I grew up in Northern Virginia, just across the river from Washington, D.C. I haven’t been back for a while, so when it was time to bring my boyfriend, Jason, home to meet the parents, I saw this as a great time to show him the places I loved through childhood and also play tour guide — miraculously — Jason’s never even seen D.C. I told him we’d get a glimpse of the capital city, but after all, Virginia is for lovers, so I wanted to re-explore and show off the places I love.
To start, we took the Metro to Rosslyn in Arlington – it really is the easiest way to get around the more city-esque areas. We took a stroll down the street past Dark Star Park, this kind of funky sculpture in a park that they say lines up perfectly with the sun in early August. We didn’t hang out long though, because I had a plan. We continued past the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial (everyone knows it as the Iwo Jima Memorial) to my final stop. I spread out a picnic blanket just in front of the huge Netherlands Carillon, where Jason could get his great view of the D.C. skyline below.
I could point out some of the places Jason might already know about Arlington.”
We relaxed surrounded by the amazing tulips around the Netherlands Carillon bell tower, and from here, I could point out some of the places Jason might already know about Arlington. There’s Arlington National Cemetery, which is where the famous Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and Changing of the Guard happens and where JFK is buried. We could just make out the spires of the Air Force Memorial, where I remember going to summertime concerts as a kid, and right below it is the Pentagon (Jason loved that part — he’s such a military buff).
But we had a big day planned, so we couldn’t stay long. We’d heard that Arlington had been designated the “Fittest City in America” once again, so we decided to grab a bite at a local food truck and then grab bikes from the Capital Bikeshare station and go for a ride along the Mount Vernon Trail, which goes right along the river and gives awesome views of D.C.’s National Mall. It didn’t take us long at all before we were right in the midst of super-cool Old Town Alexandria, one of the first neighborhoods in America designated as a historic district, where George Washington hung out back in colonial times. I could spend all day just browsing the more than 200 shops and restaurants along King Street, with its brick-lined sidewalks and charming historic rowhouses.
But there’s so much more to see. We went down to the Alexandria Waterfront, which has changed so much since I last lived here. We tool a quick walk through some of the galleries and watched some artists at work at Torpedo Factory Art Center, located in a former World War II torpedo factory (Jason couldn’t get over the torpedoes still on display there), and we walked over to the new Tall Ship Providence, a reproduction of the first ship authorized to serve in the Continental Navy.
Jason wanted to check out the fully-functioning reconstructions of Washington’s Gristmill and Distillery.”
Jason was STILL talking about torpedoes when we hopped back on our bikes (to work off the ENORMOUS ice cream cones we’d devoured walking along King Street) and continued back on the Mount Vernon Trail down to its namesake, George Washington’s Mount Vernon in Fairfax County. It’s apparently one of America’s most-visited sites, and I can see why. I hadn’t been here since a school field trip, and I’d forgotten just how gorgeous the home and gardens are. Jason wanted to check out the fully-functioning reconstructions of Washington’s Gristmill and Distillery, which still produces George Washington’s Rye Whiskey, now the official spirit of the Commonwealth of Virginia — but we had to hop back on those bikes and head back, so we couldn’t hang out for TOO long. Save it for another visit.
After we returned the bikes and hopped on Metro to head home for the day, Jason was a TOTAL chatterbox, going on and on about everything we’d seen. I laughed — we were just getting started! I had even more planned for tomorrow!
The next morning, we grabbed a small breakfast so we could save room for lunch. We started off our Great Outdoors day with a visit to Prince William County, which has the largest open space dedicated to National, State, and Local parks in Northern Virginia. We began our day at the Neabsco Creek Boardwalk, where we literally walked on water on the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail and then headed to Leesylvania State Park, where the views of the Potomac River cannot be missed. Remembering the desserts at Mom’s Apple Pie (Michelle Obama even went here), we had to make a break for Historic Occoquan to pick up some sweet treats for later.
As much as we wanted to stay longer and visit Virginia’s largest outlet mall nearby — Potomac Mills — we went from water to the Mountains to see Manassas National Battlefield Park (where the Battles of Bull Run/Manassas were fought). Jason and I soaked in the history surrounding the park, before walking the same trails on Matthews Hill where my dad and I used to walk. I glanced at my watch and realized we had lost track of time and we needed to head to Farm Brew Live for lunch. We made our way to the 10-acre “destination brewery campus” anchored by 2 Silos Brewing Company — and as my friends have told me, it’s basically a playground for adults who love music, beer, cocktails, and food. We left promising each other that we’d be back.
While Jason’s the beer guy, I have to admit that I prefer the grapes to hops, so we ventured off to Loudoun County, which in addition to the historic downtowns and horse country, is also known as “D.C.’s Wine Country®.” And it doesn’t disappoint. Before our first vineyard, we stopped in historic Middleburg, filled with chic boutiques, local eateries and equestrian-themed businesses (we were both quite impressed to learn that Jackie O often would ride horses here and stay in town). We grabbed a quick coffee at Market Salamander, a little corner café that’s affiliated with the Forbes 5-star rated Salamander Resort & Spa that’s just outside town. We then wandered the resort’s expansive grounds and I have to admit — I fell in love with Cupcake, a miniature horse who also partakes in “Cocktails with Cupcake” happy hours with guests on weekends.
We traveled the winding, unpaved roads up to Bluemont Vineyard, where the multi-floor tasting room and terrace feature some of the best views in all the Mid-Atlantic. I have to say, looking out at the Virginia countryside from the vineyard was pretty amazing. Next, we made a stop that could accommodate both of our boozy preferences — Hillsborough Winery, Brewery & Vineyard. This unique craft beverage destination boasts a tasting room in a renovated 1840’s stone barn on the slopes of Short Hill Mountain. I had a glass of wine, Jason grabbed a beer — everyone’s happy. I wanted to stop at one more vineyard, so we visited Doukénie Winery where the dramatic vistas and mountain views paired perfectly with a glass of Virginia vino.
As we headed back, even though we were exhausted, when we saw the signs near the airport for the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Fairfax County we agreed to one more stop. This place is in an airplane hangar and has thousands of displays of aviation and space artifacts, including the Space Shuttle Discovery and exhibits like Human Spaceflight, and my personal favorite, Clouds in a Bag, a collection dedicated to hot air ballooning and early aviation. Jason was like a little kid marveling over the space shuttle. I had to admit – it’s pretty cool.
This place is in an old airplane hangar and has thousands of displays of aviation and space artifacts.”
We totally crashed that evening but couldn’t help thinking all the different experiences we had in Northern Virginia in just two days. And I feel like we only scratched the surface. At least I know I’ll never need added incentive to get Jason to join me for parental visits — he’s in love with this place, and it’s even better than I remembered as a kid.