Here are some travel tips for secret things to do on Viking ocean cruises I have learned from my two ...
IPW 2017, sponsored by U.S. Travel Association, is a major travel conference occurring right now, in early June in Washington, DC. The IPW theme of “Bringing the World to America” is realized by bringing prominent international and US travel journalists (including ME!), destinations, and travel brands together. All of the visitors want to know, even if they do not know it, my favorite places to visit near DC.
Over the next few days we will learn, discuss, partner, and brainstorm ways to create a world of happy travelers. Oh, that is actually my goal and mission.
So, happy travelers, please stick around for an extra week or so to experience some of the wonders near DC, in the area we call DMV.
McCool Travel great places to visit near DC
Great Falls, Virginia
Great Falls is a quick 30 minute drive from Washington, DC along gorgeous scenic roads: George Washington Parkway and Georgetown Pike. Great Falls National Park is historic and scenic. I love to visit Great Falls National Park in the late winter or early spring, a couple of days after a huge snowfall melt when the falls are at peak levels. Explore Matildaville and the historic canal system—developed by George Washington project for boats to bypass the rough Potomac River.
Great Falls park is super crowded on pleasant DMV weekend days. The park is an immensely popular spot for picnics, hiking, kayaking, rock climbing, and nature activities. By the way, this area is home to some of the country’s most expensive properties so it is fun to drive smaller roads and window shop. McCool pick for a drink or meal is The Old Brogue irish pub in the Village of Great Falls, a couple of miles west along Georgetown Pike from the park entrance. I live about 20 minutes away (NOT in one of the expensive areas) and will gladly meet you at the pub (call me!).
Great Falls, Maryland
When you looked across the Potomac River from Great Falls National Park in Virginia, you saw the Maryland side. Highlights on the Maryland side include the historic tavern (visitor center), C & O Canal trails, Colonial era boats through the canal locks, and fantastic hikes. McCool pick for a strenuous hike is the Billy Goat trail. Nearby Old Angler’s Inn is very popular for weekend brunch. Let me know when you visit and I will meet you there. Also nearby is the small village of Potomac, Maryland and historic Glen Echo Park. At cherry blossom time, a McCool pick would be a bike ride up the Capital Crescent Trail to Kenwood Maryland.
Baltimore’s Inner Harbor is B-more’s tourist highlight. Instead, ride a ferry to Fell’s Point and find an independent neighborhood restaurant like Black Olive or a place in another quaint neighborhood. Camden Yards (near Inner Harbor) is one of America’s most gorgeous ballparks; during baseball season, McCool pick Boog’s Barbecue will hit the spot. With no traffic, Baltimore’s Inner Harbor is a 45 minute drive from the White House but you can also ride Amtrak from Union Station (super convenient).
A stellar place to stay in Baltimore is The Ivy Hotel. The Ivy is a new boutique hotel and is winning all kinds of awards. I can tell you that their afternoon tea and breakfast are amazing.
Annapolis can also be driven to from the White House in under an hour. Before the White House was built, the Maryland State House (USA’s oldest capital building) hosted the Continental Congress. Tour the magnificent Naval Academy. OK, enough history, head over to Ego Alley for a Dark & Stormy or other rum drink. Boat trips from Annapolis are magnificent! I strongly suggest you make time to head across the Bay Bridge to Kent Narrows and have lunch or dinner at a crab shack. McCool picks include The Big Owl Tiki Bar (best fish tacos this side of Rio Grande) and Harris Crab Shack (celeb spotting spot and great seafood).
Alexandria and Mount Vernon
Historic Mount Vernon, George Washington’s residence, is about 30 minutes south of the White House. The historic property is especially nice to visit at Christmas time. Bring a dollar coin and see if you can toss it across the Potomac River to Piscataway Park (in Maryland). Nearby are some gorgeous parks, including Huntley Meadows, Mason Neck, Pohick Bay, and Occoquan Bay.
For more information about these parks and much more in Fairfax County, please visit McCool Travel’s local partner, Fun in Fairfax. You will most likely pass through historic Alexandria between D.C. and Mount Vernon; in either or both directions. Alexandria has Colonial architecture, great shopping (especially antiques), and nice walking tours. I am more likely to be distracted by Krispy Kreme or Dairy Godmother.
Manassas National Battlefield Park
For amazing Civil War history, head west on I-66 to Manassas Battlefield. Local residents would be shocked to know, but you can drive from the White House to Manassas Battlefield in under 45 minutes with no traffic. The key is no traffic. I suggest leaving DC early (before 7) and have breakfast near Manassas or wait until 10 (or weekend). Fascinating history and scenery abounds around the National Park property but my McCool pick is the First Manassas loop train followed by a visit to the Winery at Bull Run—where D.C. residents actually picnicked and watch the battles (imagine that).
Speaking of wineries, your D.C. visit should be extended by at least one day to visit the rapidly expanding Virginia wine scene. The closest winery to D.C. is Paradise Springs in Clifton. While Paradise Springs and Bull Run are the only two in Fairfax County, Loudoun County has over 40 wineries. McCool pick: My favorite Loudoun County winery is Bluemont Vineyard (magnificent views), only 1 hour drive from the White House with no traffic. Loudoun County also oozes history and scenery. McCool picks include discovering unpaved roads, exploring around Waterford, and Fire Works Pizza in Leesburg for lunch.
Frederick, Maryland and Sugarloaf Mountain
If you look at the topography of the metro D.C. area, it is slightly hilly in parts. The closest significant “mountain” to D.C. is just under an hour drive away (with no traffic). McCool geology lesson: Sugarloaf Mountain is a monadnock, what remains after the adjacent area wears away. The result is a magnificent vista, 800 feet above the surrounding area. Definitely allow a couple of hours to hike to the summit for the views and explore the park. Pack a picnic to enjoy at the top or have lunch in the nearby small city of Frederick.
Foodies may want to try Volt, Bryan Voltaggio’s first restaurant. Some of the prettiest farmland in America surrounds Sugarloaf so it is worth taking time to explore the small roads. McCool pick: for a unique experience, travel White’s Ferry in either or both directions. It is the last remaining ferry across the Potomac River.
Wow, I hope you planned on an extra few weeks, for my places to visit near DC. Of course, there is so much more to see and do in the DMV—as we locals call our area (D.C., Maryland, and Virginia). And everything listed in within an hour of Washington, D.C. Brilliant!
What would you include for places to visit near DC?