Every week for a year, from May 2017 to April 2018, The Baltimore Sun's Travel Unraveled newsletter shared a new must-visit destination in the Mid-Atlantic region.
Week 1: Embassy open houses
Cultural Tourism DCMay 4, 2017: Limiting this list to the Mid-Atlantic still affords the opportunity to go to and experience the cultures of other countries. Foreign embassies in Washington are technically on the soil of their respective nations, and every spring dozens open their doors to the public to share native cuisine, arts and wares. 2017's Around the World Embassy Tour is scheduled for Saturday.
Week 2: Smith Island
Algerina Perna/Baltimore SunMay 11, 2017: A visit to Maryland's most isolated inhabited island, accessible only by boat, is a chance to witness a distinctive place and way of life while you still can. Thanks to erosion and rising water levels, the bay whose crabs, fish and oysters have sustained the island's villages for more than three centuries now threatens to condemn them, as population also dwindles. Better accommodating tourists — beyond the culture, the island's fresh seafood, signature cake, kayaking and bike tours, and abundant birdlife are among its draws — as well as building up infrastructure are part of a "vision plan" to save the island.
Week 3: Cape May-Lewes Ferry
HandoutMay 18, 2017: Saving motorists the long drive around the Delaware Bay, or the often sluggish drives through Baltimore and Washington, the 100-vehicle ferry between New Jersey and Delmarva runs 365 days a year for utility, but it can be the launching pad for a fun day trip in and of itself. Both ends of the ferry are close to standout shopping, food and drink, and attractions, including antique dealers, wine and beer tastings and the Cape May Lighthouse in New Jersey, and outlet retailers, Rehoboth restaurants, and Cape Henlopen State Park in Delaware. The cheapest, and perhaps most fulfilling, way to make a day of it is on a bike. Traveling on two wheels lowers your fare (if you’re transporting your bike, there’s no charge to leave your car in the terminal’s lot) and lets you board first, and once you’re on the other side lets you park for free and take in the scenery at your own pace. Cape May is a 7-mile ride from the terminal, mostly on two-lane roads; Rehoboth is an 8-mile ride, mostly on a rail trail.
Week 4: Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
ReutersMay 25, 2017: Every minute of every day in every kind of weather, sentinels guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Remains of unidentified American service members killed in World War I, World War II or Korea are interred at the monument, which is meant to honor all unidentified soldiers as well as those missing in action. Visitors to Arlington National Cemetery can witness the somber and elaborate changing of the guard ceremony once every hour from October through March and twice every hour from April through September.
Week 5: The National Great Blacks in Wax Museum
Amy Davis/Baltimore SunJune 1, 2017: Life-size and incredibly lifelike, the three-decade-old museum's more than 100 wax figures, portraying luminaries such as W.E.B. Du Bois and Barack Obama as well as everyday African-Americans, are impressive in their own right. But what makes the East North Avenue nonprofit a cultural gem is the context it puts them in. As it pursues a major expansion, Great Blacks in Wax is already presenting the African-American experience with historical breadth, and, especially, emotional depth that rivals institutions many times its size and budget.
Week 6: Appalachian Trail
Kim Hairston/Baltimore SunJune 8, 2017: For this one, it truly is the journey, not the destination. We’re not telling you where, how far or how hard to hike. All we’re saying is no Mid-Atlantic bucket list is complete without trekking at least part of the Appalachian Trail. The longest hiking-only footpath in the world, the AT covers 2,180 miles from Georgia to Maine, over a third of which run through Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia or Virginia. Parking lots near the Boonsboro Washington Monument (the first to be completed honoring the first president), near the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park’s Cavalier Heights Visitor Center, and on Tuckers Lane near Route 66 in Northern Virginia's Fauquier County are among the many spots to pick up the trail.
Week 7: Reading Terminal Market
GPTMCJune 15, 2017: Jeet yet? Whatever kind of food you’re in the mood for, you’re liable to find it inside Philadelphia’s vast Reading Terminal Market. The 125-year-old institution, often held up as a model for reviving old city bazaars, is still a destination for fresh meat, seafood and produce, but, of more interest to visitors, boasts a wide range of prepared foods. Dozens of vendors purvey the trendy (bacon on a doughnut) alongside the traditional (chicken pot pie), heavy (fried mac and cheese balls) alongside the light (fresh-squeezed vegetable juice), meaty (roast pork sandwich) alongside the veggie (vegetarian cheesesteak), and foreign flavors (salmon curry) alongside local staples (scrapple). In perhaps the hardest-to-pull-off contrast, the old train shed maintains a feeling of history and authenticity even as it’s become a tourist hotspot.
Week 8: West Virginia and Pennsylvania stargazing
Terence DickinsonJune 22, 2017: Light pollution maps of the East Coast are a swath of bright colors. With all that artificial light, millions are missing out on thousands of stars. The nearest breaks are on the periphery of the Mid-Atlantic region, in Eastern West Virginia, on and around an Allegheny Mountains peak, and in Northwestern Pennsylvania, on the Allegheny Plateau. Reaching the darkest spots can mean braving dirt roads; thick, dampening dew; and, possibly, bears. And keeping them dark can mean watching where you shine your headlights or putting a red filter over your flashlight. The reward is a night sky not seen for generations in the areas most of us call home. If conditions are perfect, the Milky Way’s shine might even be bright enough to cast a shadow.
Week 9: U Street Corridor
Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty ImagesJune 29, 2017: The historic hub of black culture and business has experienced a revival in recent decades after being hit hard by the 1968 riots. Institutions surviving from its heyday such as Ben's Chili Bowl and the restored Lincoln Theater now share the district with modern dance halls, hip bars and coffee shops and eclectic restaurants.
Week 10: Fallingwater
Zoltan Levay/Community ContributorJuly 6, 2017: Department-store magnate Edgar Kaufmann Sr. wanted the waterfall to be a focal point for the retreat Frank Lloyd Wright was building for him and his wife, but Wright surprised him by building overtop the waterfall, rather than overlooking it. The result is a masterpiece of American architecture, as popular with critics as it is with the tens of thousands of tourists who visit every year. A museum for the last half-century, Fallingwater is in the Laurel Highlands of the Allegheny Mountains, about 70 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.
Week 11: Skyline Drive
John Gearan/APJuly 13, 2017: Less than two hours from D.C., motorists can feel light years beyond the beltway on one of the region's most scenic road trips. The 105-mile Skyline Drive transverses Shenandoah National Park through the Blue Ridge Mountains, featuring dozens of overlooks, wildlife, wildflowers and camping and recreation opportunities along the way.
Week 12: New River Gorge
Elevated ElementJuly 20, 2017: Home to some of the best whitewater in the country, an annual BASE jumping festival, and a growing complex of tree-top ziplines, southern West Virginia’s New River Gorge area is synonymous with adventure. Yet, not keeping still for a few moments to take in its beauty would be passing up perhaps its biggest thrill. At the gorge’s northern end, near the town of Fayetteville, the splendor is both natural and manmade. There, North America’s longest steel arch bridge carries vehicles — and (guided) catwalking pedestrians — 876 feet over one of the continent’s oldest rivers. Reducing what was a 40-minute commute to 1 minute, the New River Gorge Bridge is celebrated locally for its economic impact beyond tourism, and, featured on the 2005 West Virginia quarter, has become a symbol for the state.
Week 13: Beach boardwalks
Steve Earley/Baltimore SunJuly 27, 2017: Perhaps boardwalks are so popular for the front of postcards because they can represent virtually anything you write on the back. It's the place to pile on the calories, or burn them off, to splurge on impulse buys, or make a day of it for free, to check several items off your bucket list, or just completely check out. The big three boardwalks in Delaware, Maryland and Virginia are Rehoboth (the most family friendly, 1 mile long), Ocean City (the liveliest, 3 miles long), and Virginia Beach (the most bike friendly, 3 miles long). Send us a postcard to say which you picked!
Week 14: Luray Caverns
Chiaki Kawajiri/For The Baltimore SunAug. 3, 2017: Maybe the easiest way to feel like you're on another planet is to climb down inside ours. Over millions of years, minerals and water can interact to form underground caves and fill them with eerily beautiful icicle-, mound-, and column-like structures. Luray, featuring 10-story ceilings and a musical instrument made from the formations, is the largest and most popular tourable system in the East.
Week 15: Duckpin bowling
Algerina Perna/Baltimore SunAug. 10, 2017: You can bowl in almost any moderately sized town, but the Mid-Atlantic is one of the few places that ever had — and still has — duckpin bowling. The smaller-ball, shorter-pin cousin to mainstream tenpin can seem easier on its face — you get three rolls instead of two — but is actually harder — officially, there’s never been a perfect game. Duckpin was more likely invented in New England than in Baltimore, as legend long suggested. Still, Marylanders became some of the most fervent players of the regional sport and champion themselves as preservers of it even as the once hundreds of alleys from Massachusetts to Virginia have thinned out to a few dozen — thanks in part to the discontinuation of automatic pinsetters. In the Baltimore area recently, duckpin centers have even been renovated and reopened. Elsewhere in the Mid-Atlantic, the handful of remaining lanes include ones near the travel destinations of Gettysburg and the Shenandoah Valley.
Week 16: Harriet Tubman center and Blackwater refuge
Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore SunAug. 17, 2017: The marshes, fields and forests of Dorchester County have awed visitors for decades at the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, the protected habitat a haven for bird watchers, photographers, bikers, kayakers and those simply seeking to be closer to nature. Not all probably appreciated that the setting south of Cambridge was also the backdrop for the first act of one of the most extraordinary of American lives: That of Harriet Tubman, who, in the words of a distant niece, “started life as a slave and became an international hero.” While enslaved, the Underground Railroad's most renowned conductor, Civil War spy, suffragist and nurse lived on a farm a few miles away. After escaping in 1849, she would return to the area multiple times to bring others to freedom. Through video, exhibits and programs, the recently opened Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center, less than 2 miles west of the refuge’s visitor center, shows how Tubman’s experiences here made her who she was, and puts the placid scenery in a new light: Dense woodlands presented an early and formidable obstacle on the long journey north. A seven-mile canal was hand-dug by free and enslaved African-Americans, back-breaking, sometimes deadly work. The refuge and Tubman center are launching points for other recreational and educational opportunities, which often can be combined, such as the bikeable Harriet Tubman Byway.
Week 17: Harpers Ferry’s The Point
David Hobby/Baltimore SunAug. 24, 2017: Geography and history buffs should make a point to get to The Point in Harpers Ferry. The confluence of two rivers and three states (West Virginia is separated from Maryland by the Potomac and from Virginia by the Shenandoah), the water gap in the Blue Ridge Mountains offers lines of sight to numerous noteworthy spots, including the John Brown Fort, where the abolitionist and his followers barricaded themselves in their ill-fated 1859 raid, Civil War battle sites, the carefully preserved buildings of Lower Town, and, most dramatically, a crossing that, through floods and conflict, swallowed numerous predecessors to the railroad bridge and footbridge (linking the Appalachian Trail and C&O Towpath) that stand today.
Week 18: Oriole Park at Camden Yards
Patrick Smith/Getty ImagesAug. 31, 2017: The occasion of Oriole Park at Camden Yards’ 25th anniversary is bringing another binge of national publicity for the ballpark that changed ballparks. Building a stadium downtown just for baseball that blends retro style and modern comforts, groundbreaking in 1992, quickly became commonplace, even cliched. Camden Yards’ impact is so profound that it’s even influenced renovations to classic stadiums that influenced it. Despite imitations, with the over 1,000-foot-long red brick warehouse in right, raised bullpens in left, and a view of downtown landmarks all around, there’s no mistaking the original. Thanks to numerous maintenance projects, including a new field and lights this year, and new additions, such as a rooftop bar and monument park added five years ago, it can be hard to believe, though, that the place is a quarter-century old. $15 gets in you in for a game, $9 for a tour.
Week 19: Annapolis from the water
Al Drago/Baltimore SunSept. 7, 2017: In addition to being Maryland’s capital and, briefly, the nation’s capital, Annapolis, home to the Naval Academy and National Sailing Hall of Fame, is also the self-anointed "Sailing Capital of the U.S." While Newport, San Diego and other coastal communities might have qualms with that, there’s no denying that the bay, rivers and creeks are a central part of Annapolis’ identity. They can be experienced in many ways, and, if you insist, even without getting wet. On the water, sailing classes and rentals, cruises, and stand-up paddleboarding launch from multiple spots. On land, watching a sailing race or walking or running the edge of the Naval Academy grounds can be the next best things to being out there yourself. Somewhere in between, there’s an annual tug-of-war over the water, a quirky tradition birthed by a prolonged closure of a drawbridge.
Week 20: Antietam National Battlefield
Kim Hairston/Baltimore SunSept. 14, 2017: Fought 155 years ago this Sunday, the bloodiest battle of the Civil War was also one of the most pivotal. Antietam made plain the great cost it would take to win, and, stopping a Confederate invasion of the North, gave President Abraham Lincoln standing to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. Among the first where the dead were photographed on the battlefield, the battle also produced some of the war’s most enduring images. The battlefield itself, meanwhile, is one of the best preserved, lessening the imagination needed to see it as soldiers did. Visitors can tour the site, located south of Hagerstown, by vehicle or foot, with audio and ranger guides available for select routes. Every December, volunteers illuminate Antietam with 23,110 luminarias, one for each casualty.
Week 21: Philadelphia Museum of Art
B. Krist/Baltimore SunSept. 21, 2017: Its front steps are recognizable to millions from Sylvester Stallone's "Rocky" films. By all means, run up as fast and as long as you can, but don't consider this Philly bucket list item complete unless you actually go in. The third largest art museum in the country holds vast collections of Renaissance, American and Impressionist art. There are works from pre-antiquity and from around the world, but exhibits and galleries also connect viewers with what’s happening right now and across town, including a collaborative presentation running through early December, “Philadelphia Assembled,” on grassroots activism. If you visit soon, construction work is also likely to be on view. The museum is in the midst of a major renovation being assisted by architect Frank Gehry.
Week 22: Great Falls
David Fine/Community ContributorSept. 28, 2017: The crowds on nice weekend days notwithstanding, it can be hard to believe the ruggedness of Great Falls is just 15 miles from Washington. Formed during the last ice age, the Potomac River’s quick drop over dense, erosion-resistant rocks makes for a striking geologic show. Viewable from Maryland and Virginia, the series of cascades and rapids is straddled by parks with hiking, biking, bird-watching, climbing, and fishing opportunities. For experienced paddlers, the whitewater here can reach the highest classification of Class VI, or Extreme.
Week 23: Udvar-Hazy Center
Paul J. Richards/Agence France-Presse/Getty ImagesOct. 5, 2017: The Discovery and Concorde alone would fill a quad on the National Mall. So, to showcase the space shuttle, supersonic jet and other literal and figurative giants of aviation history, the National Air and Space Museum ventured out of downtown D.C. Opened in 2003, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center near Washington Dulles International Airport is made up of two large hangars. They include an SR-71 spy plane, the fastest jet ever, and the Enola Gay, which the United States used to drop the first atomic bomb in combat, on Hiroshima, Japan. In addition to the exhibits, which also touch on general aviation and unmanned aircraft, there's an IMAX theater, observation deck, and an area where visitors can see artifacts being restored.
Week 24: Longwood Gardens
Samuel Markey/Longwood GardensOct. 12, 2017: Whether or not you have a green thumb, Longwood Gardens is a treat for the eyes. Located west of Philadelphia, just above Delaware, the world-renowned horticultural showplace evolved from a farm and arboretum, purchased in 1906 by industrialist Pierre du Pont to preserve historic trees, to become one of the largest classical revival landscapes in the United States. Open year-round, Longwood boasts more than 1,000 acres of woodlands and outdoor and indoor gardens. On view this early fall is the Thousand Bloom Mum, featuring some 1,500 flowers arranged on a single stem, and native Asters, coming in a variety of shapes and colors. This month is also the season’s last chance to experience the almost completely rebuilt Main Fountain Garden, whose hundreds of jets, LED lights, and gas flames create a dazzling half-hour display set to music.
Week 25: Chesapeake oysters
Lloyd Fox/Baltimore SunOct. 19, 2017: Before colonization and industrialization, few environments on Earth were better suited for oysters than the Chesapeake Bay. Despite plummeting under 1 percent of their historical levels, the bivalves remain an important part of the region’s culture, cuisine and economy and the benefits they bring to the rest of the ecosystem — each filtering dozens of gallons of water a day and collectively providing habitat for other species — have made them a centerpiece of efforts to restore the estuary. This weekend, the molluscs’ heritage and future are celebrated at the 51st annual U.S. Oyster Festival in Southern Maryland’s St. Mary’s County, including the national shucking championship. To learn oystering’s history, head farther up the bay, to the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels. To experience how it’s increasingly being practiced today, head farther south, where several farms on the Virginia Oyster Trail offer tours.
Week 26: WWII fire control towers
Lloyd Fox/Baltimore SunOct. 26, 2017: The concrete towers weren't intended to be a permanent part of the Delaware coastline. Yet, three-quarters of a century after their hasty construction, to triangulate the position of enemy ships during World War II, 11 remain, exceeding their expected lifespans several times over. They’re such fixtures that vacationers zipping up and down Route 1 hardly seem to notice these legacies of a millennium-old defense strategy. Right now the public can go up in just one of the fire control towers, Tower 7 at Cape Henlopen State Park, but, in acknowledgment of their historical significance and tourism potential, work has begun to restore and open another three, starting with Tower 3, south of Dewey Beach. The tower, which fronts the ocean, should become more of a landmark even before completion: One of the first steps is to light the tower with blue lights, like those on the nearby Indian River Inlet Bridge.
Week 27: Bald eagles at Conowingo Dam
Courtesy of Hung TaNov. 2, 2017: If you've never seen a bald eagle before, here's your chance to see several. Just an hour northeast of Baltimore, the spillway below the Conowingo Dam is perhaps the best place on the East Coast to spot the formerly endangered national bird. While the confluence of waters at the head of the Chesapeake Bay and surrounding forest already make the area attractive, the birds of prey are particularly drawn by the easy eating. The funneling of fish through the dam creates a virtual buffet. A few dozen bald eagles are there year-round. A few hundred more stop there on their way south every autumn, which Saturday’s Conowingo Eagles Day is timed to take advantage of. Drawing photographers from across the country, the event kicks off an annual photo contest. It also has family-friendly wildlife and art demonstrations and an on-site food truck.
Week 28: NASA Wallops rocket launches
Bill Ingalls/NASANov. 9, 2017: While Cape Canaveral remains synonymous with launches, East Coasters needn’t go all the way to Florida to watch a rocket blast into space. Founded in 1945 to host rocket research, NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia’s Eastern Shore has assumed a more visible role in the country’s space missions since the retirement of the shuttle program in 2011. As one of the few U.S. facilities licensed to send a rocket into orbit, it’s used by contractors hired to resupply the International Space Station. The next such launch, viewable from the Wallops visitor center and, weather permitting, spots up and down the coast, is scheduled for a little after 7:30 Saturday morning. A free app for iOS and Android shows observers where to look, and gives updates on any delays or cancellations. The visitor center also hosts exhibits and programs on past and present missions and the science behind them as well as a gift shop.
Week 29: Outdoor ice rinks
GPTMC/HandoutNov. 16, 2017: There’s no fountain of youth, but an open sheet of frozen water could be the next best thing. From squirming into the rented skates, to the first wobbly steps on the ice, to that moment it finally clicks and you can’t believe it could be this much fun just to go in circles, no place transports adults back to a state of childlike wonder quite like an ice rink. The picturesque settings of cities’ seasonal outdoor rinks only add to the magic. Rinks in Baltimore (through Jan. 15) and Philadelphia (Nov. 24-March 4) overlook the cities’ waterfronts and the National Gallery of Art’s in D.C. (Saturday through March 11) is set in the sculpture garden.
Week 30: The scenic route
Jon Sham/Baltimore Sun Media GroupNov. 23, 2017: This time, it’s not necessarily about where you’re going, but how you get there. This holiday travel season, how about trading the highway for the byway, on at least part of your trip? Instead of ticking off license plates and mile markers, you and your carmates could be taking in vistas and historic sites. The National Scenic Byways Program designates 150 such routes, selected for archeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational or scenic qualities, including 17 in Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Virginia or West Virginia. Two of the longer ones offer alternatives to major interstates. The Historic National Road, which goes from downtown Baltimore all the way to the Mississippi River, roughly tracks Interstate 70. The Journey Through Hallowed Ground Byway, from Gettysburg to Monticello, parallels Interstate 81.
Week 31: Strasburg Rail Road
Baltimore SunNov. 30, 2017: In Strasburg, Pennsylvania, a brief 4.5-mile trip can take you back over one hundred years. The borough in Lancaster County is home to the nation's oldest continuously operating short line railroad. For the last several decades, the jaunts through the Amish countryside have been ones of leisure, rather than utility (the holiday season’s Christmas tree trains notwithstanding), as part of an immersive experience of authentically restored turn-of-the-century steam locomotives and cars. Museums showcasing more vintage trains, as well as toy ones, are nearby. A train fanatic’s paradise? In fact, that’s the name of one of the stops.
Week 32: “Miracle on 34th Street”
Mladen Antonov/Getty ImagesDec. 7, 2017: For five weeks every winter, a residential block in North Baltimore’s Hampden neighborhood becomes a nightly holiday carnival centered around the simple fact that every house decks out — all out — for Christmas. The seven-decade tradition in the 700 block of West 34th Street is so embedded legend’s spread that a requirement to decorate is written into homes’ deeds. There’s, in fact, no formal obligation, but as one homeowner said, when “you live on the Christmas street, you don’t want to be a Grinch.” Thousands of lights strung roof-to-roof draping overhead, the displays, lit the Saturday after Thanksgiving through Jan. 2, mix Christmas classics with Baltimore kitsch: Trees are formed out of hubcaps or old records, for example, or topped with pink flamingos. As popular as it’s become — the “Miracle on 34th Street” regularly makes national lists of the best holiday lights — participants resist commercialization. They discourage vendors, and, contrary to other gossip, refuse help with their utility bills.
Week 33: National Christmas Tree
Roger Katzenberg/Community ContributorDec. 14, 2017: Amble toward the World War II Memorial, Washington Monument, White House or any number of other downtown D.C. landmarks and the National Christmas Tree may just peek into your sightline. Covered in thousands of icicle strings, holographic stars and gold LED lights, and reaching around four stories tall, Washington’s oldest holiday tradition is easily appreciated even without getting up close. But you should — not just to gaze at the big tree, but to study the 56 smaller ones surrounding it, each representing a state, territory, or the capital city itself. Adorned with handmade ornaments reflecting each place’s culture — oyster shells from Maryland, indigenous cooking from New Mexico, sailing Santas from the Virgin Islands — they celebrate the nation as much as a holiday some 90 percent of it observes. Located in President's Park south of the White House, the displays are lit 4:30 p.m. through midnight through Jan. 1. The national tree itself stays, though, even after the decorations come down. A living Colorado blue spruce from Virginia, it’s there year-round.
Week 34: Snowshoe Mountain
Handout photoDec. 21, 2017: The biggest ski resort in the Mid-Atlantic is also one of the best. The highest elevated, West Virginia's Snowshoe Mountain gets the most natural snow and has the largest vertical drop. Of its 60 trails, about 40 percent are for beginners, over a third intermediate, and about a quarter advanced. Just as skiers and snowboarders of all abilities will feel welcome, so will those who want to stay off the slopes altogether. Alternative activities include snowmobiling, snowshoeing, snow tubing, and cross-country skiing. Indoors, there are dozens of dining, shopping and nightlife options to indulge day-trippers and resort guests.
Week 35: Mummers Parade
Getty ImagesDec. 28, 2017: Held annually on New Year’s Day, Philadelphia’s free Mummers Parade is a folk art tradition. The costumed entertainers belong to more than 40 organized clubs that make up the parade, and participants span generations. Mummers start at City Hall and march south on Broad Street, representing five divisions: Fancy, Comic, Wench Brigade, String Band and Fancy Brigade. That means you’re likely to spot elaborate feathered costumes, political satire and live glockenspiel playing all in one parade. Leave your car behind; it’s best to stick to public transportation for this Philly tradition. Mummery in Philadelphia dates back to the 17th century, and the city sponsored and organized the first official Mummers Parade on January 1, 1901. According to the Mummers, "Mummery in America is as unique to Philadelphia as Mardi Gras is to New Orleans."
Week 36: Supreme Court oral arguments
J. Scott Applewhite/APJan. 4, 2018: Cameras routinely roll when the president signs bills and Congress’ work is streamed gavel-to-gavel on C-SPAN, but the only way to see the nation’s top judicial officers in action is to snag one of the limited public seats at Supreme Court oral arguments. Scheduled on specified Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday mornings October through April, arguments are when justices ask questions directly to attorneys and attorneys highlight their most important points. Outside the courthouse, visitors can choose between two lines: One to view an entire argument, let in starting at 9:30 a.m., and other to observe for just a few minutes, let in starting at 10 a.m.; each is first come, first seated. The dates of arguments and the cases being heard are listed on the court’s online calendar. Starting Monday, arguments are scheduled on five days over the next two weeks.
Week 37: National parks
Lloyd Fox/Baltimore SunJan. 11, 2018: Hailing National parks as “America’s Best Idea” for their power to connect visitors not just to the land but to each other, filmmaker Ken Burns was introduced to the uniquely American creation, it turns out, in the Mid-Atlantic, on a visit to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia at age 6. The park in the Blue Ridge Mountains is one of 10 National Park Service sites in the region where regular entry fees will be waived on Monday for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, one of four national free days this year. Other fee-free places include Fort McHenry, Assateague Island National Seashore, and Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park. Dozens more NPS sites in the Mid-Atlantic never charge admission.
Week 38: Great Allegheny Passage
Wikimedia CommonsJan. 18, 2018: In the warmer months, packs of hikers and bikers fuel a cottage industry in the Trail Towns along the 140-mile Great Allegheny Passage. When it’s colder, it’s quieter, but, in part because it isn’t hectic, winter can be an enchanting time to transverse this exceptionally flat rail trail between Cumberland and Pittsburgh. Regularly groomed, the stretch through Ohiopyle State Park in the Laurel Highlands is well suited for snow-shoeing and cross-country skiing, a less expensive, more social, and more scenic alternative to downhill skiing. The park provides free demonstrations and snowshoe rentals over the course of the season, including an event for veterans on Saturday and its annual Winterfest on Feb. 3.
Week 39: Mason-Dixon Line
David Anderson/Baltimore Sun Media GroupJan. 25, 2018: It's been called the "Most Famous Border in America." Still used as shorthand for separations between the north and south, the Mason-Dixon line was for thousands of African-Americans the point where they escaped from slavery into freedom. Established nearly a century before the Civil War, the boundary was also, for the time, an astonishing technical feat. Hired to settle a long-running, sometimes violent border dispute between the Maryland and Pennsylvania colonies, British surveyors Jeremiah Dixon and Charles Mason used then-innovative equipment and techniques to carve a remarkably straight line through more than 200 miles of forests, swamps and mountains. Of 133 limestone markers laid to mark the border, only one is to believed to remain, undisturbed, in its original location. The original Crown Stone 40 and a replica dedicated in 2016 are in a farm field off Route 23 in Norrisville, about 8 miles east of I-83. The Mason and Dixon Line Preservation Partnership catalogs the locations and conditions of dozens of other markers in an interactive map.
Week 40: York factory tours
Kalim A. Bhatti/APFeb. 1, 2018: Anyone who says America doesn't make things anymore hasn't been to York County, Pennsylvania. In the self-proclaimed "Factory Tour Capital of the World," visitors are invited onto the floors of modern manufacturing lines and into the workshops of traditional craftspersons for an up-close look at how products come together and the history behind them. Harley-Davidson and the county's many snack food companies, including Utz, are the most recognizable brands. But don't miss chances to see less mechanized processes such as those in furniture and violin woodshops. Many tours are free, but many are also at select times or require appointments, so be sure to plan ahead.
Week 41: Flight 93 National Memorial
Gene J. Puskar/APFeb. 8, 2018: The trip itself to the Flight 93 National Memorial reinforces the story the monument so tactfully tells. Because of the actions of passengers and crew, the pilgrimage to the crash site of the fourth hijacked airplane takes visitors not to centers of government or commerce but to the southwest Pennsylvania countryside, some 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. That the memorial’s designers weren’t constrained by the density of a metropolis could have invited excess, but they exercised thoughtful restraint, largely letting the land communicate what happened. A 17-ton boulder taken from nearby marks the actual crash site, on the edge of a hemlock grove, where 40 innocents lost their lives. The Memorial Plaza next to it includes a quarter-mile concrete path along the edge of the plane’s debris field and a marble wall bearing victims’ names. The memorial’s visitor’s center is on a ridge overlooking the site, about a mile away. Set to open in September near the memorial's entrance is the 93-foot tall Tower of Voices, comprising 40 tubular metal wind chimes, one for each victim.
Week 42: Torpedo Factory Art Center
Hans Ericsson/Baltimore Sun Media GroupFeb. 15, 2018: As winter hangs on, this Alexandria landmark is an enriching place to spend the day inside. The former World War II munitions plant hosts dozens of working painters, sculptors, printmakers, jewelers and other artists in over 80 open studios, the most under one roof anywhere in the United States. There are also opportunities for more structured art experiences and to see and buy finished works through events and classes and the three-story center's seven galleries. If you still have time left, the Alexandria Archaeology Museum shares the building. It showcases city artifacts and tells how they were found and studied, and, in the warmer months, invites patrons to try to dig some up themselves.
Week 43: Amish mud sales
discoverlancasterpa.comFeb. 22, 2018: If you pardon the mud, late winter into early spring is the perfect time to visit Amish country in Lancaster County. In this season of snowmelt and showers that gives them their name, giant auctions known as mud sales are held around the region to raise money for local fire departments. The events, which this year kick off Saturday at the Strasburg Fire Company, are a deal hunters’ dream — sales include handicrafts, furniture, clothing, antiques, lawn equipment, even livestock. Even if you’re not looking to trade money for goods, the gatherings, where corn soup and other Pennsylvania Dutch foods are also on offer, are a vibrant cultural exchange, a rare chance for extended interaction among Amish, non-Amish locals, and tourists. And the auctions themselves are a spectacle: The auctioneers talk as fast — no, probably faster — as you think, and often multiple sales are happening at once.
Week 44: Wine country
Kim Hairston/Baltimore SunMarch 1, 2018: You don't have to travel to California, the Pacific Northwest, or Finger Lakes for great wine. There are excellent producers all around the country, and the Mid-Atlantic is no exception. A Daily Meal ranking of the top 101 U.S. wineries includes four in Virginia (Barboursville Vineyards, Linden Vineyards, Michael Shaps Wineworks, Jefferson Vineyards), two in Maryland (Black Ankle Vineyards, Old Westminster Winery), and one in Pennsylvania (Va La Vineyards). The aromatic whites viognier and albariño and Bordeaux reds petit verdot and cabernet franc are among grapes that have shined in the region’s continental climate. Don't just take the critics' word for it, though. The joy of wine is in the journey, and discovering what piques your palette. Maryland, where it's currently wine month, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and West Virginia all have organized wine trails, making it easy to plan a wine-centered trip, or to find a tasting room or two near where you're already going.
Week 45: National Aquarium
Barbara Haddock Taylor/Baltimore SunMarch 8, 2018: A cornerstone of the redevelopment of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor almost four decades ago, Maryland’s largest paid tourist attraction is one of the top aquariums in the country. The scope and interactivity of two of its newest exhibits show why it’s attained such status and staying power. Opened in 2013, the centerpiece Blacktip Reef exhibit re-creates a piece of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef in a 260,000-gallon saltwater tank viewable from multiple levels. The namesake blacktip reef sharks are the stars, but the 70 some species of other fish, many of them quite colorful, are captivating on their own. As is the imitation reef they call home. Painstakingly fabricated and painted over a year and half, the resin replica is an engineering and artistic feat to behold. Opened in 2015, the kid-friendly Living Seashore exhibit is a hands-on primer on the ecosystem that surrounds us when we sun and swim at the beach. Patrons can touch stingrays and moon jellies and learn more about them and their neighbors via digital touch tables. Once the biggest draw, the aquarium’s dolphins are being phased out, set to move to a sanctuary by 2020. Visitors can still drop by their tank while staff prepares them for the move.
Week 46: Shepherdstown, West Virginia
Judy Olsen/Baltimore SunMarch 15, 2018: West Virginia’s oldest town is a day-tripper’s dream. In a picturesque and historic setting overlooking the Potomac River, Shepherdstown boasts boutique shopping, gourmet dining, abundant recreation opportunities, and a vibrant arts scene within 90 minutes of Baltimore and D.C. Home to Shepherdstown University and fewer than 2,000 year-round residents, the town is the ideal mix of hip and quaint. A stone’s throw from Harper’s Ferry and Antietam Battlefield, it’s also easy to work into an even fuller day trip or multi-day itinerary.
Week 47: Washington monuments at night
Ron Antonelli/BloombergMarch 22, 2018: Those who call the Mid-Atlantic home can take for granted their proximity to the nation’s capital. What folks from other parts of the country pack into a once-in-a-lifetime trip, regional residents see again and again weekend to weekend or just passing through. To locals, the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial and other monuments along or near the mall, even newer ones like the World War II and Martin Luther King Jr. memorials, can blend into the scenery, or, when they’re overrun with tourists, can be spots to actively avoid. Seeing them at night, though, can put them in a new light, and offer a chance to reflect without the crowds. By foot, bike, car or tour bus, eight monuments can be covered in a 3-mile trip.
Week 48: Druid Hill Park
Amy Davis/Baltimore SunMarch 29, 2018: Central Park in New York, and, this time of year, the cherry blossoms in D.C., draw millions of visitors. Baltimore’s Druid Hill Park, a quick trip up I-83 from the Inner Harbor, offers aspects of both. A contemporary of Central Park as one of America’s first large urban parks, Druid Hill is a 745-acre oasis in the middle of the city. Rolling hills and groves of mature trees opening up into a 55-acre reservoir dotted by cherry trees on the north shore provide a idyllic setting for a picnic or stroll. A 1.5-mile path around the lake, partially closed now for a massive clean water compliance project, and connections to the eight-mile Jones Falls Trail are among the many ways to more actively enjoy the park, which also include a swimming pool, tennis courts, and disc golf course. Within the park are two major attractions unto themselves, the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, one of the nation’s oldest, and the Rawlings Conservatory, showcasing plants from all over the world.
Week 49: Cranberry Glades Botanical Area
Forest Wander/Wikimedia CommonsApril 5, 2018: What traveler hasn’t dreamed of teleportation? You still need a vehicle for this one but will feel like you’ve been zapped hundred of miles to the north. Thanks to the climatic influence of glaciers thousands of years ago, the 750-acre Cranberry Glades Botanical Area in the Monongahela National Forest is the southernmost setting for dozens of exotic plants more commonly found in tundra environments. The acidic wetlands’ spongy ground hosts wild orchids, insect-eating plants and other flora worthy of botanists’ bucket lists, and, now that you know what you’re looking for, yours. A half-mile, wheelchair-accessible boardwalk was constructed over two of the bogs, allowing them to be viewed without disturbing the fragile ecosystem.
Week 50: Brandywine River Museum
Jane Wooldridge/Miami Herald/KRTApril 12, 2018: Come for the art, stay for the scenery. Or vice versa. Much of the art in the Brandywine River Museum was inspired by the rolling hills and meandering river around it. Experiencing one only enhances appreciation for the other. Housed in a renovated mill with a modern glass addition and abutting wildflower gardens and a waterfront path, the internationally recognized museum north of Wilmington is acclaimed for its collection of works by three generations of the Wyeth family of artists, but all together holds more than 2,500 landscapes, still lifes and illustrations by hundreds of American artists who worked in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Week 51: Oxford-Bellevue Ferry
Barbara Haddock Taylor/Baltimore SunApril 19, 2018: If the grind of your daily commute is what got you thinking of a vacation in the first place, try what’s believed to be America’s oldest privately owned ferry route for a change of pace. In fresh air and open water, the 10-minute ride across the Tred Avon River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore will make you feel a world away from that packed train car or interstate. Connecting the small towns of Oxford and Bellevue, the ferry, which holds nine cars plus foot passengers, bikes and motorcycles, makes crossings every 20 minutes or so from 9 a.m. until sunset. It opens for the season in April — this year on April 28 — and runs daily through October, then on weekends in November before closing for the year.
Week 52: Merriweather Post Pavilion
Kaitlin Newman/For Baltimore Sun Media GroupApril 26, 2018: Built to be the summer home of the National Symphony Orchestra, this Frank Gehry-designed amphitheater instead became one of the top pop music venues in the country. Set below a gently sloping field in Columbia’s Symphony Woods, Merriweather is an idyllic place to see a concert, no matter who’s playing. But by accommodating multiple genres and special requests from artists, over half a century, it’s landed some of the biggest acts of their times. It’s the only place The Who and Led Zeppelin shared a stage. David Bowie, Whitney Houston, the Grateful Dead, Wu-Tang Clan, Pearl Jam, Kanye West and countless others cemented within pop music’s canon have also played here. Despite a roof collapse over the winter amid ongoing renovations, the venue is set to open its season on time next week.