Best of 2012: Worth the Drive

October 18, 2012

Road Trip: Shenandoah National Park

Pure driving pleasure awaits those who fight their way beyond 495 and onto Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park. The 105-mile drive through the Blue Ridge Mountains takes about three hours at the 35-mile-per-hour speed limit. What’s your hurry, anyway? The park offers gorgeous views, plus camping and hiking. If you plan to conquer the popular Old Rag Mountain, bring good gear and read up on the route — it’s the park’s most dangerous hike.

1st: Shenandoah National Park: See nps.gov/shen for park entrances.
2nd: Philadelphia
3rd: Charlottesville, Va.

Baltimore Attraction: National Aquarium

Those who fork over $21 to $30 per ticket are rewarded with a three-hour tour of exhibits such as Jellies Invasion (yikes!), Dolphin Discovery (aww!) and Animal Planet Australia (g’day!). The biggest draw, of course, is Shark Alley, a 225,000-gallon, ring-shaped tank offering 360-degree views of America’s favorite aquatic predator, plus some stingrays.

1st: National Aquarium: 501 East Pratt St., Baltimore; 410-576-3800.
2nd: Baltimore Inner Harbor: East Pratt and Light streets, Baltimore.
3rd: Oriole Park at Camden Yards: 333 West Camden St., Baltimore; 410-685-9822.

Vineyard: Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard

This Maryland winery’s pinot grigio and cabernet sauvignon were the first East Coast wines to be served at the Kennedy Center, says owner Jim McKenna. “We take wine seriously, but not ourselves,” he says. “We’re not wine snobs.” House winemaker Benoit Pineau is a third-generation pro: His father is a winemaker in Tours, France, and his grandfather made vino near the Bordeaux region. Sugarloaf prides itself on keeping prices reasonable; McKenna recommends the sweet white “Stomp” ($14.95) or “EVOE!,” a clove-and-fig-scented red ($38.95) as takeaways.

1st: Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard: 18125 Comus Road, Dickerson, Md.; 301-605-0130.
2nd: Barboursville Vineyard: 17655 Winery Road, Barboursville, Va.; 540-832-3824.
3rd: Bluemont Vineyard: 18755 Foggy Bottom Road, Bluemont, Va.; 540-554-8439.

Beach: Outer Banks, N.C.

The beaches of the OBX are wild, clean and relatively unpopulated (compared to Ocean City, Md., at least). The five-hour drive is more than worth it to experience the ocean and rolling dunes in their natural state, with nary a boardwalk or daily beach pass in sight. The off-season, while chilly, is one of the most romantic and quiet times to grab a bunch of blankets and make the trip south.

1st: Outer Banks, N.C.
2nd: Rehoboth Beach: Rehoboth, Del.
3rd: Ocean City, Md.

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Team Express · October 18, 2012