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Point the Car in a New Direction

Sunday, May 28, 2006

For many one-tank trips, you can set your car on autopilot and end up at such no-brainer destinations as Charlottesville, Hershey, Pa., and Baltimore. But why do that when this region offers so much more?

In addition to the destinations featured, here are 10 other less-frequented vacation spots. All are less than a 300-mile round trip, which means that -- with a little luck -- you won't have to fill 'er up until you're back inside the Beltway. (To determine the distances, we used The Washington Post's address on 15th Street NW as our starting point and plugged the coordinates into AAA's online mileage calculator at http://www.aaamaps.com.)

-- Andrea Sachs

Virginia

WHERE: Colonial Beach

MILES FROM D.C.: 63.8

WHY GO: For nearly a century, Colonial Beach was like the DMZ of the Oyster Wars, as local dredgers and tongers skirmished over ocean turf and fishing practices. Things have since calmed, and the town has shifted from battleground to "Playground of the Potomac." With two bodies of water to choose from (the river and Monroe Bay), there's no escaping the call of the sea: You can go crabbing, boating, beaching and boardwalking. For nearby side trips, the other Washington monument (off Highway 3) recognizes the president's birthplace with a memorial mansion, gardens and tombs of three generations of Georges. There's also a bald eagle sanctuary and a farm where you can pick every color of berry.

INFO: Colonial Beach Chamber of Commerce, 804-224-8145, http://www.colonialbeach.org/ .

Where: Orange County

MILES FROM D.C.: 86.4

WHY GO: Despite its fruity name, Orange County has little to do with citrus -- if you don't count the breakfasts at the Not the Same Old Grind coffeehouse. Its moniker comes from William IV, prince of Orange, but the 18th-century town is more American than English: Robert E. Lee prayed here, James and Dolley Madison's belongings are stashed here, and the Constitution Route runs through here. In the surrounding area, you can visit Civil War attractions, such as the grave site of Gen. Stonewall Jackson's arm, as well as James Madison's Montpelier estate. For recess, there's rafting and tubing on the Rapidan River; floating and fishing in Lake Orange; and free-fall sky diving near the Blue Ridge. And while you won't find orange trees, the county is the state's largest grape producer, and has the wineries to prove it.

INFO: Orange County Department of Tourism and Visitors Bureau, 877-222-8072, http://www.orangecova.com/ .

Maryland

WHERE: Aberdeen

MILES FROM D.C.: 68.8

WHY GO: Let Baltimore have the Orioles; Aberdeen is all about the IronBirds -- and one of the O's finest. Baseball fans can watch the Cal Ripken-owned minor league team play in the Ripken-named stadium or tour the small Ripken-centric exhibit on the club level (a stand-in for the temporarily closed Ripken Museum). At the nearby U.S. Army Ordnance Museum, view a veritable arsenal of artillery, tanks and other equipment used in battles dating from World War I. For out-of-Aberdeen attractions, tool around Harford County, whose Upper Chesapeake towns feature a covered bridge (Jerusalem Mill and Village), skipjacks (Havre de Grace) and butterflies (Bel Air).

INFO: Harford County Office of Tourism, 800-597-2649, http://www.harfordmd.com/ .

WHERE: Frederick

MILES FROM D.C.: 47.7

WHY GO: Frederick brought together Ben Franklin and George Washington -- and the town is still playing matchmaker. Among its pairings: bridge murals and baseball, a Civil War medicine museum and a mass grave for Confederate soldiers, gallery walks and Civil War trails, and antiques and apple butter. The town's biggest boast is its 50-block historic district, crammed with shops, museums, restaurants, and 18th- and 19th-century architecture. Additionally, state parks in the surrounding area, such as Gathland, let visitors walk all over history.

INFO: Tourism Council of Frederick County, 800-999-3613, http://www.fredericktourism.org/ .

Delaware

WHERE: Dover

MILES FROM D.C.: 95.9

WHY GO: At the Dover International Speedway, watch other people burn up fuel at demon speeds or waste someone else's gas at the Monster Racing Excitement, which puts heavy pedalers behind the wheel of a racecar. Try your luck at the Dover Downs Slots and Simulcast. For something a little slower (and smarter), go museum hopping; choose from a handful of institutions, such as the Biggs Museum of American Art, the Air Mobility Command Museum on Dover Air Force Base and the Johnson Victrola Museum. You can also pay homage to the state capital on a tour of the State House or Woodburn, the governor's mansion. But the best way to say "I Heart Dover" is by shopping; you just can't beat the First State's tax-free goods.

INFO: Kent County and Greater Dover Convention and Visitors Bureau, 800-233-5368, http://www.visitdover.com/ .

WHERE: Cape Henlopen

MILES FROM D.C.: 116.3

WHY GO: At Cape Henlopen in Lewes, the more than 6,000-acre state park covers the full eco-spectrum. For example, its ocean and Delaware Bay shores attract beach-towel toters, while hikers hit the Dunes Overlook Trail, which ribbons through pine forests, bogs and marshes and leads to the "walking dunes." (Don't worry: The 80-foot-high Great Dune is not on the move.) World War II buffs can tour the Fort Miles Historical Area, and wildlife watchers get an eyeful at Gordon's Pond Wildlife Area. The park also has an 18-hole disc (aka Frisbee) golf course and a basketball court, and hosts nature programs such as kayak tours.

INFO: Cape Henlopen State Park, 302-645-8983, http://www.destateparks.com/chsp/chsp.htm .

West Virginia

WHERE: Shepherdstown

MILES FROM D.C.: 79

WHY GO: Shepherdstown may be the state's oldest town, but it's far from stodgy, thanks to Shepherd University and its college staples of beer, live entertainment and fiddles. For example, Rumsey Tavern has brews, karaoke and bands on tap; Shaharazade's offers exotic teas and Middle Eastern performances; and the Shepherdstown Music and Dance holds contra dances and concerts. Of course, you can't ignore the town's age, or quirkiness: There's Civil War history (and ghosts) at the Historic Shepherdstown and Museum at the Entler Museum; a Southern manse called Popodicon; and the Little House, a "supersized" dollhouse. For side excursions, hike around the 104-acre Yankauer Nature Preserve or connect the 18th-century towns along the Washington Heritage Trail, which you can walk part of or drive -- depending on your gas gauge.

INFO: Shepherdstown Visitors Center, 304-876-2786, http://www.shepherdstownvisitorscenter.com/ .

Pennsylvania

WHERE: Mercersburg

MILES FROM D.C.: 98.2

WHY GO: For Civil War buffs, Mercersburg has a packed map of military sites, as well as James Buchanan attractions, including the 15th president's log cabin and the balcony where he speechified. If 18th-century smokehouses aren't your thing, watch the toy trains go 'round and 'round at the James McFadden Model Railroad Museum or catch a variety show at the Pennsylvania Opry. And when you crave nature, head over to Whitetail Mountain resorts for fly-fishing and golf.

INFO: Mercersburg Area Chamber of Commerce, 717-328-5827, http://www.mercersburg.org/ .

WHERE: Strasburg

MILES FROM D.C.: 110.9

WHY GO: Will the real Lancaster County please stand up? Billing itself as authentic Pennsylvania Dutch land, Strasburg can back up its claim: The town is surrounded by Amish farms, produce stands and village greens, and popular transportation includes horse-drawn buggies and steam trains. More quaintness ensues in the historic downtown, where you can find shops selling antiques, birdhouses and granny pendants, a restaurant with a bird theme (the decor, not the menu) and an espresso bar. When the countryside goes dark, take a candlelight tour of haunted homes and cemeteries. And while a facial is very un-Lancaster-like, we won't tell if you sneak in a treatment or two at the Netherlands Inn and Spa.

INFO: Strasburg Group, 866-787-7274, http://www.strasburgpa.com/ .

New Jersey

WHERE: Camden

MILES FROM D.C.: 138.5

WHY GO: The Battleship New Jersey (866-877-6262, http://www.battleshipnewjersey.org/ ) throws slumber parties for families and groups who want to sleep and eat like real sailors. By day, the enormous gray vessel is a museum docked on the Camden waterfront, but once the sun sets, it becomes a floating hotel, where guests tuck into bunks and line up for grub in the Crew's Mess. The $49.50 per person rate includes breakfast, dinner, ship tour and 4-D flight simulator ride; the overnights are offered nearly every weekend. The area, which is on the upswing, also features such diversions as an aquarium where you can swim with sharks, a children's garden and River Sharks baseball games. To visit Camden's neighbor, hop the RiverLink Ferry to Philadelphia. Just be sure to make it back for a concert at the Tweeter Center -- what could be more classic Jersey than Springsteen? (If you miss the Boss, catch a free show at Wiggins Park.)

INFO: Camden County, 856-225-5431, http://www.camdencounty.com/ .

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