Celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in Washington, DC

If your kids are like mine, they likely came home this week telling you that in the days leading up to MLK Jr. Day on January 16 they’ll be learning about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As a parent, I’m thrilled that my first-grade daughter will be learning about Dr. King in school. As a teacher, I’m looking for more opportunities to help her make a connection with Dr. King and the historical events he was pivotal in achieving.

As an English teacher (one semester away from finishing my Masters in Education), I have this theory that all English teachers have one particular area of literature they love more than others. For me, that is African American literature. In honor of Black History Month coming up in February, I’m going to be posting an experiential learning guide I have created that honors the voices of some of my favorite African American writers and then offers suggestions of places to visit in the DC/Northern Virginia region that directly tie to those authors. This project was initially done for a course in my Masters program but the work was so interesting and fulfilling to me that I’m going to build upon it and publish it here to share it with as many people as possible.

That being said, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is one of my favorite writers featured in this publication, and as the only one who has his own national holiday, he earns a bump-out feature of his own. I’d like to share with you some ways to get your kids involved in actively learning about and celebrating the life of this great man on January 16. We are particularly lucky living in this area to have access to so many places that directly relate to Dr. King and can really bring his voice to life for ourselves and our kids. I plan to do this with my own kids as I attempt to introduce them to one of our greatest American figures.

Featured writings:

Everyone knows King’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech- or, at least, they know of the snippet in which he declares he has a dream. Try reading the piece in full with your kids, out loud, and then watch a video of King himself delivering this speech at the March on Washington. When I teach my students rhetorical analysis, I love including audio/visual clips when at all possible. So much is conveyed in tone, facial expression, and mannerisms that doesn’t always carry through in writing (or gets distorted or lost during read-alouds because of the different mannerisms or speech patterns of whoever is reading). There is something very powerful about hearing a writer read their own writing as they intended it to be heard and received. King in particular is a gifted orator whose words on the page are powerful but become epic when heard in his own voice.

Although “I Have a Dream” is perhaps King’s best-known piece of writing, he is the author of others that (if I’m being honest) I actually prefer. One of my favorite pieces of writing of all time is King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” which was written when he was jailed in Birmingham following the 1963 Birmingham protests. In Bearing the Cross, a Pulitzer-Prize winning account of King’s Civil Rights career, it’s revealed how personally stressful King found his stints in jail. Being jailed was a not-uncommon occurrence for King in the mid-60s as protests cropped up across the South in which he would either lead or take part. As often as he was jailed, King found each instance emotionally fraught and mentally taxing. During his five-day stint in Birmingham, he released  nervous energy by penning “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” To read his moving words and measured and rational rhetoric, one would never know the great duress he was under at the time. It bears one of the most elegant and haunting closing paragraphs of all time:

If I have said anything in this letter that overstates the truth and indicates an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything that understates the truth and indicates my having a patience that allows me to settle for anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me.

I hope this letter finds you strong in the faith. I also hope that circumstances will soon make it possible for me to meet each of you, not as an integrationist or a civil-rights leader but as a fellow clergyman and a Christian brother. Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.

-Martin Luther King, Jr.; Letter from a Birmingham Jail, 1963

It is no secret that we are currently living in a world and society which is troubled and bears the silent rumblings of discord and misunderstanding across groups. I read King’s words from time to time to remind myself of his optimism and vision. I ask my students to consider our present day circumstances and to ruminate on whether we have yet reached the “not too distant tomorrow” in which King envisioned love and brotherhood. Their responses are often surprising in their depth and intellect and sensitivity. I love to hear what they think. Ask your kids the same question. (Ask yourself the same question.)

The final piece of King literature I’d like you to read is King’s haunting and eerily prescient “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech, delivered the night before he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. One again, King’s delivery of this speech is mandatory viewing, as his emotional state really comes through via spoken word. If you don’t have 43 minutes to spare, please do at least spend two minutes to watch the final words of his speech, when he really ramps up and appears to be on the verge of tears.

It really doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop, and I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And he’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over and I’ve seen the Promised Land.

I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we as a people will get to the Promised Land. So I’m happy tonight, I’m not worried about anything, I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

He would be shot dead the following day at his Memphis hotel. I promise you, it is impossible to watch him deliver these words and not feel the impact. What thoughts lie behind them? What fears were he nurturing?

Where to visit:

Once you’ve acquainted yourself with the man and his words, you have the option of visiting many places in this area to deepen the connection. Here are my suggestions:

Starting with the most obvious, a stop at the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Monument is a must. As it’s part of the National Park Service system, it’s free and open to the public 24 hours a day, year-round. Kids can get a Junior Ranger Booklet to complete for a badge (I’ve written here about the wonderful Junior Ranger program and highly recommend it for kids).

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From there, visit the Lincoln Memorial, where King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech as part of the March on Washington, a coordinated protest aimed at pressuring government to pursue legislation that would ensure equality in the workforce for African Americans, creating more/better job opportunities for them and securing the right to equal pay.

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Of note is exactly why the march culminated with King’s speech being delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The March on Washington took place in 1963- the centennial of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. The location was a specific rebuke against the fact that much of what the Emancipation Proclamation and the Declaration of Independence promised had not been delivered to African Americans- or as King put it, “it is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.””

And just where did King write this era-defining speech? Right here in Washington, DC at The Willard Intercontinental, where he was staying as a guest. In the lobby of The Willard, King and his advisers made the final revisions and edits to this speech just before he delivered it at the March. Pop into the hotel and show your kids where history was made.

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The Civil Rights display at Library of Congress

Before entering the room where Thomas Jefferson’s book collection is housed and displayed, the Library of Congress has erected a wonderfully informative walk-through presentation about the Civil Rights movement and its pinnacle in 1964 of achieving the passing of the Civil Rights Act, which guaranteed equal treatment of African Americans under the law and prohibited discrimination, voter suppression, and other forms of injustice faced by African Americans through the period following the Emancipation Proclamation and Jim Crow.

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The display shows the work of many of King’s contemporaries in the movement and the work that led to getting the legislation signed and passed by President Johnson. King’s speech is featured as well as a picture of he and other Civil Right leaders with President Kennedy at the White House following the March on Washington. For anyone who’d like a deeper look into the movement and the Civil Rights Act, this display is a must-see.

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note: the Library of Congress website says this exhibition was only on display until January 2, 2016- however, I was just there in mid December, when I took these pictures, and it was up.

The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

Access to this new museum is still mostly limited to highly coveted timed passes (which will go up soon for April) but there are a limited number of same-day passes available each morning at the museum. If you’re able to grab those, do! If you can’t manage a visit in time for MLK, Jr. day, try your best to get in at a later date and make the visit nonetheless. I was lucky enough to get timed passes last September just weeks after the opening date and it was one of my favorite experiences of the year. I consider this museum to be a work of genius- never has the design of any building so informed the experience within.

Starting in the bottom floor of the museum, one begins in the dark days of slavery. Appropriately, this part of the museum is dark, light-less and feels stifling and hot. Moving up through the second and third floors you pass through the Civil War, Emancipation, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights era, and finally you burst into the light-filled center atrium feeling as though you’re gasping for air. The fourth, fifth and sixth floors (the above ground corona) are paeans to achievement in culture. Reaching the top, one feels the heights that have been reached, made all the more poignant when considering the depths in which progress began. The museum’s tagline is “A People’s Journey.” Never has a journey felt so personally rewarding.

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In this far back corner of the top-most floor of the NMAAHC I looked out through the bronze lattice-work that ensconces the building and stood face to face with the Capitol building. How I wished all those who had gone before could stand in that same spot to see the view. Martin Luther King, Jr. declared that he had been to the mountaintop. He undoubtedly had. But I wish he had been there for this mountaintop as well.

Other events and activities:

Washington, DC

Dr. King preschool storytime at the MLK branch of the DC Library.
King mural discussion at the MLK branch of the DC Library
Martin Luther King, Jr. parade, Anacostia (January 16, 2017, 11 am)

Northern Virginia

25th Annual Martin Luther King March and Celebration– beginning with prayer at 10:15 at the Leesburg Courthouse, the march honoring King will then proceed to the former Douglass School.
Loudoun Chorale presents “Lift Every Voice” a festival of choirs and inspirational speakers in honor of Dr. King. Leesburg Community Church (January 15, 2017, 4-6 pm)

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High Rock

Where: Pen Mar High Rock Rd., Cascade, MD (For GPS purposes, try plugging in 14600 Pen Mar High Rock Rd. This is Pen Mar Park and High Rock is NOT in Pen Mar Park, but this gets you on the right road and you simply continue up past Pen Mar Park until you come to High Rock)
When: Well, it’s rocks so it’s there whenever.

I need to begin this post by telling you that High Rock is incredible but I demand to know who was in charge of naming it. Could you really do no better? It is a rock outcropping, and it’s quite high, but surely there was some other quality, some spirit of imagination that could have been looped in to the name instead of just… High Rock?

Look at this high rock.
Yeah, wow. What should we call it? Devil’s Peak? Widow’s Nest? God’s Pillow? Stairway to Heaven?
Let’s call it High Rock.
Ok!

I have, strangely enough, the Vans Warped Tour to thank for introducing me to High Rock. In the strange way that Instagram algorithms work, a picture of some members of some band on the Vans Warped Tour doing community service on High Rock got propagated into my feed. What I noticed first was the great graffiti covering the rock they were standing on. Then I read the caption which said something like, “Vans Warped Tour doing community service cleaning graffiti off High Rock today” and I thought WHAT NO, YOU CAN’T CLEAN OFF THE GRAFFITI, THE GRAFFITI IS GREAT! It’s not often that graffiti enhances a natural landscape but from time to time, something just clicks and I have to say, in the case of High Rock, the graffiti somehow just makes the whole thing better. Don’t hate me, nature purists, I’m kind of a magpie and colorful things appeal to me.

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High Rock lies on South Mountain in Northern Maryland (hee!) right along the Mason Dixon Line. It’s situated on the Appalachian Trail and is a popular lookout spot and hang gliding platform. People also somewhat frequently fall off and tumble to their death. Not trying to scare you or anything, just think you ought to be warned! This really is a rock you want to be respectful of. There’s no fencing or railing surrounding the rock, and the dropoff isn’t one of those fake-out ones where it looks like a sharp drop with dirt 2 feet below. It’s, you know, A DROP. So if you take kids, just keep a close eye on them. Especially with the wet weather we had, the combined effect of rain on spray paint is a quite slippery walking surface. Be safe, my dudes.

Despite the hard work of the Vans Warped Tour, High Rock, I’m pleased to say, is still covered in all manner of graffiti. We got up early on a Saturday morning and headed out since it was a good 60 mile drive from our house, and when we got there I was happy to see that the Vans Warped Tour had not eradicated all the graffiti I had been hoping to see. Rainshowers were moving in and out of the area quickly, and shortly after we arrived, a cloud moved over us and obstructed the view of everything beyond High Rock, lending it a surreal quality wherein you could not quite tell where the end of the rock was and the dropoff began or just how high up you were (1800 feet up, FYI). We were all alone up there and it felt like we really just perched up in the clouds.

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The rain did begin driving a bit more steadily so we retreated to the car and waited a bit and eventually when the rain dissipated we made our way back up to the rock and were rewarded with a brief but stunning view of what lies beyond High Rock when it isn’t obscured by clouds:

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As the sun broke weakly through the clouds, a few more cars pulled up and several of us stood and watched the valley below us open up for just long enough to get a view before the clouds started rolling back in.

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Even this little friend enjoyed the rock (and is a good reminder to please leash any pets you bring along):

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High Rock is accessible via hiking on the Appalachian Trail, but it’s also ridiculously easy to access by car. As in, you just drive up Pen Mar High Rock Rd until you see the small pull-out lot on your right with the rocks right next to it. Definitely wear workout gear and good shoes so that everyone who sees pictures thinks you hiked up a really tall mountain to get there, but your secret is safe with me. I found a hiking log of the trek up to High Rock and it mentions lots of switchbacks and a steep climb so just say that and nobody will ever know.

The best part of the trip to High Rock for me was when I posted pictures of it to Facebook and my dad posted a picture of himself there… in 1982. The rock was pure and free of graffiti and my dad was in stonewashed jeans, a crop top, and had bangs and a mullet. Time moves on, my dad definitely does not wear crop tops now, and the youth have covered the rock in paint, but through a fun wormhole in time known as the Internet, my dad at 19 and I at 31 were in the same place.

 

High Rock made me happy. My kids loved it, my husband loved it, the view were stunning, and even in the rain it was well worth the trip. I can only imagine it’s even better in the fall with all the foliage down below, so we’ll be making a return trek back then. Add this one to your hiking list for sure, definitely at least before the next Vans Warped Tour comes through and tries to de-graffiti it.

SPRING!

Capital Weather Gang recently did us all a solid and declared winter OVER! Zero chance of snow on the horizon, a 10% chance of temperatures dipping back to freezing, and a very mild March signal the early arrival of spring this year. We had a stretch of glorious warmth this week, but the early spring does mean that National Park Service revised their Peak Bloom dates for the Cherry Blossoms to occur from March 18-23 instead of the original March 31-April 4. Unfortunately, that means they’ll likely be on their way out by the time the National Cherry Blossom Festival kicks off. It also means they’ll be blooming the week we are out of town for spring break, which means as we head down to Georgia next week, we’ll be making a pit stop at the Tidal Basin to take a peek.

The arrival of warm weather and an extra hour of daylight means more and more outdoor adventures are on the horizon. If you’re looking from some ideas to carry you into spring, here’s some of my favorites:

The Bunny Train at Walkersville Southern Railroad
When: March 19, 20, 26 at 11 am, 1 pm, and 3 pm
Where: 34 West Pennsylvania Ave., Walkersville, MD

Walkersville Southern Railroad provides visitors the chance to ride on a (beautifully) restored 1920s railroad coach car through Maryland countryside. The ride is about an hour long round trip, and in the spring, the Easter Bunny visits the kids during the train ride and passes out small surprises. If your kids are mildly terrified of mall Santas and Easter Bunnies like mine are, this is a great way to make that experience a bit more enjoyable- mine loved seeing the Easter Bunny enter the car and by the time s(he) made his way to our seat, they were well-acclimated and excited to see him. My oldest was in charge of our tickets and responsible for handing them to the conductor for validation and punching, a task she was very pleased to have.

Due to the popularity of the Bunny Train and the limited number of days the Bunny Train runs, reservations are required, so pick a weekend and purchase tickets in advance.

The Marshmallow Peep Harvest and Egg Hunt at Great Country Farms
When: April 2-3, egg hunt times vary based on age
Where: 18780 Foggy Bottom Rd., Bluemont, VA

I’ve waxed poetic about Great Country Farms in the past- it’s just one of my favorite places of all time. Though they officially open for the season on March 19th, if you’re planning a special trip, you may want to wait until April 2nd to catch their Easter egg hunt with nearly 20,000 eggs and trees “blooming” with Marshmallow Peeps. (They also have fire pits set up so you roast your Peeps, which is a very unique way to eat them that is also not at all terrible.) Stay for the day and play- there’s so much to do at Great Country Farms you could stay the whole day and still not see everything. This may be the year my family buys the season membership because we love it that much and go that often. We will be there for the Easter Egg hunt (to act as bodyguards for our children in the melee and Peep Roasters) and countless other festivals throughout the season, including my personal favorite, August’s Peach Fuzztival. The rest of Bluemont is a treat to visit while you’re out there as well, with Bluemont Vineyards and Dirt Farm Brewing being right across the street and the adorable Bluemont General store serving as a great place to pick up lunch.

National Cherry Blossom Festival
When:
March 20-April 17, 2016
Where:
Locations throughout DC

SO many events! Pick and choose which ones suit your whims or schedule and have at it- kite flying on the Mall is a mainstay of the festival (this is the 50th year!) as well as the Parade and fireworks on the waterfront. A celebration of Japanese culture (our Japanese friends gifted us with the cherry blossom trees in 1912) takes place this year on April 16

Holland in Haymarket, Burnside Farms
When: Dates announced soon- typically opens in mid-April but may be sooner this year thanks to early spring! Website says “Opening in 3-4 weeks” as of March 9th – check back often
Where: 2570 Logmill Rd., Haymarket, VA

This is the U-Pick Flower event to crush all other U-Pick flowers. In the summer, Burnside Farms runs their field of sunflowers and gladiola but the true star of their operation is the spring field which bursts forth with daffodils and then tulips in the spring. Coming down James Madison Highway you first see the field of tulips come into view- happy little heads bobbing in the breeze, an injection of color after a drab winter. The sheer expanse of them, covering an entire field, takes you by surprise. Walking among them is no less impressive. Burnside Farms provides baskets and scissors and you clip to heart’s content, paying $1 stem for tulips and .50 cents a stem for daffodils. This one is an absolute must. I’m actually going to be pretty mad at you guys if you don’t go. Decorate your whole house in fresh cut tulips! Give some to your teachers!

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Leesburg Flower and Garden Festival
When: April 16 and 17, 2016 10 am-6 pm
Where: Downtown Leesburg

Another floral feast for the eyes! The streets of downtown Leesburg are overrun with flowers, topiaries, heirloom vegetables and herbs, and craft and garden exhibits. Live music is playing on the steps of the Loudoun County courthouse and there’s kids activities spread throughout the festival boundaries. We had a great time last year, checking out the trophies these gardeners had brought to market, and relaxing in the sun listening to the band. Parking garages nearby make accessibility a breeze. If you’re interested in grabbing a meal nearby, local favorites Fireworks Pizza and MacDowell Brew Kitchen are right up the street. (MacDowell has a fenced in outdoor seating area covered in sand and stocked with sand toys and trucks, which means it is the most family-friendly restaurant I’ve ever been to that is not Chuck E. Cheese. In fact, it’s even more family friendly than The Chuck because it isn’t hell for parents. There’s even an outdoor bar!)

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Frying Pan Farm Park
When: Open daily, dawn to dusk
Where: 2739 West Ox Rd., Herndon, VA

Spring means BABY ANIMALS. On a nice warm day, my kids love to walk around the farm, check in at Kidwell Farm and see if any piglets or baby goats are running around, and play on the nearby playground. There’s also an antique carousel you can hitch a ride on if you’re there between 10 am and 4 pm. Pack a picnic lunch and spend a day on the farm.

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Little Lucketts

On a recent warm weekend we met up with friends at Tarara Winery, a few miles down the road from the (one) stoplight in Lucketts (just outside of Leesburg). Tarara has a huge deck to sit on and enjoy wine and snacks (their warm-baked ciabatta was delicious, as was the bottle of 2013 Charval my husband and I split). Local products made in Virginia are sold in the tasting room, including these craft sodas made by Mad Hollow (which recently rebranded from Gray Ghost Beverage, so it looks like I got one of the last craft sodas under the old label, one which I admit to preferring given its nod to John Mosby).

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On your way home from Tarara, stop in at the Lucketts Community Center playground and The Old Lucketts store, right across the street. One of my favorite IG accounts, @smalltownstripes, works at the store and is constantly posting treasures that pop up there -including many she takes and puts in her own home, a house which used to be the town Millinery- it’s all very aspirational and perfect. Actually, don’t even go look unless you want to feel pretty grim about your own house.

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If you go a bit deeper into spring, Brossman’s Farm Stand will be open, and you must stop in. There’s usually a BBQ truck smoking in the parking lot, and Farmer Rick very often takes kids out into the field with him to let them pick some produce and to show them the lay of the land. He once let my toddler unload a pallet of tomatoes onto the shelf; she was very slow and he was very patent and kind. We often stop in on a summer weekend to grab fresh fruits and veggies for the week.


 

We’ll be heading down to Georgia for Spring Break soon and I can’t wait to show you Savannah and the Lowcountry. Follow along on Instagram if you like! I’m excited to head into full-blown spring once we get home – nothing like spring in Virginia!

Winter Storm Jonas/ Blizzard 2016/ Snowzilla

What a weekend it’s been! Winter Storm Jonas moved in and deposited a hefty 36 inches where I live, giving us possibly the highest totals in the area. The drifts on my back deck are about neck height to me. The kids will probably be out of school until February. We officially snagged the #2 spot on the list of this area’s biggest storms on record, bumping out the Blizzard of 96 but falling short of 2010’s Snowmageddon. DCA somehow recorded over a foot less than the entire surrounding metro area which is causing quite the stir-up because seriously can’t you guys just get it together. What a time to be alive!

The storm was impeccably forecasted, with the first snowflakes falling around 12:45 pm on Friday, right in the window The Weatherman (a composite figure I’ve created made up of every single meteorologist, newscaster, and reporter in the area) said the storm would begin. Within a couple hours we already had several inches of fresh powder, perfect for sledding before heading in for the night while the show got started.

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We woke up Saturday morning to 22 inches or so on our street, a steady snowfall, and ferocious winds. All neighbors met in the street to exchange serious looks of “WTF?” and “This is a lot of snow, huh?” My husband shoveled and snow blew for approximately 8 hours.

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Snow crept up our back windows and doors all day long,  eventually cresting the rail on our back deck and completely burying everything out there.

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Snow was still falling when we went to bed and this morning we woke up to a massive blanket covering everything in sight. Right now the snow is still pristine and beautiful, truly something to see. Fairly soon it will turn into exhaust-blackened slush and muck but we won’t worry about that just yet.

 

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Our faithful public servant Wayde Byard has not yet called with the trumpeting sound of school closures, which is interesting and I like to think intentional on part of LCPS in order to keep people on their toes. What will they do? Close one day at a time? Cancel the whole week in a go?

By far the best thing to come out of Snowzilla was the video of Tian Tian the panda frolicking in the snow at National Zoo

Various disruptions and mild cabin fever aside, living through a historical storm was pretty fun. Spring can still come anytime, though.

Summer Vacation: Carolina Beach

Last spring, my husband and I ambitiously planned a summer Disney vacation. Our oldest daughter was 5 years old and at Peak Princess Obsession and we thought it was as good a time as any to take advantage of that fleeting stage and drag everyone to Disney World. In July.

We booked with the travel agent, dutifully made plans and arrangements, and then in late May, we went to the National Zoo, where our toddler refused to ride in a stroller, or walk, or be toted around by anyone but me. For the whole day. My husband and I looked at one another once back in the car and realized there was no way, no how Disney was happening that year. In hindsight, I don’t really know what we were thinking in ever assuming a trip to Orlando in July with a young toddler was going to be a fun family vacation. I once saw an episode of Dr. Phil where Dr. Phil said “Sometimes teenagers behave as if part of their brains fell out.” Sometimes adults behave like that too. Bless our hearts?

The day after our zoo trip I called our Disney travel agent, apologetically canceled our Disney vacation, and then set about finding a place on a beach that wasn’t already rented out for the entire season. Everyone knows that the Outer Banks is the vacation enclave of the DC Metro area. It’s essentially the DC Metro area transported to the beach. Everyone goes there, which means everything was already booked up. So I set my sights further south and ended up at Carolina Beach, which not only had rentals still available, but had cheap rentals still available. Cheap rentals that were right on the ocean!

Within a day I had booked our replacement, not-Disney vacation for the week of the 4th of July. We’d never been to Carolina Beach, but crossed our fingers and hoped for the best. We figured even worst-case scenario, it still wasn’t Disney, and that was enough for us.

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So imagine our surprise when we arrived at Carolina Beach on July 4th and fell in love with the place. In fact, we loved it so much, I broke my cardinal rule of vacations and just booked our vacation there again this year. In typical circumstances, I am vehemently opposed to revisiting a previous vacation spot because it necessarily means that the trade-off is the loss of exploring a new place. However, I am also practical and realize that with a 2 year old, the more adventurous, far-flung vacation destinations that include airpline rides, ziplines and vaccinations must needs wait and if we can find a relaxing vacation desination within driving distance that’s enjoyable for everyone, we need to take it. So we’re headed back to Carolina Beach again at the end of June and couldn’t be more excited about it.

Come with me and I’ll convince you why Carolina Beach is the best spot for your family vacation this summer- not Disney and not the crowded, yet simultaneously isolated Outer Banks that all your neighbors will be visiting. This is your own private Carolina. Carolina Beach has everything, including:

Inexpensive real estate

Booking so late in the season, we fully expected to pay a premium for whatever rental would still be available. Instead, we found an oceanfront 2 bedroom, 2 bath condo with private parking and beach access for the low price of $1250 for the week. At the height of vacation season, with the stay encompassing the 4th of July. You’re not renting a Ski-doo on the Outer Banks for $1250 (slight exaggeration). We used Bryant Real Estate, who were friendly, easy to work with via phone and email, and provided a lovely, clean, charming condo for the week of our stay. (We booked our exact same condo this year knowing how reliable Bryant Real Estate is.) Each morning was spent with coffee on the balcony watching the sun come up over a quiet and still Carolina Beach.

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Can you see the sunshine? Can you just feel the moonshine? (My apologies to James Taylor.)

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Blissfully empty beaches

The beaches aren’t totally empty- there’s going to be plenty of friendly faces nearby to chat with while you sit on the beach, but Carolina Beach is wonderfully free of the teeming masses of humanity seen on Jersey Shore beaches during the summer season. You’re not elbowing for space or staring out at a sea of multicolored umbrellas on Carolina Beach. Each morning we walked out, selected our spot for the day, and had an unobstructed view of the ocean as long as we were out there with plenty of space to stretch out, scatter toys, and even set up a plastic swimming pool with water in it so our toddler could stay cool up on the sand. I know you. You’re a Griswold family like mine is. You’ve got a beach wagon, an umbrella, 52 towels, two coolers, a radio, a few beach blankets, 16 beach chairs, 22,000 beach toys, a plastic baby pool, and four beach bags stuffed with sunscreen, hats, sunglasses, coverups and swim diapers. You’re going to need the space.

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Charming beach town Boardwalk

The Carolina Beach Boardwalk is a very special boardwalk- small, old fashioned, it’s a holdout from the past, a throwback to the 1950s beach vacation. There’s a small midway with carnival rides for kids, a few ice cream shops, several restaurants and bars, and the requisite tshirt shops, but it’s so much less gaudy and frenetic than the gargantuan boardwalks in major beach towns. Relatively crowd-free, family friendly, and adorable. We went there almost every day we were on vacation- to grab a meal, or an ice cream cone, or to take a walk on the wooden walkway spanning that stretch of beach, to let the kids ride a few rides.

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BEACH FOOD

We didn’t have a single bad meal the entire time we were in Carolina Beach. In fact, the least impressive meal we had was also the most expensive, proving that good beach food doesn’t have to be fancy.

There are two donut shops in Carolina Beach: Britt’s Donut, right on the Boardwalk, and Wake n Bake Donuts, near the bridge. You may try both. You may like both. But only one of these can be declared The Best Donuts in Carolina Beach. Your family may go to battle over this.

Britt’s Donuts has been on the Boardwalk for over 75 years and their menu is wonderfully simple: donuts. Just one kind- a fried, glazed, melt-in-your-mouth donut that is somehow crispy and airy all at once. It’s Krispy Kreme compounded. It’s heaven in your mouth.

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Britt’s Donuts come fresh and hot in a brown paper sack, and they must be eaten right away, on a bench in the middle of the Boardwalk, for maximum enjoyment. The line at Britt’s can get particularly long, so we took advantage of a relatively short wait time and had our first Britt’s Donut at 9:30 pm one night. No regrets. The donuts are legendary for a reason. We had them maybe 18 more times while we were there.

For breakfast one morning on our way to Wilmington, we stopped in at Wake n Bake, which features a huge selection of fanciful donuts with interesting toppings. These are glamorous, fancy donuts. Whether they’re better than a simple Britt’s Donut is a matter of personal taste.

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Other favorite places we ate while in Carolina Beach: Island Hots, with some of the best hot dogs we’ve ever tried, and Gibby’s Dock and Dine, where we went for dinner several times just because we loved the waterfront deck and the food. As charter boats come trundling in from a long day out at sea, you can sit on the deck at Gibby’s and wave hello. One boat held up their dog and made him wave at us with his paw, which counts as dinner and entertainment in my book. At the end of a long day on the beach, it was so pleasant to sit with a glass of wine on the deck at Gibby’s to watch pelicans swoop and boats come in and eat plates of grouper and shrimp that were so fresh, I’m convinced they were still swimming an hour or two before they ended up on my dinner table.

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And because it was summer, we ate ice cream nearly every day. We had ice cream on the boardwalk, ice cream in the car (in the form of shakes from North Carolina-based chain Cook-Out), and ice cream in the form of a Squigley, which is an ice cream concoction from local ice cream shop Squigley’s that earns you a sticker proclaiming YOU WERE SQUIGGLED if you order it.

 

You bet your bottom dollar I was Squiggled. When else are you going to get Squiggled if not on vacation? Get Squiggled, often. And wear the sticker to prove it.

SO MUCH STUFF TO DO

As much as I love the beach, I like to get out and explore other stuff too, so we settled into a nice routine of spending the morning on the beach and eating lunch, then heading off on some new adventure in the afternoon, or doing our adventuring in the morning and spending the rest of the day on the beach. My mother was appalled, but that is because he idea of a beach vacation is sitting on the beach for literally 9 hours straight, curing her skin. If it’s true that we all descended from creatures who emerged from the ocean billions of years ago, my ancestors are the ones who made it up onto the beach and thought, “Yep, looks good, we’ll just stay here.”

Here’s where we went and things we saw while in Carolina Beach:

Airlie Gardens, Wilmington

Created in 1901 as an example of the perfect Southern garden, Airlie Gardens is the most beautiful public garden I have ever been to. It is perfectly maintained and curated, and full of lush Southern flora that made me homesick for the deep South. The sunflower stalks were taller than my 6’2 husband, the azalea bushes were as big as mid-sized cars, and the crowning glory of the garden, the 400 year old Airlie Oak, made me silent with awe. How temporary and small I felt under that majestic tree. How tiny, how ephemeral.

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The Airlie Oak is everything a live oak should be- stately and confident, wide armed, dripping in Spanish moss, full of shade. My wedding invitation suite had a letterpressed live oak; my wedding portraits feature us standing newlywed under a lane enrobed in them. They are the South to me. (The blue figure to the bottom right of this photo is a grown human man. For scaling purposes.) As far as I’m concerned, the Airlie Oak is the king of them all, a wonder of the natural world.

The Guardians of the Garden exhibit was on display while we were there, featuring whimsical sculptures scattered around the gardens which children were given a scavenger hunt sheet full of clues to find. A praying mantis, a flock of hummingbirds, gargoyles, a perched owl. All of the sculptures enhanced the natural beauty of the garden and made the trip much more fun for my kids.

Battleship North Carolina

The USS North Carolina, a battleship that served in the Pacific during WWII, is docked in Wilmington and accessible for tours- even below deck!

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I once heard battleships described as “floating cities” and this hulking behemoth certainly was. You cannot imagine the warren of rooms and hallways and compartments that lie decks and decks below the main outdoor deck. I am highly claustrophobic and found each descent in a lower deck a bit anxiety-inducing, but I channeled that into an appreciation for how these men lived and worked on these things for months at a time. My own grandfather served on a battleship in the Korean War (the Oriskany, since sunk to be an artificial reef) and I felt a connection to him that I had never had before. Here’s how he lived. This is what he went through. It’s a fascinating and tangible way to feel connected to WWII and those who fought, and I can’t recommend it enough.

The Bellamy Mansion

History (and architecture) lover that I am, I sneaked away one afternoon to take a solo tour of the Bellamy Mansion, one of the best-known historical homes in Wilmington (which has one of the most impressive promenade of homes I’ve ever seen- every time we drove through I wanted to get out and talk a walk through the neighborhoods just to stare at the houses).

 

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Could you just stare at it forever? What a house! What a porch!

The Bellamy Mansion was owned by the Bellamy family but during the Civil War was overtaken and used as Union Headquarters. Still standing out back is one of the few remaining original slave quarters in the United States, which was a remarkable glimpse into how slaves lived during that time. The house is a masterpiece of ingenious design and antebellum grandeur. The tour was so informative, telling the history of the house and elucidating visitors on some of the secrets of the house. I loved every minute of it. There are still to this day tobacco stains on the marble mantels in the sitting room where Union generals put out their cigars and it might have been these tobacco stains that touched me the most. What a small thing to endure. I ran my fingers along those tobacco stains and thought that maybe it is the messes we leave behind that are the truest markers of our existence. We are all capable of some destruction. It is simply a matter of which.

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The New Hanover County Arboretum

I brought the girls here one morning while my husband was on a kayak tour through the swamp and couldn’t believe how much we loved it. It is totally free and run by a co-op of gardeners who keep the garden in immaculate condition. Each section of the garden has a different theme and my daughters loved fully exploring each one and then going back and spending more time in the ones they loved the most. I can’t recommend a visit here enough- you’ll feel like you discovered something totally secret.

 

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Carolina Beach State Park Marina

We came here several times, to walk around and see the boats at dock, and to catch a sunset over the water. I love activities like this that aren’t necessarily flashy or exciting, but are a peek into the spirit of a place, a reminder that everywhere you go can be special if you find what is unique about that place. Sometimes a walk on a dock is all you need to take in a Carolina afternoon.

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North Carolina Aquarium

At the end of Pleasure Island is the Fort Fisher branch of the North Carolina Aquarium, a wonderful aquarium full of creatures found in Carolina waters and beyond. This was a great way to enjoy some air conditioning on a hot day. There was a new exhibit at the aquarium when we were there called Lorikeet Landing, and for a few dollars extra, you were allowed inside a tent to feed nectar to lorikeets. It was very exciting and one of my favorite things at the aquarium. I loved watching my kids muster up the guts to let a lorikeet eat from their hand, and seeing of the more daring lorikeets land on people’s shoulders to better commandeer the nectar cup. This happened to my husband and he was a good sport about it despite generally finding birds no better than flying rodents.

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From the aquarium we hopped on the Southport Ferry to cross THE MIGHTY CAPE FEAR RIVER (you have to say it that way, you can’t just call it the Cape Fear) to the town of Southport, where we had lunch and visited Bullfrog Corner, which is basically the Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory of toys stores, filled to bursting with approximately 1 billion different toys. Way better than your standard junky beach shop, though don’t be mistaken, we visited those as well.

 

Fort Fisher Historical Site

A few miles down from Carolina Beach, past Kure Beach, lies Fort Fisher, a historical Civil War site. It is here that the gateway to Wilmington eventually fell to Union forces and in some ways, directly led to the inevitable end of the Civil War, featuring the South’s ignominious loss. Once Fort Fisher fell, Wilmington fell, and once Wilmington fell, it was all over. Now silent and bucolic, it’s hard to imagine the fierce grappling and fighting that ever occurred here, but so goes the passage of time. What was noisy becomes quiet, edges are softened and rounded, etc. etc.

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As you can see, we had a wonderful mix of downtime relaxing and playing on the beach, and squeezing in lots of new memories while in Carolina Beach. We can’t wait to go back this summer, find new things to see, and revisit some of our favorites from last year. You’ll find me on the deck at Gibby’s Dock and Dine, Sauvignon blanc in one hand, the other casually waving at boats as they come in from the day.

Other tips and resources:

-Carolina Beach is about a 6 hour drive from Northern Virginia, a fairly straight shot down I-95. We chose to break the drive up last year to give our toddler a break and drove to Raleigh where we spent the night, visited Marbles Kids Museum and the Raleigh Flea Market and had dinner at Beasley’s Chicken + Honey, all A+ decisions and a nice little detour on a long drive. This year we’ll probably make the 6 hour stretch all in one go, but if you have very little ones who need a bit of a break, a side scoot to Raleigh offers plenty to do.

-When going on a trip, I like to bring along a small notebook that I write about each day in, just so the small details of the trip don’t get forgotten down the road. I dug up my Carolina Beach notebook and was able to remember much more of the trip to write about thanks to the notes I took last July.

Other activities of note:

-Every Thursday evening throughout summer, there’s a fireworks show at the Carolina Beach Boardwalk. If you’re there for the 4th of July, the town doesn’t do a separate fireworks show for that, so you may need to travel to Wilmington to see 4th of July Fireworks (though we could see them from our condo balcony).

-The Cape Fear Serpentarium in Wilmington is supposedly very well done, but we didn’t manage to squeeze it in last year, so we’ll make sure to visit it this year. It’s North Carolina’s largest lizard and reptile zoo so if you have to a reptile lover, be sure to bring them by.

-My husband took a 5 mile kayak tour through a cypress swamp with Lighthouse Watersports and had a great time (he also had sore arms the next day). Had my daughters been old enough to go along we’d have all gone, but this is something that will have to wait til they’re older. The excursion took about half the day but was well worth it according to my husband.

Carolina Beach/Wilmington social accounts:

@WilmingtonCoast

@carolinabeachnc

Carolina Beach tourism site


 

Though I normally dictate we branch out for each vacation and try somewhere new, I’m excited to get back to Carolina Beach, dig a little deeper, and find more things to love. There’s plenty of time for new adventures as the kids get a little older, but I treasure the memories we’ll have of the summers we spent at Carolina Beach- the most perfect little beach vacation for a family who wants to go and see and do, but also sit and relax on the beach. It’s nothing like Disney, and I mean that in the best way possible. It’s one of the best vacations you’ll ever take.

Weekending: Charlottesville Edition

My family is currently plotting to escape January.

We can’t actually escape January, but every year at this time we plan a weekend trip away to shake off some of the drab ennui that accompanies this month. The weekend trip away is a very special sort of treat- everyone loves a good week-long summer vacation, but a weekend trip is a nice way to break up the routine here and there and just get away for a bit. During the Doldrums months, as I call them, when there’s very little to look forward to, we like to plan a weekend trip to get everyone excited about something, escape the monotony of inbound life in the winter, and see something new. This year’s Doldrums trip will take place either MLK Jr. weekend in January or President’s Day weekend in February, because February is pretty much the Tuesday to January’s Monday. We’re tossing around a couple possibilities at the moment but are leaning heavily toward Norfolk (so if you have any Norfolk tips, let me know!).

If you’re looking for a nice mid-winter (or anytime) escape from real life, one of our favorite Weekending destinations is Charlottesville, just about two hours away from Northern Virginia. If you’re ambitious, a 4-5 hour drive is perfectly acceptable for a weekend trip (and we have done this for a weekend trip to Pittsburgh, which we LOVED), but at 2 hours, the drive to Charlottesville is perfectly suited to the concept of a last-minute, spur of the moment, “Oh why the heck not, we have hotel points to burn”  mini vacation. You have no reason not to escape January for the weekend when somewhere so great is so close by. We’ve gone there twice now for weekend trips- once in January, once in October- and each trip we had a grand old time.

Your first stop upon reaching Charlottesville should be the Downtown Mall, which is probably one of Charlottesville’s best-loved features. A pedestrian thoroughfare that is packed with unique local restaurants, restored theaters, small shops and coffee cars, the Downtown Mall is the perfect place to get out and explore Charlottesville at the ground level. Plus your kids can’t get hit by cars. Always a plus.

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Charlottesville prides itself on its local restaurant scene and there are plenty of options for lunch right on the Mall – Eppie’s for a Southern style meat-and-three platter, Citizen Burger Bar, Revolutionary Soup for a soup and sandwich plate, The Nook for old fashioned diner food, and Splendora’s for gelato are all solid choices. Java Java makes those cute little lattes with art in the foam that make you feel like a living Instagram picture.

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At the far end of the Mall is Virginia Discovery Museum, a sweet little hands-on kids museum where kids can explore and play different exhibits specifically tailored to their interests- there’s a hospital, firehouse, Post Office, an Panera Bread room where they’re free to indulge in that special and fleeting childhood fantasy that work is fun. There’s also a free carousel that kids can hop on and ride. If I recall, parents have to push it to keep it going so between that and your walk up and down the Mall, you’ve successfully worked off your Java Java latte and can make room for WINE.

Wineries

Charlottesville is located in the Monticello American Viticultural Area, a designated wine-making region located in Central Virginia/the Piedmont. Like Northern Virginia, there’s tons of wineries in Charlottesville producing some great Virginia wines (the Monticello Wine Trail includes 25 nearby wineries). One of our (and everyone else’s) favorites is the stunning Pippin Hill, which not only has one of the prettiest, most photogenic tasting rooms I’ve ever seen, but also incredible mountain views. The wine is great as well (their Select Red and Sauvignon blanc were our favorites).

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Pippin Hill has a large grassy area overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains and it is such a bucolic and peaceful place to sit and have a glass of wine and just… stare. When we went, a mass of kids all gathered together and organized a ragtag football game (from where they procured the football, I do not know) and I had a moment of thinking, well, if my kids aren’t going to grow up in Georgia like I did, at least they can grow up here. So they won’t be Georgia girls. To be a Virginia girl is quite an honor. Their childhood memories will be different from mine for sure, but how great will theirs be? Fond recollections of spending the waning hours of a weekend afternoon flitting in and out of vineyards.

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I get to raise Virginia girls and I am not the least bit disappointed by it.

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The day we were at Pippin Hill, a wedding was taking place after the tasting room closed to the public for the day and we got to watch the most gorgeous bride make her way through the grapevines to tap her groom on the shoulder so he could turn and see her in her full wedding regalia for the first time.

We’ve also visited Jefferson Vineyards, near Monticello, which was a bit more low-key than Pippin Hill (not everyone can be the Prom Queen, okay) but another great place for kids to run and play while parents sit and drink some wine. I recall their Pinot Gris being quite tasty.

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While you’re over at Jefferson Vineyards, you of course need to pop into the main draw to visiting Charlottesville:

Monticello 

Living where we do, we’ve of course been to George Washington’s presidential home, Mount Vernon, which is no shack, but is a bit austere and ascetic compared to Jefferson’s lavish and opulent Monticello. Of course, Jefferson was like a bajillion dollars in debt when he died because although he made a salary of $25,000 a year, he had  $100,000/year salary tastes and built a house like Monticello when he really had no business building a house like Monticello, but that’s neither here nor there. This is the house that Conspicuous Consumerism built. And it’s awesome.

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The tour of Monticello is probably one of the most informative, interesting tours I’ve ever taken and I’m not just saying that because I’m a huge nerd for Presidential history. The tour includes stops in Jefferson’s personal bedroom and his library still stacked with his book collection, and amusing anecdotes about items within the home, like the sitarine Jefferson’s granddaughter wanted and which he bought after her parents told her they could not afford it. (As if he could. He bought it anyway.) It feels very intimately connected to the man himself in a way the “restored to period” homes don’t necessarily match. Every aspect of Monticello was designed and planned by Jefferson himself and this is a man who is one of the great minds of all time. You can imagine the things his brain was capable of coming up with. For instance, his bed, which was built into an alcove in the wall and could be gotten into from both sides- one side was open to his library and the other was open to his personal bedroom.

If you don’t have the time or patience for a full tour, you can still explore the grounds free of charge on the Monticello Trail, which wends through woods and land surrounding Monticello.

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Right up the road from Monticello is James Madison’s presidential home, Ash Lawn-Highland. I’m going to level with you: it’s no Monticello. It is a good representation of someone who exhibited modesty and fiscal responsibility. Nobody went into deep, lifelong debt for this house.

However, it’s still cool to see any home of any president (if you ask me) and this is one of the things I love about Virginia; you can’t throw a cat in this state without hitting a Presidential home. History is everywhere!

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Other places and activities of note in Charlottesville:

University of Virginia, flagship university of the commonwealth. If you’re there on the right weekend you may be able to catch an athletic event (the winter schedule has a lot of swimming/diving, wrestling, and basketball on it), but if not, simply taking a walk or drive around the campus itself is impressive enough. Frankly, the school is a bit of a showboat.

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Fridays After Five– From April to September, an event called Fridays After Five is held at the pavilion at the end of the Downtown Mall. Live music and local food and drink vendors are there each Friday evening, making this a fun, family-friendly event. It is also free, and attendees are welcome to bring their own picnic dinners to enjoy on the lawn.

Blenheim Vineyards– I’m singling this vineyard out in case any fans of Dave Matthews Band are reading. This vineyard is owned (and designed) by Dave Matthews himself.

Keswick Hall– A 48-room mansion, golf club, and restaurant, all in one. Take a tour of the mansion, play a round of golf, or stop in for drinks at Villa Crawford Bar and dinner at Fossett’s.


 

Charlottesville is one of the many, many reasons I so love my adopted home state of Virginia. Full of history, natural beauty from the Blue Ridge Mountains, exquisite architecture in Monticello and the UVA campus, local artisans, and a deep love of community that the town holds and prides itself on, Charlottesville is the kind of place that will make you want to visit again and again. We love it there and consider it one of our favorite Virginia destinations. I hope you’ll go and discover everything that’s great about it, and Virginia.

For more Charlottesville inspiration, check out the following social accounts:

 @Charlottesvilleva
@hometowntouristcville
@ilovecville

Potomac Overlook Park

Where: 2845 Marcey Rd., Arlington, VA
When: Open daily from dawn to dusk

HI FRIENDS, IT’S JANUARY. I normally approach January with a very bleak and dour outlook. Oh great, it’s cold and dark and there’s no more warm and cozy Christmas decorations up to take the edge off the cold darkness. Just endless cold and misery. I’m trying to do better this year. Maybe it’ll be okay?

Anyway. The last day of 2015 was, like all other days in December, warm and mild, so before our New Year’s Eve party that evening, my girls and I spent the day outdoors. I decided to head to a new-to-us NVRPA park in Arlington, Potomac Overlook ParkI will provide the disclaimer that the Potomac Overlook this park is named for is now closed (not sure why?) but the rest of the park is so well done and full of fascinating things that the lack of overlook isn’t necessarily a detriment to your enjoyment. I love getting surprised like this; I had no idea the park would have so many interesting diversions and fun things for kids to check out. NVRPA really does an excellent job with all of their parks. Hats off, NVRPA.

As soon as you pull up in the parking lot you’ll see a wonderful little wooden play structure, which my children ran around on for awhile (and had all to themselves on this holiday weekday).

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There’s two separate paths you can take from the parking lot- one leads through the woods down to what once was the Overlook, which is now closed. However, the path looked very pleasant and easy for kids to navigate, so I would still give it a try even if you can’t get out to the Overlook anymore. The day we went it was far too muddy and slippery for my toddler to attempt (meaning I didn’t feel like getting mud all over my car after she inevitably fell 8,000 times) so we’ll try it another day on a visit that doesn’t take place at the end of a rainy week.

Instead, we took the path to the Nature Center.

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Along the way is a lovely little thing called the Planet Walk:

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Each planet gets its own banner with facts and information. They are spread out in proportion to how far away they are from each other and the sun- meaning Neptune is the first planet you reach on your walk down (because Pluto is no longer a planet, or is it, I feel like it changes every so often?) and the first planet you see for quite awhile, until Uranus pops into view, followed by Saturn, and Jupiter. At the Nature Center, as in the universe, Venus, Earth, Mars, and Mercury are clustered right next to one another in a tight little lineup. It’s very well done and my kids enjoyed running to each planet as they saw it along the path and then reading the planet’s bio. Very cute!

Right across from the Nature Center is a fabulous Birds of Prey exhibit, which houses hawks and owls that were injured in the wild and rehabilitated at the park. Inside a small pen of cages are a red-tailed hawk, a horned owl, and my favorite- a barred owl.

 

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Actually, make that at least two barred owls. I didn’t see the second one skulking in the dark corner until I later looked at the pictures.

The Nature Center was my kids’ favorite part of the whole park- taxidermied animals, tanks with live snakes, reptiles, and turtles, a double-sided bee hive filled with busy bees, and a display of animal skulls. The whole thing is part of the park’s Energerium program, designed by the park’s naturalist staff to educate children on nature’s role in supplying the earth with energy and how all aspects of nature, from large to small, cooperate together to keep things running smoothly.

Energerium is designed to incorporate Virginia SOLs (the educator in me is impressed and pleased with this), but remains accessible for younger children as well. Just really, really well planned and executed. If you’re a homeschool family, a trip to Pototmac Overlook park would be perfect for a day focused on science, chemisty, ecology, biology, etc. If you’re not a homeschool family, a visit is still interesting and informative for a wide range of ages. My children spent a good 30 minutes inside the Nature Center, exploring each floor and every display, which makes it the perfect time-killer for those cold days when you need fun indoor activities. Being tucked inside a regional park, it’s hard to believe a little Nature Center could offer so much- you truly don’t want to miss it. What a little treasure.

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A short walk down from the Nature Center is a vegetable garden that visitors are encouraged to enter and explore, continuing with the concept of the Energerium. There’s a compost bin and raised plots of (currently) winter vegetables. My girls enjoyed walking around each plot and seeing what was planted.

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(In this bed, we have garlic and Saigon Turnips.)

On our way out we stopped back at the play area and played a little bit more before getting in the car and heading home. I can’t recommend Potomac Overlook Park enough- plenty of displays and areas of curiosity to keep you and your children busy and lots of space to run, walk, and play. It just might be my new favorite NVRPA park, and we will definitely be heading back over the next chance we get.

Make a day of it: 

I just want to let you know that The Italian Store is about 2 miles away from Potomac Overlook park on Spout Run Parkway. There are picnic tables at the park, so if you don’t want to eat at the store, you can pack it to go and bring it along as a picnic. In either case, I feel it’s imperative that you stop in for a bag of the best sandwiches ever, a couple slices of pizza, and a box of Berger cookies.

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Addendum:

Hannah at NVRPA sent me an email after reading this post including NOVA Park’s Winter camps and activity guide, which is full of one-time events that take place all winter long at different NVRPA parks. The guide is full of activities that my own children would love and I will likely sign up for more than a few of them. If you’re interested in exploring some of these activities with your own family, here is a link to the online guide and schedule. Thank you, Hannah!