Living History in a Riverside Town
You can usually spot first-time visitors to New Castle by the “oohs” as they discover Delaware’s first capital. The town green, cobbled lanes, white cupolas, and Georgian townhouses have hardly changed in 300 years.
But this is no museum town; lucky people live in these houses. Once a year, they open their doors for A Day in Old New Castle (May 17) to benefit a local charity. The 1732 courthouse and a trio of homes from the 1700s are always available for touring.
Or you can just stroll to admire the architecture, check out the shops on Delaware Street, and visit Battery Park and watch the boats go by.
You can stay in the heart of town at the 1860 Terry House Bed and Breakfast ($90 to $110; 302-322-2505; terryhouse.com). Dine in historic surroundings at the Arsenal at Old New Castle (30 Market St.; 302-328-1290).
New Castle is 13⁄4 hours from Washington.
Good Art, Great Food, and Fun Shopping on the Eastern Shore
There’s nothing sleepy about Easton, Maryland, population 14,000, where the arts are lively, shops are plentiful, and dining is fine.
You can pop into the Academy Art Museum to see interesting art, or you can check what’s on at the Art Deco Avalon Theatre. Browse Antiques-Easton, an open-air market every Sunday behind the visitors center. If the date is right, you can join the First Friday Gallery Walk. Meanwhile, the pleasures of the Chesapeake Bay are a short drive away.
You might stay at the stately Historic Tidewater Inn (from $135; 800-237-8775; tidewaterinn.com) or Bishop’s House, a Victorian bed-and-breakfast ($180 to $190; 800-223-7290; bishopshouse.com). Enjoy Continental fare at handsome Mason’s (22 S. Harrison St.; 410-822-3204) or Mediterranean at arty Out of the Fire (22 Goldsborough St.; 410-770-4777).
Easton is 11⁄2 hours from Washington.
Rural Retreat for the Rich and Famous
The leafy, hilly streets of Doylestown, Pennsylvania, and the lovely surrounding Bucks County countryside have long lured celebrities. Some have left fine legacies for visitors.
The Michener Museum, endowed by the famed author, features art in a converted jail. The curious “Mercer mile” includes the tile-filled home, tool-filled museum, and Moravian Pottery and Tile Works of Henry Chapman Mercer.
After a drive in the country and antiquing on Route 202, check in at Highland Farm, the 1840s home of Oscar Hammerstein II, now a B&B with rooms named for shows he wrote here, such as South Pacific and The King and I. ($170 to $300; 215-345-6767; highlandfarmbb.com). For a fine French dinner, head to Slate Bleu (100 S. Main St.; 215-348-0222).
Doylestown is three hours from Washington.
Outdoor Plays and Civil War Lore in a Virginia College Town
When it comes to college towns, Lexington is doubly endowed, with the red-brick campus of Washington and Lee next to the imposing stone buildings of VMI, the Virginia Military Institute. Both have interesting museums and history to explore.
This town of 7,000 still features brick sidewalks and well-maintained 19th-century homes. Artists in Cahoots is a co-op gallery worth a look; Civil War buffs can visit Stonewall Jackson House, where both he and Robert E. Lee resided, at different times. Don’t miss Theater at Lime Kiln, an old quarry that’s a magical setting for outdoor theater and concerts May to October.
You might stay just outside town at Maple Hall, a circa 1850 B&B with a pool ($70 to $135; 877-283-9680; lexingtonhistoricinns.com). Have a traditional dinner at Maple Hall or go French at Café Michel (640 N. Lee Hwy.; 540-464-4119).
Lexington is almost four hours from Washington.