One of the biggest advantages of living in Baltimore is the ease of escape to the region’s smaller towns and rural enclaves. Just a short car ride away and Baltimoreans can explore the historical and natural wonders of western Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and the Eastern Shore. Whether you opt to stay the day or even the weekend, here are the best day trips from Charm City.
St. Michael’s, Maryland
Why go: Explore maritime history
St. Michael’s, known as “The jewel of Maryland’s Eastern Shore”, captivates visitors with its tranquil, sailboat-lined waterfront and historic buildings that come in a variety of architectural styles.
Wander through the town’s two museums, the St. Michael’s Museum which offers walking tours that highlight abolitionist Frederick Douglass’ formative years in the town, while the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum includes a lighthouse and working shipyard in a picturesque waterfront park.
Visitors can learn about the town’s history on the water, by taking a Patriot Cruises’ narrated ride along the Miles River.
After sightseeing, eat and drink your way through the town. Start with a visit to Eastern Shore Brewing to sample the flagship St. Michael’s Ale, or Saint Michael’s Winery, where you can taste the red, white and rosé wines outside.
St. Michael’s is full of charming restaurants that feature Chesapeake Bay seafood, including Bistro St. Michaels and Ruse, which serves a seasonal menu filled with oysters and rockfish. You’ll find Ruse inside the area’s newest inn, the Wildset Hotel, an airy, historic property spread across three buildings on the town’s main street.
How to get to St. Michael’s: The one-and-half-hour trip takes you through I-97 to US 50 all the way to Eastern Shore town.
Why go: Enjoy some quiet time in the outdoors
There’s some debate as to whether Frederick is still considered part of Western Maryland as it now houses so many Washington, DC commuters. But in any case, the town offers a perfect getaway for vacationers looking for a destination that is part country and part city.
Nature lovers will enjoy a stroll along Carroll Creek Park, which spans more than a mile through downtown with bridges and fountains along the way. It’s also a short 20-minute ride to Brunswick, where you can bike or walk along the historic Chesapeake & Ohio Canal.
Urbanites will enjoy the town’s ample supply of vintage shopping and locally owned boutiques, breweries and dining destinations. Plan your trip around one of Chartreuse and Co.’s open weekends to check out artisan-made goods, locally made wine and spirits, and a farmers’ market. While the dining options are endless, a good place to start is Thatcher & Rye, chef Bryan Voltaggio’s casual eatery that replaced his fine-dining venue Volt.
How to get to Frederick: It’s a straight shot on I-70 and takes less than an hour’s drive. Take a Greyhound bus to tour the walkable downtown car-free.
Why go: Dive into American history
Filled with colonial homes adorned with gas lanterns, museums and significant cultural sites, Alexandria draws history and architecture buffs.
George Washington’s Mount Vernon, the first president’s estate, might be the best known, but the town houses several other landmarks, including the Greek Palladian-style Carlyle House mansion and the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum, a former pharmacy whose bottles and herbal remedies remain preserved.
Several guided walking tours offer visitors a chance to dive deep into the area’s history. Named for the papers that gave enslaved individuals their freedom, Manumission Tour Company has three tours that honor the legacy of Alexandria’s Black Americans who fought for freedom.
Alexandria’s lively waterfront area has expanded with new waterfront tours and restaurants. Sail the Tall Ship Providence after dining on thoughtfully prepared tapas served in a waterfront pier with two shipping containers at Barca Pier & Wine Bar.
To satisfy your sweet tooth, order a custard sundae from Gooodie’s Frozen Custard & Treats, located in a retro ice house. Spend the night at one of the boutique hotels, such as the Kimpton Lorien Hotel & Spa, or a historic property like the George of Old Town, decked out in colonial flair.
How to get to Alexandria: Getting to Alexandria takes a little over an hour and the most direct route is to take I-295 most of the way there. Just avoid rush hour. It’s also an easy train ride on the Acela Northeast Regional, which will take an hour if you pick the shortest train ride.
Why go: For the wineries
The centrally located town of Gordonsville in Orange County, Virginia makes a good base to start your weekend journey in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, known for its unparalleled vistas, quaint Main Streets and scenic wineries.
Wander the brick-lined, flower-pot-strewn historic district in Gordonsville filled with antique shops, clothing stores and art galleries.
The town’s newest restaurant, Champion Ice House, serves fried chicken while Well Hung Vineyard offers a tasting room and restaurant in downtown Gordonsville. Unwind at the neighboring Barboursville Vineyards, which serves a rotating list of reds, whites and rosés in an 18th-century country estate with a restaurant and cottages where you can spend the night.
Don’t leave without visiting the Market at Grelen in Somerset, a garden shop, café and pick-your-own farm with picturesque hiking trails.
How to get to Gordonsville: There are a few different ways to get there. The shortest route involves taking I-95 South to I-495 West to I-66 South to US 29 South.
Why go: For the Amish culture
Horse-drawn buggies and white barns dot the Amish countryside surrounding Lancaster. There are Several companies that will take visitors on guided tours to see the rural landscape up close and stop at local country stores where you can pick up homemade whoopie pies and other baked goods.
Tour an 1840s Amish farm with a school, blacksmith shop and smokehouse at the Amish Village.
Operating since 1730, the Lancaster Central Market offers a smorgasbord of culinary offerings, from produce to meat, poultry, sandwiches and ice cream. The area contains several notable restaurants, including Luca, serving Italian wood-fired dishes, and immersive dining experience Amorette.
How to get to Lancaster: Take I-83 to US 30 East, which will take a little over 90 minutes by car. An Amtrak train will take at least three hours with a stop in Philadelphia.
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