City life gets to be too much sometimes. When you need a break from the constant movement, noise, and politics of DC, there are plenty of day trips from DC that offer a quick reprieve from the hustle and bustle.
I’m a DC area local and in this article I’ll spill the beans on some of the best places to escape the city for a day.
Whether you’re looking for top-notch food, historical places, time in nature, or just fun family activities, there are day trips from Washington DC that satisfy almost every need. Choose the one that fits you best!
Table of Contents
- 16 Best Washington DC Day Trips
- National Aquarium
- Legacy Wine Trail
- Sugarloaf Mountain and Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard
- Brookside Gardens
- Ocean City Beach
- Annapolis Harbor
- Maryland Science Center
- American Visionary Art Museum
- Shenandoah National Park
- Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello
- Mount Vernon
- Gunpowder Falls State Park
- Great Falls National Park
- Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
- Kent Island
- FAQs About Day Trips from Washington DC
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16 Best Washington DC Day Trips
An easy day trip from DC offering family-friendly activities, culture, and sports
Thanks to the hit series The Wire, many people have the wrong impression of Baltimore. There’s a lot to appreciate about this bustling city, its history, and its culture. It makes for one of the best day trips from DC to take with family or friends.
You’ll find plenty of family activities to do including the Maryland Science Center, the Baltimore Aquarium, and the American Visionary Art Museum. Each of these warrants its own day trip, so we’ll dive into separate entries for each in a minute.
For more adult-friendly day trips from Washington DC to Baltimore, you could hang out at Fells Point, Power Plant Live! Or catch a baseball game at Camden Yards.
One of the most popular attractions in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor is a must for families with young children
Baltimore’s National Aquarium is a staple of the Inner Harbor. Open to the public since 1981, it houses more than 750 aquatic species and hosts a variety of educational events for all ages. It’s definitely one of the best day trips from DC for families with children.
It’s a 38-mile drive from the capital city, but if you don’t want to struggle with the limited parking then you can also get to Baltimore easily by MARC train or Amtrak.
Legacy Wine Trail
Wine lovers don’t have to venture far from DC to enjoy an afternoon of vineyard hopping
If Virginia is for lovers, then Maryland is for wine lovers. In the rural parts of Brandywine, MD there’s a group of vineyards and wineries that are all within a few miles of each other on what’s known as the Legacy Wine Trail.
The Legacy Wine Trail includes several unique locations:
- Robin Hill Farms & Vineyard (my personal favorite)
- Gemeny Winery & Vineyard
- Romano Winery & Vineyard
- Janemark Winery
- Two Lions Vineyards
It’s about 35 minutes from Washington DC, making it an excellent option for your DC day trips if you don’t want to venture too far. At any of these locations, you can pop in and ask for a tasting, or grab one of their wine flights to see which vintage lights up your taste buds.
During the warmer months, they often have visiting food trucks or live music to enjoy while you sip a glass (or three) of wine. Just be sure to come with a designated driver or have a safe plan to get home if you’ll be doing more than just tasting.
Sugarloaf Mountain and Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard
Enjoy scenic views from a mountaintop, then finish it off with a glass of wine
Close to the town of Frederick Maryland are dual day trips from Washington DC: Sugarloaf Mountain and the Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard.
This beautiful quartzite mountain top was created through the erosion of the surrounding land. It’s not nearly as far as other mountain tops in the region, but it does offer scenic views for outdoor enthusiasts who are ready to hit the hiking trails.
When you’re done exploring the natural beauty of Sugarloaf Mountain, catch your breath at Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard. Less than a mile down the road from the entrance, this vineyard is a picturesque setting for wine tastings. Choose between indoor and outdoor seating on any day of the week until 5 PM. No reservation needed!
50 acres of expansive greenery makes for a serene and family friendly retreat from DC
A short 35-minute drive outside of Washington DC will place you at Wheaton’s Brookside Gardens, located within Wheaton Regional Park.
Inside you’ll find over 50 acres encompassing various family friendly attractions such as:
- Aromatic gardens
- Botanical garden
- Walking trails
- Event hall
- Miniature train
- And more
The grounds are extremely well kept and the gorgeous natural views make it a popular spot for pictures and family events. There’s no shortage of things to do in Brookside Gardens.
Walk through the scenic Japanese-style garden, bring kids to the jungle gym, bike through various trails, or take a ride on the miniature train. You can easily turn your DC day trips here into a picnic or short hike depending on what you’re in the mood for.
Ocean City Beach
A popular summertime escape from DC, perfect for partiers and sun seekers
Ocean City Beach is definitely one of the most fun day trips from DC. Many DC area locals make it a habit to head to this party town each summer. You’ll find surrounding amusement parks, arcades, and mini golf courses making this a fun day trip for everyone.
Ocean City offers over 10 miles of beach and endless tourist attractions. The beach is especially popular with surfers. There’s even a dedicated surfing section on the beach. It’s also a premier fishing location on the east coast and is known as the White Marlin Capital of the World.
In the summertime, the beach gets crowded, so sun-seekers should get there early to nab a good spot in the sand as well as good parking.
If you can extend your day trip overnight, weekend trips to Ocean City are even better. Get a prime spot on the beach and stay within walking distance to everything by booking a stay at Americana Condos, just a two-minute walk to the beach. After a beach day, knock back a few drinks and stick your toes in the water at Seacrets Bar and Grill.
History buffs and water lovers can’t miss a trip from DC to check out this seaside town
Distance from Washington DC: 45 minutes | 📍 Google Maps
Annapolis Harbor is a charming maritime town that is the perfect waterside getaway from Washington DC. History buffs will find plenty of interest in this historic city as well. Visit the Annapolis Maritime Museum, the Naval Academy Museum, William Paca House, and The Maryland State House.
Wander down the brick and cobblestone streets near the Naval Academy and you’ll see plenty of midshipmen in uniform and busking musicians before reaching the bustling harbor. In addition to the historic buildings lining the street, you’ll also find quaint stores and restaurants on this side of the Chesapeake Bay.
There are also boat tours around Annapolis Harbor from April until October. If that’s not your style, take a walk and watch the sailboats and yachts pass through the Chesapeake Bay. Then grab a bite to eat at any delicious food destinations lining the waterfront corridor.
Maryland Science Center
Ignite your kids’ curiosity at the immersive exhibits in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor
If you’re the parent of a curious mini-scientist, then a DC day trip to Baltimore’s Maryland Science Center is in order. This is where fun and learning exist in the same place! Learn about everything from dinosaurs to outer space. Attend one of their 3D Imax documentaries or gaze up at the stars in the planetarium.
Baltimore’s parking situation is limited, but luckily the science center offers discounted parking at the garage on E. Lee Street which is a short walk away. Make the most of the trip by combining your visit with our next day trip, American Visionary Art Museum, which is a 10-minute walk from the science center.
American Visionary Art Museum
Eclectic and thought-provoking exhibits at this Baltimore museum will delight the whole family
Another great Baltimore day trip from Washington DC is to visit the American Visionary Art Museum. It’s filled to the brim with eccentric sculptures and works from self-taught artists which is sure to inspire your inner artist. They host a variety of exhibits and events including an annual kinetic sculpture race.
As part of their permanent collection, they house a dazzling set of sculptures entitled Bling Universe. You will need to buy timed passes in advance. Adult tickets are about $16 each, but luckily, kids six and under get in for free!
🎨 Love Museums? Check out my guide to the best museums in DC.
Shenandoah National Park
The perfect DC day trip for nature lovers offers colors that really shine during the autumn
Virgnia’s Shenandoah National Park is stunning in autumn when the leaves start to change color. Cruise through the winding roads of Skyline Drive or Blue Ridge Parkway. Slow down to enjoy gorgeous views of the skyline over the rolling hills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Travel the full 105-mile stretch of Skyline Drive or use it to access several hiking trails including the well-traveled Appalachian Trail. If you travel far enough down Skyline, you can also visit the Luray Caverns area. Home to Luray Valley Museum or Shenandoah Heritage Village. Both are backed by the beautiful scenery of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Shenandoah National Park is humongous with over 200,000 acres of land. To fully appreciate the beauty and history of Shenandoah, it makes sense to turn this scenic day trip into a weekend getaway.
For weekend trips from Washington DC, book a quiet stay at Silver Lake Bed and Breakfast or Oakhurst Inn. Their cozy accommodations are close to Shenandoah National Park without sacrificing that close-to-nature feel.
Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello
A historically significant site in Virginia that doesn’t shy away from its contradictory history
Love diving into American history? Visit the estate of the third US president, Thomas Jefferson. This sprawling 2,500-acre former tobacco plantation and home was a lifelong project for the former president. He started building it at 26 years old and it was still considered a work in progress when he died in 1826.
It was here that he wrote the Declaration of Independence, founded the historic University of Virginia, and ran his presidency. This is also where Thomas Jefferson decided to be buried. A tour of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello also highlights many of the contradictions associated with owning slaves while advocating for liberty and the inalienable rights of the American people.
Monticello doesn’t shy away from this portion of its history. Its gardens, orchards, architectural gems, and historical significance have earned this estate a designation as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Visit George Washington’s 21 room mansion and bike around the surrounding 3,000 acres
George Washington’s home at Mount Vernon is a slice of American history that’s only 14 miles away from Washington DC. It’s situated on the banks of the Potomac River just outside of Old Town Alexandria.
It’s suggested that the best way to explore the 3,000+ acre estate and its historic sites is by taking a bike ride. There are several reputable locations to rent a bike for the day. The historic estate consists of a 21-room mansion, greenhouse, farm, distillery, and tombs. You could easily spend the whole day here and still want to explore for a few hours more.
An easy way to visit Mount Vernon is via this highly rated six-hour tour. It takes you to and from the estate in an air-conditioned minivan with a small group. Discover the most interesting facts about Mount Vernon and the first president with commentary from a professional tour guide.
Gunpowder Falls State Park
With over 120 miles of trails, this Maryland state park is a great DC day trip to enjoy outdoor recreation
Gunpowder Falls State Park is one of the largest state parks in Maryland with over 18,000 acres of diverse ecosystems and 120 miles of trails. The park is host to a wide variety of outdoor activities including:
- Horseback riding
- Canoeing/ Kayaking
- Water tubing
- Mountain biking
A few of the trails at Gunpowder Falls State Park lead to small waterfalls and, in the Hammerman area of the park, you’ll find a quaint swimming beach. There’s also a full-service Marina in the Middle River section of the park near the Dundee Creek fishing area and the archery range.
Great Falls National Park
Hike rugged trails and enjoy sweeping vistas of the Potomac River at one of the closest national parks to Washington DC
To see the rushing waters of the Potomac River and hike rugged trails, there’s no better place than Great Falls Park. With entrances in Northern Virginia and Maryland, it’s only 15 miles away from the nation’s capital. There are 15 miles of trails within the national park that can be used for hiking, biking, and horse riding.
At $20 per vehicle, the one-time price to get into the park is high compared to other parks on this list of DC day trips. If you plan on taking a few day trips here throughout the year, you can get unlimited park access with their annual pass for $35.
It’s more than just a day trip from Washington DC to the outdoors. You’ll also find ranger-led guided tours and indoor events at the visitor center that teach about the park and its history.
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
One of the best places to spot a bald eagle, and an important part of American history
Distance from Washington DC: 2 hours | 📍 Google Maps
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge sits on an offshoot of the Chesapeake Bay, just a couple hours from DC. It was founded in 1933 as a protected area for over 250 migratory bird species that frequent the Blackwater River area.
The refuge is a major sighting area for bald eagles from January through July and other large waterfowl from October until December. Just be sure to bring insect repellent, since the wetlands are a breeding ground for all types of bugs.
There’s also a rich Native American history here as this was home to the original Nanticoke tribe and their ancestral villages. Each year they hold a Native American Festival in nearby Vienna, MD.
Blackwater Refuge was also a point of importance in the American Civil War as well as the civil rights movement. It’s honored as part of the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Monument.
Chesapeake Bay’s largest island makes for an outdoor escape from Washington DC
Distance from Washington DC: 1 hour and 40 minutes | 📍 Google Maps
Kent Island is 48 miles away from Washington DC. It’s also the largest island in the Chesapeake Bay. Compared to Ocean City, you’ll find a much different crowd. Think small-town vibes, good food, and secluded beaches. This historic town at the base of Maryland’s eastern shore has a variety of activities to keep you entertained on your day trip from Washington DC.
Play 18 holes on Blue Heron Golf Course. Visit the family-run distilleries on the island, Blackwater Distilling, and Cascia Vineyards. Hike or bike their two trails to enjoy beautiful sunsets. Visit Dirty Dave’s Tiki Bar for drinks on the beach. You can even go fishing at Romancoke Fishing Pier. If you’re not up for a busy trip, you could just as easily make this a laid-back getaway.
Exploring this Chesapeake Bay island fully is best done over a weekend. Extend your day trip by booking at Maria’s Love B&B or George Brooks B&B. They’re both a short drive away from Kent Island’s main attractions. If you only have enough time for day trips from Washington DC, give yourself at least four hours to enjoy the island and all its unique appeals.
👉 Read Next: Best Things to Do in the USA
FAQs About Day Trips from Washington DC
What is the best day trip from DC?
One of the best day trips from DC is Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. For beach day trips from Washington, Ocean City is one of the best for a high-energy time. Outdoorsy DC day trips would be best suited by Great Falls Park since there are trails for every fitness level and breathtaking views. History buffs might find Mount Vernon or Monticello to be the best trips from Washington DC for their historical significance.
Do you need a rental car in DC?
You do not need a rental car in Washington DC to get to most places. DC is super walkable. The places you can’t walk to in the city are accessible by metro. Although the metro system has its share of hiccups, it’s a valuable form of transportation. If you’re looking to get out of the city, you likely will need a rental car to get to most day trips outside of DC.
That’s it for this Washington DC day trips guide. I hope I’ve helped you find the best day trips from DC for you!
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