I’ve said this before, but one of the pleasures of living in D.C. is the ease with which you can be somewhere completely different within a couple of hours. There are beaches, mountains, small towns, big cities, the grand outdoors and tons of history all around.
Fredericksburg may not come to the top of your mind for a quick getaway or day trip, but it really should. It's such a fun and relaxing outing just an hour’s drive from D.C. It offers rich history, trendy dining, unique shopping and lots of outdoor fun.
Breakfast/Brunch at Mercantile
Start your day off with a stop at Mercantile for breakfast or brunch. Located in downtown Fredericksburg, this breakfast and lunch-focused eatery is housed in a historic mercantile building, and showcases local, seasonal ingredients with a varied selection of housemade treats (scones, muffins, cinnamon rolls and such) and a variety of brunch and lunch dishes from omelets to sandwiches. While the menu changes seasonally, the frittatas and the waffles with fruit are good bets. Plus, the strawberry and cream bun is a must get. They also offer a number of vegetarian, vegan and healthy options. The food is always fresh and tasty, cocktails are unique, service is friendly and the space is striking. It’s easy to see why this is a popular choice.
Walk the Historic downtown
Stop by the Fredericksburg visitor center and pick up a map for a walking tour, or select one of the themed carriage or trolley tours. If your visit is between April and mid-October, the “Bricks and Boards in the ‘Burg” tour that is held each Saturday morning is good to get a sense for the architecture and history across four centuries, the history of the Rappahannock River and the history of Market Square. The downtown is easily walkable, so a self-guided tour would be just fine, too.
For history buffs, plan to visit the Mary Washington House (George Washington's mother's house) and Ferry Farm (George Washington's childhood home), Rising Sun Tavern (home for George Washington’s youngest brother and turned into a tavern for travelers in the 1790s) or one of the Civil War-themed tours.
Stop by the Hugh Mercer Apothecary
One of the Washington heritage Museums, this 18th-century building restored as the Hugh Mercer Apothecary presents an entertaining interpretation of Colonial medical practices. You can hear about popular treatment methods from costumed docents who talk about common ailments and remedies and show you the uses of leeches and lancets. As it turns out you can treat colds by stuffing your nose "with tobacco, to hold in all the drippings and dry your brain out." Who knew!
Tasting at A Smith Bowman Distillery
A Smith Bowman Distillers is just a couple of miles from the visitor center and has free 60-minute tours that cover the history of the distillery (which started in Reston) and a look at the distilling process. There is a nice sampling after the tour with a few different varieties of liquor, but are especially popular for their whiskeys. The caramel bourbon cream liqueur is a tasty bottle to pick up as a souvenir!
A stop at Hartwood Winery, about 30 minutes north of town, makes for a nice way to enjoy the outdoors while sipping on wine from one of the earliest wineries in the region; the winery opened in 1989 before Virginia wine was even a thing! At the entrance to the winery is Hartwood Manor, a Gothic Revival style home that dates to the 1830s and served as a Union hospital during the Civil War.
The Rappahannock River offers plenty in the way of kayaking and fishing, as do nearby parks such as Aquia Landing Park, a popular beach. For something less intense, a leisurely stroll along the Rappahannock Canal tow path is lovely with a variety of plant life and beautiful fall colors, too.