1. BEST URBAN GETAWAY
Jane Ockershausen, whose latest guidebook is "One-Day Trips Through History" (EPM Publications, 2000): "I would say both Baltimore and Philadelphia are wonderful urban escapes. Philadelphia is changing as we speak. If you haven't been there in five years, go back, because it's changed."
John Fitzpatrick, co-author of "Quick Escapes: Washington, D.C." (Globe Pequot Press, 2005), says: "It would be a tossup between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Philadelphia is more sophisticated; the restaurants are really good and it's easy to get to. I could go there four or five times a year." As for Pittsburgh, he says: "Some people find it confusing to navigate, but being from Washington, I don't. Plus, there are lots of things for kids to do."
Jim Hargan -- author of "An Explorer's Guide: The Shenandoah Valley & Mountains of the Virginias" (Countryman Press, 2005) -- recommends Charlottesville for its restaurants, museums and beautiful scenery.
2. BEST WATERY VACATION
Cunningham Falls State Park, near Thurmont, Md., is Fitzpatrick's choice. "It's just a quiet little lake, but it's far enough out of town" to feel like a vacation. "Plus there are plenty of other things to do there, both there and at Catoctin [Mountain Park]." Hargan: "It's hard to beat the New River Gorge area of West Virginia, with white-water rafting, family floats and kayaking on the New River. Nearby, if you want the real rough stuff, there's the Gauley River." To the north of New River Gorge is Summersville Lake, another favorite. Assateague Island is Ockershausen's pick: "That's so wonderfully deserted -- then there's Ocean City, with the boardwalk. So you've got the wonderful splendor of Assateague, then you've got the boardwalk honky-tonks nearby."
3. FUN FOR KIDS AND GROWN-UPS
"Growing up, I always liked Shenandoah National Park," Hargan says. "There were rock-climbing trips that the rangers led, and you could go to Big Meadows and see deer. In terms of museum areas, I think living history museums are a good approach for kids," such as the Frontier Culture Museum in Staunton, Va. Ockershausen recommends "anyplace where the child can actually do something and be part of the experience, like riding in a canal boat." Another close-to-home option is the National Capital Trolley Museum (in Colesville, Md.), "a great thing for grandparents to do with the kids, because the grandparents may remember riding trolleys when they were kids," she says.
4. ROMANTIC GETAWAY
"My wife [co-author Holly J. Burkhalter] and I both love Cape May [N.J.] and the Brandywine River Valley," Fitzpatrick says. "Those are places we haven't taken the kids." Hargan says a romantic place should be somewhere "way away from everything, as remote as you can get. It's really hard to beat Hidden Valley [near Warm Springs, Va.] for that. It's a box valley deep in the George Washington National Forest, with the Jackson River running through it." Ockershausen agrees. "Philadelphia and the Brandywine Valley -- with Longwood Gardens, Winterthur (with its folk art collection) and Nemours, Hagley and other duPont family homes -- would be a wonderful place for a romantic getaway." On the other hand, "I always think you make your romance wherever you are."
5. BEST TRIPS FOR
For biking, Fitzpatrick recommends Maryland's Eastern Shore -- "it's level" -- especially one 20-mile trip from St. Michaels to Bellevue. He also likes biking around Williamsburg and Jamestown Island. Hang gliders will love the sand dunes in Kill Devil Hills, N.C., says Ockershausen, while white-water rafters will find plenty of fun in West Virginia or on the Youghiogheny River in Maryland. Hargan says, "In Lexington [Va.], there's canoeing and kayaking, and you can bike off-road anywhere in the national forest. To the east, there's some of the most beautiful wilderness around." In Mount Rogers [National Recreation Area, in southwestern Virginia], there is hiking and horseback riding, "and the tour biking is unsurpassed along New River Trail." For a history, art and exercise combo, Hargan suggests visiting the O. Winston Link Museum in Roanoke, where you can see the 20th-century photographer's photos of steam engines, then bike the trail that follows the Virginia Creeper train's old tracks.
6. BEST MOUNTAIN RETREAT
For Hargan, it's Canaan Valley in northeastern West Virginia. "I just love that place -- it's so strange and remote," he says. "Maybe our favorite hike of all time is at Pipestem, which is called the 'pearl of the state park system,' " Fitzpatrick says. "The trail crisscrosses through the ravine and up the hill, and then you can take the ski lift up the last part of it." For Ockershausen, "The Poconos are probably some of the most interesting mountains nearby."
7. HEAVEN FOR HISTORIANS
Richmond -- sacked in the Revolutionary War, Confederate capital during the Civil War, home of "the other White House" -- is Ockershausen's pick. She's also a fan of Williamsburg, Yorktown and Jamestown, "probably one of the richest historical triangles" in American history. Hargan likes Harpers Ferry, W.Va., because there are three national parks within 12 miles (Harpers Ferry, Antietam National Battlefield and the C&O Canal), giving visitors "the history of the South through the Civil War." Fitzpatrick suggests Williamsburg, and adds, "Richmond, too, is great, especially since they finished the new canal walk and the Civil War welcome center."
8. SMALL-TOWN CHARMERS
Fitzpatrick recommends Ligonier, Pa., in the Laurel Highlands, about 30 miles north of Fallingwater, the Frank Lloyd Wright house. "It's a historic area, too, the site of skirmishes that led to the French and Indian War." Ockershausen also raves about a Pennsylvania locale: Jim Thorpe, once a Poconos mining town and now a popular tourist destination.
9. FABULOUS FOOD FINDS
Hargan likes the Blue White Grill in Martinsburg, W.Va. The first time he stopped there, he almost didn't go in: "There were some disreputable people hanging out in front, pretending they were waiting for a bus, and it was hot as blazes out." Once inside, he found that the food was made from fresh ingredients, and they let him sit at a booth with his Sunday paper "and didn't try to move me along." Again it's Philadelphia for Fitzpatrick, who adds that there are good restaurants, but there's also "cultural entertainment: music, opera, dance, all our favorite nighttime adult things to do." And Ockershausen says, "I think Baltimore -- with the wonderful ethnic neighborhoods, Fells Point, Inner Harbor, Little Italy -- has fabulous restaurants. So does Philadelphia, with a lot of five-star restaurants. You can even go to the City Tavern and dine where George Washington did."
10. HIDDEN GEMS
Don't overlook the Laurel Highlands, Fitzpatrick says. "Anyplace from Ohiopyle State Park north to Ligonier . . . I'm always surprised there are so few people in that area. I guess it's because everyone has something closer." And though she recently moved to Pittsburgh, Ockershausen says that when she lived in Washington, "I was always particularly fond of Prince William Forest Park. You could hike all day without seeing anybody. It was one of my favorite parks to get away, and it has really well-developed trails." And Hargan picks the rugged area of the upper Blue Ridge Mountains of Nelson and Amherst counties, near the town of Montebello. "The scenery is just stunningly good, with great fishing" -- plus, it's close to Virginia's wine country. 'Nuf said.
-- Christina Talcott