Things to Do  |  Travel

7 Summer Day Trips That Are an Easy Drive From DC

A non-touristy winery, an “enchanted forest,” and other destinations near Washington where those in the know go for a quick escape.

Pick your enchanted forest: Clark’s Elioak Farm in Ellicott City features vintage fairy-tale-themed fun for kids. Photograph of Clark’s Elioak Farm.

Travel is at the top of many summer bucket lists, and in the Washington region, you don’t have to go far to find something new to do or learn. We asked local experts and hobbyists to share favorite spots for exploring their passion within a three-hour drive of the city. From birding to biking to breweries, here are seven fun day trips.

For a Day Trip With Little Ones | Try a Fairy-Tale Farm

Who we spoke to: Courtney Whittington, founder of DC-Area Moms and a mother of four—two boys and two girls, ages 2 to 11.

Where she recommends: Clark’s Elioak Farm in Ellicott City.

How far away: About an hour’s drive from DC.

What makes it great: “They have an enchanted forest. They have lots and lots of farm animals that you can interact with—goats, pigs, pony rides, rabbits,” Whittington says. “It’s fairy-tale-themed, so they’ll have, like, an old lady who lived in a shoe. They have a slide that’s in a big shoe in the shape of that nursery rhyme. You can take a train ride. They have a fairy garden you can walk through that my kids are obsessed with. It’s a really magical place for little kids.”

Where to stop for a bite: Whittington’s kids love Busboys and Poets, and they sometimes stop at the location in Columbia, off Route 29, on the way home from the farm.

Out for a Spin Shenandoah River State Park is a nice place to ride. Photograph by Philippe Oursel/

For an Outdoor Adventure | Try Off-Road Biking

Who we spoke to: Ernie Rodriguez, president of Mid-Atlantic Off-Road Enthusiasts, a mountain-biking and trail-building advocacy group.

Where he recommends: Shenandoah River State Park in Bentonville, Virginia.

How far away: About a 90-minute drive from DC.

What makes it great: The park has 24 miles of multi-use trails for hiking, horseback riding, and biking. For mountain-bike beginners, the Bluebell and River trails follow the Susquehanna River and offer fairly flat rides over gravel, along with stunning mountain views. Says Rodriguez: “We took these nice, easy, flowy trails along the river from one end of the park to the other.”

Where to stop for a bite: Field & Main in Marshall—about 35 minutes from the park, right off I-66—has upscale farm-to-table eats for lunch and dinner Thursday through Sunday. To-go is also available.

Patuxent Research Refuge in Laurel is a wildlife oasis. Photograph by Garden Beth/@gardenbeth/

For Some Time in Nature | Try Birding

Who we spoke to: Gina Ghertner, lead naturalist for the Audubon Naturalist Society’s GreenKids educational program.

Where she recommends: The South Tract of Patuxent Research Refuge in Laurel.

How far away: About a 30-minute drive from DC.

What makes it great: “It has such a variety of habitats,” Ghertner says. “The place has two lakes. It has a pond and wetlands, it has marshes, it has grasses, it has forested habitats. They have a very nice visitor center, for if it gets too hot or you just want to take a break. Outside that visitor center, they have a pollinator garden and bird-feeder stations with a bird blind. So right away when you get there—if you get there early, which I always do when I want to go birding—you can see a lot of birds around that bird feeder without much effort.”

The refuge has several trails, including a fully paved one. When there, Ghertner looks for wood thrushes, Kentucky warblers, and prairie warblers, as well as other wildlife such as beavers, butterflies, and frogs.

Where to stop for a bite: Ghertner’s vegetarian family likes fast-casual NuVegan Cafe in College Park, or grabbing a snack at the Dutch Country Farmers Market in Laurel.

For a Treasure Hunt | Try Antiquing

Who we spoke to: Wayne Fisher, owner of Wayne Fisher’s American Design in Alexandria, which carries antique Americana home decor, which he has collected for more than 35 years.

Where he recommends: New Oxford, Pennsylvania.

How far away: About an hour-and-45-minute drive from DC.

What makes it great: “There’s lots and lots of shops and a half dozen antique malls,” Fischer says. His favorites include New Oxford Antique Center, Zelma’s Emporium, and Collector’s Choice, all within walking distance of one another and with big, diverse collections. “You don’t want to get there at noon or 1 o’clock—you want to get there at 10 in the morning, because if you’re going to look thoughtfully through these three alone, you want to have the time to do that.”

Where to stop for a bite: Fisher and his husband like to stop on the way back at “cozy, historic” Dobbin House Tavern in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, for classic American fare.

Patuxent Brewing Company. Photograph courtesy of Patuxent Brewing Company.

For a Taste of Something New | Try a Brewery Tour

Who we spoke to: Eamoni Collier, founder and CEO of Urban Garden Brewing Company.

Where she recommends: Patuxent Brewing Company in Waldorf.

How far away: About an hour’s drive from DC.

What makes it great: “It’s Maryland’s first Black-owned brick-and-mortar brewery,” Collier says of Paxtuxent, which opened its taproom in August 2019. “They support other local brands, so you can try their beer and also try other people’s beers. You can’t really get their beer in the city—you have to go [to the brewery] to try their awesome beers. And it’s just a three-barrel brewery, not your typical large production house. Everything is very intimate.” Patuxent Brewing Company, which also offers tours, has a taproom as well as outdoor seating.

Where to stop for a bite: Brewery co-­owner Gene Lott recommends the salmon, wings, and potato soup at Grille 13, an Irish tavern nearby that was recently featured on the Food Network reality show Restaurant Impossible.

For Vineyard Vibes | Try a Winetasting

Who we spoke to: Brent Kroll, proprietor at Maxwell Park Wine Bar and Food & Wine’s 2018 Sommelier of the Year.

Where he recommends: Linden Vineyards in Linden, Virginia.

How far away: About a 90-minute drive from DC.

What makes it great: “When I think of going to a winery that’s not commercial, not touristy, with a great view and really good wine, Linden’s where it’s at for me. It’s just really relaxed. So if I’m taking people with me and they’re not wine nerds, no one’s going to feel like it’s above them or like they’re out of place.” Kroll de­scribes the vineyard’s owner, Jim Law, as a “patriarch of Virginia wineries” who has mentored many other area winemakers. “He’s not a big social-media guy. He doesn’t have a marketing team. But he’s doing some of the best wines coming out in Virginia.”

Where to get a bite: Kroll is a fan of the cheese board and baguettes served right at the vineyard.

Explore Monticello beyond the mansion tour. Photograph courtesy of © Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello.

For a Thought-Provoking History Lesson | Try a Presidential Plantation Tour

Who we spoke to: Ana Lucia Araujo, history professor at Howard University.

Where she recommends: Monticello in Charlottesville.

How far away: About a two-and-a-half-hour drive from DC.

What makes it great: Araujo suggests exploring Jefferson’s plantation beyond the mansion tour. “Monticello does a better job than Mount Vernon in telling the history of slavery and Jefferson’s link to slave ownership,” she says. “It’s crucial to visit Mulberry Row, to see the slave quarters for enslaved people who worked as blacksmiths and all kinds of professions. Then near the kitchen, there were the quarters where Sally Hemings—the enslaved woman who was the mother of six children of Thomas Jefferson—lived. There is a beautiful exhibition about her.”

Where to get a bite: The funky, old-school Blue Moon Diner is a local favorite in Charlottesville for breakfast and lunch. It offers takeout, too.

This article appears in the July 2022 issue of Washingtonian.

Kayla Benjamin
Assistant Editor