Ligonier, Pennsylvania, may be among the best places on Earth to lick an ice-cream cone on a warm summer night. Cone in hand from Ligonier Creamery, locals head to the town gazebo to listen to a Sunday-night concert. Others gather with friends to bowl at the Wicked Googly Bar & Restaurant in Ligonier Lanes. Nested within lush Ligonier Valley, the town attracts golfers, fly-fishermen, and other lovers of the outdoors. Plus hunters: The late Joe Snyder filled his Joe’s Bar with an array of trophies, from costumed squirrels to waterbucks, a polar bear, and a massive elephant head. It’s worth a stop for a cold beer.
Standing guard over town is Fort Ligonier, an important relic of the French and Indian War. Stay in town at the Thistledown at Seger House (221 W. Main St.; 724-238-4087), a charming inn with eight renovated bedrooms, and walk to the Kitchen on Main (136 E. Main St.; 724-238-4199), a BYOB favorite that serves New American fare such as the grilled lemon-dill salmon burger on its lunch menu. The charms of Ligonier aren’t all American: The new French patisserie Warrior King Pastries (114 S. Market St.; 724-624-3880) bakes butter croissants and savory quiches.
Distance from DC: 187 miles.
Nearby: One of architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpieces, Fallingwater, is a 45-minute drive away.
Are you a fan of Monet's water lily paintings? Then consider cruising up to Frederick, Maryland, this weekend to see a similarly dreamy tableau with your own eyes.
Now in its third year, Color on the Creek—a project that installed lilies, lotuses, and other water plants to limit the growth of algae on Carroll Creek—is in full bloom. According to Color on the Creek's chairman, Peter Kremers, the Frederick water garden—with some 1,800 plants—is now six times the size of Monet's famed garden in Giverny, France. The garden, which is free to see, runs through the heart of lively Frederick, home to interesting shops and good restaurants.
Although there are blooms at all hours, including at night, Kremers says that the best time to visit is between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. or noon, when every plant is in full flower—the day bloomers open around 8 or 9 a.m, while the night bloomers, which come alive at 7 p.m., stay open until 11 a.m. or noon.
Can't make it this weekend? The garden will continue to grow larger, and remain at peak, for the next three weeks. In fact, there will be something in bloom until the first frost, in late October or early November.
America's "Coolest Small Town"
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There are small towns, and then there’s Port Tobacco, Maryland. According to the 2010 census, its population is just 13. But when asked for a more updated number, all resident Kay Volman has to do is crane her neck and count the houses.
“Let’s see—one, two, three . . . .” she says. A visitor has a view of just about every residence in Port Tobacco from the front of the historic courthouse. Many are restored from the original Colonial-era constructions, the oldest dating to 1720. Some residents, most of whom are retirees, can chart their Port Tobacco heritage to the 19th century.
Volman finishes counting: “Sixteen! So we’ve grown a little bit.”
Most beach communities shut down come Labor Day, but not Lewes, Delaware (one reason it attracts a fair share of retirees). Visitors will find a picturesque historic district and a handful of shops and activities—including a scenic bike loop through Cape Henlopen State Park and Rehoboth—that make for a pleasant visit even on a cool or cloudy day.
The off-season makes it easier to get a table at Agave (137 Second St.; 302-645-1232), a terrific Mexican restaurant where, in season, the peak wait can be three hours, and at Nectar Cafe & Juice Bar (111 Neils Alley; 302-645-5842), a sweet spot for juices, sandwiches, and breakfast. Stay at the Inn at Canal Square (122 Market St.; 888-644-1911) in a room overlooking the soothing canal or at Dogfish Inn (105 Savannah Rd.; 302-644-8292), with its beer-infused, retro-modern vibe.
Distance from DC: 118 miles.
Town trivia: Founded in 1631, Lewes is the “First Town in the First State.”
Come Saturday night, the otherwise quiet town of Easton buzzes as people make their way along the brick sidewalks to dinner. For years, this small town has earned an outsize reputation for good food. You can sit on the patio at the Bartlett Pear Inn (28 S. Harrison St.; 410-770-3300) and sample the light farm-to-table fare that chef/co-owner Jordan Lloyd honed during his tenure at Per Se, Thomas Keller’s storied New York restaurant. Or try dishes like butter-poached lobster at the Peacock Restaurant & Lounge (202 E. Dover St.; 410-819-8007), housed in a gracious mansion. It’s not all haute cuisine: The BBQ Joint (216 E. Dover St.; 410-690-3641)—which has an outpost at DC’s Union Market—delivers juicy ribs and brisket. Out of the Fire (22 Goldsborough St.; 410-770-4777) offers organic salads and wood-fired pizza, while Brasserie Brightwell (206 N. Washington St.; 410-819-3838) serves steak frites and other French bistro fare.
One of the best ways to delve into the town’s food culture is with a three-hour, $59 tour from Eastern Shore Food Tours, Saturdays 11 to 2; you can try bites and sips at four restaurants and meet the chefs. Stay at the Tidewater Inn (101 E. Dover St.; 410-822-1300) at the center of town, and walk to breakfast at Rise Up (618 Dover Rd.; 410-822-1353), a funky cafe that roasts fair-trade beans on-site.
Distance from DC: 70 miles.
Town Trivia: The Waterfowl Festival, November 12 through 15, features oysters, goose-calling contests, and world-class art.
Cone-shaped turrets, columned porches, and other Victorian flourishes intermingle with views of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Staunton, Virginia. In addition to its beauty-queen good looks, the small railroad city boasts cultural riches: The American Shakespeare Center performs works by the Bard and other playwrights in a two-level Elizabethan-style theater. The Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library, in the home where the former President was born in 1856, serves as a museum—don’t miss his 1919 Pierce-Arrow limo. Sunspots Studios hosts daily glass-blowing demos and sells light-catching works by dozens of artists.
Supplied by local farms and wineries, the town’s restaurants range from the Southern-fusion spot Zynodoa (115 E. Beverley St.; 540-885-7775) to the arty coffee shop/bar the By & By (140 E. Beverley St.; 540-887-0041), which features a beer garden May through October. Good thing many of the historic houses within walking distance of the beer garden are now B&Bs and inns such as the Frederick House (28 N. New St.; 540-885-4220).
Distance from DC: 152 miles.
Town Trivia: Check out the outdoor Frontier Culture Museum, chronicling the lives of pioneers from the 17th to 19th centuries.
Driving over rolling green hills into Lewisburg, West Virginia, can conjure thoughts of entering a storybook. In the Greenbrier Valley, about ten miles from the famous resort of the same name, this idyllic town is known for its mountains and lush foliage. But foodies who have discovered Lewisburg—and perhaps foraged there for morels and ramps—know it’s a culinary haven, with locally grown produce, farm-raised meats, and bustling farmers markets. Favorite farm-to-table restaurants include Livery Tavern (217 E. Washington St.; 304-645-9836), serving local beef, venison, and quail, and Stardust Cafe (102 E. Washington St.; 304-647-3663), with fresh-produce dishes like zucchini spaghetti.
Between meals, you can picnic on the Greenbrier River Trail, rent bikes from Hill & Holler, or catch performances at the Greenbrier Valley Theatre or Carnegie Hall. Rest up for the next day’s feast at Historic General Lewis Inn (301 E. Washington St.; 304-645-2600), whose rooms are filled with antiques.
Distance from DC: 260 miles.
Town Trivia: Mark Bowe, host of the reality show Barnwood Builders, lives there.
This leafy, arty Pennsylvania town has attracted many notables, but none like Henry Chapman Mercer, the man responsible for the “Mercer Mile” of museums. The eccentric fun begins with the Mercer Museum, a mind-boggling display of 50,000 objects—whale boats to cigar-store Indians—built around his collection of early hand tools and their finished products. The still-operating Moravian Pottery and Tile Works is where he revived the craft of early tile-making, and Fonthill Castle, his 44-room home, overflows with columns, stairs, and a “tapestry” all made of tile. The town also boasts the James A. Michener Art Museum; it honors the native son and author and shows works by Pennsylvania artists.
Walk the hilly town center to take in the Victorian architecture and the shops along State and Main streets—including three bookstores. Sample craft beers at Maxwell’s on Main (37 N. Main St.; 215-340-1880) and dine at Hattery Stove & Still in the Doylestown Inn (18 W. State St.; 215-345-1527), where derbies hung from the ceiling will remind you of the building’s past as a hat shop. Stay in the countryside at Highland Farm Bed & Breakfast (70 East Rd.; 215-345-6767), where former owner Oscar Hammerstein II often hosted a young Stephen Sondheim.
Distance from DC: 167 miles.
Town Trivia: Find the Pearl S. Buck House, in Perkasie, home of the Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winner, and fragrant Peace Valley Lavender Farm nearby.
When House of Cards needed a stand-in for Frank Underwood’s hometown of Gaffney, South Carolina, it found it in Havre de Grace, Maryland. Hardcore fans can visit his campaign headquarters (really the EZ Tobacco Shop, at 300 St. John St.) or where Frank’s father is supposedly buried (Angel Hill Cemetery, 50 Ohio St.).
As opposed to Gaffney, this town is on a river, and the quarter-mile promenade along the Susquehanna makes for a lovely stroll. The boardwalk ends—or begins, depending on where you park—at the 1827 Concord Point Lighthouse, shown below (open Saturday and Sunday 1 to 5, April through October). Along the way, stop at the Havre de Grace Decoy Museum, an interesting look at the history and artistry of decoy-carving. Or browse the town’s handful of antiques shops, including GreenJoy for midcentury-modern goods. With its creative cards and stationery, Glyph would be at home in an artsy urban neighborhood. For lunch, Vineyard Wine Bar (142 N. Washington St.; 443-502-2551) has small plates, flatbreads, and 80 wines by the glass. Don’t forget to pick up a free “Underwood For President” pin at the visitors center.
Distance from DC: 75 miles.
Town Trivia: On New Year’s Eve, the town honors its decoy-carving tradition by dropping a giant duck from a fire tower.