Our 2019 Road Adventures
By Bob Tagert
As is our custom for our January road trip we do a recap of our adventures in 2019. Obviously I can’t write about January 2019 because that was a recap of 2018, so we will start with February:
Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.
The drive is only about 2 1/2 hours and takes you through some beautiful low lying country. As you cross the Chesapeake Bay over the iconic Bay Bridge, you will get a birds eye view of this huge body of water and the massive freighters that ply its waters year round heading for the Baltimore shipyards. Although it isn’t summer, the Boardwalk Plaza and Rehoboth Beach have a lot to offer in the winter months. If you are lucky, the beach will get a push of warm air to create a respite from the cold. If there is no wind, a walk on the beach is very pleasant and certainly uncrowded. Although some stores close for the winter, there are many places still open including some very nice restaurants. Rehoboth is a year round town so business is usually open.
Our favorite place to stay is the Boardwalk Plaza which is in the heart of town and right on the beach. Their indoor grotto hot tub (pool) help take the chill away and the restaurant is excellent. The grotto is open 24/7 and no one under 18 after 8 pm.
Getting Your Irish On
Last MARCH we did a road trip of local Irish Pubs and restaurants “From the Bay to the Blue Ridge”. The two major Irish destinations in Old Town are Murphy’s Grand Irish Pub and Daniel O’Connell’s Restaurant & Bar. Tom and Melinda Mooney opened Murphy’s with a few friends and family with a passion for their Irish heritage and the desire to bring traditional Irish fare and entertainment to this community at affordable prices. What used to be Bullfeathers in the roaring 80’s and 90’s was turned into O’Connell’s Restaurant and Bar 15 years ago. The owners enlarged the former restaurant and brought in historical antiques and furnishings from abbeys and churches in Ireland as well as master carpenters, master stone masons, 2 antique tillers and 2 specialist painters. The place is absolutely stunning. We took a drive to the Bay and Annapolis to visit Galway Bay Irish Restaurant & Pub, Fado Irish Pub, Castlebay Irish Pub and Killarney House in Davidsonville. We concluded with a trip to the Blue Ridge and Nana’s Irish Pub in Middletown, Virginia in the Shenandoah Valley.
Historic Middletown, Virginia
For the APRIL road trip we headed west. In the past we have taken road trips out west and then headed down I-81 or Route 11 to points south. This time we decided to head north to the little burg of Middletown. Choosing Middletown as our destination was because of our March road trip …”Getting Your Irish On – From the Bay to the Blue Ridge.” You will remember that our pub of choice for the Blue Ridge was Nana’s Pub located in the heart of Middletown. We included Nana’s at the request of our layout and design guru, Lauren. Lauren told us it was a social pub that actually takes her back to Ireland every time she stops in. It is a great place and as we discovered, this traditional Pub draws folks from Winchester, VA to Front Royal and beyond. Middletown is one in a series of small towns that are interspersed up and down Route 11 from Winchester to Harrisonburg. Each of these towns have their own charm and Middletown is no exception. Middletown is located in southern Frederick County. It is in the Shenandoah Valley region and is 5 miles southwest of Stephens City, 13 miles southwest of Winchester and 5 miles north east of Strasburg. The main historic attraction near Middletown is Belle Grove Plantation located about a mile south of town. Middletown was also the site of numerous military operations in the American Civil War including the Battle of Cedar Creek, fought near Belle Grove Plantation. You can catch the 156th anniversary reenactment October 17, 2020.
Celebrating Memorial Day
In MAY of last year we stayed home for our road trip in honor of Memorial Day and visited the war memorials and military memorials in our Nation’s Capital. We began our journey on the National Mall adjacent to Constitution Gardens. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is a 2-acre national memorial that pays tribute to the brave members of the United States Armed Forces who fought in the Vietnam War and were killed or missing in action (MIA). The memorial consists of three separate parts: The Three Soldiers statue, the Vietnam Women’s Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall…or simply…”The Wall”. At the other end of the reflecting pool you will find the World War II Memorial, which honors the 16 million who served in the armed forces of the United States, the more than 400,000 who died, and all who supported the war effort from home. Symbolic of the defining event of the 20th century, the memorial is a monument to the spirit, sacrifice, and commitment of the American people. Other memorials to visit are the Korean War Veterans Memorial, The Navy Memorial and Naval Heritage Center, The Navy-Merchant Marine Memorial, The United States Air Force Memorial, and the Marine Corps War Memorial, or the Iwo Jima Statue in Arlington, Virginia.
My Favorite Summertime Spot
In JUNE of last year we took a drive to Solomons, Maryland. There is good reason to visit Solomons Island in June. Warm weather abounds and Solomons is where the Patuxent River meets the Chesapeake Bay. My sailboat is in a slip at Calvert Marina so I try to get down there as often as I can during the warm months. However, if you don’t have a boat in Solomons, there are still a lot of cool places to explore, a ton of fun restaurants on the water and the Tiki Bar. Solomons is home to a number of galleries and shops as well as events celebrating the arts and the environment throughout the summer. Many of these destinations are also open during the winter. First there is Annmarie Sculpture Garden and Arts Center on Dowell Road. The sculpture garden features a 1/4 mile walking path that meanders through the woods past permanent and loaned sculptures, including over thirty works on loan from the Smithsonian Institution and the national Gallery of Art. Closer to the water you will find the Calvert Marine Museum, a true wonder of discovery. The museum’s pre-history and maritime heritage come together to tell a unique story of the Chesapeake Bay. This is a family-friendly museum that offers live animal, fossils, interactive exhibits, daily activities, and a furnished cottage style lighthouse. Included in the wonders is the Drum Point Lighthouse, which was relocated to the museum. Although it is not June, there is still a lot to enjoy in Solomons in the winter. The restaurants are open as well as the shops and the meaning of summer can be found in every crab cake you enjoy.
Beat the Heat and Head to the Hills
In JULY of last year we headed west to beautiful Rappahannock County. Even though our intention in July was to escape the summer heat in the city, this time of year is also an ideal time to visit. The wineries are open for business and the summer crowds are back at home. At the end of 522 and turning right on to Route 211 you will come to the town of (Little) Washington, home of the internationally known Inn at Little Washington. Washington is home to some fun specialty shops like r.h.ballard shop & gallery and Tula’s Restaurant and Bar. Tula’s is a casual restaurant owned by Alexandrians Mark Allen, his wife Elizabeth and John McCaslin.
If you take this road trip and decide to break it up into two days, the Greenfield Inn is a perfect place to stay. Right off of 211 at the road leading to Little Washington, this period farm house is delightful and the owners can tell you great stories. Other overnight options are 29 Main On the River in Sperryville and The Loft in Washington – both of these are owned by former Alexandrian Jackie Bogle.
In the winter, the towns of Sperryville and Little Washington are top spots to visit and spend the night.
“A Most Convenient Place”
In AUGUST we went to “A Most Convenient Place”…Leonardtown, Maryland. Leonardtown is the County Seat of St. Mary’s County. Although the town has had a growth spurt in the last decade, the town has managed to hold on to that small town charm year round. With so much to do so close at hand, it is no wonder Leonardtown earned its antebellum moniker, “A Most Convenient Place.” Just a short drive from Alexandria and D.C., wineries, galleries, dining, history and more make Leonardtown a great getaway. Leonardtown is home to Southern Maryland’s only Arts & Entertainment District. The Leonardtown Wharf gives you the opportunity to rent kayaks, canoes and paddle boards on Breton Bay which flows into the Potomac River. This is something to keep in mind for the warmer months. In the heart of town is the Old Jail Museum which was built in 1858 and in use until 1942.The granite block and brick structure retains its original appearance. On the other side of town is the recently opened Shepherd’s Old Field Market (SOF Market). You can browse through over 40 shops and services in this “mini mall.” SOF Market has something for everyone…maybe not what you need, but certainly what you might want! One of the anchors of the market is a beer and wine garden. Although they do not brew their own. There are a number of varied dining options in Leonardtown as well as shopping.
Wednesday Night Races
In SEPTEMBER we spent the afternoon on our friends Carl and Tulinda Larsen’s 50-trawler as the committee boat at the Wednesday Night Sailboat Races in Annapolis. I have sailed into Annapolis Harbor many times over the years. The sight of the U.S. Naval Academy has never failed to impress me as well as the sheer number of sailboats on the water. This is why Annapolis is known as the “Sailing Capital of the United States”. The Wednesday Night Races have been a time honored tradition in Annapolis for nearly 60 years and the Annapolis Yacht Club has been the host for every race. “What better way to break up the week than a relaxing evening out on the water?” said John Sherwood, a legendary Chesapeake Bay sailor and longtime Annapolis Yacht Club member. Annapolis sailors do not take their sport lightly! In fact, even during the winter they have frostbite races (see this months From the Bay column).
Annapolis, like Old Town Alexandria, is an old seafaring town along the banks of the Severn River and the Chesapeake Bay. It is also the capital of Maryland and home to the United States Naval Academy. The Main Street of Annapolis runs from the City Dock along Ego Alley up through town to Church Circle. Like Old Town, former warehouses have been converted into fine shops and restaurants. A few of these establishments have come about in the last ten or fifteen years while others have been there since I started going to Annapolis 45 years ago. While the water activities are best in the warmer months, Annapolis is a great place to visit any time of the year and in the winter it is much easier to find parking.
Historic St. George’s Island
In OCTOBER we visited St. George’s Island in the southern part of St. Mary’s County in Maryland. This is a great drive through one of the most picturesque counties in Maryland and only about an hour and a half from Alexandria. When Hurricane Isabel hit the lower Potomac River in 2003, the low-lying peninsula of St. George’s took a direct hit. The hurricane had wiped out three restaurants…Oakwood Lodge, Evan’s Seafood and Swann’s Restaurant. These were throwback restaurants and bars dating back to the 50’s. But just like in nature, out of ruin there springs new life. Where Evan’s used to be there now stands the Island Inn & Suites and the Ruddy Duck Seafood and Ale House. Out on the point where the Oakwood Lodge stood, the Piney Point Lighthouse and Museum has breathed new life. Before venturing on to St. George’s Island, Piney Point Lighthouse and Museum is a must stop. The property at Piney Point Lighthouse was deeded to St. Mary’s County by the Federal Government in 1980 and the first preservation work began in 1990. Back then there was just the lighthouse, a keeper’s quarters and a small building which, in the day, was the petty officers quarters. Since that time the small house has been torn down and an extensive renovation project has been ongoing. To get to St. George’s Island, continue on route 249. As soon as you cross the bridge at Straits Point you are on the island. The Potomac River is on your right and St. George’s Creek is on your left. With the prevailing winds coming out of the northwest, there is usually good wave action on the river. If you travel to the end of the island and take Thomas Road to the right, you will come to Camp Merryelande, a family oriented campground with beach cottages, beach activities, picnic tables, and beautiful views of both the Potomac and St. Mary’s Rivers.
Shenandoah Valley & Muse Vineyards
In NOVEMBER we went to the Shenandoah Valley and visited Muse Vineyards and Winery. Muse Winery is located near the town of Woodstock, Virginia on Route 11. The winery lies in a hidden corner of the Shenandoah Valley along the scenic North Fork of the Shenandoah River and at the foot of the mountains. The river snakes its way through the bottom land as it journeys to join up with the Shenandoah River. A low concrete bridge takes you across the water to the gravel road that leads to the tasting room. Muse Vineyards is considered a boutique vineyard “where art, science, passion, and reverence for the tradition of classic wine making converge to produce award-winning wine.” Vines were first planted on the 50-acre farm in 2005 and the tasting room opened in 2016. In 2015, Muse’s 2009 Clio, a Bordeux-style blend was awarded a gold medal in the prestigious Virginia Governor’s Cup wine competition. The tasting room has a very contemporary feel with clean lines and high ceilings. The seating includes several 4 and 6 tops as well as communal tables and comfy sofa chairs. The interior is awash with bright colors which contrasts nicely with the changing leaves outside (remember, this was in November). Not only do they provide upright heaters for the patio tables, there is also a huge stone fire place to enjoy during the winter. While Muse Vineyards was our ultimate goal on this road trip, we always like to add a few other spots of interest. The town of Woodstock as well as Edinburg are fun to explore and you can find dining options as well as accommodations at each town. We have stayed at the Edinburg Renaissance Bed & Breakfast and the Inn at Narrow Passage that sits along the North Fork of the Shenandoah River, a few miles down from Muse Vineyards. Another fun stop is Filibuster Distillery in Maurertown, slightly north of Woodstock. The distillery began on M street N.W. in DC not far from the Capitol.
Home for the Holidays
In DECEMBER of last year, as in every December, we write about our own town…Old Town Alexandria. If you are in town reading this, I do hope that you enjoy your time here. If you are reading this somewhere else, I hope that you take the time to visit. You can also go to oldtowncrier.com and read the entire Road Trip each month in our issue archives.
Realizing that this is January, some of these destinations are better in the warmer months, however, each can be visited this time of year. The crowds are fewer, the temps colder, so spend some time indoors by a cozy fire and enjoy.