No matter how much you love DC, we all need to hit the road every once in a while and experience something new, treat ourselves to a change of scenery and, of course, taste something deliciously unique. To help you satisfy the onset of wanderlust, we've gathered a list of crave-worthy day trips — as well as what to eat and do once you get there. And while we can't guarantee that you won't hit traffic on the way to your destination (hint: leave early!), we've got you covered whether you head north, south, east or west. But since you can reach each of these places and find your way back all in one day, feel free to leave your compass at home.
Admittedly, Maryland’s capital city hasn’t traditionally been known as a foodie destination — but the town is so pretty and the drive is so easy that it’s worth it to seek the hidden gems.
While You Are There: Get on the water with one of the boat tours or water taxis that depart from the waterfront; tour the U.S. Naval Academy; pop into the reasonably priced antique shops; visit the National Cryptologic Museum.
Transportation Time: One hour drive, although be aware that parking can be rough on weekends.
Charm City might be our nearest metropolis, but it couldn’t be more different from DC — which makes us love it all the more. You can go old school and hit a casual seafood spot or try one of the city’s growing list of chic, trendy eateries. Check out our Baltimore dining guide here (but note that Pabu recently closed).
While You Are There: Walk around the Inner Harbor; hit the stalls of the Baltimore Farmers' Market & Bazaar, which runs 7 AM-noon Sundays through late December; shop at the antiques mega-compound Second Chance; stick your hand in a mini tornado at the Maryland Science Center.
Transportation Time: One-hour drive or a short, inexpensive trip on the MARC train, which now runs on weekends.
Whether you visit in summer — while University of Virginia students are off interning or backpacking across Europe — or wait till fall when the autumn leaves are in their full glory, Charlottesville is a worthwhile jaunt. It’s on the far side for a day trip, but if you opt to take some of the ambling back roads, getting there is half the fun.
What to Eat & Drink: The vegan tasting menu at Clifton Inn; gelato at Splendora’s Gelato Café; a sandwich at Salt Artisan Market; scallion bubble pancake and bamboo fish at Peter Chang’s China Grill; Barboursville wine, wherever you can find it.
While You Are There: Tour the house and gardens at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home; Barboursville Vineyards, the most well-regarded Virginia winemaker; and take a walk around the stunning University of Virginia campus.
Transportation Time: 2.5 hours to drive there; buses and trains leave from Union Station and drop off on Main Street near the campus.
Less than two hours from DC, this historic enclave is still a relatively unexplored area for many Washingtonians. Hit some wineries on the way into town and then immerse yourself in the slower pace of a rural Virginia Main Street.
Transportation Time: 1.75 hours driving (limited train service will take you from Union Station to Downtown Culpeper, but mostly at odd hours).
Don’t let the quaint, yesteryear look of the Downtown area fool you — the dining options here are actually quite sophisticated. Small and relaxed, strolling the streets of Easton is the perfect way to shake off a particularly tough work week.
What to Eat & Drink: Cocktails, the chef’s tasting menu and the inn-cut fries at Bartlett Pear Inn; BBQ at The BBQ Joint; sandwiches from Julia’s Carryout; a fruit or veggie juice at Hill’s Soda Fountain & Cafe.
Transportation Time: 1.5 hours driving.
Frederick’s food culture seems to have grown by leaps and bounds over the past few years. The main drag — North Market Street — has its own olive oil and vinegar shop; there are brewers and wineries and coffee roasters and chocolatiers galore. In short, there is something delicious around every turn.
Transportation Time: One hour driving; street and garage parking are fairly plentiful. (The MARC train only runs between DC and Frederick on weekdays.)
Front Royal, VA
In only a little over an hour, you can drive west from DC’s asphalt jungle into the lush Shenandoah Valley, surrounded by mountains and within range of the ambling Shenandoah River. That’s what you’ll find in charming Front Royal, which boasts a burgeoning food scene.
While You Are There: Visit Skyline Caverns, the underground passage filled with rare rock formations; hike along the water in Shenandoah River State Park; walk a bit of the Appalachian Trail (just because you can).
Transportation Time: 1.25 hours driving.
Virginia’s capital may have only just grabbed the attention of DC celebrity chefs — Mike Isabella and Bryan Voltaggio are both opening restaurants there. But this charming city has a long history of cutting-edge dining and cosmopolitan restaurants, along with quirky shops, great museums and enchanting outdoor activities.
Transportation Time: 2.25 hours, and parking is no problem in the city; a train from Union Station will drop you Downtown — but bring a bike or you’ll have a fairly limited area to explore on foot.