We first visited Virginia 7 years ago, as part of our very first American Roadtrip. On that trip we took in loads of incredible Washington sights – the Pentagon, the Natural History Museum, the Newseum, the Capitol and the Library of Congress – and stayed in the laughably naff Americana Hotel, which despite (or maybe because of ) its bad coffee, retro furnishings and cheap donuts Hannah’s always had a soft spot for…
This time we got to stay in our friend’s beautiful home in Arlington, hang out with them and their dog Lucy, and were able to take a much more relaxed approach to sight-seeing as we’d already ticked so many places off of our must-see list.
After a thought-provoking morning in Baltimore checking out the American Visionary Art Museum – we can’t tell you enough how much we love this place – we drove over to the United States National Arboretum. Home to the captivating Capitol Columns Garden (which is studded with Corinthian pillars that were once part of the Capitol building), a pair of mated Bald Eagles named Mr. President & The First Lady and the cool, peaceful National Bonsai & Penjing Museum where you can stroll amongst the most exquisite bonsai trees and calming water features. This is a huge, verdant spot to stretch your legs near Washington D.C. and totally free to enter. We only have good things to say about this Arboretum.
On our first night in Virginia we popped into town and had dinner at Busboys and Poets – a community meeting-spot that combines a restaurant, bookstore, lounge and has a range of options for vegans, vegetarians and omnivores too. It was hopping but the wait-staff were all charming and kept us in cocktails and craft beer too. We then strolled over to Churchkey – a beer bar home to 555 brews. It was crazy busy but a lot of fun.
The next morning, after going for a walk in the woods with our friends and Lucy, we drove to Middleburg to Chrysalis Vineyards for a picnic in the sun – gazing upon acres of rolling hills and big skies – before trying the wines for ourselves. So much fun.
We met up with some lovely friends of our friends and all went over to Hank’s Oyster Bar in Alexandria Old Town for dinner. They made some mean – and quite delicious – cocktails and served epic beer too. Although the menu was, naturally, built around their seafood-offerings Hannah got to eat some lovely vegan nosh and Josh loved his oysters and sharing platters. It was a lovely evening and fun to see how people who live in D.C. hang out too.
The next morning, with very heavy hearts we said goodbye to our wonderful friends and their wonderful pupper and hit the road again. We had a few hours to kill so wandered around the Mall, said hi to Abraham Lincoln (a monument which never fails to inspire awe) and then visited the home of the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights at the National Archives Museum. For West Wing fans and lovers of the US of A this was supremely geeky fun. We enjoyed a very healthy and nutritious lunch at Teasim : a tea-house with locations throughout DC which promise Bento boxes from Japan, curries from Thailand, and tandoor breads from India.
From Washington we drove West Virginia to hang out in a few more new states and revisit more places we’ve already sampled, but we weren’t done with Virginia yet. No ma’am. After a night in the far eastern part of West Virginia we drove south and crossed the border back into Virginia; we had a date with some dinos.
Dinosaur Land in Winchester, VA is an adorable roadside stop. There are tonnes of big model dinosaurs, a giant shark and even King Kong. We’ve seen better rendered dino-likenesses, but not many that have as much charm as this little place. From there we headed further south, running almost parallel to the VA/WV border, in Shenandoah National Park – it was the fall after all and we had to do some leaf-peeping. Skyline Drive along the ridge of the park was spectacular, some of the leaves had turned a brilliant red already, some were just turning orange and there was still plenty of green too. A wonderful way to spend an hour gawping. At the Southern end of the Skyline Drive we were in need of a little lunch, and in Clementine (Harrisonburg, VA) we found a great little cafe that catered for both of us and gave us some delicious pink lemonade into the bargain!
Towards the end of our trip we dropped by Richmond for a night and very nice it was too. We stayed in the utterly gorgeous Quirk Hotel – the lobby studded with fushia pink seats, iron staircases and showcasing incredible art work including cat-art! Of Italian Renaissance design and built in 1916 it was was noted for being the first fireproof department store in the city, according to the Department of Historic Resources. Hannah had wanted to stay here for yonks and was very into all of the design elements in the lobby and our room. We enjoyed views of Richmond from the pretty rooftop bar (although we were a bit shocked with how lax and dismissive the service was from the staff here) and a drink in the lobby bar where we could people-watch and admire all the fancy architecture inside the Quirk.
For dinner we strolled over to Pasture for Southern small plates, more craft beer and yes, more cocktails. We’re getting predictable now, huh? The food was pretty exquisite and the restaurant light, slick and beautiful. Service was so friendly and we ended up feel pretttty tipsy before too long. Which meant a trip to the Capital Ale House was called for. We sat in the slightly scuzzy basement, drank beer, watched American Idol without the sound and enjoyed reminiscing on our trip and all of our USA roadtrips.
After a very comfortable night’s sleep we popped down to Maple and Pine – the hotel’s signature restaurant located in the lobby and had a (slightly overpriced) breakfast. Coffees, roasted almond milk oatmeal for Hannah and bacon and carbs for Josh.
It was hard to leave this swanky hotel but we wanted to have a mooch around the very grand Capitol before heading to Hollywood Cemetery where Jefferson Davis (the Confederate President), John Tyler and James Tyler (both American Presidents) are buried. It was very sleepy and quiet when we arrived and we didn’t see a soul as we walked amongst the tomb stones, so yeah, we were scared! But the grounds were well kept and the cemetery afforded beautiful views of the James river.
License plates in this state proclaim ‘Virginia is for lovers’ and you know, we really did have a lovely time here. It’s a state we could imagine returning to again and again. Not least as one day we really would like to get ourselves booked onto a tour of the Whitehouse!
Rate the state:
Good for: Those on a limited budget, American history, politics, tasty and varied dining experiences, beer and wine.
Bad for: Traffic, hotels are pricey, some areas feel slightly sketchy.