I don’t know what it’s like where you live, but here in Northern Virginia, it already feels like summer. The weather has been incredible. So, in the spirit of feeling like summer is just around the corner, I’m going to share six of our favorite things we did last summer in the NoVa, Washington, D.C., and Baltimore areas.
1. Luray Caverns
We visited the Luray Caverns on Memorial Day weekend, which, sure enough, meant it was ridiculously crowded. We waited in line for about 1.5 hours! But I’ll tell you what — it was absolutely worth it. (By the way, on the same grounds, they have a garden maze, rope adventure park, snack bar, and train and toy collection, among other attractions, to keep you and the kids busy during the wait.)
The Luray Caverns are a registered U.S. Natural Landmark, and the largest series of caverns in the eastern United States. To call them breathtaking would be an understatement. We have been spelunking and visited caves in other parts of the world, but the Luray Caverns are unlike any of them. Magical.
The paths that take you through the caves are paved and well-lit. The “rooms” are seemingly endless, as you walk from one into another, and another…. Everywhere you look, you see intricate stalactites and stalagmites, some extending almost from floor to ceiling.
As if these aren’t memorable enough, you’ll then be mesmerized by Dream Lake — a shallow lake that is so perfectly still and crystal-clear, it plays tricks on you as it mirrors the stalactites on the ceiling above.
Kids and adults alike will enjoy another special treat, the Great Stalacpipe Organ, apparently the largest musical instrument in the world. According to their website, it “makes stalactites sing by gently tapping them throughout three acres of the caverns.”
These caverns are a must-see if you’re in the area. You’ll spend a good amount of time down there, mostly pondering the fact that these formations are millions of years old. But you’ll never forget them.
2. Fourth of July at the U.S. Capitol
Just because our Fourth of July got rained on last year, doesn’t mean yours will this year. We had great views sitting on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, if it hadn’t been for the rain and thick fog that ultimately blocked out the fireworks. However, the “A Capitol Fourth” show put on by PBS was pretty fun. Here’s a clip of Smokey Robinson singing, “My Girl,” during a brief pause in the rain.
3. Baltimore Inner Harbor, MD
Thankfully, the weather was perfect when we visited Baltimore Inner Harbor, Maryland, last July. If you’re into historic ships, this place is for you. The Harbor features four historic ships and a lighthouse that are all National Historic Landmarks – the USS Constellation, USS Torsk, USCGC Taney, Lightship 116 Chesapeake and Seven Foot Knoll Lighthouse. You can purchase a ticket that includes admission to all four ships. That’s what we did.
If you have little ones, you can also take them to the National Aquarium, the Maryland Science Center, or the Port Discovery Children’s Museum nearby.
We ended our day in Baltimore by enjoying some gelato at Vaccaro’s in Little Italy.
4. Theodore Roosevelt Island
Theodore Roosevelt Island sits on the Potomac River in Washington, D.C. It’s a small island, roughly 88.5 acres, that in the 1930s was converted from overgrown farmland into a memorial to America’s 26th president.
There’s a parking lot for easy access, and from there you just walk across the bridge to get to the island. Don’t expect arduous hiking here, folks. There are three walking trails that circle the island: Swamp Trail (1.5 miles, loops the island), and Woods Trail and Upland Trail (each under 1 mile). They’re easy paths that take you through swampy woods and marsh.
From the various shorelines, you’ll see lovely views of Georgetown and people kayaking, paddle boarding and more on the water. In the center of the island, you’ll find the memorial plaza with a statue of Roosevelt and a couple of fountains. A nice spot to rest and enjoy the sounds of nature.
5. Cycling on the Washington & Old Dominion trail
I miss this place. Mainly because I’m nine months pregnant and can’t go biking right now! But if you like riding your bicycle, like I do, then you have to check out the Washington & Old Dominion trail (aka Washington & Old Dominion Railroad Regional Park). It’s a former railroad that was later converted into a 45-mile path for cycling, running, skating and more, and cuts across various neighborhoods in Northern Virginia.
It’s a popular trail, and somewhat narrow, so you have to watch out for walkers, runners, etc. Be aware the trail also intersects with various busy avenues, so you need to be careful there.
Definitely make sure to soak in the lush scenery and miles and miles of feeling the breeze in your face. We loved it and have been several times.
6. Tubing on the Shenandoah River
If I were to sum up this experience in two words, they would be “total relaxation.”
We went tubing on the Shenandoah River in August through the Shenandoah River Outfitters company in Luray, VA. We brought our own cooler with drinks, lunch, and snacks, and rented an additional tube for the cooler, which was just a few extra bucks.
The water is pretty shallow, so make sure to bring water shoes if you have any. Don’t plan on swimming — too shallow. It’s really all about relaxing on the tube as you float down the river. You’ll also be visited by many dragonflies. They’re everywhere and will land right on you.
I’d say the trip down the river (to the pickup point) lasted about 2-3 hours. Just enough to get a little R&R and not become bored out of your mind. Overall, just peaceful and beautiful scenery.
These have been some of our favorite things to do in the summer here in the Northern Virginia/DC area. How about you? We’re always open to recommendations and looking for new places to explore!
Thanks for reading. You can check out more photos here.