Things to Do  |  Travel

10 Fun—and Safe—Ways to Get Out of the House This Winter in the DC Area

Learn to knit, drink by a toasty outdoor fire, or see a movie on a big screen with just your BFFs.

Cana Vineyards & Winery. Photograph by Tine’s Captured Moments/Cana Vineyards.

Do Some Cool Winetasting

While many area wineries have added patio heaters and fire pits, none may be as equipped for outdoor visitors this winter as Cana Vineyards & Winery. The Middleburg winery not only has a dozen-plus fire pits scattered about its lawn but also boasts a covered porch with tables and heaters, as well as a Sunset Pavilion seating 200, with ceiling heaters and a wood-burning stone fireplace. To sweeten the deal: S’more kits are available ($5 for a kit that makes four). Seating is first-come, first-served for parties of up to 14; 15 people or more require reservations.

 

See Stars

One advantage to winter: Early sunsets mean more time to stare at the stars. The National Air and Space Museum has regular, free stargazing sessions on its east terrace, which has an observatory. The next is January 7 from 5:30 to 8:30 pm, if the weather cooperates. (Call 202-633-2517 after 3:30 for an update.) Or head to appropriately named Observatory Park at Turner Farm in Great Falls. There, a roll-top observatory offers free sessions of guided stargazing on clear Friday nights. See analemma.org for more information. Another option: Neabsco Creek Boardwalk, a three-quarter-mile boardwalk in Woodbridge that meanders across wetlands and under an expanse of sky. It’s stargazing evenings ($12 a person) on January 8 and February 26 begin with a guided walk and end at an elevated platform where a telescope and astronomical binoculars are set up. Hot chocolate will be provided, too.

 

Take a Winter Walk

Some of the best places to hike or stroll in this region have a quiet beauty in winter. At Great Falls Park in McLean, a short walk on the River Trail affords views of the spectacular falls—on very cold days, the ice-covered rocks below can be dazzling. On Theodore Roosevelt Island, winter means Georgetown and Potomac River vistas through the leafless trees. If it has snowed and you have access to cross-country skis, consider strapping them on for a “walk” through history at Manassas National Battlefield Park.

 

Rent Out a Movie Theater

Just because you’re worried about sharing a crowded theater with strangers doesn’t mean you have to avoid the big screen. Instead of shunning the cinema, you can just shun the strangers: Most theaters now rent auditoriums to private groups. Regal charges $149 to $299, and you can book as far as six weeks out. AMC typically charges $139 to $469 for a private screening of up to 20 or 40 guests, with the price varying by the movie selected, day, and size of the auditorium. Most theaters won’t rent a venue on a Friday or Saturday evening, but you get to choose your film—usually from what’s playing at that time, though AMC includes some classics as choices, while Landmark lets you bring your own DVD/Blu-ray or hook up your gaming system. University Mall Theatres in Fairfax charges $100 to rent a theater for up to ten people (plus $8 for each person beyond that)—and throws in popcorn and drinks.

 

Photograph courtesy of AR Workshop Alexandria.

Knit a Blanket—Yes, You

If your winter plans don’t involve much more than curling up on the couch and watching the new season of Ozark, at least up your game by doing so under a blanket you made yourself. AR Workshop, which has multiple area locations, offers an $85 beginner class on making a chunky-knit blanket—no needles or experience needed. The class can be taken in-studio (within three hours, you’ll leave with a finished four-by-five-foot blanket in a color of your choice) or virtually. The Alexandria location, for one, sometimes offers pop-up classes outdoors, too, in heated tents.

 

Hit the Ice

A number of ice-skating rinks that were closed last year due to Covid are back. One of the most atmospheric, surrounded by art and monuments, is in the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden. Another with knockout views: the riverfront Wharf Ice Rink in Southwest DC.

 

Drink in a Toasty Outdoor Setting

Get an alpine escape minus the cost of a plane ticket at the Four Seasons Georgetown, which recently custom-built outdoor pine “suites” inspired by the luxury chain’s hotels in ski destinations such as the French Alps. Each patio chalet (available through March, for $300 plus a $200 food/beverage minimum) is outfitted with blankets and pillows; themed drinks and dishes include ice-wine martinis and smoked s’mores. If your vibe is more rustic-casual, try the glamping tents at Lone Oak Farm Brewing Co. in Olney. Each tricked-out tent comes with its own server for food and drink. Reservations start at $125 for two hours for a maximum eight guests; there are also fire-pit tables starting at $75. An added perk of either seating arrangement: super-fresh beer from hops grown on the 28-plus-acre farm.

 

Enjoy the Snowbirds

While some of us may find Washington cold in winter, lots of birds that normally roost farther north find it balmy enough to spend the season here. It’s also easier to spot birds such as yellow-rumped warblers and northern cardinals on bare branches. At parks with water, such as Constitution Gardens and Burke Lake Park, you can see wintering waterfowl such as ring-necked ducks and buffleheads.

 

Spice Things Up

If you’re tired of the same old meals in your dinner rotation, try a hands-on cooking class at Cookology. At its locations in Ballston and Dulles, the school offers a menu of options including Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, and Friday Date Night (each generally $75 to $99 a class), as well as boot camps and series such as Fitness Meal Planning, a six-week session on healthier eating ($599, or $110 a class). It offers virtual team-building activities, too.

 

Salamander spa’s heated pool. Photograph courtesy of @brittney.jeanine on Instagram/Salamander Resort.

Treat Yourself to a Spa Day

Haven’t been to a spa since the pandemic began? We get it. But if you’re ready to get those Covid kinks worked out, consider Salamander Resort & Spa in Middleburg, where you can spend part of your visit in the fresh air. The spa has an outdoor terrace where, for up to two hours after a treatment, guests can plunge into the infinity-edge pool (heated to 86 degrees) and the whirlpool (104 degrees) and sit by a fire pit. A couples treatment room features its own private outdoor whirlpool (available starting in February).

This article appears in the January 2022 issue of Washingtonian.

Executive Editor

Sherri Dalphonse joined Washingtonian in 1986. She is the editor in charge of such consumer topics as travel, fitness, health, finance, and beauty, as well as the editor who handles such cover stories as Great Places to Work, Best of Washington, Day Trips, Hidden Gems, Top Doctors, and Great Small Towns. She lives in DC.

Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.