The Blog

27 Fantastic Things to Do in Northern Virginia

This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.


You'll experience hipster and history, reds, whites, and, blues in these two Northern Virginia counties that showcase the most tragic, uplifting, and hopeful, aspects of our nation. As always, check out for much more information about each Virginia Destination and others in the Northeast USA.


This territory just west of our Nation's Capital, encompassing the growing-hipper-by-the-day towns of Leesburg and Purcellville, is touted as "DC's Wine Region." But though Loudoun County claims over 40 wineries, breweries and distilleries are also opening at fast pace. Many, not surprisingly, are owned and operated by former government contractors - engineers and scientists who wish to apply their knowledge of physics and chemistry to the spirits world.


1. See the personal side of the man that President Truman considered his "Go-To" guy on a tour of the Marshall House, Leesburg. General George Marshall served as Chief of Staff during WWII, as well as Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense under President Truman, but the world knows him best as the architect of The Marshall Plan - also known as the Post-War European Recovery Program. This yellow farm home in the country was Marshall's "getaway place," and so a tour here will provide a glimpse of a highly regarded military man at ease. The man who played an integral part in Europe's reconstruction loved watching Gunsmoke and I Love Lucy, and ordered seeds from Burpee to plant his beloved vegetable garden.


2. You can't help but think "Downton Abby" as you peruse the tack and clothing displayed in the Museum of Hounds and Hunting in North America - one of three museums within the 1,000 acre Morven Park, Leesburg. The museum is set inside the Davis Mansion, owned by Governor Westmoreland Davis, an avid fox-hunter, in the early 1900's. The third museum, the Viola Winmill Carriage Collection - features a little stagecoach used by Barnum & Bailey star, Tom Thumb, among 40 others. A 45 minute tour of all three museums begins in the Visitor's Center in the basement of the mansion.


3. Sip delicious wines "made from sunshine" at the solar-powered Sunset Hills Winery. Owners Mike Canney - physicist, computer guy, racecar driver - and his wife Diane, hired Amish carpenters to renovate an 1870 bank-barn that was "structurally sound but visually ugly." It now serves as a tasting room for one of the most stunning wineries in Virginia.


4. Try out a slew of spirits at the source in Catoctin Creek Distillery's repurposed 1921 garage (Purcellville). Engineers Becky and Scott Harris now apply their brainpower towards making incredibly good small batch whisky, gin and brandy. The world is slowly taking notice.


5. Don't expect to order the same brew you had last week at Adroit Theory Brewery, Purcellville. Adroit doesn't make standard brews, "we make concept beer," says owner, Mark Osborne, and to that end, each one-keg batch lasts as long as it lasts. "When it sells out, it goes away." So far Osborne and the rest of the Adroit Theory crew have concocted over 400 different beers, averaging about 8 a week. "Maybe you're not supposed to put lemon zest in beer but we like it," Osborne says. "We make a never-ending series of brews. Made one with lavender once. It was not a hit."


6. Aficionados of Avis Renshaw's pies from Mom's Apple Pie (Leesburg, Occoquan), will equally admire her brother's wines at 8 Chains North Winery. A guy who most enjoys "the production end of things," Ben Renshaw makes some of the most lip-smacking red blends around.


7. Walk up the Stairway to Heaven at Ocelot Brewing Company, Dulles. Owner Adrien Widman takes the merging of beer and rock and roll really seriously. Ocelot's logo is a guitar pick, his "Beer Wall" is a replica of Pink Floyd's The Wall album cover, and all brews are named from song lyrics. It's a party as soon as you walk in the door.


8. Watch area farmers bearing fresh-picked produce walk right through the front door of The Wine Kitchen, Leesburg, a small restaurant specializing in Virginia wine and inventive tweaks on Southern cuisine. In a few minutes, said produce will be cleaned, chopped and appear on your plate. Chef Tim Rawley moved to Leesburg to be closer to the vineyards, and this passion for locally sourced wines and ingredients shows. "Eat-Drink-Simply," indeed.


9. Roll your eyes (in a good way) while nibbling on hush-puppy-shaped Chicken Pot Pie Fritters and other treats at Family Meal Restaurant, One Loudoun. Top Chef Brian Voltaggio (of Volt Restaurant fame in Frederick MD) offers up "things you'd see at the family table," modified a bit - OK, a lot - in the new could-be-anywhere mixed-use center called One Loudoun.


10. Join the crowd for "Whiskey Wednesday" at an unlikely place - Monk's BBQ - where, in addition to excellent house-made beer-bbq sauces, pastrami, pulled pork and other smoked meats, you can choose from an extravagant "Whiskey Menu" at the popular bar. It's a dive with true class.


11. Book one of the best muscle-easing massages you'll ever experience at Lansdowne Resort, Leesburg, and then plan to sleep it off in one of the 296 luxuriously renovated rooms there. Ismail, voted "Best Massage Therapist in Loudoun County," works his magic hands and elbows strictly at Spa Minerale at the Lansdowne Resort, which until recently was known only as a Conference and Event Center. Newly added to the group of Destination Hotels, Lansdowne is transforming into a luxury hotel while maintaining a very friendly, personable vibe.


12. Feel transported at Airlie - a farmland-set Conference Center in Warrenton - opened to leisure travelers in 2014. Rolling hills, stone walls, spring buds starting to bloom and undulating backcountry roads: you may find yourself wondering if you've stumbled into some kind of fairyland idyll. Keep going and look for the signs, pull in to the long drive and take some deep breaths. It's truly beautiful here. A neutral location absent of city distractions, where progressive organizations and government big wigs could meet, Airlie was coined "An Island of Thought" when it became a conference center in 1961. Though food was an afterthought during its conference-only years, the Garden Bistro at Airlie serves up some of the finest, freshest, most beautifully plated fare in the Northeast US: an exceptional gastronomic experience. Updated rooms in buildings clustered around the 300 acre property are charming, as are members of the staff who go out of their way to make you feel at home.


Though part of Northern Virginia, Southern USA begins here. You'll feel it right away, especially as you drive Shenandoah County's 30 miles from north to south through Strasburg, Woodstock, Edinburg, New Market - all linked together on US 11 - where you'll still find Confederate flags flying from front porches. In the 1800's, this was the "Breadbasket of the Confederacy," torched by Union General Philip Sheridan during the Civil War. "The Burning Raid" is now (mostly) relegated to the history books, and The Shenandoah Valley is once again verdant and beautiful. Yes, there are plenty of Civil War sites to see, each with a distinctive story, but there are also caverns to explore, Rose Bowl floats to ogle, superb potato chips to munch, and, surprisingly, a growing number of passionate artisans and crafts-people who are more than happy to welcome you into their studio-homes


13. Find impossibly large slices of "Bacon" peppered around the 60ft. deep interior of the Shenandoah Caverns, Quicksburg. Though there are visual delights around every bend of the 17-room cavern; the multi-colored lit Grotto of the Gods, Cathedral Hall (most popular for weddings), Diamond Cascade glittering with calcium crystals,and the "Capital Dome," let's not forget the bacon. In 1964, National Geographic proclaimed Shenandoah Caverns to have some of the most realistic bacon formations on earth.


14. Ogle the 60 ft. long glittery American Flag Float, used at both Ronald Regan's and Barack Obama's Presidential Inaugurations at this Technicolor extravaganza of a museum, American Celebration on Parade, Quicksburg. You'll find this homage to Rose Bowl and Presidential Inauguration floats in a humongous warehouse just down the hill from the Shenandoah Caverns. Opened in 2000, American Celebration showcases over 20 full-sized parade floats created by Hargrove, Inc, a company that originated with a horse-drawn float for Truman's 1949 Inaugural Parade and is still in business.


15. Stand an inch away from a 1739 German Bible saved from fire by the weight and blood of a dead cat, and the got-to-see-it-to-believe-it Golden Age of Rail Model Train diorama (depicting September 21, 1939) designed by John Schreiner at the surprisingly engaging Strasburg Museum, Strasburg. Constructed in great detail the multi-media diorama incorporates the Arthur Godfrey radio broadcast from that day, Gone with the Wind playing at a tiny drive-in-theater, and a cast of thousands of parts.


16. Meet some of the best Virginia artists in their home studios on the O Shenandoah County Artisan Trail. Susie Wilburn, of Laughing Orange Studio, Kary Haun, Potter, Liz Hollingsworth of Earth Spirit Masks, and teacher/painter Clive Turner are just a few passionate and talented artisans you'll find on the 70-artist-strong Artisan Trail.


17. Get a "Llama Kiss" from Easter Bunny and give Butterscotch Mink a deeply desired back massage at Posey Thisisit Llama Farm, Toms Brook. Joyce Hall (nicknamed "Posey") keeps 31 llamas on this farm open to the public; among them the attention-seeking "Mocha Man" who greets you coming up the drive.


18. Watch 100 pounds of potatoes sliced in 42 seconds, then fried in 300 degree sunflower oil, at Route 11 Potato Chip factory. Chips are inspected and "bad ones" - with holes, green etc. - are pulled out and fed to local cattle. Lucky cows.


19. Gape at well-preserved Civil War era doodles on the walls of the Woodstock Courthouse and Visitors Center, Woodstock. The current building has stood here since 1795, and was a prison for both Union and Confederate soldiers whose graffiti you can still see on the walls.


20. Stop into the Battle of Cedar Creek National Park Contact Visitor's Center, located in a strip shopping center in Middletown, to learn about this confounding Civil War battle played out on one day over 3,700 acres. A Confederate victory at dawn and a Union victory by early evening, October 19, 1864 was one hell of a whirlwind day. At the crack of dawn that day, the greatly outnumbered band of Confederate troops traveled by night and stealthy snuck around the unaware Union camp, surrounding and pushing them north to Middletown by early morning. Union General, Philip Sheridan heard cannon fire as he rode south from Winchester, and quickened his pace to rally his own troops (later commemorated as "Sheridan's Ride") who rose to the occasion with a Union victory by 5pm.


21. Learn the history of "The Burning of the Shenandoah Valley" at Hupp's Hill, Battle of Cedar Creek Museum, Strasburg. Union General Philip Sheridan ordered the destruction of every farm and mill in the region to starve Confederate troops. Once the breadbasket of the South, the Shenandoah Valley was so decimated, it was said, "a crow flying over would have to carry its own knapsack."


22. Tour the distinctive 1797 limestone Belle Grove Plantation home, built with stone quarried from a still-operating open pit mine down the road. You can see indentations from Civil War bullets on one of the exterior columns and cannonball holes on the limestone façade, and imagine the poignant death of Civil War General Stephen Ramseur, who was injured in the Battle of Cedar Creek across the street and died in one of the children's rooms surrounded by two of his West Point besties; General George Custer, and Captain Henry A. DuPont.


23. Find the charred wooden beams at the Shenandoah Valley Cultural Heritage Museum @ Edinburg Mill, situated in one of the few mills to survive "The Burning." Check it out for a hodgepodge of local artifacts, a grain storage wall bowed and warped from the pressure of the grain, and to see the 40-minute film about Sheridan's burning of Shenandoah Valley during the Civil War.


24. Gawk at the gorgeous stained glass wall, created by Israeli artist Ami Shamir, commemorating young lives lost during the Civil War at the Virginia Museum of the Civil War, New Market Battlefield. Every Civil War battlefield has its own dramatic story. This one involves kids. The Battle of New Market was the first time in history that 257 cadets, ages 15-21 from Virginia Military Institute, were called up as Confederate reinforcements in the face of the encroaching Union Army. They marched 85 miles in five days, and fought on an open field so muddy from rain, it sucked the shoes right off their feet (subsequently called "The Field of Lost Shoes").


25. Enjoy what might be the best house-made Sweet Italian sausage you've ever had, washed down with fresh-made brews, at the very unassuming Swover Creek Farms. In business over 100 years, this "Century Farm" grows its own hops and utilizes homegrown ingredients in the making of its Dirty Blonde, Red Clay and other small-batch brews.


26. Belly up to the curved poured concrete bar, or sit on a green stool from Fenway's Green Monster or other rescued stadium seats from around the country, at Woodstock Brewhouse, in the repurposed Casey Jones Work-Clothes factory (which manufactured Wrangler jeans). Eight local friends - all with other careers - got together to open this brewhouse in 2015 because "there was no place like this to go. So we created it." Pub-grub, like Flatbread pizzas ($5-$9) hits the spot, washed down with Brite Blonde, Tipsy Squirrel (nut brown ale), 7-Bender (referencing the Shenandoah River), Crow's Provender IPA and other fresh brews.


27. Virginia Heritage visitors often book rooms at the beautiful Victorian A.C. Stickley B&B in Strasburg for historic photographs and artifacts in every room. Everyone else comes (and returns) for owner Donna's hospitality, stupendous three course gourmet breakfasts, wine upon arrival and, yes, unlimited bags of Route 11 Potato Chips.

Before You Go

Popular in the Community