Birthday vacations are a bit of a tradition for me. In 2009, I settled on Virginia and Washington DC as my September destination. My mom and I spent a week visiting the highlights of our nation’s Capitol, as well as spend some time touring the rest of Virginia.
We flew into Washington, DC and rented a car. Our first stop was Shenandoah National Park. We had rented an adorable little cabin just outside the park in Luray, at the Brookside Resort. We did several short hikes in Shenandoah, including the Stony Man Summit, Calf Mountain and Dark Hollow Falls. Shenandoah is full of scenic vistas, waterfalls and lot of BEARS!
We also took a ranger-led star tour, which I highly recommend – we walked through the woods in the dark, letting our eyes adjust using only the moon and stars to guide us. Super fun!
After two days in Shenandoah, we headed out to Monticello, for a tour of Thomas Jefferson’s home and gardens. From here, it was off to Blenheim Vineyards, owned by Dave Matthews! The area outside Charlottesville has a lot of wineries and vineyards, which would make a fun vacation all on its own. We spent the night in Charlottesville, which allowed us to visit a few other DMB sites, like LeRoi’s gravesite, and Miller’s where DMB used to play when they were starting out. Charlottesville was a great little town that reminded me a lot of Iowa City.
Our next stop was the coast. Along the way, we visited historic Jamestown and then on to Chincoteague Island and Assateague Island, where we spent time on the beach looking for the famous wild ponies.
Then it was time to head back to DC for some urban adventure. We were staying at the Sheraton Crystal City (now the Westin Crystal City), which was a great location for touring the town. The Metro stop was right across the street and super convenient.
On our first night in DC, we signed up for the Monuments by Moonlight tour. What a fun way to see the city!
We had turned in the rental car when we got into town, so it was all public transportation from here on out, which is one of my favorite ways to see a city. On our second day, we took the bus (or multiple buses) out to Mt Vernon. My favorite part, of course, were all the animals, including baby sheep, but the location of George Washington’s house is pretty spectacular, up on a bluff overlooking the Potomac River. We also took the tour of Arlington Cemetery, seeing JFK and Jackie O’s graves, along with the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Next, it was time to visit some of the world famous museums found in Washington, DC. On a recommendation, we visited the American Indian Museum for lunch, and the cafeteria was definitely worth the trip! We spent most of our time in the Smithsonian Museum of American History, seeing things like the Ruby Slippers and Julia Childs’ kitchen. We also visited the National Archives. One of the highlights of the trip was seeing an Honor Flight tour at the WWII Memorial. Watching these heroes tour THEIR monument was humbling, to say the least!
It was definitely a whirlwind tour of the highlights of Virginia. A great introduction to our nation’s capitol, where I would return several times in subsequent years.
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