Taste of History in Charleston
Charleston, South Carolina, is turning out some of the country’s best new chefs—Aaron Silverman of Rose’s Luxury, on Capitol Hill, among them. For all the town’s historic allure, with its cobblestone streets, horse-drawn carriage tours, and stately homes, there’s innovation in the air—and on the plate. The dining scene is one of the most exciting in the region, with 11 James Beard Award semifinalists this year.
Creativity here doesn’t mean eschewing the past. Chefs such as Sean Brock of the much-lauded McCrady’s (2 Unity Alley; 843-577-0025) and Husk (76 Queen St.; 843-577-2500) helped put South Carolina’s oldest city on the modern food map through his exploration of low-country traditions—a blend of European, Native American, and Afro-Caribbean influences—and dedication to regional ingredients. Menus across town read like guidebooks to a Southern larder, rich with Carolina gold rice, Edisto Island grits, and sesame-like benne seeds, not to mention heirloom pork and pristine seafood from the waters surrounding the port city.
This effort both to preserve and to evolve Charleston’s culinary heritage isn’t exactly new. Chef Mike Lata’s can’t-miss FIG (232 Meeting St.; 843-805-5900) is still packed 12 years after opening, thanks to innovation done well—buttermilk-marinated razor clams, lamb neck over blackened pea ragoût. The next generation of chefs is pushing the boundaries even further. Husband-and-wife team Joshua Walker, a fifth-generation Charlestonian, and Duolan Li serve Asian soul food at Xiao Bao Biscuit (224 Rutledge Avenue), housed in an old gas station.
In the historic part of town, Brock recently debuted a casual taqueria, Minero, that melds flavors of Mexico and Carolina—crispy catfish tacos with pickled green tomato; shrimp and chorizo with masa grits. A car isn’t necessary in the foot- and cab-friendly town, unless you want to explore the beach communities a short drive away. If you do, drop by Page’s Okra Grill (302 Coleman Blvd., Mt Pleasant; 843-881-3333) in funky Mount Pleasant for a more traditional taste of the South, especially the P.B.T. sandwich stuffed with pimiento cheese, bacon, and fried green tomatoes.
Where to eat now:
While King Street is known for shops and college bars, the northern end is a culinary destination. FIG’s sister restaurant, the Ordinary (544 King St.; 843-414-7060), dishes up addictive crispy oyster sliders and showstopping shellfish platters, all in a lofty former bank. A few steps away, locals share small plates of pigskin pad Thai or tuck into cauldrons of low-country seafood pilau at the Grocery (4 Cannon St.; 843-302-8825). James Beard Award semifinalist Jeremiah Bacon’s restaurant, the Macintosh (479 King St.; 843-789-4299), draws crowds with plates both elegant and robust, plus knockout brunch. Grab a nightcap at the warehouse-like speakeasy Cocktail Club (479 King St #200; 843-724-9411), a floor above.
Best celeb-chef spotting:
On our last visit, Daniel Boulud dropped in to order lunch from the chalkboard menu of no-frills Butcher & Bee (654 King St.; 843-619-0202), a BYO sandwich shop. You might spot the next generation of culinary stars chowing down on chicken bánh mì from the late-night menu at 2 am.
Best reason to wake up, at any hour:
“Everything ’til 10 pm” is the motto of Two Boroughs Larder (186 Coming St.; 843-637-372), a market/restaurant where fresh-shucked Carolina oysters are served alongside breakfast sandwiches and a ramen-esque “bowl-o-noodle” all day long.
Best way to start the night:
Pick any two words (“strong,” “spicy”) from the Bartender’s Choice list for creative, made-to-taste drinks at the Gin Joint (182 E Bay St.; 843-577-6111). Too fancy? The Griffon (18 Vendue Range; 843-723-1700) is the kind of dive where dollar bills paper the walls.
Best break for the stomach:
Charleston is known for its elegant historic homes; the Festival of Houses and Gardens (March 19 through April 19) is a chance to peek inside. Don’t miss the Nathaniel Russell House Museum ($12 adults, $5 children) any time of year, a magnificently restored 1808 mansion built by a wealthy trader.
Best place to stay:
A newly renovated boutique hotel in the French Quarter, the Vendue, boasts rooms in two historic buildings, some with gas fireplaces. Guests can explore the city on free bicycles or relax at the Rooftop (19 Vendue Range St. 800-845-7900), one of the town’s best outdoor bars, overlooking the harbor.
The onetime capital of the Confederacy, two hours south of DC, has long burnished its image as a charming, slow-paced town built upon propriety, conservative politics, and old ways that endure. But as its recent evolution into one of the South’s premier food destinations has shown, there is another Richmond.
As in many small cities with a rich and thriving scene, the transformation is driven by a group of artisans, bakers, baristas, and brewers. But these local-loving chefs and restaurateurs have nurtured a homegrown aesthetic rather than looking to other cities for inspiration.
Washington has more variety and more options at the high end, but it lacks the unself-conscious liveliness of the better restaurants in Richmond, from the quirky Belmont Food Shop (chef Mike Yavorsky, a Daniel Boulud alum, makes do with just five tables) to the Magpie (1301 W. Leigh St.; 804-269-0023), a bordello-channeling gastropub (helmed by chef Owen Lane) to Ed Vasaio’s quintessential red-sauce Italian joint, Edo’s Squid (and his petite and equally wonderful trattoria/deli, Dinamo).
The city’s national profile has risen with the emergence of native son Travis Croxton, who, with cousin Ryan Croxton, opened the Rappahannock at DC’s Union Market and operates a larger version of that classic oyster bar in Richmond, and the recent arrival of Mike Isabella, the Top Chef contestant who brought Graffiato to the city last summer.
Still, it’s the stubborn communal refusal to look elsewhere for assistance—or validation—that keeps things interesting.
John Maher at the Rogue Gentlemen (618 N. First St.; 804-477-3456) is so serious about his drinks that he printed up a book, handsomely bound, for his menu. A Maher drink is both bracingly stiff (shades of the great bartenders of yore) and supremely balanced (in keeping with the tenets of the mixological moment). Sip and savor his Bear Hug, made with ten-year bourbon, Fernet-Branca, Cynar, and Becherovka, and halfway through, your tongue will undoubtedly be looser.
Get to Perly’s (111 E. Grace St.; 804-332-6434), park yourself on one of the mint-green stools facing the old-fashioned bar, and take in the buzzy scene: hipsters and families with young kids all cramming in to experience a newfangled, artisan-driven deli that would rather you experience it as old-fangled and unassuming. The good mood only gets better with a smoked-whitefish platter, a cup of good strong coffee, and—we can’t resist—an egg cream.
Afternoon pit stop:
A brother-and-sister tandem from Reston, Evrim and Evin Dogu—their father operates the small Washington chain Rosemary’s Thyme Bistro—runs Richmond’s best bakery: Sub Rosa (620 N. 25th St.; 804-788-7672), which features wonderfully rustic, hearth-baked breads in addition to croissants, tarts, and Turkish treats. Any item on the menu, plus a cup of rich, dark coffee from the excellent Richmond roaster Lamplighter (116 S Addison St.; 804-728-2292), provides an oasis in the day.
Distinctly un-DC dinner:
Edo’s Squid (411 N. Harrison St.; 804-864-5488) is the kind of place you find in a city with a thriving Little Italy—a bit worn around the edges but big-hearted and impossible not to love, even when you have to wait 40 minutes for a table. The dish that speaks to the place’s quiet magic sounds so simple as to be unremarkable: braised fennel. It melts in your mouth like butter, while the warm nutmeg cream sauce coats your tongue like fondue. Pay close attention to the list of specials, scrawled on a chalkboard in the bare-bones dining room: A recent special of deep-fried sugar toads (also known as northern puffers) was polished off quickly.
What to do when you’re not eating:
The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is excellent, and small enough that you can explore most of the collection in one afternoon. The Museum of the Confederacy—next to the Confederate White House, where Jefferson Davis lived and directed operations throughout the Civil War—is eye-opening. Shockoe Hill Cemetery houses the remains of John Marshall, the fourth US chief justice, and Daniel Norton, creator of the first great wine grape in America.
Where to stay:
The Jefferson isn’t just the most elegant hotel in the city but also one of the most convenient to restaurants and shopping.
New Energy in New Orleans
New Orleans once was a city that knew exactly what it was. The elite assembled at Galatoire’s (209 Bourbon St.; 504-525-2021) for three-hour drunken lunches of soufflé potatoes dipped in béarnaise or trout amandine drowned in butter. Everyone else went to joints like Domilise’s (5240 Annunciation St.; 504-899-9126) or Parkway Bakery & Tavern (538 Hagan Ave.; 504-482-3047) for po’ boys—crusty French loaves filled with hot sausage, fried shrimp, or roast beef in gravy. On weekends, families lined up at Angelo Brocato (214 N. Carrollton Ave.; 504-486-0078), founded in 1905, for cups of lemon ice or cannoli filled to order.
Those edible pleasures still survive in New Orleans. They couldn’t be dislodged by fads or floodwaters. But as the city edges toward its 300th anniversary in 2018, the restaurant scene, humming with renewed energy, is quickly evolving.
Marquee chefs such as Donald Link, with his modern bistro, Herbsaint (701 St. Charles Ave.; 504-524-4114), and his stylish Cajun eatery, Cochon (930 Tchoupitoulas St.; 504-588-2123), are building empires. Brennan’s (417 Royal St.; 504-525-9711), the formerly creaky French Quarter stalwart, reopened after a $20-million renovation with a chef who makes flawless eggs Benedict in the morning and palm-sugar-roasted duck with rutabaga cakes at night.
Recent arrivals and upstart young cooks are adding new flavors to this Creole city. The internationally revered tiki expert Jeff “Beachbum” Berry came to town and opened a restaurant and bar called Latitude 29. Native son Michael Gulotta, after rising to the helm of John Besh’s flagship restaurant, August, unexpectedly embraced Southeast Asian cuisine when he struck out on his own with MoPho (514 City Park Ave.; 504-482-6845). And in and around the rapidly gentrifying Bywater neighborhood, you’ll find New York-style pies at Pizza Delicious (617 Piety St.; 504-676-8482), falafels and Belgian fries at Kebab (2315 St. Claude Ave.; 504-383-4328), and unhinged creativity from a vet of New York’s Mission Chinese Food at Red’s Chinese (3048 St. Claude Ave.; 504-304-6030).
Where to eat now:
Restaurants are complicated animals with a hundred moving parts. At this moment, Coquette (2800 Magazine St.; 504-265-0421) chef and owner Michael Stoltzfus has everything working in sync. This Modern American bistro in the Garden District is currently one of New Orleans’s finest restaurants.
Dinner and a show:
In a city that loves its past, chef Phillip Lopez sees only the future. Root (200 Julia St.; 504-252-9480), his first restaurant, was equal parts science experiment and whimsy, with foie gras cotton candy and scallops smoked with Cohiba cigars. At Square Root (1800 Magazine St.; 504-309-7800), a tasting-menu-only place, he adds to the complexity (and the price). Stationed behind a wide counter wrapped around the open kitchen, Lopez himself serves the 12 to 15 courses, which despite the avant-garde techniques often draw soulfully on the chef’s Mexican-American heritage.
Isn’t it romantic?
Loyal regulars claim most tables at Gautreau’s (1728 Soniat St.; 504-899-7397), an elegant bistro tucked into an upscale Uptown neighborhood. Owner Patrick Singley, a consummate host, oversees the dining room while budding celebrity chef Sue Zemanick runs the kitchen. Make reservations well in advance.
Fish meets fire:
Pêche Seafood Grill (800 Magazine St.; 504-522-1744), the latest venture from Donald Link in partnership with chef Ryan Prewitt, is unlike any other seafood restaurant you’ll encounter in Louisiana. Fish from the Gulf of Mexico is mainly cooked in a large open-fire grill. Dishes such as grilled tuna with olive salad and catfish with chili broth won Pêche the 2014 James Beard Award for best new restaurant in America and Prewitt the prize for best chef in the South (shared with Gautreau’s Sue Zemanick).
Beer from here and beyond:
Craft beer has finally taken off in Louisiana. At Avenue Pub (1732 St. Charles Ave.; 504-586-9243), a 24-hour bar with a balcony overlooking the streetcars of St. Charles Avenue, you can sample a large selection of regional brews along with impressive collections of Belgian beers and American whiskeys.
Rest easy in the Big Easy:
Populist governor Huey P. Long preferred to sip his Ramos gin fizzes at the Sazerac Bar of the Art Deco Roosevelt (130 Roosevelt Way; 504-648-1200) hotel. Opened in 1893, it underwent a major renovation in 2009 and became a Waldorf Astoria property.
The stately, 19th-century wooden bar at Purloo, a restaurant in the new Southern Food & Beverage Museum, once stood in a waterfront seafood joint, before Hurricane Katrina pushed it into the water in 2005. A decade later, you can again belly up to the Brunswick bar and sip a Sazerac. You’re encouraged to carry your cocktail through the museum’s exhibits on Southern foodways.
Walk on water:
A half-hour drive from the French Quarter, the boardwalks winding through the swamps of the Barataria Preserve—part of the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve—make for good hiking. The visitor center offers helpful tips on what to do if you encounter an alligator (clap and stomp).
What’s Brewing in Asheville
Asheville is having a moment.
New Orleans has soulful history. Charleston’s roster of chefs is full of attention-grabbing talent. But this scenic North Carolina city is making a lot of noise as of late.
That’s the sound of Asheville beating the local-food drum, surrounded as it is by farm-rich countryside. The cheesemakers are prolific enough for a Western North Carolina Cheese Trail. And chefs such as James Beard semifinalist Jacob Sessoms of Table (48 College St.; 828-254-8980) take full advantage of the abundance in a way that’s strictly Asheville.
“Asheville has the unique quality of being in the South without being Southern,” Sessoms says. Settled by Scotch-Irish isolationists, the city was exposed to little of the outside culture that influenced much of the South’s culinary style. “These factors have led us to a place where we, as Asheville chefs, don’t really have an original food culture as a touchstone with which to start—or to which we must be held accountable.”
Asheville has taken that pioneering spirit to brewing. It lays claim to more breweries per capita than any other US city. People barhop the vibrant downtown in hiking boots and duck into breweries in the rehabbed South Slope, which includes Wicked Weed’s newest tasting room, the Funkatorium.
“When we began discussing where to launch Wicked Weed Brewing, Asheville was the only logical choice for all of us,” says owner Rick Guthy, who came to the city from Los Angeles in the ’80s. “Not only because it’s a place we enjoy so much but because Asheville is America’s craft-beer capital.”
There are other reasons to visit. Asheville is surrounded by bike trails and kayak-friendly waterways. The nearby Blue Ridge Parkway travels the spine of the mountains, offering sweeping views of Carolina high country and access to nature that draws millions of tourists each year
Where to eat now:
James Beard-nominated John Fleer steered Tennessee’s Blackberry Farm toward its hyper-local ethos. Now he takes a similar approach at Asheville’s Rhubarb (7 SW Pack Square; 828-785-1503). Try the Mongolian lamb ribs with collard kimchee, or wood-roasted trout from nearby Sunburst Farms. Meanwhile, another Beard-nominated chef, Katie Button, a protégée of Ferran Adrià and José Andrés, also took a chance with Asheville—her family’s tapas restaurant, Cúrate (11 Biltmore Ave.; 828-239-2946), is booming. Book a table in advance.
How sweet it is:
The French Broad Chocolate Lounge (10 S. Pack Square; 828-252-4181) is a 4,200-square-foot temple of bean-to-bar chocolate, with handmade truffles, sipping chocolates, and other artisanal sweets.
Wicked Weed Brewing (91 Biltmore Ave.; 828-575-9599) opened its immensely popular two-level downtown pub in 2012. The more intimate Funkatorium nearby specializes in barrel-aged wild and sour brews. Try the Black Angel Cherry Sour, black ale brewed with cherries and aged in bourbon barrels. Locals also head to eccentric West Asheville to barhop, as well as to the River Arts District, where Wedge Brewing Company (37 Paynes Way; 828-505-2792) turned one side of a former 19th-century warehouse and its railroad stockyard into a charmingly gritty adult playground. On the other side is the Bull and Beggar (37 Paynes Way; 828-575-9443), a rustic-mod restaurant where you can sip craft cocktails, eat oysters, and watch the trains go by.
Catch live bluegrass or folk at Jack of the Wood (95 Patton Ave.; 828-252-5445), which has pub fare and—of course—local beer. Tired of beer? Find craft cocktails at MG Road (19 Wall St.; 828-254-4363) or the Imperial Life.
The Aloft hotel has a stylish, modern vibe in the heart of downtown. For more glamorous digs, the Inn on Biltmore Estate offers plenty of luxury on 8,000 acres.
Best way to wake up:
Head to Early Girl Eatery (8 Wall St.; 828-259-9292) for a taste of the South. Try the Porky Breakfast Bowl, with farm eggs, local cheese curd, and pulled pork in smoky Benton’s-bacon gravy. Or pop into Vortex Doughnuts (32 Banks Ave., Suite 106; 828-552-3010) for first-rate coffee and doughnuts with ingredients like bacon and beer caramel.
Anna Spiegel is associate food editor; Todd Kliman is a food and wine editor. Todd Price is a dining writer for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans. Mackensy Lunsford covers food for the Asheville Citizen-Times.
This article appears in our April 2015 issue of Washingtonian.
To many locals, Adams Morgan is where college kids go to get hammered at dumpy, swill-serving bars and soak up their inebriation with a greasy jumbo slice. The reputation isn’t entirely undeserved—most Fridays and Saturdays, the sidewalks are filled with young revelers, some less upright and coherent than others.
But the arrival of new restaurants and worthwhile taverns—along with renewed interest in the shops that dot 18th Street—has given the “devil’s playground” a fresh coat of respectability. Not that it’s lost its sense of fun—the mural advertising the mainstay blues bar Madam’s Organ (2461 18th St., NW; 202-667-5370) looms as buxomly as ever.
At the same time, the neighborhood is slowly losing its character as the hub of the District’s Latino community, with rising real-estate prices and high-end condos pushing working-class residents north and shuttering hole-in-the-wall taco and pupusa joints. Former dives are being rechristened with craft cocktails, and a recent decision by DC’s Alcoholic Beverage Control board to lift a moratorium on liquor licenses means more drinking and dining options could arrive quickly.
Yet even so, the area isn’t as chichi as the rebuilt 14th Street, Northwest. The biggest change in Adams Morgan is that you can actually make a day of visiting while the sun’s still up or stay out late without channeling your frat-party days.
Start in the afternoon at the bottom of the hill where 18th Street connects with Florida Avenue and seek out coffee and something sweet at either Pleasant Pops (1781 Florida Ave., NW; 202-558-5224), featuring house-made popsicles in flavors like peach hibiscus and Mexican sweet cream, or the CakeRoom (2006 18th St., NW; 202-450-4462), full of indulgent baked goods.
Once you’re sated with sugar and caffeine, hike up 18th Street and drop into one of AdMo’s reliable record shops. Crooked Beat (2116 18th St., NW; 202-483-2328) stayed ahead of cratering music sales by going vinyl-only in 2010. The encyclopedic selection spans every genre from classic-rock rarities to new major- and minor-label releases to exotic world music, with plenty of LPs from local labels such as Dischord. A few blocks up, you’ll find Smash (2314 18th St., NW; 202-387-6274) and its library of punk and hardcore treasures.
If you’re thirsty for something visual, seek out the latest exhibit at Hierarchy (1847 Columbia Rd., NW; no phone), a former basement bar turned sleek gallery filled with contemporary installations. Or get tickets for a show at DC Arts Center (2438 18th St., NW; 202-462-7833), a black-box theater that hosts some of the city’s most daring stage productions as well as a gallery showcasing local artists.
When it’s drinking time, pick your poison and head to one of several spirit-specific bars: Scotch aficionados flock to Jack Rose Dining Saloon (2007 18th St., NW; 202-588-7388) and its floor-to-ceiling shelves of rare bottles. Bourbon (2321 18th St., NW; 202-332-0800) presents its biblical selection of American whiskeys in a heavy, copper-bound menu. Libertine (2435 18th St., NW; 202-450-3106) caters to more bohemian tastes with its perfumy lineup of absinthes and draft cocktails. The Black Squirrel (2427 18th St., NW; 202-232-1011) pairs lardy bar snacks like macaroni and cheese (made with five kinds of cheese) and poutine with a deeply sourced and frequently changing roster of bottled and draft beers.
Nineteen years after opening, Cashion’s Eat Place (1819 Columbia Rd., NW; 202-797-1819) still impresses. Cashion’s seasonal American menu makes for lively dinners and lusty weekend brunches. (We wish it would revive the late-night cheesesteak, though.) A few doors down, Mintwood Place (1813 Columbia Rd., NW; 202-234-6732) is always packed for its Francophile twists on comfort fare. Or if you’re going more casual, wade into Pop’s SeaBar (1817 Columbia Rd., NW; 202-534-3933) a Jersey Shore-inspired seafood shack—thankfully, without the tanning oil and hair spray (but you can take home your beer Koozie for a buck—or get one free by exchanging it for a Koozie you bring in).
Some of Adams Morgan’s good restaurants aren’t always easy to spot. You’d probably walk right by the subterranean Sakuramen (2441 18th St., NW; 202-656-5285) if not for the line that snakes down the sidewalk every night, full of people anticipating steaming bowls of ramen soup garnished with pork belly chashu, rib-eye bulgogi, and fresh vegetables. Across the street and tucked into the doorway of the DC Arts Center, the 14-seat counter at Donburi (2438 18th St., NW; 202-629-1047) serves terrific Japanese rice bowls topped with raw fish, braised meats, and pickled vegetables.
Where regrettable dives once reigned, established chefs are moving in. Marjorie Meek-Bradley of Cleveland Park’s Ripple turned the former Reef into Roofers Union (2446 18th St., NW; 202-232-7663), where you can nibble on house-made veal-heart sausages or pig-ear salad while sipping a cask-fermented ale.
Not too long ago, Adams Morgan’s nighttime economy depended almost entirely on Jell-O shots and other rotgut. While the party crowd still rules weekend nights, the neighborhood is no longer a forbidden zone for anyone over age 23.
And, hey, if you do want a jumbo slice, the best one’s at Duccini’s (1778 U St., NW; 202-483-0007).
This article appears in the January 2015 issue of Washingtonian.
1. Running With Santa
During the holidays, the boardwalk in Virginia Beach glows with coastal-inspired light displays—pirate ships, dancing seahorses, open-jawed sharks. A fun way to see it is to run the Surf-n-Santa 5 Miler at twilight on December 20. While there, make a weekend of it. You can join naturalists from the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center on a whale-watching trip—winter is when migrating humpbacks trace the coastline. This also happens to be the time of year that horseback riding is permitted on the beach; you can saddle up with Virginia Beach Horseback. Cold weather means oyster season, too, so consider a tour and tasting at Pleasure House Oysters. You can book an oceanfront room at the new Hilton Garden Inn on the boardwalk; it offers a stylish indoor pool and local beer on tap at the buzzy bar. Rooms from $129.
2. A Very Cool Place
Downtown Pittsburgh is transformed into a winter wonderland each year with the outdoor ice rink at PPG Place and a German-style Christkindlmarkt, where international vendors sell handicrafts from wooden chalets. The Duquesne Incline, an uphill cable car that overlooks the city, is lit with hundreds of red lights. And this is a great city for quirky, with events such as the Dirty Dozen (an icy uphill bike race) and, in the hipster neighborhood of Lawrenceville, the Joy of Cookies tour. You can also admire Gilded Age holiday finery at Clayton, the former mansion of industrialist and art collector Henry Clay Frick. Stay at the sleek new Fairmont hotel, which has a resident dog named Edie (as in Sedgwick—this is Warhol’s hometown, after all). Rooms from $259.
3. Take the Plunge
They call the snowtubing park at Virginia’s Wintergreen Resort simply the Plunge—and plunge you will, at speeds up to 30 mph down a hillside with a vertical drop equivalent to that of a ten-story building. With ten lanes running the length of three football fields, it’s the largest snowtubing park in the state. (Ninety-minute sessions are $26 on weekends, $18 weekdays.) For little tubers under 42 inches tall—the height required to take the plunge—there’s Ridgely’s Fun Park with its mini-tubing carousel, bear-paw snowshoes, and a much smaller plunge. $18 for one adult and child, $10 extra per child and $5 extra per adult. Wintergreen has a variety of overnight options, from hotel-like guest rooms ($155 and up) to apartment condominiums ($175 and up) to house rentals ($289 and up).
4. Winter in Williamsburg
The Grand Illumination kicks off the holidays at Colonial Williamsburg. Fireworks blaze over the historic village on December 7, and period homes throw open their doors to showcase holiday decorations through January 4. Meanwhile, the Spa of Colonial Williamsburg, an airy retreat with aromatherapy steam baths, features treatments that take aim at moisture-deprived winter skin. Stay in one of the new cottages fronting the James River, each tricked out with fireplaces and stylish kitchens, at Kingsmill Resort, which runs a free shuttle to the Revolutionary City. Rooms from $149, three-bedroom cottages from $699.
5. Mansions and Microbrews
In the Brandywine Valley of Pennsylvania and Delaware, beautiful holiday decorations deck the halls at the DuPont family mansions—Winterthur, Nemours, and Hagley, the original homestead—while acres of winter plantings, fountains, and candlelit treehouses tempt at Longwood Gardens. The swank life doesn’t have to end when the mansion tour does: You can dine in front of the fireplaces at the historic Dilworthtown Inn and stay in an 18th-century man-or house at Sweetwater Farm, an estate on 50 acres that’s owned by the late Princess Grace’s nephew. Rooms and cottages from $150. On February 28, Winterfest takes over the town of Kennett Square, Pennsylvania—“the mushroom capital of the world”—with local bites, beers from 40 craft brewers, and live music.
6. Bounty of the Bay
Winter means one thing to many on the Eastern Shore of Maryland: oysters. Harrison House Charter Fishing, owned by the same Tilghman Island family for generations, takes visitors on oyster-dredging outings on a skipjack. Or just eat the bivalves: Back at Harrison’s Chesapeake House, the Friday-night buffet includes oysters Rockefeller, fried oysters, and oysters on the half shell. Stay overnight at the nearby Tilghman Island Inn. The rooms have broad water views, and the restaurant, reimagined under new ownership, serves fresh local seafood like—naturally—oysters. Rooms from $175.
7. Snow Fun
The prime location of Massanutten Resort in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley means it’s tailor-made for winter pleasures such as skiing, snowboarding, tubing, and ice skating. When you’re ready for warmer fun, you’ll find an elaborate indoor water park, a family-friendly spa experience, crafting classes with grown-up offerings like digital photography, and a new healthy-living program in which guests can take healing-herb workshops and tai chi classes. A crisp winter night demands a window seat at Fareways, the resort’s laid-back restaurant, where you can order a flight of Virginia wine and watch the lights from the ski run twinkle in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Rooms from $150.
8. Wine and Dine
Throughout the year, the Peacock Restaurant & Lounge at the Inn at 202 Dover in Easton, Maryland—which Food & Wine named one of the best bed-and-breakfasts in America—celebrates the grape. On February 27, the restaurant hosts an Italian-wine dinner featuring small wineries, such as the Rocca di Fabbri Estate in Umbria run by sisters Roberta and Simona Vitali. The chef, who has cooked at the prestigious James Beard House in New York, will pair the wines with a five-course Italian-accented dinner. You can hunker down at the inn with your honey for the weekend in one of the plush suites, the smallest of which is 600 square feet. The wine dinner costs $100 a person, but if you also book an overnight room—rates start at $475—the dinner drops to $75 a person. Book two nights and the second night is half price.
9. Winter Wildlife
Late February through early March is the peak time of year to witness the annual snow-goose migration, where as many as 80,000 birds create a blanket of white in the sky over northern Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Also in February, check out local food, microbrews, and music at the Fire & Ice Festival in Lititz, dubbed the coolest small town in America by Budget Travel magazine. Stay at the Speedwell Forge B&B, an 18th-century stone mansion that’s home to the Wolf Sanctuary of PA, where you can take a full-moon tour and get up close to the 46 rescued wolves in residence. Rooms from $135, cottages from $250.
10. Your Best Foot Forward
The folks at Savage River Lodge in Frostburg, Maryland, say that if you can walk, you can snowshoe, which means you won’t need snowshoeing lessons if you’ve never tried the sport. The lodge offers rentals of snowshoes ($25 a day) and cross-country skis ($35 a day) for exploring the property’s 14 miles of wooded trails. The best part: After your walk in the woods, you can relax with a gourmet meal and a massage by the fire in your own private cabin. Standard queen cabins start at $225.
11. Cooking in the Country
Hole up in an antiques-decorated room in the mansion or gather a group in the Carriage House at the Clifton Inn, a Relais & Châteaux property outside Charlottesville, Virginia. Chef Tucker Yoder, a farm-to-table devotee, cooks fabulous meals, often with ingredients from the inn’s garden. Learn how to make holiday hors d’oeuvres and cocktails this month during “12 Days of Clifton,” a hands-on cooking-demonstration series at the marble-topped counter in Yoder’s intimate kitchen. Classes run from December 13 through 24 and cost $20 to $35 a person. After the new year, classes, demos, and tastings feature winter’s bounty. Rooms from $199, cottages from $279.
12. Going Cross-Country
About three hours west of DC, White Grass in Davis, West Virginia,is a touch of Scandinavia on the East Coast. It boasts some of the area’s oldest and most extensive Nordic cross-country ski trails, with more than 30 miles of manicured, wooded routes, plus full ski rentals and lessons for newbies ($15 per hourlong lesson). Its laid-back White Grass Cafe serves up tasty organic cuisine and live music on weekends. After a day on the trails, bunk among the funky furnishings at the nearby Cooper House Bed & Cocktail. You’ll have to scout your own breakfast in town, but innkeeper Joy Malinowski provides the hors d’oeuvres—and makes a mean martini. Rooms from $90.
13. Flex Time
No snow? No worries. Head to Liberty Mountain’s Snowflex Centre in Lynchburg, Virginia, the country’s first artificial-snow park. Snowflex is a synthetic material that simulates the feel of the real thing—without the chill—so skiers, snowboarders, and tubers can hit the slopes year-round. The park includes beginner, intermediate, and advanced slopes plus an 11-foot-tall quarter pipe, a wall ride, and a 90-foot-long landing ramp for snowboarders and skiers. An alpine-like day lodge lets you warm up inside—or cool off as the case may be. For overnight accommodations, head to the boutique Craddock Terry Hotel, in a renovated shoe factory in Lynchburg’s historic district. Rooms from $149.
14. Hanging With the Peeps
Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, is home to the Just Born factory, which produces some 5 million Peeps every day. So it’s no surprise the marshmallow confections are the theme of an annual Peepsfest, December 30 and 31. Live music, an African penguin, a dogsled team, arts and crafts, and a Peeps scavenger hunt are some of the activities, most of which are free. The highlight, though, is the New Year’s Eve drop of a 4½-foot-tall, 85-pound, brightly lit fiberglass-resin Peeps at 5:15 pm (early enough for children to enjoy), followed by fireworks. Known as the Christmas City, Bethlehem also offers horse-drawn carriage rides and other city tours. The Historic Hotel Bethlehem puts you within an easy walk to restaurants, boutiques, and the Moravian Book Shop, the oldest continuously running bookstore in the world (established 1745).
This article appears in the December 2014 issue of Washingtonian.
Every October, Washingtonians point their cars toward Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, and for good reason: With the brilliant fall foliage, it’s a great time to take a hike.
We suggest going into the park at the Thornton Gap entrance. The drive from Washington then takes you along scenic Route 211, past vineyards, farmland, and wildflower meadows. Before entering, you can buy fresh-picked apples to take on your hike from Thornton River Orchard.
After entering at Thornton Gap, at mile marker 31.5, drive south on Skyline Drive. You’ll enjoy sweeping views of the Piedmont Plateau in the east and the Shenandoah Valley in the west, easily seen from numerous overlooks.
If you’re up for a hike, park at the Meadow Spring parking area just after mile marker 33 and then find the Meadow Spring Trailhead on the other side of the road. The first half mile of the 2.8-mile hike is steep, before you turn right onto the Appalachian Trail. On the trail, the surrounding forest changes to a riot of fall colors: Hickory leaves turn gold, red-maple trees become garnet, sumac bushes transform to shocking purple and red—all against the backdrop of speckled rocks with patches of lichen and moss.
The hike’s payoff, Mary’s Rock Summit, is one of the few peaks in the park with a 360-degree view. Hikers report seeing birds of prey and bears in this area. To return, retrace your steps for a hike that takes a total of two to three hours, depending on your pace.
Afterward, you might visit the quaint town of Sperryville, directly outside the park on Route 211. This pastoral village in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains is known for its bountiful farms and first-rate antiques shops.
Thornton River Grille, on the main thoroughfare, is one post-hike dining option. The rustic bistro, featuring fresh-cut steaks and burgers, serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner on Saturdays, brunch and dinner on Sundays. In good weather, you can dine on the rooftop deck (open weekends only).
About a half mile away is Sperryville’s River District Arts, a former apple-packing plant that is now a multi-use facility housing art studios and a restaurant. You can refuel with a signature sangría and tapas at El Quijote, a new Spanish restaurant, and then wander through the galleries to see artists working in ceramics, textiles, paint, and photography.
Directly behind River District Arts is Copper Fox Distillery. Inside the yellow warehouse awaits an entertaining tour demonstrating how spirits are made. In the past, the family-owned facility brewed apple cider, but it now produces small batches of malt whiskey, rye, and gin. You can sample a few or bring a bottle home.
Before heading back, walk next door to Copper Fox Antiques, a 30,000-square-foot warehouse originally used to store apples. Today it’s full of European, Asian, and American furniture, salvaged items, and collectibles.
Renee Sklarew (email@example.com) is a travel writer in Washington. This article appears in the October 2014 issue of Washingtonian.
Best Water Park Close to Home
At SplashDown Waterpark in Manassas, kids can zip down the four-story-high water slides, float on the “lazy river,” step across the pool on logs and lily pads, or play volleyball at the sand beach. With 13 acres of water features, SplashDown is one of Northern Virginia’s largest water parks. On Thursdays from 9 to 10:30 am, kids ages five and under and their adults get into the park early.
$14.95 for guests 48 inches tall or more; $11.25 under 48 inches. Free for ages two and younger. 703-792-8200.
Best Water Park Worth a Drive
WaterWorks at Virginia’s Kings Dominion, about 85 miles from DC, offers 20 acres of ways to get wet. Tots can cool off at Lil’ Barefoot Beach’s pool, while families float on the gentle current of a quarter-mile river. For more splash, jump through the surf at the two wave pools or try Tornado, a funnel ride that drops you and then rocks you from side to side.
$54 adults; $41 for those under 48 inches tall or 62 years or older. Free for ages two and younger. Admission includes access to all rides, wet and dry. 804-876-5000.
Best Splash Park for Getting Soaked
While there are a few fountains to run through at the Yards Park in DC, kids generate their own splash in an 11-inch-deep, 66,000-gallon pool with views of the Anacostia River. A waterfall at one end is a popular place to stand. Allow time to stroll on the boardwalk, relax in wooden chaises in the shady garden, picnic on the lawn, or dine at one of the park’s restaurants. At Ice Cream Jubilee, grab a cool and tasty cone. Part of the Capitol Riverfront neighborhood, the Yards is a short walk to Nationals Park.
Best Splash Park for Young Kids
At SplashPark & MiniGolf in Boyds, 280 water jets dance in three concentric circles, enticing tots and bigger kids alike. You can also get doused by a waterfall as well as “rain” from two giant mushrooms. Dry off by playing 18 holes of mini-golf at the adjacent course. South Germantown Recreational Park—where the splash park is located—also has a playground, tennis courts, a driving range, and an indoor swim center.
Splash park: $4 ages two and up. Mini-golf: $3. Combo ticket: $6.50. 301-670-4680.
Best Water Park for Teens and Adults
As Maryland’s largest water park, Hurricane Harbor at Six Flags America in Upper Marlboro gushes with adrenaline-pumping possibilities. Tune up by swimming in the nearly million-gallon wave pool. Next, swirl up the slope and then down at more than 20 miles an hour on Halfpipe. Follow with fun on Shark Attack or with a six-story plunge on Bonzai Pipelines.
With online discounts, admission starts at $39.99 and includes access to all rides. 301-249-1500.
Local Water Park With the Best Wave Pool
One highlight that packs in the crowds at Great Waves Water Park in Alexandria’s Cameron Run Regional Park is jumping through the “surf.” At the Reef—another must-do—get screamingly wet by zipping down twisting water slides. You can up the excitement by selecting an enclosed—i.e., dark—tube versus an open one. For young kids, the Lagoon play pool features mini-slides, Splash Zone offers sprays, and Paradise Play tempts with crawl-through fish, climbing equipment, and a sandbox. The park’s 20 acres include 18 holes of miniature golf, too.
$14.50 for Alexandria residents 48 inches tall or more; $14.75 for nonresidents; $11.50 or $11.75 for those 48 inches or under; under two years old, free. 703-960-0767.
Water Parks With the Best Bucket Dumps
At Ocean Dunes Water Park in Arlington, stand under the big blue bucket, one of the region’s largest water dumps, and wait for it to tip, drenching you with 500 gallons. Tamer sprays and fountains, as well as a wading pool, cool off little ones. Swimmers can stroke through laps at one of the park’s other pools. Part of Upton Hill Regional Park, Ocean Dunes also features miniature golf and batting cages.
$8 for children 42 inches tall or more; $6.75 for those 42 inches or shorter; under two years old, free. 703-534-3437.
At Volcano Island Waterpark’s play pool, kids slip down short tubes or wade through the one-to-three-foot-deep water to face the park’s jewel: a 500-gallon dumping bucket. Bigger kids enter the main pool by twisting down a 230-foot open slide or curling down a 170-foot dark slide. Tots can build castles in the sandy area and then rinse off by running through the splash pad’s sprinklers and sprays. An 18-hole miniature golf course is adjacent to Volcano Island, part of Algonkian Regional Park in Sterling.
$8 for children 48 inches tall or more; $6.75 under 48 inches. Free for ages two and younger. 703-430-7683.
Best Splash Parks for Shopping Breaks
An oasis of greenery, Georgetown Waterfront Park, at the foot of busy M Street, Northwest, gives shoppers with tag-along children space to relax on the grass and admire the Potomac River views. Kids cool off by running through the sole water feature, a row of synchronized sprays that form an arcing tunnel of water. Take hesitant little kids by the hand and walk through the highest point of the arc so that only the tot’s feet get wet or go for it, and dance through the jets.
At Silver Plaza Fountain in Silver Spring, kids hop through the water jets that ring the circular blue, green, and yellow mosaic that defines the splash area, dodging or dashing into the geysers that bubble up every few minutes. The splash fountain is not large; it lies within a brick courtyard with tree-shaded ledges and outdoor cafes that make it easy for parents to watch their children. To further insulate tots from traffic, a pedestrian mall of shops and eateries borders the area, and on Monday to Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and all day Saturday and Sunday, Ellsworth Drive from Fenton Street to Georgia Avenue closes to vehicles.
Best Local Indoor Water Park
As an indoor water park, Cub Run RECenter Aquatics in Chantilly is a boon to both sun-sensitive water lovers who wilt at outdoor facilities and to those seeking year-round fun. Older kids can drop into the leisure pool via two tall, twisting slides and also spin in a swirling vortex. Younger children glide down smaller slides and splash through water curtains, spurting pipes, and sprays. The facility also has a 25-yard-by-25-meter pool offering swim classes for tots to adults, as well as a fitness area with cardio equipment, weights, and exercise classes.
$8 for adult county residents, $10.50 nonresidents; $6.50 residents ages 5 through 18, $10.50 nonresidents; free ages 4 and younger with a paying adult; $16 resident family rate for up to five people (one or two adults and up to four children); $30 nonresident family rate. 703-817-9407.
Best Water Park for an Overnight Getaway
Virginia’s largest water park, Water Country USA in Williamsburg, also known as Water Country Busch Gardens, features a mix of wild, mild, and family-friendly rides. For thrills, try Colossal Curl, a funnel ride that twirls you before flushing you down 46 feet, enough to propel you over wave-like hills. On Vanish Point, you pick how to experience the near-vertical drop: Either stand-up to feel the floor disappear beneath you or lie down and let go. At the wave pool, Surfer’s Bay, float over ripples near “shore” or fight through bigger breakers in the deep end. Tots can splash through sprays and fountains at Critter Coral.
$38.99 for those 48 inches tall or more (or $32.99 for a seven-day advance ticket); $26.99 for those 48 inches and shorter and for ages 65 and up. Combination tickets provide access to Water Country and nearby Busch Gardens. Open daily through September 1. 757-229-9300.
Best Year-Round Water Park for a Getaway
It’s always 84 degrees at Great Wolf Lodge America, a 79,000-square-foot, indoor water park in Williamsburg. Highlights include a wading pool, mini-slides, a wave pool, plus a Flowrider that creates surf for kneeboarding. At Fort Mackenzie, the four-story centerpiece treehouse, kids climb cargo nets, cross rope bridges, slip down slides, and get doused by the 1,000-gallon water bucket. Soak in the sun and the water at Racoon Lagoon, the outdoor pool area, where sprays and geysers as well as an 18-hole miniature golf course add fun. A family resort, Great Wolf Lodge features a kids’ spa, an arcade with more than 100 games, on-site dining, and regular and themed suites.
Room rates in July and August start at $200. Admission to the water park is free but for overnight guests only. 757-229-9700.
More Water Fun
At Water Mine Family Swimmin’ Hole in Reston—a park with a loose western theme—families can float on inner tubes along Rattlesnake River, a “lazy river” dotted with small bucket dumps and sprays that encircles the one acre-plus park. Kids wriggle down “Big Pete” and “Little Pete,” two sets of slides that land them in a pool whose deep end bottoms out at about four feet. Youngsters climb through a covered wagon to glide down a slide and tots romp through Tenderfoot Pond, a splash area with pint-sized slides and geysers. The Water Mine is located in Lake Fairfax Park, home to a 20-acre lake, marina, carousel, and skatepark.
$14.50 for those 48 inches tall or more on weekends and holidays, $13.50 Monday through Friday; $11.25 under 48 inches. Free for ages two and younger. 703-471-5414.
At Lane Manor Splash Park in Hyattsville, kids can enter the 25-meter outdoor pool by slithering down two enclosed slides, and then “walk on water” by stepping on lily pads or pulling themselves across the surface by hanging onto a rope net. Little ones can splash in a wading pool. Lane Manor Splash Park is part of the Lane Manor Community Recreation Center in the Northwest Branch Stream Valley Park.
$5 adult residents, $6 nonresidents; $4 residents ages 3 through 17, $5 nonresidents; free for ages 2 and younger. 301-422-7284 (summer); 301-853-9115.
Hone Your Sport
Boar’s Head, a resort in Charlottesville in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, is offering Everything for Your Sport. This couples package includes two 60-minute lessons in the sport of your choice (golf, tennis, or squash), two 60-minute sport-specific personal-training sessions, and two 60-minute yoga classes tailored to your sport, along with accommodations, breakfast for two, resort fees, tax, and tip. Rates start at $725 a couple. 434-296-2181.
Cook Like a Pro
Hole up at the historic Robert Morris Inn in Oxford, Maryland, on the Eastern Shore, and learn to cook with co-owner and chef Mark Salter, whose most recent stint was helming the kitchen at the Inn at Perry Cabin. Throughout the winter, Salter will share his culinary prowess with small groups in his Chesapeake Seasons Cooking Demonstrations, which include a two-hour demo, recipe cards, a two-course lunch, and a glass of wine. A cooking package—encompassing the demo, lunch, afternoon tea, and dinner for two plus one night in a Captain’s Suite—runs $210 a person. 410-226-5111.
Get Well and Relax
The Greenbrier resort in West Virginia offers guests a way to double down on efforts to improve their health, thanks to an on-site medical clinic. There, nine physicians—from cardiologists to endocrinologists—conduct preventive plans and diagnostics reviews. A 60-to-90-minute introductory interview about your health history sets the tone for the individualized attention you’ll receive. Combine doctor visits with massages and detoxifying hydrotherapies at the spa and you have a recipe for a healthy start to 2014. Packages, which include clinic services and accommodations, start at $2,250. 800-362-7798.
Find Some Peace
It’s hard to imagine a more tranquil slice of land on which to restore your soul and perfect your downward dog than Fox Haven Learning Center’s 620-acre organic farm along the Catoctin Creek in Jefferson, Maryland. On January 24 and 25, mini-retreats feature yoga, wholesome food, and meditation. Stay in one of three historic farmhouses with porches offering views of the property, which is teeming with bald eagles, beavers, great blue herons, and foxes. Rates start at $199 if you register by December 15; after that, they begin at $229. 301-695-8646.
This article appears in the January 2014 issue of Washingtonian.
Sun & Pink Sand
What’s better than a room with a view? Two rooms with views! The Family Getaway package at Bermuda’s Fairmont Southampton is the perfect retreat to make your spring break one to remember. With currency on par with the US dollar, Bermuda offers an exotic locale at a great value, and it’s a mere two hours from the Washington area with direct flights from BWI on AirTran.
This package includes an adult room and a second connecting room for children. From riding the waves on a jet ski to exploring historic forts and pink-sand beaches, every member of your family is sure to have a good time. Available for families with children 18 years and under only, the package includes complimentary access to the Explorer’s Camp and a family welcome amenity. Available through March 31, 2013; rates start at $269 (the second room is free).
Head to the Mountains!
Spend spring break in Jackson Hole and experience Teton Mountain Lodge’s S-6 package for 25 percent off. This fun family package will ensure an adventure-filled vacation and will guarantee you won’t hear anyone say, “Mom, I’m bored!” Valid for stay dates: March 3 through April 7, 2013. Rates are based on prices for two adults and two children. The package includes four nights lodging in a one- or two-bedroom suite , a wildlife safari (sunrise or sunset tour) for two adults and two kids , an Elk Refuge sleigh ride for two adults and two kids, sleds delivered to the room , turndown service, hot cocoa and cookies for kids , and a $30 breakfast credit at Spur. Rates start at $591 a night.
Get Cozy in Lake Placid
Lake Placid Lodge is balanced on the edge of the village of Lake Placid, New York, a gorgeous five-hour drive north of Manhattan. The lodge is a celebration of all that was—and remains—best in the Adirondacks. Its 30 rooms are embellished with beams hewn by hand, filled with art and antiques, and warmed by stone fireplaces. The lodge is a member of Relais & Châteaux, and guests can experience culinary perfection prepared by Chef Nathan Rich at its Artisans restaurant.
Stay two nights midweek (Sunday through Thursday) during the month of March and the third night and dinner for two at Maggie’s Pub is on the lodge. Guests of all ages are welcome throughout the month of March (during the rest of the year, only guests 12 and up are able to stay). Call 518-523-2700 to reserve. The offer is available for reservations made from January 31 through March 26.
Eureka! Head West to the Golden State
Rancho Valencia is a Mediterranean-inspired, all-suite property offering the finest accommodations and service San Diego has to offer. Its grounds span 45 lush acres of gardens, trails, olive groves, and casitas. Recent updates made to the property include a renovation of all 49 luxe guest casitas with private patios. There are endless on-property activities, including tennis, spa services, afternoon playtime for kids, a pool, arts and crafts, croquet, yoga, biking, and board games.
Rancho Valencia is offering the Hello, Sunshine! package to celebrate the arrival of the sunny spring season. Book three nights at Rancho Valencia and the fourth night is complimentary. Package rates start at $675 a night. The offer is valid March 1 through April 15, 2013.
Chesapeake Bay Bliss
The Tides Inn is a serene Chesapeake Bay resort that includes a marina, the 18-hole Golden Eagle golf course, and a luxurious spa, creating the perfect luxury retreat for relaxation in Virginia's countryside.
Guests will enjoy sailing, riding bikes, crabbing, a marina tour, board games, evening s’mores, movie nights, and lawn games. There is also the CrabNet Kids program for guests ages 4 to 12, allowing mom and dad to hit the spa or have some alone time. As a bonus, the Tides Inn is close to Busch Gardens and Williamsburg.
The Inn is offering a Family Vacation Package that includes deluxe accommodations with two queen beds, full breakfast daily for up to four poeple at the inn's restaurant or from room service, a one-hour water cruise, and tickets to the Steamboat Museum. Prices start at $379 per night, based on two adults and two children.
Elizabeth Thorp is the founder of Poshbrood, a curated catalog of mom-tested, upscale family-friendly properties.