Challenge a river’s raging current. Bob on the gentle ripples of a lake. Paddle to an island or in the shadow of a world-famous monument. Whether your preference is wild or mild, the water fun is waiting at a variety of driving-distance destinations.
If the last time you saw D.C. was on a monument- and museum-focused class trip, you probably missed many of the other historic and recreational adventures available in and beyond the capital’s downtown area. Paddle to a quiet island in the Potomac or in the shadow of the Jefferson Memorial in the Tidal Basin. Rejoice in the restoration of Washington’s “Black Broadway,” a neighborhood that predates Harlem as a center of African-American life, enterprise, and entertainment; was devastated by the civil unrest of the 1960s and has recently regained its position as a multi-cultural destination for fun food, funky fashion and low-key and high-profile music venues.
Where to Stay
Situated in the first neighborhood north of Washington’s downtown area within easy walking distance of most major attractions and only two blocks to the closest Metro subway station, The DC Guesthouse (1337 10th St. N.W., 202-332-2502, dcguesthouse.com; $185 to $300, $25 during high visitation weeks) is a destination unto itself. The seven guestrooms in this historic 1876 mansion-turned-warm and welcoming bed and breakfast are furnished with lush appointments, some with wood-burning fireplaces, separate sitting rooms and eclectic artwork.
In fact, the entire place is filled with so many of the owners’ personal art collection from Ming Dynasty to contemporary pieces that you might just end up skipping the Smithsonian. Join the owners and fellow guests in “The Pit” for a glass of wine, linger over a bountiful, home-cooked breakfast in the dining room. Another big perk is the free off-street parking (a big deal in D.C.).
Where to Eat
Only a couple of short blocks from D.C. Guesthouse is Veranda (1100 P St. N.W., 202-234-6870, verandaonp.com; $10 to $21, Sunday brunch $9 to $11), a Mediterranean-influenced neighborhood eatery operated by brothers Aleks and Lambros Duni. Start with dolmades or saganaki, and then it’s on to the lamb shank with essences of anise, coriander and cinnamon. End with any of the Greek desserts whether baklava or kaddafi.
Sip a Sazerac or mint julep and savor some sassy Louisiana home cooking at Acadiana (901 New York Ave., N.W.; 202-408-8848, acadianarestaurant.com; lunch $12 to $16, dinner $21 to $29). It’s all here from the muffalettas and po’ boys to crispy fried catfish, gumbo and étouffée.
Ben’s Chili Bowl (1213 U St., NW; 202-667-0909, benschilibowl.com; $3.60 to $4.95) has been serving its famous chili-topped half-smokes (half pork, half beef smoked sausage) and shakes. On weekdays, it’s open until 2 a.m., on weekends ’til 4 a.m. to accommodate late-night cravings.
Grab dessert—maybe a cupcake or signature “crunchy feet” or “buzz balls”—at food celeb Warren Brown’s CakeLove bakery (1506 U St., NW; 202-588-7100, cake love.com).
On the first Sunday of each month, the National Museum of Women in the Arts (1250 New York Avenue, N.W.; 800-222-7270; nmwa.org) hosts an open-to-the-public brunch ($25), which includes admission to the museum’s exhibits of 16th century to modern artists such as Georgia O’Keeffe, Frida Kahlo and Mary Cassatt.
Bring your own or rent a kayak ($8 to $10 an hour, $24 to $30 for a day) or canoe ($8 an hour, $22 per day) from Thompson Boat Center (2900 Virginia Ave., N.W., Georgetown; 202-333-9543; thompsonboatcenter.com) and take the Potomac for about one mile over to Theodore Roosevelt Island, a peaceful 90-plus acre wilderness preserve with trails and a boardwalk for wildlife watchers. Or take in the “monumental” view in a leg-powered rental from Tidal Basin Paddleboats (1501 Maine Ave., S.W.; 202-479-2426; tidalbasinpeddleboats.com; $8 for two passengers).
Give yourself a whole afternoon (and at least part of an evening) to fully take in the sights, sounds and flavors of the 14th and U Street/Logan Circle/Shaw districts, located east of DuPont Circle and north of downtown. Check out such 14th Street retail favorites as Go Mama Go! (1809, 202-299-0850, gomamago.com) for home accessories and Ruff & Ready Furnishings (1908, 202- 667-7833), which takes a no frills approach to selling antiques and collectibles.
If you’re a jazz aficionado, don’t miss the chance to take in a newcomer or headliner performance at Bohemian Caverns (2001 Eleventh St., 202-299-0800, bohemiancaverns.com; ticket prices vary), which, since 1926, has hosted many of the biggest names in the business, from Duke Ellington to Diana Ross and from Cannonball Adderley to Aretha Franklin.
Decor is not a priority at HR-57 Center for the Preservation of Jazz and Blues (1610 14th St., NW; 202-667-3700, hr57.org; ticket prices vary). It’s all about the music, whether it’s a local musician on Wednesday or Thursday, or polished pros on weekends.
Page 2: Winvian in Litchfield Hills, Connecticut
Ever wanted to stay in a beaver lodge, a grown-up treehouse suspended more than 30 feet above the ground or the medieval splendor of the court of King Arthur? Or have you ever shared sleeping space with a real, restored, 17,000-pound 1968 Sikorsky helicopter? Situated in the northwest corner of Connecticut, Winvian (155 Alain White Rd.; Morris, 860-567-9600, winvian.com), a recently opened 113–acre wooded resort, offers all of these opportunities and more in 18 fantasy-fulfilling cottages individually designed by 15 different artistic architects. Two-thirds of the property borders on the 4,000-acre White Memorial Foundation wildlife sanctuary.
Where to Stay
All of the themed 950 to 1,250 square-foot cottages at Winvian have wood-burning fireplaces, fully stocked wet bars, private screened-in porches, whirlpool tubs and walk-in steam showers with radiant floor heating. There’s also a three-room suite spanning the entire first floor of the property’s 18th-century main house. Your tab at any of the Winvian cottages or suite ($1,450 to $1,950 per night) is all-inclusive, covering all meals (continental and full breakfasts, lunch, picnics, spa snacks, room service, afternoon tea, dinner and after-dinner petits fours); liquor and unlimited use of the property’s facilities and equipment including bikes, canoes and kayaks and tennis courts.
Where to Eat
Linger over breakfast in Winvian’s sunny Terrace, snack in the Solarium, have the kitchen pack and lay out a picnic in a secluded spot. Select from Chef Chris Eddy’s ever-changing tasting menu featuring on-site-grown produce and other fresh seasonal ingredients in the private Ortan Hill Dining Room. French-trained pastry chef Gilles Ballay creates imaginative and often unexpected endings (if it’s available, you have to try the sweet corn ice cream).
Winvian Spa features treatments outdoors on a private patio and in an indoor private suite for two. The concierge can arrange additional activities such as guided hiking or canoeing (both cost $75 for one, $10 for an additional person), horseback riding ($55 per hour); hot-air ballooning ($375 per person for a one-and-one-half-hour flight); guided day-long fly-fishing ($275 first person, $375 for two) or drift-boat spin cast fishing ($450); golfing at the exclusive Fairview Farm championship 18-hole, par-72 course (prices with cart are $120 for 18 holes); or an hour-and-a-half of on-track time in a Formula Skip Barber car at the Racing School at Lime Rock (around $600). Shop for treasures in nearby Woodbury (“the Antiques Capital of Connecticut”), which has more than 30 professional dealers, most of whom are located in historic homes along a six-mile stretch of Route 6.
Page 3: Harpers Ferry, West Virginia
You know it as the place where, on October 16, 1859, abolitionist John Brown and his 21-man “army of liberation” staged a raid to capture the weapon-filled arsenal and establish a guerilla warfare stronghold in the Blue Ridge Mountains. While the raid was a disaster, it did focus the nation’s attention on the issue of slavery and, to paraphrase Frederick Douglass, began the war that ended it. Although the living history town has been recreated in West Virginia at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers, the 2,300-acre Harpers Ferry National Historical Park actually stretches into Maryland and Virginia as well. The Appalachian Trail also runs through Harpers Ferry offering the ultimate in hiking. And whitewater thrills await on the rivers. For shopping and dining, save some time to visit German Street in the neighboring community of Shepherdstown.
Where To Stay
Bavarian Inn (164 Shepherd Grade Rd., Shepherdstown, 304-876-2551, bavarianinnwv.com), with its river- and garden-view rooms and suites ($115 to $355), is a surprising glimpse of Europe with its Schwarzwald (Black Forest) Haus and collection of Alpine-style chalets. Rooms and suites have private balconies and antique furnishings, some with fireplaces, large sitting areas, canopied four-poster beds and double-size whirlpool tubs. There’s a pool with a deck on-site and inn guests have access to the private 18-hole, par-72 championship golf course ($38) at the nearby Cress Creek Country Club.
Where to Eat
At Greystone Mansion at the Bavarian Inn, the lunch ($6 to $19.95), dinner ($18 to $38) and Sunday brunch ($19.95 for adults, $9.95 for kids) menus highlight traditional German favorites from Sauerbraten to Szegediner Goulash with contemporary twists. Chef Wolfgang Vorment also includes American wild game dishes and the wine list offers more than 600 different labels. Tiny Stone Soup Bistro (112 W. German St., Shepherdstown; 304-876-8477; stonesoupbistro.com; $7 to $13) serves up a killer homemade soup du jour in a bread bowl, sandwiches, salads and entrées, including vegetarian and vegan selections.
Secret Six Tavern (186 High St., Harpers Ferry, 304-535-3044), named after six New England men who secretly funded John Brown’s Raid, is a casual spot in two 1839 former private homes. Burgers ($9.99) come Confederate (with local ham) and Union (with bacon) style.
Fancy, it’s not, but the locals flock to the Turf Motel & Rib Room (741 E. Washington St., Charles Town, 800-422-TURF, turfmotel.com; $5.95 to $10.95 for lunch, $15.95 to $24.95) for prime rib.
Made-from-scratch pastas, mozzarella, breads and desserts ensure that the menus at Yellow Brick Bank (201 E. German St. Shepherdstown, 304-876-2208, yellowbrickbank.com; lunch is $7.50 to $10, dinner averages $21 to $27) are always on the money. The talk of the town is the Jo Jo ice cream made from homemade peanut butter and marshmallow at Patterson’s Drug Store (134 S. Queen St., Martinsburg, 304-267-8903).
Stroll the brick sidewalks of Shenandoah Street where you can visit the restored 19th-century shops, museums and other buildings, chat with costumed interpreters and watch cooking, craft and artillery demonstrations in the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park (304-535-6029, nps.gov/hafe, $6 per single, private vehicle, $4 for individuals on foot or bicycle). Trace the progression of John Brown’s 36-hour raid and its repercussions during a ranger-guided tour. Don’t miss the John Brown Museum and Black Voices Museum. Check out the sweeping mountain and river views from Bolivar Heights Battlefield, which Thomas Jefferson described as “one of the most stupendous scenes of nature.”
Keep your eye out for the over 170 bird species (including bald eagles, peregrine falcons and retailed hawks). To get more of the local story, stop in nearby Charles Town, home of the Jefferson County Museum and Courthouse (200 East Washington St., 304-725-8628, Charles Town, jeffctywvmuseum.org; $3 for adults) with its extensive collection of raid-related, Civil War and Native American artifacts and the Belle Boyd House and Museum (126 E. Race St., 304-267-4713; donations), childhood home of one of the most famous Civil War spies.
Take a two- to-four-and-a-half-hour guided raft ride on Class I to III whitewater with River & Trail Outfitters (604 Valley Rd., Knoxville, Md., right outside of Harpers Ferry; 888-446-7529, rivertrail.com; adults $61.42 weekdays, $68.09 weekends; kids $55.71 and $62.38). For some musical entertainment, you’ll hear all kinds at The Shepherdstown Opera House (131 W. German St., 304-876-3704, operahouselive.com) or you can relax in a rocking chair and enjoy an impromptu jam session every Thursday evening at O’Hurley’s General Store (205 E. Washington St., 304-876-6907, ohurley.com).
Page 4: Lake Naomi Club, Pennsylvania
Although this Pocono Mountain resort community, nicknamed “The Other Hamptons,” is private, a number of members will rent their homes during various seasons. The rental also offers the opportunity to purchase a temporary membership ($165 for two adults and children for the weekend, $240 for a week), which gives you access to all of the property’s facilities, including the members-only dining, golf, tennis, pools and other recreational facilities. A 25,000-acre state forest is adjacent to the property.
Where to Stay
Rent a cabin or large luxury home to accommodate up to 14 people at Lake Naomi Club, which consists of the two communities of Lake Naomi and Timber Trails from Lake Naomi Real Estate (800-537-1479, lakenaomi.com; $450 and up weekends, $900 to $4,000 a week). The club is built around three private lakes, including the 277-acre Lake Naomi, one of the largest in the Pennsylvania Mountains, and has five sandy beaches for sunning and swimming. Three Olympic swimming pools, one indoor and two outdoor, one of which is one of the largest heated lakeside pools in the state, provide more water fun. Catch (and release) bass, trout, pickerel, panfish, and walleye from the property’s stocked fishing pond.
Where to Eat
Try to score a seat by the window overlooking Lake Naomi in the pretty dining room at The Waterfront Clubhouse at Lake Naomi ($9 to $16 for lunch, $16 to $25 for dinner). Lunch specialties in the Grill Room include tuna wakame and crab sandwich. For dinner, try the duck confit and juniper-infused ravioli, Jail Island salmon or fettuccini Gorgonzola with grilled chicken. There’s live entertainment on Friday and Saturday evenings.
Play the challenging greens on the Timber Trails Golf Course ($20 weekdays, $30 weekends for 18 holes) or the 18 soft-surface tennis courts ($5 per person doubles, $10 singles for one-and-one-half hours of play). Join a kayak tour on Lake Naomi led by a Nature Conservancy Environmental Specialist or rent a canoe, kayak or rowboat ($20 for two hours) for a solo excursion. Experienced sailors can also rent sailboats on mid-week days. Landlubbers can watch the weekend sailboat races. Take some “grown-up time” and let the young’uns play at the Kids Klub (ages 4 to 13) or Kub Klub (potty-trained 3-year-olds), both of which offer age-appropriate activities for $95 a week.
Page 5: St. Mary’s County, Maryland
In 1634, a group of 140 colonists seeking religious freedom and a better life traveled from England aboard two ships—the Ark and the Dove—and established the fourth permanent settlement in British North America. They called their capital, located on a peninsula surrounded by the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, the Patuxent and Potomac Rivers, Terrae-Marie, Mary’s Land, after Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of King Charles I. Tobacco fueled the growth of the colony and its population boom with St. Mary’s City serving as its political and economic center until 1695 when the capital was moved to Annapolis. After that, St. Mary’s virtually died and the ground on which it stood—as well as the foundations of the city underneath—remained relatively undisturbed for hundreds of years. Today, Historic St. Mary’s City is one of the nation’s most renowned archaeological sites and outdoor living history museums, recognized by the National Park Service as “the best preserved founding site of a 17th-century English colony in North America.”
Where to Stay
It took 18 years to restore the once-abandoned, 1798 manor house now called Woodlawn Farm (16040 Woodlawn Lane, Ridge, 301-872-0555, woodlawn-farm.com; $140 to $190 weekdays, $170 to $260 weekends). The effort paid off because it was honored with the 1990 Grand Prize of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s “Great American Home Awards.” Built on a tidal inlet at the mouth of the Potomac and surrounded by 180 acres of lawns, fields, woodlands and 300-year-old boxwoods, this home-turned-bed and breakfast offers accommodations in two bay- or garden-view suites in the main manor house or in five more contemporary cottage suites. All of the cottages have Jacuzzi tubs, including the charming Magnolia Cottage, designed to replicate 17th-century architecture, with its soaring cathedral ceiling. Swim, fish or crab off the dock or walk or bike on the five miles of trails.
Where to Eat
Just about every St. Mary’s County family has its own recipe for stuffed ham, a local delicacy. The ham is brined, pierced, and filled with a mixture of cabbage, kale and spices that include a variety of peppers. Look for it at local grocery stores and church dinners (some churches also offer all-you-can-eat crab feasts).
Brome-Howard Inn (18281 Rosecroft Road, St. Mary’s City, 301-866-0656, bromehowardinn.com; $22 to $27), in an 1840s Greek revival gentleman’s plantation house on the St. Mary’s River, offers an atmosphere of sophisticated intimacy. Seafood is a specialty of Chef Michael Kelley, who is particularly proud of his jumbo lump crab cakes and saffron-scented Fisherman’s Stew.
Surrounded by wooden shacks and trailers at the end of a road, you might be tempted to skip the humble Courtney’s Restaurant (48290 Wynne Road, Ridge; 301-872-4403; dinners up to $25.95), but the locals absolutely love this seafood spot with its vegetable crab soup, oyster stew, “secret” battered selections and, in season, soft shell crabs.
If you’re really hungry, order Chef Neil’s Colossal Steamer Platter at Evans Seafood Restaurant (16800 Piney Point Road, Piney Point, 301-994-9944, evansseafoodrestaurant.com; $15 to $37). If you’re looking for some quick, cheap and surprisingly fresh food, the cafeteria at St. Mary’s College (18952 E. Fisher Road, St. Mary’s City) is open to the public.
What to Do
Archaeologists began digging on the 835-acre site set on Calvert Creek in 1972 to unearth the foundations and artifacts from the buried Historic St. Mary’s City (off Rt. 5, 800-762-1634, stmaryscity.org; $10 for adults, $3.50 to $6 for youngsters), a.k.a. HSMC.
Work still continues to reveal and rebuild the city with the utmost historic accuracy, but St. John’s Archaeology Museum, constructed on the preserved foundation of a 1638 building, already has more than one-and-one-half million artifacts, many dating from the 17th century, others from prehistoric times.
Other living museum highlights include a full-scale, hands-on replica of the Dove, one of the original colonists’ ships; the Godiah Spray Tobacco Plantation, where the mistress of the house and her indentured servant will show and tell you about their 17th-century lives; and the Woodland Indian Hamlet, where costumed interpreters will tell you about the native Yaocomaco tribe.
During July’s Tidewater Archaeology Weekend, you can actually work with the archaeologists to search for more treasures. Close to HSMC is Leonardtown, where a major mural depicts various periods in the town’s history and North End Gallery (41652 Fenwick St., 301-475-3130, northendgallery.org) displays the works of 35 Southern Maryland artists.
If you are a fan of lighthouses, take the water taxi (301-769-2222; $5) to St. Clement’s Island State Park, Blackistone Lighthouse (originally built in 1851 and reconstructed after being destroyed by fire in 1951) and Potomac River Museum (38370 Point Breeze Road, Colton’s Point; 301-769-2222; $3 for adults, $1.50 for children). Paddle the Patuxent River on a guided trip ($45, add $10 for lunch or brunch tours) with River Riders Kayaking (Greenwell State Park, 25420 Rosedale Manor Lane, Hollywood; 301-373-9775; greenwellfoundation.org) or go out on your own in a rental ($25 half day, $35 whole).