Whether you’re looking forward to a well-earned staycation or just need to get away from the same four walls for an afternoon, we’ve compiled a list of some favorite socially distanced summer itineraries. These work for families or quarantining friends and couples alike, and can serve as inspiration for full day trips or suggestions for a random Wednesday. (Some destinations fill up at prime weekend hours, so you may enjoy the experience more if you can visit during the week.)
No matter where or when you go, masks and social distancing remain imperative. Lightweight masks are as essential as sunscreen and bottled water if you’re going to a beach or another area where you’ll find yourself in the sun for an extended period of time. Remember, there are still two more months of summer to enjoy.
Bear Chase Brewing
We’ve all been to wineries where the views and the group-friendly setting are just as important (or much better) than what’s in the glass. Yet many of Northern Virginia’s best craft beers are made in not-so-scenic industrial parks. But that’s beginning to change. The two-year-old Bear Chase Brewing, in Bluemont, offers the mountaintop experience of a winery, with a terraced lawn and tasting room deck overlooking a million-dollar view of Loudoun Valley.
Bear Chase began as a spacious bed-and-breakfast with an indoor pool and outdoor entertaining areas, but it’s become much more, thanks to a small brewery. Last fall, Bear Chase’s Oktoberfest was named the best German-style Marzen in America after a blind tasting at the Great American Beer Festival, and the only place you can taste Bear Chase’s beers, or buy cans to go, is on the mountain. It’s early for this year’s Oktoberfest, but on a recent visit, selections included a refreshing Helles lager, the juicy and hoppy Mornin’ Sunshine IPA and the easy-drinking Mr. Blonde blond ale, which would be a good choice for a pitcher on a hot day.
On a weekend afternoon, the gravel parking lot was full of SUVs, customers were lining up at the food trucks out front, and birthdays were happening in the lodge, but the draw is the amphitheater-shaped lawn, which is dotted with adirondack chairs, tables and firepits, all facing a scenic vista that stretches for miles. Find the right group of socially distanced seats, close to one of the satellite bars, with room for kids to play or for a dog to stretch out, and this is a brewery that can give Northern Virginia’s destination wineries a run for their money. 33665 Bear Chase Lane, Bluemont. bearchasebrew.com. Open daily.
If you make a day of it …
Fields of Flowers
Fields of Flowers is the antidote to quarantine: The name promises festively colored blooms and time spent in the fresh air. Rows of pick-your-own flowers encourage brightening up a home you’ve become tired of looking at, and arranging black-eyed Susans, snapdragons, marigolds and red fox veronica in various sizes of cups provides a creative outlet — and a way to earn Insta-likes for something other than sourdough.
It’s easier to spend much longer than planned at the Purcellville farm perusing the lush flower beds to find the right mix of plants, which are sold by size in $10 or $15 bouquets, or a splurge-worthy $30 pail. Everything about the place charms, from the sterilized snippers at the entrance to the payments, which are made on the honor system. (Bring cash, but you can also mail a check if you need to.) 37879 Allder School Rd., Purcellville. loudounfieldsofflowers.com. Open daily.
Potomac Vegetable Farms stand
Potomac Vegetable Farms has been a family-run fixture in Virginia for a half-century, with eggs and produce sold at farm stands in Vienna and Wheatland. If you can’t get into their popular CSA programs, their veggies are sold at farmers markets from Reston to Dupont Circle. In addition to farm-fresh produce, the homey roadside spot in Wheatland offers local meats, cheese, honey and jellies, though the artisan salami is pretty tempting for the car ride back to the District. 38369 John Wolford Rd., Purcellville. potomacvegetablefarms.com. Open Thursday through Sunday. — F.H.
Beverly Triton and Mayo beaches
Anne Arundel County has more shoreline than any other county in Maryland, but very little of it is actually open to the public. The best known public beach, Sandy Point State Park, has the double whammy of filling up early on sunny weekends and requiring visitors to sit in Bay Bridge traffic. Instead, it’s worth trying to visit the smaller Beverly Triton and Mayo beaches, located on the Mayo Peninsula near the confluence of the South River and the Chesapeake Bay.
Beverly Triton is the more rustic of the two. The beach, which is almost a mile long, is part of a nature park that includes wooded hiking trails, a fishing pond and a launch for kayaks and canoes. The parking lot across the street from the park entrance is unpaved, and the facilities are limited to portable toilets. But on weekends, a steady stream of families heads down the road to the beach, lugging tents, camp chairs and umbrellas. Don’t expect a wide, sandy stretch — in some places, there’s barely enough room to put a large towel between the water and the grassy dunes. But there’s room to wade, and play in the relatively shallow waters, and if the beach near the entrance is busy, head to the far ends, which are usually more quiet. (A trail through the woods leads to more access, as well as to shaded benches overlooking the water, which are perfect for reading with a view.)
Mayo, meanwhile, is a popular site for weddings and events, and is only open to the public on designated days — Saturdays and Sundays through August, and then just Sundays and Labor Day in September. But the beach is wider than Bevery Triton’s, and the circular tidal pools and great for kids to splash in.
Because of social-distancing restrictions and limited parking, the two beaches regularly hit capacity on weekends — their joint Facebook page is a parade of “reached capacity” and “reopened” announcements on Saturdays and Sundays — so it’s better to come during the week, if you can (last Friday, for example, there was no delay at all to get into Beverly Triton). Do follow that page on Saturdays though; you may come with the objective of going to Beverly, but find out that Mayo reopens first. Beverly Triton Nature Park, 1202 Triton Beach Rd., Edgewater. Open daily. Mayo Beach Park, 4150 Honeysuckle Dr., Edgewater. Open Saturdays and Sundays through August. aacounty.org/departments/recreation-parks.
If you make a day out of it …
London Town and Gardens
London Town was founded by English settlers in 1683, and the popular ferry crossing and tobacco port made it the thriving county seat of Anne Arundel County. By the end of the 18th century, though, London Town had been mostly abandoned, leaving only a few buildings, including the fine William Brown House, or “London Town Publik House,” and the ferry. At the London Town and Gardens historic park, you can see the Brown House, and take a self-guided tour of reconstructed buildings, such as a carpenter’s shop and tenement house, showing what life was like in the 18th century.
Beyond the history, through, London Town’s 23-acre site is home to beautiful and fragrant ornamental gardens as well as the Woodland Gardens, with circular trails that wind underneath trees, passing benches, bridges and ponds. There are also picnic tables that offer a scenic view of the South River and the Brown House; a favorite spot for takeout is the nearby Edgewater Restaurant, which is known for its gigantic lump crab cakes. London Town, 839 Londontown Rd., Edgewater. historiclondontown.org. Admission, $3-$10. Open Wednesday through Sunday. Edgewater Restaurant, 148 Mayo Rd., Edgewater. edgewaterrestaurant.blogspot.com. Open Wednesday through Sunday.
If you don’t have time for a picnic at London Town, head a few miles north to Annapolis, where the city has fully embraced the idea of outdoor dining. Wednesday through Sunday, some of the city’s most important thoroughfares, including Main Street, West Street and Maryland Avenue, are closed or partially closed to allow restaurants to put tables in the middle of the road, creating socially distanced outdoor dining rooms. Browse the list of closures on the Visit Annapolis website, pick a neighborhood, and go. — F.H.
Calvert Cliffs State Park
With its majestic cliffs overlooking the calm waters of the Chesapeake Bay, the beach at Calvert Cliffs State Park in Lusby, Md., looks like a dreamy oasis on a secluded island rather than a getaway only an hour’s drive from Washington. But unlike the mammoth beaches of Ocean City or Rehoboth, Calvert Cliffs’ quarter-mile long shoreline is meant to be a rugged adventure rather than a spot to sunbathe. Part of that adventure includes scouring the area for fossils — there are more than 600 species from the Miocene Epoch (about 17 million years ago) that have washed up on the beach. There’s also enough room for fishing and swimming if you want to stretch out your trip.
The beach is gorgeous, but getting there takes a little bit of leg work. It’s only accessible by foot through the several trails that snake around the park. The quickest way to get there is by going on a 1.8-mile hike on the red trail, which is a mostly elevated path where you’ll walk across boardwalks and swamps. It’s nature in all its glory, with turtles, beavers and other wildlife. Not to mention bugs, which is why wearing bug spray and sturdy shoes is essential. For Calvert Cliffs to be worth the trip, you’ll need to get there before 9 a.m. The park can easily fill up to capacity before noon. 10540 H.G. Trueman Rd., Lusby. dnr.maryland.gov. $5 per vehicle (additional $2 for out-of-state plates), cash only. Open daily.
If you make a day out of it …
Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum
If you’re up for more exploring — or if you slept through your alarm and weren’t able to get into Calvert Cliffs — there’s another woodsy spot 16 miles away. Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum was donated to the state of Maryland by photojournalist Mary Marvin Patterson in 1983 in honor of her husband, U.S. diplomat Jefferson Patterson — and it’s chock full of history.
Along its quiet, well-kept trails you’ll find educational displays documenting some of the area’s storied past, including a reproduction of a Native American village that mirrors what life was like along the Patuxent River when the first European settlers arrived. During your walk you’ll also stroll by the park’s picturesque riverfront area that more than makes up for the fact that the park’s indoor exhibits are closed. 10515 Mackall Rd., St. Leonard. jefpat.maryland.gov. Open daily.
For another scenic view of the Bay, Solomons Island has a small boardwalk where you can take an evening stroll and get some food (after all, you’ve probably worked up an appetite at this point). Call ahead to Stoney’s Kingfishers Seafood Bar and Grill to order takeout (the crab cake sandwich with truffle fries is one of the restaurant’s staples) and eat at one of the benches along the boardwalk. You’ll be in a good spot to get dessert at Cone Island Ice Cream Shop, which serves up soft serve ice cream, sundaes, milkshakes, ice cream floats and more frozen treats. Kingfishers Seafood Bar and Grill, 14442 Solomons Island Rd. S., Solomons. stoneysseafoodhouse.com. Open daily. Cone Island Ice Cream Shop, 14441 Solomons Island Rd. S., Solomons. Open daily. — S.W.
Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve
Between Alexandria and Mount Vernon, the George Washington Memorial Parkway winds past a string of parks and preserves, like jewels on a necklace. Most are administered by the National Park Service, though you might not know it, and they combine to make an easy back-to-nature getaway only a few minutes outside of the District.
Your primary destination should be the Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve, a large (though eroding) tidal marsh that is one of the last freshwater wetlands near Washington. Covering 435 acres, Dyke Marsh is a popular destination for birders, though the weekly bird walks led by Friends of Dyke Marsh have been canceled because of coronavirus, and it’s home to a wide variety of animals, from beavers to bats, which are identified on an illustrated brochure available at the entrance to the park. You might see Dyke Marsh’s residents on early morning or late-afternoon visits, but visits bring their own special quiet, no matter what animals cross your path.
A long gravel lane through the woods passes small sandy coves on the Potomac studded with rocks and driftwood — to call them “beaches” would be a poetic overstatement — where you can perch with a book or a sandwich. Eventually, the trail leads to cattails divebombed by dragonflies, and then to a boardwalk with benches and observation platforms facing the river and marsh. Outside of the Wilson Bridge in the distance, there are few signs of the city at all.
For a different way of looking at Dyke Marsh, visit the Belle Haven Marina, located near the entrance, which rents kayaks, canoes and stand-up paddleboards. (Lessons may also be available — call the marina for more details.) George Washington Memorial Parkway, one mile south of the Capital Beltway, Alexandria. nps.gov/gwmp. Open daily.
If you make a day out of it …
A short drive or bike ride south along the Mount Vernon Trail is River Farm, a 25-acre piece of land once owned by George Washington, and now home to sweeping gardens and the headquarters of the American Horticultural Society. There are numerous gardens and orchards to explore: Some are elegant, filled with colorful perennials, boxwoods, flowering shrubs and seasonal native plants. The meadows closer to the Potomac feature a mazelike series of paths, thick vegetation and clearings designed to be welcoming to wildlife; the star attraction is a towering black walnut tree, believed to date from Washington’s day, that provides welcome summer shade. It’s important to note that, at the moment, River Farm is closed on Saturdays and Sundays. 7931 E. Boulevard Dr., Alexandria. ahsgardening.org. Open Monday through Friday.
Fort Hunt and waterfront picnics
Cap an outing on the shores of the Potomac at one of the parks at the southern end of the Parkway. Fort Hunt is probably the best known, thanks to its pavilions, which can be rented for events such as weddings and family reunions, and its wide-open fields. Its historic fortifications, completed during the Spanish-American War, can still be climbed, and there are hiking and jogging trails through the forest. More simple, but offering picnic tables with pleasant waterfront views, are Riverfront Park, which looks toward Mount Vernon, and the Collingwood Picnic Area. 8999 Fort Hunt Rd., Alexandria. nps.gov/gwmp. Open daily. — F.H.
Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens
Forget fields of golden sunflowers. In the District, the Instagram stars of the natural world are the lotuses and water lilies of Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. Every July, the aquatic plants are celebrated at the two-day Lotus and Water Lily Festival, which draws thousands to the gardens on the banks of the Anacostia. The festival may have been canceled this year, but the lotuses began to bloom in their marshy ponds in early July, right on schedule, and if you haven’t paid them a visit yet, the nonprofit Friends of Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens expects the lotuses to bloom through the first week in August, while water lilies stick around longer.
The National Park Service has made some changes at the Aquatic Gardens to facilitate social distancing: There’s a designated route of one-way trails to follow through the main part of the park, past the thick clusters of beautiful pink lotus blooms and delicate pink and white lilies that sit among the floating lily pads. The boardwalk that led out toward the larger marshes has been closed, as have some of the paths that curve around the edges of ponds. Veteran lotus-watchers and photographers lugging DSLR cameras know to arrive soon after the park opens at 8 a.m., as midday heat can cause the flowers to close. Amateur smartphone photographers might want to do the same, especially because there’s not much shade in the heart of the park, and all buildings are closed. 1900 Anacostia Ave. SE. nps.gov/keaq. Open daily.
If you make a day of it …
Kingman and Heritage Islands
Kingman and Heritage Islands, a pair of man-made landmasses in the Anacostia reached by a footbridge from RFK Stadium’s Lot 6 or a trail off the Benning Road Bridge, do not have the influencer appeal of the Aquatic Gardens. But that’s why these islands are worth visiting, especially outside of the crowded, well-known music festival. Their hiking trails help visitors imagine themselves far from the city, as do picnic tables by the water’s edge. The river overlook, perched on a wooden bridge between the two islands, offers a different and scenic view of the Anacostia. Joggers, bikers and birders all make use of these peaceful islands, and you should, too. 575 Oklahoma Ave. NE. (Address is approximate — see detailed directions on the park’s website). kingmanisland.org. Open daily.
Anacostia River Trail
The Anacostia River Trail is much bigger than it sounds, stretching from the Wharf to Bladensburg, with a network of other trails extending into parks and neighborhoods on both sides of the river. It can be used to cycle or walk from Kenilworth Park down to Kingman and Heritage Islands, but from there, you can cross the Benning Road Bridge and set out for Anacostia Park and the Historic Anacostia neighborhood, or follow the western path south toward the Navy Yard and Yards Park. anacostiawaterfront.org.