As much as I love the city, sometimes I need a change of scenery. I'll often take a couple day trips a month out to nearby towns just to see what they have to offer - here are some of my favorite places to go when I get out of town for a day.
Annapolis and Baltimore
Annapolis and Baltimore are the obvious ones and two of the best. Go for the Annapolis Boat Show in the spring or fall and have yourself a couple Pusser's Painkillers. There's really great shopping in Annapolis, too, if you miss the boat shows. Skip the restaurants lining Ego Alley (the main waterfront area), though- they are all about the views and have subpar food. In Baltimore, hit the Baltimore Aquarium (it really is worth the exhorbitant ticket prices!) and check out Fort McHenry, which is a short drive from the waterfront- it's where the Star-Spangled Banner was flown. Baltimore also has a wonderful B&O Railroad museum with a lot to see. You can actually board a ton of old, restored train cars, which is really cool. There is a short train ride at the museum, too, that will show you a different face of Baltimore than you see at the waterfront. If you have any interest in model trains this museum should be a priority for you- some of the best I've seen.
If you've done Annapolis and Baltimore, hop on out to the Eastern Shore of MD on a nice day, and enjoy the scenic drives. The scary drive over the Bay Bridge is worth it, I promise! The towns of St. Michael's, Easton, and Oxford are well-spaced and small enough that you can exhaust their antique shops and boutiques in one day if you get an early start. Get coffee at the Red Hen in Easton and eat dinner at The Narrows restaurant in Kent Narrows on your way home- you'll love the views. Really any of the restaurants on Kent Narrows have killer views. If you like St. Michaels, go back and spend a day at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum- it is seriously fantastic. You can shell out a little cash and be a 'shipbuilder for a day' here, if you're into that. And I am. Don't forget to tour the lighthouse.
Fredericksburg, VA is great for a change of pace- if you like Civil War battlefields and browsing antique shops with real civil war artifacts then this is your scene. If you go around Christmas, see if you can do the candlelight tour of the Mary Washington house- it's short but enchanting. The town is small and cute just to walk around- great architecture here. Do yourself a favor and get dinner and a beer at the Capitol Ale House.
Old Town Alexandria
I suppose I can count Old Town Alexandria as a day trip even though it's so close and metro accessible- I am surprised to frequently find people who live in DC but have never been out there! The waterfront is great, and you can look at all the art in the restored Torpedo Factory. The Irish pubs should not be missed- O'Connell's is great, and I like Tiffany's a lot, too. Great shops and you'd have a hard time finding a bad restaurant around here. Walk, bike, or drive down to Jones Point and see the little lighthouse. You can climb on the rocks along the water, which is fun. Walk by the 'Spite House', too, it's a super skinny house someone built out of spite to keep people out of his alley- it's still a fully-functioning tiny house, though!
Middleburg, VA is another very small but very cute town. It's different from a lot of the places people day trip to around here because it's equestrian-focused rather than nautical. The draw here is the boutiques and the wineries surrounding the town. Drive around here and you will see beautiful horses, gorgeous views of the mountains and lots and lots of wineries. I recommend paying a visit to Chrysalis Winery- their wine is really good, they have lots of varieties, and they are beautifully situated with panoramic mountain views. You can buy eggs at their little gift shop that are the freshest you'll ever eat. Best of all, they have grills and a picnic area you can use for free if you visit- bring a cooler with some sausages and grill them up while drinking the wine you just bought.
Frederick, MD is a great town. It's a little bigger, with a lot of shops and restaurants. This is one of my favorite places to shop. I've been meaning to make it to the Flying Dog brewery for ages but they don't have Sunday hours and that's when I usually make it here. But I've heard it's a great tour, and it's definitely on my list. The Civil War Medicine Museum is fascinating, too, if you don't mind a little gore. It only takes an hour or two to go through but you will learn a lot.
Ellicott City, MD is a surprisingly great place. While small, it is kind of packed with things to do. The counterpart to the Baltimore B&O Railroad Museum is here, and it does not disappoint. If you're lucky a train will roll by the town while you're here and you can stand in the old train station and watch it. The old firehouse is worth checking out, too- they'll have an old-timer staffing it who can tell you a lot. Great stores and antique shops here, too. Walk up a little ways from the shops and you'll come upon the old log cabin. Go on in if it's open- it's neat to stand inside a restored log cabin and the ladies staffing it will tell you cool stories about all the things it's served as. It was even an African-American church at one point (once you see how small it is you will be amazed at that!).
Harpers Ferry, WV is great for obvious reasons. It's a nice, pretty place to visit in the winter, too. They have a Christmas Festival, and the whole town decorates itself in advance. It's very idyllic. Check out the park and the historical stuff but also just hike around the neighborhood a little bit. I love the old houses. There's a restaurant in an old train car, too, which is kind of neat. Walk across the bridge- great views.
I have had a wonderful time exploring the regions surrounding DC. I think one of the most wonderful things about this city is that it is surrounded by so many unique and interesting towns just a stone's throw away. For those of you who, like me, need to get some country (or just suburban!) air in your lungs every once in a while, but still love the vibrancy of the city, it's a great place to live.