In D.C. the word “daytrip” is usually synonymous with Richmond and Baltimore, or perhaps their distant cousins, Annapolis and Fredericksburg. What’s that, you say? Been there, done that? If you feel like you’ve exhausted all the usual suspects in a roughly 100 mile radius, check out these excursions and give your family that well deserved mini-break before Spring Break.
Photo: Michael Basial via Flickr
First Stop: Saddle up and take an hour-long trail ride at the If their slogan “ride it like you stole it” sounds a bit intimidating to your little cowboys, ease them into it with a $15 pony ride.
Second Stop: Get all Jurassic at , a roadside attraction in nearby White Post with over 50 dinosaurs of Giganotosaurus proportions (for you dino novices, that’s even bigger than a T Rex!). Wander through the park and watch your family’s jaws drop at the sight of this quirky, prehistoric past.
Third Stop: End your day with dinner and an early evening movie — plus a side of nostalgia — at the . Bring your own fare or nosh at the outdoor concessions while taking in the latest blockbuster at this Stephens City landmark.
Photo: Endless Caverns
New Market, Virginia
First Stop: The smell of one of America’s favorite snacks may lead you a few miles north of this historic town to the , where huge windows offer up the best “fry viewing” this side of, well, anywhere. Free samples make this experience “all that and a bag of chips!”
Second Stop: Families with older children should explore the on the grounds of the venerable Virginia Military Institute. In addition to exhibits and guided tours, the attraction includes Bushong Farm, suitable for younger history buffs who want to learn more about how a 19th-century farm functioned.
Third Stop: Kids love to dig in the dirt. Show them what’s way below the surface on the longest cave tour in Virginia. offers a guided walk through almost a mile of underground rooms full of one-of-a-kind formations.
Photo: Leonardtown Business Association via Flickr
St. Mary’s County, Maryland
First Stop: Annapolis seems to get all the colonial love, but is actually Maryland’s first city and colonial capital, dating back to 1634. This picturesque tidewater location is worth a visit, with its tobacco plantation, original and reconstructed buildings, plus the replica square-rigged ship Maryland Dove that shows how the first settlers arrived here from England.
Second Stop: What’s better than a good old-fashioned ghost story? A good old-fashioned tour of one! The “most haunted lighthouse in America” is open on select weekends with daytime and special nighttime paranormal tours. , located in the state park with the same name, was under Navy control until 2006. Evidence suggests it may be under haunted control now.
Third Stop: With a mantra of “eat, drink, play, and be super”, is the restaurant of your kids’ dreams. Hotdogs, burgers, subs, and sundaes are paired with comics and games for all ages. Game tables and tournaments mean your kids may never want to leave this hybrid toy store/restaurant.
Photo: The Train Room
First Stop: With a puppet theater, dinosaur dig, and exhibits that cover topics as varied as food production, outer space, Lego robotics, and much, much more, the hands-on children’s museum will thoroughly entertain your budding STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) enthusiasts.
Second Stop: Your choo-choo loving little ones will be all aboard for the featuring hundreds of train-related artifacts, eight cabooses, and a real steam engine locomotive. The museum is located among the 50 acres of City Park, so your kiddos can let off their own steam, too! A couple of miles away is the , an active train yard, and the , where you can pick up a souvenir from a dizzying train shop you have to see to believe!
Third Stop: All the favorite kid food groups are represented by over a dozen Amish merchants at the . Multiple delis, a bakery, pretzel shop, and a bulk candy booth (possibly your children’s most coveted food group!) serve up a variety of options. Look out for lucky Dolan, the market’s mascot and former rescue dog who frequently makes appearances.
Photo: Explore and More Hands-on Children’s Museum
First Stop: Pennsylvania may seem far away, but Gettysburg is just an hour and a half from Washington, something President Dwight D. Eisenhower knew well since he used his farm there as a weekend retreat. Kids can tour his , see where world leaders were entertained, earn their , and – oops, the rest is classified for agents’ eyes only!
Second Stop: If your little ones think Mom and Dad are old, the will blow their minds! Built in 1776 (older than our country!), the tavern features a dining room with natural springs, a curiosity store, and even a secret Underground Railroad slave hideout. After you’ve eaten your colonial fare, enjoy a free tour of this oldest historic house in Gettysburg.
Third Stop: Seven rooms of awesome adventure await your youngsters at the . Not only can the kiddos dabble in nature, construction materials, and art supplies, they can also play in a Civil War-era house and run their very own general store.
Where is your favorite unexpected day trip location? Tell us in the comments below.
Emily Coleman Dibella