21 Regional Destinations: Haunting History, a Diner Dash and More

Sunday, February 1, 2009

On the Escapes page in each Wednesday's Style section and in The Long Weekend, usually the back page of the Sunday Travel section, we offer ideas for nearby places to unwind or, for the more energetic among us, to discover and explore. We try to keep these spots less than four hours by car (Long Weekends can be a little farther away, and sometimes a two-hour flight from Washington). Here are 21 of our favorite regional destinations from last year. You can see on the map where they are.

For more options, go to http://www.washingtonpost.com/escapes for an index of regional getaways. Also, check with the tourism sites for Maryland (http://www.mdisfun.org), Virginia (http://www.virginia.org), West Virginia (http://www.wvtourism.com), Delaware (http://www.visitdelaware.com), New Jersey (http://www.nj.gov/travel), New York (http://www.iloveny.com and http://www.nycgo.com) and Pennsylvania (http://www.visitpa.com).

1 Dig the dirt. There are real sapphires and rubies in the mud and rocks of southwest North Carolina, some even worth polishing. Info: 828-369-9742, http://www.masonsrubyandsapphiremine.com; 888-817-5829, http://www.gemmountain.com.

2 Follow the money. In the late 1800s, tiny Bramwell, W.Va., had more than a dozen millionaires. What's left are grand Victorian houses and a charming town in coal country. You can visit anytime, but the spring house tour is May 9. Info: 304-248-8381, http://www.bramwellwv.com/townevents.html.

3 Go crazy. The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in Weston, W.Va., saw its last patient in 1994 and is now awaiting your visit. Open March 28-Nov. 1. Info: 304-269-5070, http://www.trans-alleghenylunaticasylum.com.

4. Listen to the universe. The National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, W.Va., listens for sounds from outer space in the National Radio Quiet Zone. Ssh! So can you. Info: 304-456-2150, http://www.gb.nrao.edu.

5 Go old school. Ligonier, Pa., boasts bluebloods and an Anglo-centric view of history, plus terrific shops and antiques shows. Info: Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau, 800-333-5661, http://www.laurelhighlands.org.

6 Look for Mr. Wright. The Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania are home to three Frank Lloyd Wright houses. Info: Fallingwater, 724-329-8501, http://www.fallingwater.org; Duncan House, 877-833-7829, http://www.polymathpark.com; and Kentuck Knob, 724-329-1901, http://www.kentuckknob.com.

7 Salute Civil War valor. Visit the New Market, Va., battlefield and its Hall of Valor, which marks the bravery of Virginia Military Institute's teenage cadets who were sent into battle. Info: 540-740-3101, http://www4.vmi.edu/museum/nm.

8 Hit the high C. Charlottesville has it all: Monticello, of course (434-984-9822, http://www.monticello.org), a lively downtown mall, the luxury of the Keswick Hall resort hotel (800-274-5391, http://www.keswick.com) and a lively new beer trail (Starr Hill Brewery, 434-823-5671, http://www.starrhill.com; Blue Mountain Brewery, 540-456-8020, http://www.bluemountainbrewery.com; and Devils Backbone Brewing Co., 434-361-1001, http://www.dbbrewingcompany.com).

9 Celebrate Poe's 200th. Richmond's Edgar Allan Poe Museum lays claim to his childhood and his finest manuscripts. Info: 804-648-5523, http://www.poemuseum.org and http://www.poe200th.com.

10 Take a short walk on a long pier. The 1,000-plus-foot-long Virginia Beach Fishing Pier offers the ultimate in languid saltwater fishing. Open April-October. Info: 757-428-2333, http://www.daybreakfishing.com.

11 Add some old bay seasoning. Tangier Island, Va., in Chesapeake Bay is secluded in summer; it's downright remote in the off-season. Info: http://www.gotangierisland.com and http://www.tangierisland-va.com.

12 Go shopping at the source. Maryland's Amish community sells produce at the seasonal North St. Mary's County Farmers Market in Charlotte Hall, but the farms off Thompson Corner Road (Route 236) sell eggs, fowl and rabbit meat year-round. Info: http://www.stmarysmd.com/tourism.

13 Seek refuge. Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge near Rock Hall, Md., on the Eastern Shore, is for the birds -- and for those who like to watch them. Info: 410-639-7056, http://easternneck.fws.gov.

14 Ride the waves. Well, wait for warmer weather, then head for Ultimate Watersports in Maryland's Gunpowder Falls State Park. Info: 410-335-5352, http://www.ultimatewatersports.com.

15. Go hog wild. Free hour-long tours of Harley-Davidson's York, Pa., manufacturing plant are offered Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-2 p.m. (also Saturdays in summer). Info: 877-883-1450, http://www.harley-davidson.com/experience.

16. Tap your inner child. Philadelphia's Please Touch Museum, in a grand new space, appeals to toddlers and teens, and to the rest of us. Info: 215-581-3181, http://www.pleasetouchmuseum.org.

17. Weird out in South Joisey. New Jersey's funky old Route 40, near Atlantic City, offers the Cowtown Rodeo (Memorial Day weekend through September), the Padro Pio roadside shrine and that pre-Disney World wonder, Storybook Land (open April through December). What's not to like? Info: 856-769-3200, http://www.cowtownrodeo.com; http://www.padrepioshrine.org; and 609-641-7847, http://www.storybookland.com.

18. Eat at Joe's (or Mastoris). If New Jersey is the diner capital of the world, and it is, Route 130 in central Jersey is the diner capital of the diner capital. Eat hearty! Info: "Jersey Diners" by Peter Genovese (Rutgers University Press/Rivergate Books) and http://www.state.nj.us/travel.

19. Follow Einstein's lead. He biked around Princeton, N.J., and so can you, covering 250 years' worth of perfectly flat history, er, terrain. Info: Princeton Bike Tours, 609-902-3637, http://www.princetonbiketours.com; Historical Society of Princeton, 609-921-6748, http://www.princetonhistory.org.

20. Get ahead of the art curve. In Brooklyn, N.Y., the Bushwick neighborhood's galleries and studios are sprouting in former bodegas and garages. Info: http://www.artsinbushwick.org.

21. Feather your nest. Hudson, N.Y., has about 60 dealers of antiques and vintage furnishings ready to tempt. Info: Hudson Antique Dealers Association, 518-828-1999, http://www.hudsonantiques.net.

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