While there is plenty of Labor Day fun to be had in the DMV, if you haven’t made plans yet, you may be hard-pressed to find something that isn’t packed with people. Plan B? Get out of town! Here are some last-minute, off-the-beaten-path options that are just a quick day trip away.
Annapolis, MD (45 minutes from DC)
Waterfront family fun is a great way to enjoy your long weekend away. The capital of Maryland is a quaint town filled with on-the-water options and Chesapeake Bay-side activities. Future sailors will love the 2-hour cruise on the 74-foot schooners Woodwind and Woodwind II. If your Littles prefer adventures on dry land, try the Discover Annapolis trolley tour. And, a weekend in downtown isn’t complete without a little taste test of the Maryland Blue Crab. It might as well be the state crustacean. Your kiddos will love that they get to play with their food and eat it too.
Lewes, DE (2 hours, 20 minutes from DC)
Head a few miles north of Rehoboth Beach (which is bound to be crazy-crowded anyways) to this historic Delaware town filled with scenic hiking and biking trails, sand dunes and perfect-for-picnicking parks. Kids will love the Fisherman’s Wharf, for fishing, boating, and chowing down on shrimp and crab cakes. If you have time, stop by the Zwaanendael Museum where you can get a peek at a Merman statue made out of fish, hair, ivory, a shrunken monkey head, oak, glass and dye. Weird? Yes! But, totally worth a look.
Chincoteague Island, VA (3 hours from DC)
With over 14,000 acres of beaches and forest land, this tucked-away island on Virginia’s eastern shore is a nature-loving kid’s dream. They’ll scope wild ponies, search for seaweed, mussels, clams and crabs, and ooh and ahh at amazing birds (think: herons, ospreys, and bald eagles). Put an exclamation point at the end of the day by visiting Island Creamery for a “Marsh Mud” cone—a thick chocolate ice cream that really resembles a scoop of mud.
Leesburg, VA (1 hour from DC)
Loudoun County is lined with beautiful farmland and tons of farm animal fun. Temple Hall Farm Regional Park is a working farm and home to many unique animals. Your tiny farmers can visit with the Texas Longhorns, pigs, goats, sheep and a couple super friendly peacocks. Leesburg Animal Park is another great fur and feather feeding adventure. Don’t head out before your kids take a pony or wagon ride around the park. Rainy day? Don’t worry! There is a 3-level indoor jungle play slide with a giant slide and trampoline.
Insider tip: Every spring and fall, stop by multiple farm destinations during the Loudoun County Farm Tour. For two days each season, local working farms open their doors to the public. It is a fun family day and a great opportunity to shop local.
Ocean City, MD (2 hours and 45 minutes from DC)
Beach town is the best way to describe this seaside gem. The bustling boardwalk has tons of games, shops and the best French fries around. Family days on the beach are always full of fun, but there are some great spots away from the sand. Dumser’s Dairyland has been around since the 1940s and it is still a delicious step back in time. The oceanfront carnival at the end of the boardwalk is full of spinning rides and neon lights. Be sure to stop by Bike World to rent a family bike. It is a summer vacation memory you won’t soon forget.
Harper’s Ferry, WV (1 hour, 10 minutes by train from DC)
Skip car traffic altogether, and take Amtrak to this town that is the site of a National Historical park by the same name. At the park you can skip rocks into the Potomac, stroll the picturesque trails along the Shenendoah or pitch a tent for a sleepover. Train lovers won’t want to miss a visit to the Brunswick Heritage and Railroad Museum—there’s a massive interactive model railroad to play with.
Insider tip: Tiny tots in tow? Grab the carrier. It is tough to navigate the cobblestone streets and natural stone steps with a stroller.
Pea Patch Island, DE (2 hours from DC)
Travel back in time this Labor Day with a trip to Pea Patch Island (named when a 19th century ship carrying peas wrecked here). A nature preserve that boasts one of the largest wading-bird nesting areas on the East Coast, Pea Patch Island will delight your mini-hikers and animal enthusiasts. To get to the island you’ll take a 1/2 mile ferry boat ride ($12/adults; $7/kids 2-12). Once you’re there learn about blacksmithing at Fort Delaware, bird watch, or just kickback on a picnic blanket with your packed lunch.
Boonsboro, MD (1 hour, 15 minutes from DC)
The rural town (nestled between Hagerstown and Frederick) is hands-down adorable. With a strong colonial slant, the charming town is home to historic bed and breakfasts (one owned by author Nora Roberts!), Shafer Park (with plenty of open space to while the Labor Day away), and a restored 1902 trolley station.
Lynchburg, VA (3 hours, 16 minutes from DC)
Although we love the picturesque and historical aspects of the city, there’s much more to Lynchburg than meets the eye. Don’t miss Amazement Square, a hands-on museum in downtown. Your little Picasso can even paint on the walls. Stop by the Lynchburg Community Market – the third oldest farmer’s market in the country – for a yummy meal. Green Market Wednesday is a special treat. If they didn’t grow it, they aren’t selling it. Round out your getaway with a whole lot of love. The LOVE sculpture is a cool outdoor-themed art piece and the perfect #LoveVA photo op.
Lehigh Valley, PA (3 hours, 15 minutes from DC)
Choose your Labor Day adventure in Lehigh Valley, located a day trip away on the western edge of New Jersey. If you haven’t made a splash yet at the northeast’s most popular water park Dorney Park, might as well do it sooner than later. For the little adventure seekers in your brood check out kid-friendly Whitewater Rafting Adventures, which takes guided trips down the Lehigh River. Artsy tykes will get a kick out of the Crayola Factory that offers a ton of different hands on activities, plus a cool demo on how crayons are made.
Charlottesville, VA (2 hours and 15 minutes from DC)
Tucked into the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in western Central Virginia, Charlottesville is cuteness personified. Check out the Downtown Walking Mall, an adorable tree-lined, brick-paved pedestrian mall complete with an ice arena, movie theater, toy stores, and eateries galore. Virginia Discovery Museum, City Market, and the lawn at UVA are also kid-appealing.
Worth the Drive: Pittsburgh, PA (4 hours from DC)
Don’t limit yourself to staying too close to home when planning that last-minute trip. Make the trek to Pittsburgh and you won’t be disappointed. Travelers of all ages will geek out over all the STE(A)M fun at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh. Spinning chairs, life-sized gears and a 15-foot toy car track are just a few of the interactive exhibits waiting for your tiny scientists. The Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium boasts a lunch spot directly across from the African Savannah exhibit. Your Littles can scope out the Giraffes over chicken tenders and fries. Plan an expedition to Dinosaurs in Their Time at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. It is rumored to be one of the best dino viewing spots in the country.
—Angelica Kajiwara and Ayren Jackson-Cannady