Steeped in history and filled with impressive attractions that have inspired awe in millions of visitors, Washington, DC is one of America’s most visited major cities. Yet, as someone from the MD/DC area, I had visited every historic site and every museum that you could think of by age 12. Road tripping became my solution to escaping the “same-olds” of the tri-state area. Here is a list of the top 10 road trip destinations that I have taken in the area. Some of these destinations make excellent day trips for visitors to the Capital, while others make great weekend destinations for locals looking to escape the city.
1. Annapolis, MD (40 mi, <1 hr)
Annapolis, the capital of Maryland, is only a short drive away and has a beautiful old town aesthetic. You can enjoy historic sites such as the Maryland State House or get into the thriving community theatre scene by catching a show performed by the Colonial Players. At night, check out the Annapolis Harbor and have dinner on the waterfront by candlelight!
2. Baltimore, MD (47 mi, 1hr)
An architectural masterpiece, Baltimore is filled with everything from 18th century structures to I.M. Pei’s modern masterpieces. My favorite area is the Harbor: home to the incredible Baltimore Aquarium and tons of fun places to grab a meal or a drink by the water. When it’s warm out, you should definitely go for a paddleboat ride for a sea-level experience!
3. Richmond, VA (100 mi, 2 hrs)
Discover history and adventure in nearby Richmond, VA. Here, more than 400 years of American history live on through magnificent architecture, monument-lined cobblestone streets, and world-class museums. Brave the gorgeous yet intense James River: the only urban setting with Class IV rapids. Rafting is just one of many outdoor activities close by. For more urban adventurers, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is constantly expanding its world-class offerings, and more than 900 restaurants make Richmond a foodie paradise.
4. Shenandoah Valley, VA (112 mi, 2.5 hrs)
Blanketed in shades of amber, gold, and green in the fall, Shenandoah is a mandatory road-trip destination for anyone looking for a slice of nature in the tri-state area. The Valley has many areas that are open for camping, as well as plenty of cabins for rent. Plan a visit to one of the pristine limestone caverns for sights that will truly take your breath away. The most famous underground adventures are the Luray Caverns, which also boast a mind-boggling hedge maze right outside the caves!
South Bethany Beach is one of the best-kept secrets along the east coast. The friendly inhabitants of this tucked-away city will be happy to show you its picturesque boardwalk, miles of crystal clear waters along the beaches, great shopping and more. Most of the trendy boutiques and restaurants serving up fresh local seafood can be found along South Garfield Parkway, but there’s plenty to do across town as well.
A word to the wise: If you want to enjoy a relaxing beach vacation free of hordes of local teenagers, then steer clear of these destinations, as well as Ocean City, during the first half of June. When school lets out for the summer, High school students from the surrounding areas overrun the typically peaceful spot during “beach week.”
6. Ocean City, MD (153 mi, 3hrs)
Ocean City is a fun, family-oriented beach destination with an incredible boardwalk, fun nightlife, delicious seafood and more mini-golf courses than you can shake a putter at! My family frequented this beach for years, and I still have not managed to try every mini-golf course (not from lack of trying!). Ocean City can be a good choice for frugal travelers who don’t need to spend extra to stay in more posh communities like Bethany.
7. Philadelphia, PA (142 mi, 3 hrs)
Famous as the birthplace of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, Philadelphia offers much more than just cobblestone streets and historical landmarks. Cultural, culinary, artistic and ethnic treasures abound in this city and its surrounding countryside. What makes Philadelphia so memorable are the unique blend of experiences that you have to discover in person. By day, explore four centuries of history and architecture, beautiful neighborhoods, and remarkable museum collections. After the sun sets, the city heats up with acclaimed performing arts, amazing dining and vibrant nightlife. And don’t forget: it’s worth the trip just for the city’s signature cheese steak!
8. Atlantic City, NJ (197 mi, 3.5hrs)
From New Jersey’s tallest lighthouse to deep-sea fishing, and everything in between, you can always find excitement in Atlantic City. Relax at one of the Atlantic City casino spas, go all in on the excitement of 24/7 gaming, experience the thrill of a full house, feel the sand between your toes or visit one of the many attractions in this historic resort town. Atlantic City also offers an extensive boardwalk, pristine golf courses, and a variety of water sports to enjoy on your road tripping adventure.
9. Pittsburgh, PA (255 mi, 5hrs)
Previously known as a blue-collar city responsible for half of the steel production in the states, Pittsburgh has truly transformed itself into a unique and exciting travel destination. Whether its catching a game of one of the city’s three professional teams or checking out the top notch museums and fine arts centers funded by the legacy of Andrew Carnegie, the city truly exhibits a unique flavor. Pittsburgh has many public green spaces, parks and riverside trails maintained throughout the city’s hilly landscape. From many of these areas, walkers, joggers and bikers are treated to spectacular views of a skyline that’s scene sleek, towering glass and steel architecture is a dramatic departure from the days when the grey cloud of industry loomed over the ‘Burgh.
10. Raleigh, NC (256 mi, 4.5 hrs)
When you’re looking for the excitement and attractions of a great city, combined with the affordability, approachability and appeal of a classic town with authentic southern hospitality, look no further than Raleigh. Best known for its world-class museums, best-of-Broadway shows, Capital area historic sites, professional sporting events and shopping mecca status (nine major retail areas!), Raleigh truly offers a variety of entertainment all in one park-like, scenic setting.