The space itself is expansive and airy, opening up onto a full-service patio, complete with water-facing adirondack chairs. The oceanic local favorite is built of wood beams and heavy tables, all of which are surrounded by walls dressed in slate and punctuated by floor to ceiling windows. The lengthy oyster bar serves as the dining room's center point, and each table setting includes one of the restaurant's signature deep blue wine glasses. The place is known for its seafood dishes like the "she-crab soup" and the pistachio-encrusted, seared scallops, but beyond fish, the menu items range from grilled Angus beef tenderloin to braised North Carolina pheasant with house-made gnocchi. It is a mistake, however, to travel to Blue Point, without ordering at least one tray of the joint's famous right-out-of-the-ocean oysters.