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Get in the holiday spirit—and delight out-of-town guests on Thanksgiving—with this festive annual tradition. By Sherri Dalphonse
Mount Vernon is open for tours even on Thanksgiving Day. Photograph courtesy of Mount Vernon.

You’re finished with the Thanksgiving bird. You’ve shopped ’til you dropped. Yet you still have a house full of guests for the holiday weekend. What’s a host to do?

Consider taking a candlelight tour of George Washington’s Mount Vernon. The tours begin for the season on November 28, and are offered on various Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights through December 21. The timed tickets cost $22 for adults, $15 for children 11 and under. Tickets can sell out, so it’s recommended you buy them online before going.

Don’t expect elaborate Christmas decorations—the mansion is done up for the holidays as it would have been during George and Martha’s day, meaning just a bit of greenery here and there. Instead, the tour is an atmospheric chance to hear stories about the estate and the family’s life there (fun fact: George Washington, an avid dog lover and breeder, is father of the American Foxhound). Visitors get to see the first and second floors of the mansion—with costumed interpreters scattered throughout, including an animated Martha Washington. Much of the guided tour—which takes at least half an hour—is outside, so be sure to dress for the weather.

After the tour, you can enjoy hot cider and a ginger cookie by a kettle fire; explore the many outbuilding exhibits; check out the resident camel, Aladdin; and watch Colonial dancing in the greenhouse.

Want to visit Mount Vernon this weekend but can’t make it there at night? Take advantage of special admission prices Wednesday, November 26, through Sunday, November 30 (excluding Friday)—yes, it’s open Thanksgiving Day—when adult and youth tickets are 25 percent off. Use the online discount code 20142611 or mention the offer, which is good for up to six tickets, at the box office.

And if you can’t make it to Mount Vernon at all this year, check out the terrific virtual tour.

Meet Aladdin the resident camel on your tour. Photograph by Joe Sliger.

Posted at 10:00 AM/ET, 11/26/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
After being closed for two years, the Baltimore Museum of Art’s American Wing reopens this Sunday. By Sherri Dalphonse
See John Frederick Kensett's "View on the Hudson" in the Baltimore Museum of Art's American Wing. Image courtesy of the museum.

When the 100-year-old Baltimore Museum of Art throws open its doors to a renovated American Wing on Sunday, November 23, even throwing open those very doors will be part of the celebration.

Some of the museum, including the American Wing, is housed in a grand Beaux-Arts building by renowned American architect John Russell Pope, who also designed the National Archives, Jefferson Memorial, and the National Gallery of Art’s West Building in Washington. As part of a $28 million renovation, the historic Merrick Entrance, which had been closed since 1982, will reopen. After passing through the columned façade, visitors can make their way to the newly renovated Dorothy McIlvain Scott American Wing, whose galleries hold more than 800 paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts from the 18th through 20th centuries.

Highlights of the collection include an entire gallery devoted to the stained glass of Louis Comfort Tiffany; two galleries hung with works by noted American artists such as Georgia O’Keeffe, Jacob Lawrence, and Joseph Stella; another room showcasing works by Maryland artists or about Maryland; and the installation of late-18th-century interiors from four historic homes in Maryland.

Sunday’s festivities will include a ribbon-cutting, artist demonstrations, art-making for kids, gallery talks, and onsite food trucks. Museum admission is always free.

Whenever you may happen to visit, don’t also miss the works of Henri Matisse in the Cone Collection galleries. With more than 1,000 paintings, prints, drawings, and sculptures, the BMA has the largest collection in the world of Matisse’s art; currently 36 paintings are on display.

Posted at 01:00 PM/ET, 11/21/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
A charming small town throws a big festival. By Andrea Poe
Photograph courtesy of Talbot County Tourism.

If a weekend fueled by Bloody Marys, oysters on the half shell, and crab soup—plus world-class art and dog-friendly events—sounds like heaven, you might want to head to this weekend’s Waterfowl Festival on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

Some 20,000 people from around the world will converge in Easton for the event, November 14 through 16. Begun in 1971, the wildlife expo and art festival is one of the country’s oldest. Highlights include exhibits by international painters, sculptors, and carvers, along with dog-retrieval demonstrations, goose-calling contests, and children’s fishing derbies.

Downtown Easton is closed to traffic for the festival so visitors can stroll the streets, sampling food and wine that showcase the best of the region—fresh oysters, artisanal chocolates, craft beer.

The event is so big and so beloved that the entire Talbot County school system shuts down on Friday, allowing for school buses to be used to shuttle visitors from historic downtown Easton to nearby event venues, such as the scenic ponds and fields outside of town.

Admission to the festival is $15; proceeds go toward conservation of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. More information is available online.

Posted at 11:00 AM/ET, 11/14/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Two great ways to get into the fall spirit. By Renee Sklarew
Take in some old-fashioned football rivalry this weekend. Photograph by Steve Bittner.

Remember when fall weekends meant football? Not the kind where you rarely move off the couch; the cheer-and-hug-your-neighbor, move-to-the-beat-of-the-band kind of football.

You can relive those glory days this weekend at Cumberland, Maryland’s annual homecoming game. Two teams, Allegany High and Fort Hill High—which are just two miles apart—have been fierce rivals for the past 79 years. This year, Fort Hill’s Sentinels are undefeated and the reigning state champions, while the blue-clad Allegany Campers have a very respectable 6-2 record. The annual clash has been named to the Great American Rivalry Series (created by IHigh to spotlight the best high school rivalries in the nation); the teams are fighting for the right to take home the Black Kettle, a trophy engraved with all the past game scores.

The homecoming game typically fills the 6,000-seat Greenway Avenue Stadium (directions are available online). Spectators are treated to performances by two award-winning bands along with the crowning of the Homecoming Court during the halftime festivities. “There’s a lot of pomp and pageantry,” says Tim Thomas of the Cumberland Visitors Bureau. “We prepare for this day all year.” Kickoff is at noon, with plenty of feasting on hot dogs, pizza, and fried pickles.

Not into football? You can still get on board—literally—another Cumberland institution: riding the Scenic Western Maryland Railroad. “Mountain Thunder” departs from the Cumberland Depot every fall weekend at 11:30 AM for a colorful ride through the mountains. A live narrator shares stories of the region’s history and culture, including tales of George Washington’s time in the area. The coal-powered steam engine blows a smoky trail as it chugs along, stopping for an hour-and-a-half layover in Frostburg, where you can have lunch or check out the shops. The train heads back for a 3 o’clock arrival in Cumberland. Rates start at $18 for children ages 12 and under, and go up to $60 for an adult in first class.

December 6 through December 21 at 6 PM, the train takes a trip full of kids in pajamas to visit the North Pole and meet Santa Claus.

Posted at 12:50 PM/ET, 11/07/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Before, during, or after the holiday craziness, treat yourself to one of these exclusive discounted getaways. By Alice Shapin
Save on a stay in Colorado Springs this month. Photograph via Shutterstock.

Winter by the Water

Where: Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Golf Resort, Spa and Marina, 100 Heron Blvd. at Route 50, Cambridge, Md.; 410-901-1234.

What’s special: Enjoy serene Choptank River views and lots of activities—including a heated indoor pool with “dive in” movies, golf, tennis, miniature golf, disc golf, jogging trails, boating, a fitness center, and a renovated 18,000-square-foot spa (which is offering a new Pumpkin Latte Pedicure). In November, the resort hosts special events such as a demo of a decadent s’mores recipe by Sally McKenney (November 8), a workshop by DC’s International Spy Museum about the world of espionage (November 15), and the fourth annual Oyster Week, with oyster-inspired entertainment and entrées (November 22 through 30).

The deal: The Luxury on Sale package includes a cozy fleece blanket, yours to keep, and a complimentary s’mores kit to use at the nightly s’mores roast. Readers who show this article will also get a $25 resort credit to spend on any activity—golf, spa, dining, and more. Rates start at $149 a night midweek and $199 on weekends, up to a 40-percent savings. You must ask for the offer by name or request the offer code LUXRY4 when making a reservation. To book, call 800-633-7313.

When: Available November 2014 through March 31, 2015.


A Good Walk Not Spoiled

Where: Keswick Hall and Golf Club, 701 Club Dr., Keswick, Va; 434-979-3440.

What’s special: This boutique resort is in the heart of Virginia’s horse and wine country. Inside and out, the hotel resembles a private estate, with roaring fireplaces, tennis courts, and views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. There’s also fine as well as casual dining, a spa, and a newly redesigned golf course. Golf legend Pete Dye gave the course, Full Cry, a total makeover; it now features carpet-like fairways, ubiquitous bunkers, fast greens, and journeys through rolling hills. The resort is minutes from three presidential homes open for tours: Jefferson’s Monticello, Madison’s Montpelier, and Monroe’s Ash Lawn-Highland.

The deal: Keswick is offering several Stay-and-Play deals. The Full Cry package, starting at $299 (single occupancy), includes one round of golf with a cart and a night’s stay in a “superior” room; a guest may be added for $80. The Hunt package, beginning at $409 (single occupancy), features 18 holes upon arrival, one night in a superior room, breakfast, and an additional round on the Full Cry course the next morning. You can add a guest for $130. The savings is as much as $290. Mention Washingtonian when booking to also receive a $50 food-and-beverage credit. To book, call 434-979-3440.

When: Valid November 2014 through March 1, 2015.


Without the Crowds

Where: Sanderling Resort, 1461 Duck Rd., Duck, N.C.; 877-650-4812.

What’s special: The summer crowds are gone, making it a perfect time to enjoy North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Sanderling Resort offers spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean and Currituck Sound—meaning both sunrises and sunsets over the water. Last year, Sanderling underwent a multimillion-dollar renovation, and it now has new poolside guest rooms and a redesigned lobby with oceanfront views; the renovated Lifesaving Station restaurant boasts fireplaces and an outdoor deck. You can walk on the beach, relax at the terrific spa, play tennis and golf nearby, or go on a tour to see the wild horses of Corolla.

The deal: The Fall Getaway package lets you pick one of the following: a 50-minute spa treatment per person, one couples treatment, dinner for two in the Lifesaving Station, or lunch at the Lifesaving Station followed by a Wild Horse Tour for two. A two-night minimum stay is required. Rates start at $199 a night, a 33-percent savings. Mention Washingtonian when booking to also receive a free bottle of wine, a $25 value. Call 844-207-8512.

When: November through December 30, 2014.


Western Luxury

Where: The Broadmoor, 1 Lake Ave., Colorado Springs, Col.; 855-634-7711.

What’s special: This world-famous resort, built in 1918, has hosted US Presidents, foreign royalty, and Hollywood celebrities. It’s perched 6,000 feet above sea level but still just at the base of the towering Cheyenne Mountains. The multiple buildings surround peaceful Cheyenne Lake and are connected by a bridge and landscaped walkways. There’s an indoor pool, a fitness center, a spa, three championship golf courses, and tennis. With an average high temperature in the 50s in November (and an average snowfall of less than five inches), you’ll be able to get out and play. On weekends, there are complimentary activities including guided tours of the Broadmoor’s Western art collection; wine, cocktail, and culinary demonstrations; dance classes; golf instruction; and an intro to fly-fishing. The resort has a variety of dining options, including the Penrose Room, Colorado’s only Five Star, Five Diamond restaurant, and Natural Epicurean, where meals use locally sourced ingredients. Outside of the resort, Colorado Springs offers attractions such as the not-to-be-missed Garden of the Gods, nature’s red-rock version of Superman’s Fortress of Solitude.

The deal: The Spectacular Winter Savings package includes accommodations at 25 percent off published suite rates; 20 percent off golf-green fees for stays in November; complimentary golf-green fees (excluding cart rental) for stays in December, January, or February; 15 percent off selected spa services; 15 percent off bowling-lane rental; and discounts on adult tickets at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. Children ages ten and under eat free from the kids’ menu when accompanied by a paying adult. Prices start at $105 per adult, double occupancy. The package saves 20 to 25 percent, depending on the period booked. Mention Washingtonian when checking in to also get free chocolates and a signature Broadmoor chef apron, about a $35 value. To book, visit their website.

When: November 2014 through February 28, 2015.


Southern Beauty

Where: Sea Island, 100 Cloister Dr., Sea Island Ga.; 855-714-9201.

What’s special: Midway between Jacksonville, Florida, and Savannah, Georgia, Sea Island resort, on the Atlantic coast, sits amid salt marshes, dunes, and antebellum oaks. The Mediterranean-inspired Cloister, one of the resort’s accommodation choices, features rooms with river views, exposed-beam ceilings, hardwood floors, Turkish rugs, deep soaking tubs, and separate rainhead showers. Guests can enjoy five miles of private beach, lush grounds, tennis, kayaking through the marsh, golf on one of three championship courses, a fitness center, and a luxury spa. Dining options include the casual River Bar, seasonal fare at the Flip Flop Bistro (open January through August), the Forbes five-star Georgian Room, and intimate dinners in the wine cellar.

The deal: To celebrate a current renovation that will eventually add 63 rooms at the Cloister, the Expand Your Stay package offers guests who stay three or more nights a discounted rate of $63 for their final night at the Cloister. Rates start at $395 a night. Washingtonian readers also receive a $200 resort credit good during any non-holiday stay. To book, call 888-973-7947 and mention the promo code WSH200.

When: Valid November 2014 through February 28, 2015.

Posted at 09:50 AM/ET, 11/03/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
The second annual fest is a chance to see good movies—and some serious star power. By Sherri Dalphonse
A still from The Homesman starring Tommy Lee Jones and Hilary Swank. Courtesy of Middleburg Film Festival.

It may not be as big and glitzy as Cannes or Sundance (and that may be a good thing), but this weekend’s Middleburg Film Festival, October 30 through November 2, tempts with a star-studded lineup of movies. Many of the films—there are 20 in all—either feature Oscar winners or have already won honors at other film fests, including Cannes. Among them:

  • The Homesman, directed by Tommy Lee Jones and starring Jones, Hilary Swank, and Meryl Streep, is a tale of 1850s pioneers who, fed up with the harsh life in the American West, decide to make the perilous journey back east.
  • Force Majeure, Sweden’s entry for a Best Foreign Language Oscar, and a winner at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, follows what happens to one family after an avalanche strikes on a ski vacation in the French Alps.
  • Two Days, One Night stars Oscar winner Marion Cotillard as a Belgian woman who has two days to get her fellow employees at a solar-panel factory to give up their bonuses so she won’t lose her job.

While a few of the screenings, such as showings of The Imitation Game (starring Benedict Cumberbatch), are sold out, individual tickets are available for most other films and can be purchased online.

With an extra hour to enjoy on Sunday, and some colorful foliage still on the trees, it’s a perfect time to drive out to the country and get your movie fix.

Posted at 11:00 AM/ET, 10/30/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
The East Coast's largest corn maze is in Leesburg. By Renee Sklarew
Photograph courtesy of Visit Loudoun.

This weekend and next, you can get lost—in the East Coast’s largest cornfield maze. The 24-acre maze was hand-built on the sprawling grounds of Temple Hall Farm Park in Loudoun County. You must follow clues to find your way through the twists and turns, which spell out “Buy Fresh Buy Local” because Temple Hall is a working farm—it grows crops and raises animals year-round.

After you emerge, you can head to the Blast Zone to shoot a Corn Cannon or Pumpkin Blaster; the targets are scarecrows and old cars, and the corn and pumpkin “ammunition” typically flies about 50 to 60 miles an hour for 300 yards. Kids love cheering at the pig races, visiting the other barnyard animals, and hopping around on the Jumping Pillows—a cross between a giant trampoline and moon bounce. There are also wagon rides through the pumpkin patch, a 40-foot hay fort to climb, and food concessions. Watch out for the peacocks and guinea hens—they’ll beg for your kettle corn.

Temple Hall Farm Festival (15789 Temple Lane, Leesburg) is open October 24, 25 and 26; October 31, and November 1, 2, and 3. Buy tickets and find hours, ticket prices, activity fees, and directions online.

Posted at 10:06 AM/ET, 10/24/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Washington makes the list for the first time ever. By Tanya Pai
DC is the top city to visit in 2015, according to Lonely Planet. Image via Shutterstock.

When Forbes ranked DC the coolest city in America earlier this year, it drew plenty of internet ire. But maybe the magazine wasn’t so far off, after all: Travel publishing company Lonely Planet has named the District the top spot to visit in 2015. It’s not just Washington’s first time at the top of the list; this is the only time it’s ever been included, Washington Business Journal reports. It’s also the only US city in the top ten, which includes Vienna, Toronto, and Milan (see below for the full top ten).

Lonely Planet praises Washington’s “vibrant gay scene and incredible ethnic eats,” and its museum scene, citing Ford’s Theatre’s upcoming exhibit to mark the 150th anniversary of President Lincoln’s assassination. Other highlights: the “life-changing” experience of visiting the Holocaust Museum, the cuisine at José Andrés’s Jaleo, the Georgetown shopping scene, and the historic charm of the Willard InterContinental.

Quite a distinction for our nation’s capital. Better start mentally preparing yourself for the influx of tourists—there's a reason Washington residents are more stressed out than the rest of the country.

Lonely Planet's Top 10 Destinations for 2015

1) Washington, DC

2) El Chaltén, Argentina

3) Milan, Italy

4) Zermatt, Switzerland

5) Valletta, Malta

6) Plovdiv, Bulgaria

7) Salisbury, UK

8) Vienna, Austria

9) Chennai, India

10) Toronto, Canada

Posted at 12:45 PM/ET, 10/20/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
New flights offer more options out of Dulles, BWI, and Reagan—and may mean lower prices. By Carol Ross Joynt
Illustration by Luci Gutiérrez.

With three airports in and around Washington, it’s always been fairly easy to get where you want to go—often without having to change planes. But it’s getting even better.

That’s partly due to the US Airways/American Airlines merger. The federal government required both airlines to give up some slots, making them available to other carriers and paving the way for new nonstops at Reagan National. The federal requirement didn’t open up slots at Dulles and BWI—where there are no caps—but both airports have their share of new nonstops as well.

“Travelers have more choices when booking out of our area airports,” says Robert Yingling, spokesman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which oversees Dulles and Reagan National. “Increasing choices to nonstop destinations is a sign the market is healthy.”

Southwest, for example, has added new nonstops in the past year to Aruba, Montego Bay, Nassau, Cancún, and Oakland, all out of BWI. Meanwhile, at Reagan National, JetBlue is now flying nonstop to Nassau plus three Florida cities—Jacksonville, Fort Myers, and West Palm Beach. At Dulles, Frontier Airlines is making a push into Florida, with nonstops to Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, Orlando, and Tampa to go along with new nonstops to Memphis and Las Vegas.

While most of the new nonstops go to places that already had at least one other one from this area, many are new nonstops to that destination from that airport or airline. Better yet, the competition presented by these flights could mean lower fares.

We chose a half dozen of the new nonstops for their getaway appeal. Skiing in Wyoming? Beachcombing in Punta Cana? And we threw in some tips from locals.


Flying From Dulles

Jackson Hole

New nonstop on: United Airlines.

Flight time: About 4½ hours westbound, 4 hours eastbound.

Lowest round-trip fare we found: $528.

Downhill devotees flock to this Wyoming winter paradise—last season, it got 500 inches of snow. There are ski trails for every skill, fine hotels and dining, and a lively après-ski scene. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort has new runs, and fans of DC’s Bourbon Steak will be happy to know that owner/chef Michael Mina has opened the Handle Bar at the Jackson Hole Four Seasons. United’s new nonstop runs daily December 20 through January 3, then weekly on Saturdays through March 21.

St. Augustine

New nonstop on: Frontier Airlines.

Flight time: About 2 hours.

Lowest round-trip fare we found: $105.

This Florida town is one of the earliest Spanish settlements in the United States and a very walkable city with some good restaurants. Nearby Anastasia State Park is a 1,600-plus-acre peninsula notable for white-sand beaches, water sports, RV and tent camping, and bird-watching. St. Augustine is also home to historic Castillo de San Marcos, the oldest masonry fortress in the mainland US, now managed by the National Park Service.


Flying From BWI

Punta Cana

New nonstop on: Southwest, beginning in November.

Flight time: About 4 hours.

Lowest round-trip fare we found: $424

Reality-TV stars travel to some of the world’s most beautiful spots—among them, beachy Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic. In a notorious two-parter of The Real Housewives of New Jersey, the Gorgas, Giudices, Manzos, and Lauritas checked into the massive Hard Rock Hotel & Casino (causing a 300-percent jump in the hotel’s web traffic). Name-calling and brawls aside, most people go to Punta Cana for winter warmth (the average temp in January and February is 82) and to relax, swim, or get out on the links—there are about a dozen well-regarded golf courses attached to resorts on the Caribbean and Atlantic sides. For the non-golfer, there’s a day trip by speedboat or catamaran to Sanoa Island, part of the National Park of the East and, according to USA Today, known for its “unspoiled hotel-free beaches lined with palms.” For history buffs, there’s the home of Ponce de León in nearby San Rafael de Yuma. Dating to the early 1500s, it was where he planned his expeditions. For thrill-seekers, there’s cave rappelling and ziplining.

Seattle

New nonstop on: Alaska Airlines.

Flight time: About 5½ hours.

Lowest round-trip fare we found: $344.

What started as a timber town is now one of the nation’s fastest-growing and most culturally modern cities. Sure, the rainy weather is legendary, but there’s a lot to do indoors and out. Visit the original Starbucks at the historic and vast Pike Place Market, which claims to be one of the nation’s oldest farmers markets. Go old-school and ride to the top of the Space Needle (at 605 feet, it’s taller than the Washington Monument). Get out on the water by taking the ferry to Bainbridge Island, grabbing breakfast or lunch at Streamliner, then wandering the Bloedel Reserve, a 150-acre garden and arboretum with a mission to provide a “tranquil” experience. If you’re a football fan, catch a Seahawks game at the loudest stadium in the NFL, CenturyLink Field. Film buff? At your hotel, grab a copy of the “Reel Life in Seattle” brochure, which pinpoints locations used in Sleepless in Seattle and other movies. Alaska Airlines also runs a twice-daily nonstop to Seattle out of Reagan National.


From Reagan National

Charleston

New nonstop on: JetBlue.

Flight time: About 2 hours.

Lowest round-trip fare we found: $98.

The climate in Charleston, South Carolina, is comparable to Bermuda’s, meaning fall and winter temperatures are pleasant, sometimes warm. Just outside town there are historic plantations to visit, such as Middleton Place, which was settled in the 17th century. In town, the charming streets are lined with architectural eye candy. Though it may surprise you, Charleston also has a nightlife scene. Whitney Sudler-Smith, producer and cast member of the Charleston-shot Bravo show Southern Charm, says that the Cocktail Club is a favorite. He also recommends the Ordinary, an “oyster hall” created by James Beard Award winner Mike Lata, and the Rarebit, where some go for the classic grilled cheese sandwich, others for the Moscow Mule. Says Sudler-Smith: “The whole area of Upper King is the new nightlife district.”

New Orleans

New nonstop on: Southwest.

Flight time: 2½ hours.

Lowest round-trip fare we found: $288.

Though this city is famous for Mardi Gras, there’s plenty of good jazz, fine food, and interesting art to see between now and Fat Tuesday. The city’s third International Contemporary Art Biennial runs October 25 through January 25 in spaces throughout town, including the exhibit “Basquiat and the Bayou” at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. The Simpsons cast member and NoLa habitué Harry Shearer recommends the galleries along the St. Claude corridor and the Arthur Roger Gallery on Julia Street. He’s also a fan of Domenica, a “brilliant” Italian restaurant at the Roosevelt Hotel. Make time to stroll the Riverwalk along the Mississippi and visit the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, adjacent to the French Quarter.


This article appears in the October 2014 issue of Washingtonian.

Posted at 02:30 PM/ET, 10/16/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Enjoy a hike full of fall color, good antiques shopping, and a nip of whiskey. By Renee Sklarew
Off scenic Skyline Drive, the trail to Mary's Rock Summit leads to a spectacular 360-degree view. Photograph courtesy of Shenandoah National Park.

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.

After a hike, stop in the town of Sperryville to refuel with a burger on Thorton River Grille's roof. Photograph by Andrew Propp.

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.

Browse the galleries of River District Arts. Photograph by Andrew Propp.

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 (reneesklarew@gmail.com) is a travel writer in Washington. This article appears in the October 2014 issue of Washingtonian.

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Posted at 12:15 PM/ET, 10/02/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()