THE NEAR­EST FAR­AWAY PLACE

The Washington Post Sunday - - TRAVEL - — An­drea Sachs, Carol Sot­tili, Ni­cole Arthur, Chris­tine Led­bet­ter and Me­lanie D.G. Ka­plan

Some­times we wish upon a star to travel far, far away, but those evil twins Time and Money quash our dreams. How­ever, the Washington area is rife with quickie get­aways that go the dis­tance. Our re­gional picks are within four hours by car and of­fer a grab bag of free or low-cost ac­tiv­i­ties. But best of all? These dozen des­ti­na­tions will trans­port you to another place and mind-set.

One hour to 90 min­utes

El­li­cott City: At nearly 250 years old, the for­mer Quaker mill town looks its age, though it acts more like the 10th-gen­er­a­tion grand­kid. The down­town dis­trict, a proud mem­ber of the Na­tional Register of His­toric Places club, is a blast from cen­turies past, with dozens of build­ings dat­ing from the 1700s and 1800s. Visi­tors can week­end-binge on such his­tor­i­cal sites as the Col­ored School, the Thomas Isaac log cabin and the B&O Rail­road Mu­seum, the old­est sur­viv­ing train sta­tion in Amer­ica. Ghosts add to the throw­back feel, and their leg­endary pranks add comic re­lief to a history marked by two dev­as­tat­ing floods. To re­join mod­ern times, sim­ply open the door to a Nar­nia of quirky shops (so many an­i­mal-shape gew­gaws!) spin-the-globe restau­rants (In­dian, pan-Asian, French coun­try, USA burgers, etc.) and an­i­mated bars (sev­eral with mi­cro­brews and live mu­sic). In­deed, in one af­ter­noon, you can leap across sev­eral time pe­ri­ods and bring back the shark-face mit­tens and raised hairs to prove it. Info: www.vis­ithoward­county.com.

An­napo­lis: Gaze down the Sev­ern River to­ward An­napo­lis on any but the cold­est, wettest days and you’ll see more than a few sail­boats, from tiny day-sail­ers to mas­sive yachts. Mary­land’s his­toric state cap­i­tal is also known as Amer­ica’s sail­ing cap­i­tal. The U.S. Naval Academy, which sits at the mouth of the har­bor, sets the sea-based tone. Sail­ing classes, kayak rentals, boat sight­see­ing tours and char­ter fish­ing trips draw crowds of tourists, but land­lub­bers are also in­cluded in the fun. On Wed­nes­day nights in the sum­mer, line up on the Spa Creek draw­bridge to watch 150 crews com­pete in a race that ends at the An­napo­lis Yacht Club. The Naval Academy’s year-round guided walk­ing tours in­tro­duce visi­tors to its 338-acre cam­pus. An­napo­lis boasts more 18th-cen­tury build­ings than any other U.S. city, with many of them now home to bars, shops, gal­leries and restau­rants. And it’s one of the few places in Amer­ica where you can do a pub crawl among tav­erns that have been pour­ing for 200-plus years. Info: www.vis­i­tan­napo­lis.org.

Harpers Ferry: The West Vir­ginia town is one big con­flu­ence — history and cul­ture, moun­tains and rivers, ur­bane strollers and out­doorsy folks. The na­tional his­tor­i­cal park dom­i­nates the Lower Town, where the Po­tomac and Shenan­doah rivers con­verge and Mary­land, Vir­ginia and West Vir­ginia meet. The park spot­lights sem­i­nal events in­clud­ing Civil War bat­tles (and the re­volv­ing door of oc­cu­piers), the rise of in­dus­try and trans­porta­tion, the ar­se­nal raid by abo­li­tion­ist John Brown and the move­ment to ed­u­cate African Amer­i­cans. Etsy-spir­ited bou­tiques, art gal­leries and snug cafes line Washington Street, the main drag, and out­ly­ing lanes. The area also has a spi­der’s web of hik­ing trails, in­clud­ing a sec­tion of the mother of all treks, the Ap­palachian Trail. The trail con­ser­vancy’s visi­tor cen­ter is a re­source to all guests — longdis­tance marchers as well as day­walk­ers wear­ing flip-flops and car­bload­ing on waf­fle cones from Scoops. Info: his­toricharpers­ferry.com.

90 min­utes to two hours

Winch­ester: The Stonewall Con­fed­er­ate Ceme­tery, Stonewall Jack­son’s head­quar­ters, bat­tle­field sites and Civil War mu­se­ums can all be found in this Shenan­doah Val­ley town in Vir­ginia. But why not tour, in­stead, the child­hood home of coun­try mu­sic leg­end Patsy Cline? She lived in a white twos­tory house on South Kent Street from 1948 to the mid-’50s, longer than she did any­where else. It’s dec­o­rated with ’50s fur­ni­ture and mem­o­ra­bilia, in­clud­ing a wooden iron­ing board, floor-stand­ing ash­trays, doilies and some of the singer’s cos­tumes. Knowl­edge­able do­cents de­scribe the hard­scrab­ble life she lived with her sib­lings and mother, Hilda, who was only 16 years older than Patsy and who sewed her daugh­ter’s cos­tumes. Else­where in and around the pic­turesque town — seem­ingly all of which is on the Na­tional Register of His­toric Places — check out the strol­lable Loudoun Street pedes­trian mall or the Fam­ily DriveIn, one of the state’s few re­main­ing movie the­aters of that style.

Info: www.vis­itwinch­esterva.com.

Get­tys­burg: Although it may have seemed oth­er­wise dur­ing the 150th an­niver­sary of the Bat­tle of Get­tys­burg two sum­mers ago, this town of­fers more than Civil War history. In just the past few years, a no­table culi­nary scene has emerged. Restau­rants have added more lo­cal in­gre­di­ents to their menus, and Sa­vor Get­tys­burg is in its sec­ond sea­son of food tours, with a new Sa­vory Sweets tour this year. For hard cider, visi­tors can go to the year-old Reid’s Or­chard & Win­ery tast­ing room or Hauser Es­tate Win­ery, home of Jack’s Hard Cider. Even if you’re not hard-core into Civil War, Get­tys­burg makes history lessons fun, whether it’s vis­it­ing the bat­tle­fields on horse­back or Seg­way, or view­ing the fa­mous cy­clo­rama paint­ing, in the Get­tys­burg Na­tional Mil­i­tary Park Mu­seum and Visi­tors Cen­ter, which un­der­went a $13 mil­lion ren­o­va­tion in the past decade. You can’t ig­nore history here, nor would you want to; even the long­time mayor is one of the rig­or­ously tested li­censed bat­tle­field guides.

Info: www.desti­na­tionget­tys­burg.com.

St. Michaels: This wa­ter­front town on Mary­land’s Eastern Shore dates to the mid-1600s, but it’s only within the past 30 years that crowds of tourists have dis­cov­ered its charms. For most of its history, St. Michaels was in­ti­mately linked with the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay, with res­i­dents work­ing as ship­builders and seafood pro­ces­sors. That link con­tin­ues, but now the boats that ply its wa­ters are far more likely to be fer­ry­ing tourists. Quaint streets are dot­ted with art gal­leries, bistros and an­tique stores. Grab a cone of home­made ice cream from Justine’s be­fore head­ing to the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Mar­itime Mu­seum, a 38-acre wa­ter­front fa­cil­ity whose at­trac­tions in­clude a his­toric light­house and a work­ing boat­yard. Rent a bike and head 14 flat miles to Til­gh­man Is­land or set out along one of sev­eral trails that stretch from St. Michaels to ad­ja­cent farm­lands. Don’t for­get that con­nec­tion to the sea: Water­go­ing choices in­clude a trip to Ox­ford aboard the na­tion’s old­est pri­vately op­er­ated ferry and a nar­rated tour on a 70-foot skip­jack.

Info: www.stmichaelsmd.org.

Two to three hours

Lu­ray: If you pre­fer ridge­lines to tan lines and like to soak up scenery rather than sun, there are few bet­ter ways to show your al­le­giance to Team Moun­tain than head­ing to Lu­ray, Va. Tucked into the Shenan­doah Val­ley, it’s the kind of place where you want to plant your­self on the front porch and drag out your morn­ing cof­fee un­til lunchtime. The small town has a gen­tly rolling main drag presided over by the Mim­slyn Inn, an Old South-style ho­tel that sits atop a hill at one end. The sleepy county seat is largely free of com­mer­cial trap­pings, save for the touristy atoll that is Lu­ray Cav­erns, a ge­o­log­i­cal at­trac­tion that’s equal parts nat­u­ral won­der and kitsch (e.g., the Great Sta­lacpipe Or­gan). Skyline Cav­erns, a rel­a­tively gritty al­ter­na­tive, is also along the route from the Dis­trict. Lu­ray is a great home base for ex­plor­ing Shenan­doah Na­tional Park, with the mul­ti­tudi­nous out­door ad­ven­ture and scenic-vista-ogling op­tions the 200,000-acre park of­fers — whether it be hik­ing through a panorama of fall leaves or sit­ting in a line of cars stopped to let a bear cub am­ble across Skyline Drive. Info: www.lu­ray­page.com.

Dover: Sports, pol­i­tics and Lady Luck drive Delaware’s state cap­i­tal. Depend­ing on the sea­son, race cars, horses and/or leg­is­la­tors go around and around the track. Visi­tors can (mock) gam­ble on law­mak­ers’ votes dur­ing a tour of Leg­isla­tive Hall or (for-real) gam­ble on the live har­ness races at Dover Downs Casino. To con­nect the city’s dots, First State Her­itage Park, a “park with­out bound­aries,” links eight at­trac­tions, in­clud­ing the Old State House and Biggs Mu­seum of Amer­i­can Art. Cu­ri­ous minds with niche tastes can chase down the ob­scure at in­sti­tu­tions spe­cial­iz­ing in such top­ics as air­craft, state po­lice mem­o­ra­bilia, farm life and vic­tro­las. Those still in a bet­ting mood should swing by Con­sti­tu­tion Park and chal­lenge a friend to name the 13 colonies. Go dou­ble or noth­ing on the dates the states rat­i­fied the Con­sti­tu­tion. Stumped? Check the low wall in­scribed with the an­swers. Info: www.vis­it­dover.com.

Char­lottesville: This his­toric univer­sity town is for more than col­lege stu­dents, although the Univer­sity of Vir­ginia is cer­tainly a loom­ing pres­ence, as is its fa­mous founder, Thomas Jef­fer­son. To ap­pre­ci­ate both, we sug­gest at least a brief ex­cur­sion to the scenic school, a UNESCO World Her­itage Site. Its crown jewel, the Ro­tunda, is un­der­go­ing an ex­ten­sive ren­o­va­tion, but the real hid­den gems are the sur­round­ing pav­il­ion gar­dens. Make a pic­nic out of lunch grabbed from one of the nearby Cor­ner’s restau­rants or lo­cal pro­vi­sions from neigh­bor­hood gourmet stores. For a slightly more adult scene, stroll the brick-lined down­town mall for some more food and shop­ping. Jef­fer­son groupies shouldn’t miss his famed home, Mon­ti­cello, and if you’d like to pay fur­ther trib­ute to the oenophilic third pres­i­dent, spend an af­ter­noon vis­it­ing some of the re­gion’s many ac­claimed vine­yards. Info: www.vis­itchar­lottesville.org.

Three to four hours

Ocean City: Gen­er­a­tions have looked for­ward to that one week each sum­mer when the fam­ily heads to Ocean City (known as “goin’ downy oshun” in Bal­ti­more). Tak­ing a dip along its 10 miles of beach, eat­ing Old Bay-steamed blue crabs off ta­bles cov­ered in brown pa­per, hit­ting the board­walk for iconic Thrasher’s french fries and Fis­cher’s pop­corn, and spend­ing a day at the amuse­ment park are still part of the es­sen­tial Ocean City ex­pe­ri­ence. But this sea­side town, which got its big shot in the arm in 1952 when the Bay Bridge opened, is not just a throw­back to sim­pler times. Sev­en­teen nearby golf cour­ses, a new 1,200-seat per­form­ing arts cen­ter, a bur­geon­ing eco-tourism scene and an ex­plo­sion of craft brew­eries have at­tracted a dif­fer­ent clien­tele, per­haps equally in­trigued by re­cent bans on beach and board­walk smok­ing. But in with the new doesn’t mean out with the old: We still couldn’t head home with­out eat­ing at least one Dumser’s ice cream cone, danc­ing in the sand at Seacrets and tak­ing a ride to As­sateague Is­land to see wild ponies. Info: www.oco­cean.com.

Canaan Val­ley: For skiers in the Washington re­gion, con­di­tions at lo­cal re­sorts of­ten come up short, which is why those who like their pow­der deep and their trails steep head to this val­ley in Tucker County, W.Va. With its high el­e­va­tion and a lo­ca­tion that gets ham­mered with Great Lakes snow com­ing in on north­west­erly winds, Canaan typ­i­cally gets more than 150 inches of snow each year. (In 2010, 242 inches fell.) Canaan Val­ley Re­sort & Con­fer­ence Cen­ter and Tim­ber­line Four Sea­sons Re­sort, both with sum­mits of more than 4,200 feet, at­tract down­hill skiers, while cross-coun­try and snow­shoe en­thu­si­asts head to White Grass or Black­wa­ter Falls State Park. In warmer sea­sons, moun­tain bik­ing, golf­ing, trout fish­ing and hik­ing take top billing. Don’t like to break a sweat? Head about 15 miles to the tiny town of Thomas, which, with a nice se­lec­tion of cafes and shops, does its part to pro­vide a hub for lo­cal artists and mu­si­cians — check out the Pur­ple Fid­dle for live blue­grass.

Info: www.canaan­val­ley.org.

Cape May: See the light? Now walk to­ward it and then up it. The Cape May Light­house has one of the most ar­rest­ing panora­mas on the point — even at night. (The next full-moon climb takes place July 31.) Back on solid ground, red-and­green trol­leys cart guests around the coun­try’s old­est sea­side re­sort town, idling be­fore Vic­to­rian homes dolled up like beauty pageant con­tes­tants. The Mid-At­lantic Cen­ter for the Arts and Hu­man­i­ties is the mega-event plan­ner in town, pack­ing the cal­en­der with such ex­cur­sions as har­bor sa­faris, trea­sure hunts and WWII Look­out Tower vis­its. If you’re for the birds, the Cape May Bird Ob­ser­va­tory or­ga­nizes a slew of winged out­ings, a lo­cal pas­time that goes back sev­eral cen­turies. Of course, you won’t be faulted for just want­ing to slump down on the beach and let­ting Cape May wash over you.

Info: www.cape­may­cham­ber.com.

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