At First Blush
The Cherry Blossom Festival And 4 Days In The Commonwealth
Encircling the Tidal Basin in a ring of champagne pink and cottony-white blooms, Washington D.C.’s cherry trees have colored the capital city for more than a century. Dating back to 1912, the original 3,000 trees were a gift of friendship from the mayor of Tokyo City. Shading the sidewalks along the basin and carpeting the shores skirting the Potomac, the iconic blossoms signal the arrival of spring more surely than any date on a calendar. What better way to mark their arrival than a four-day getaway through beautiful and historic Washington D.C.?
Thanks to a milder-than-usual winter and the early advance of unseasonably warm temperatures, Washington D.C. may be blushing a bit sooner this year. If the forecast holds and the blossoms peak March 19-22 as predicted, the city will see one of the earliest blooms to date (despite a recent cold snap). Spring’s looming arrival has organizers of the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival scurrying to prepare for the event while travelers make plans to be in town for the peak bloom that occurs when 70 percent of the Yoshino cherry trees are flowering. Be sure you’re prepared for your next Washington D.C. road trip too by booking your travel, rental car and hotel in advance because the festival draws quite the crowd!
In addition to strolling the picturesque paths and snapping photos of blooming trees against a backdrop of national monuments, the festival is also a cultural celebration with events scheduled throughout the city. The fun kicks off with a Pink Tie Party featuring cocktails and dancing before the opening ceremony at the Warner Theatre with performances by American and Japanese artists. The event includes a kite festival and a fireworks display, a Japanese Street festival and the National Cherry Blossom Parade. Visitors can view the goings-on by boat, biking tour or simply sitting back on the lawn and relaxing beneath the blushing shade.
Day 1: Mall Walking In D.C.
While in the capital, travelers should make a point not to miss the National Mall. This 2-mile-long stripe of verdant green is lined with the nation’s most important monuments and museums. It is bookended by the Lincoln Memorial on the western end and the U.S. Capitol at the east with the Washington Monument squarely in the middle. Nearby sits the Jefferson Memorial, the FDR Memorial and a simple granite wall set into the earth that honors the 58,209 Americans who gave their lives in the Vietnam War. To the north of the Washington Monument, the grassy Ellipse links the Mall to the White House, the nation’s most famous home, while the Library of Congress and the National Archives provide more history to explore in the world’s first-ever planned capital city. And best of all, the experience is free.
New to the D.C. Mall is the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The 19th museum in the Smithsonian collection is a massive three-tiered bronze corona erected on the very land where African slaves were once traded. Inside this 400,000-square-foot structure, travelers discover exhibits honoring music legends and politicians, social activists and freedom fighters. See a World War II-era Tuskegee airplane and the hymnal carried by Harriet Tubman, Chuck Berry’s beloved Cadillac and a restored segregated Pullman railcar. All told, the museum is home to more than 33,000 objects and is a treasure trove of American history.
Beyond the Smithsonian’s newest wonder, other highlights in the world’s largest museum await, from the National Zoological Park to the National Air and Space Museum, the National Gallery to the National Museum of Natural History. Just be sure, to take one last glance at the cherry blossoms before you make your way across the Potomac, past Arlington National Cemetery and on your way south to the next stop on your Old Dominion road trip: Charlottesville, VA.
Day 2: The City That Jefferson Built
Sandwiched between the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Alleghenies, Charlottesville rides the ridge of the Shenandoah Mountains, making it both an easy and scenic day trip from our nation’s capital in a comfortable rental car from Advantage.
Peppered with towering trees and hiking trails that snake their way toward secret waterfalls, Shenandoah National Park is the perfect stop-off to stretch your legs before heading on to the home of one of the nation’s most famous patriots and his beloved residence, Monticello. “Little mountain” as it was named, was the family home and final resting place of Thomas Jefferson. Statesman, author of the Declaration of Independence and third president of the United States, Jefferson built the neoclassical plantation on land he inherited from his father. Throughout the home, evidence of Jefferson’s genius and ingenuity abounds: dumbwaiters and disappearing beds, a duplicate-writing machine and an extraordinary clock run by weights and pulleys. After retiring from public office, Jefferson spent the remainder of his life writing, educating and perfecting the estate and its gardens. Visitors to this National Historic Landmark can tour the meticulously restored house and its grounds before heading down the road to Mitchie Tavern, a 200-year-old inn that still reflects the Colonial spirit and authentic way of life in Jeffersonian times.
Thomas Jefferson’s influence on Virginia continues at nearby University of Virginia, the “academical village” he both founded and designed. Tours of the campus showcase its imposing colonnades and serpentine brick walls, the Pantheon-like rotunda and 13 West Range, the room where author Edgar Allen Poe once resided before leaving the university when his stepfather cut off his gambling money.
After the campus tour, travelers can wander the charming streets of Charlottesville where quirky shops and cobbled streets give way to horse lands and rambling country roads. Enjoy a fine meal at a streetside cafe before making your way to Pippin Hill Vineyard. Don’t miss the nooks and crannies that are yours to explore at the Daedalus Bookstore or a plate of Hogwaller Hash at the Blue Moon Diner. Just make sure to catch a concert at the city’s most unusual music venue, The Garage, a single-car stall where musicians play to fans who listen while reclining on the grassy hill across the street.
Day 3: America’s Beginnings
The third day of the Old Dominion road trip begins in Colonial Williamsburg where blacksmiths and carpenters, seamstresses and apothecaries roam the living-history museum in period costume. Listen as a wig-maker explains his craft or to the fife and drums that parade through the center of town. Enjoy a lively discussion of politics with a rowdy Patrick Henry or watch as justice is doled out at the Governor’s Palace. Four historic taverns offer meals that honor their origins while a large cast of everyday townsfolk remains continually immersed in the mid-1700s, bringing to life the conversations, customs and way of life of early America.
A short drive down the road is Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in the Americas, making this one of the most historic D.C. road trips you can plan! Established as James Fort, the colony survived for 83 years despite starvation, a lack of fresh water, disease and attacks from the native Powhatan nation. In fact, between 1609 and 1610, nearly 80 percent of the residents died in what has become known as the “starving time.” Today, Jamestown is a 46-acre living history venue with re-creations of Jamestown Fort, Powhatan Indian Village and the three ships that brought the Jamestown colonists from England in 1607. Dressed in period costumes and offering a variety of hands-on activities, the area is chock full of things for history buffs of all ages to do. Just down the road, the actual historic site offers an in-depth look into the archeological remains of the colony and the stories that researchers continue to unearth about some of America’s earliest settlers.
Day 4: Battles For America’s Future
If Charlottesville is Jefferson’s turf, Fredericksburg is George Washington’s. The father of our country and his extended family were prominent in the area. The 40-block historic district is on the National Register of Historic Places and contains such sites as Rising Sun Tavern, built and operated by Washington’s brother Charles; the Hugh Mercer Apothecary shop; the Mary Washington House, where George’s mother lived; and Kenmore, home of Washington’s sister and brother-in-law, Betty and Fielding Lewis.
The Civil War raged around Fredericksburg, and the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park commemorates four major battlefields – Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, The Wilderness and Spotsylvania Courthouse – as well as Fredericksburg National Cemetery. Visitor centers interpret the action with audio-visual presentations and museum displays.
As you plan your drive with these D.C. road trip ideas, make sure to make time for a side trip and swing over to Culpeper to visit the Civil War battlefield at Brandy Station, site of the largest cavalry engagement in North America. The battle itself was inconclusive, but it marked the end of the Confederate cavalry’s dominance in the war.
Back in Fredericksburg, save room for a treat from Carl’s Frozen Custard, which may be the nation’s only walk-up frozen dairy emporium listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Behind its neon-lit Art Moderne façade, Carl’s has been dishing up frozen custard – which differs from ice cream in that it contains eggs – since 1947. It’s great for a late-night snack, and because it’s open until 11 p.m., it’s wildly popular with students from the nearby University of Mary Washington.
Some things to know: The custard is soft-serve and comes in three flavors – chocolate, vanilla and strawberry – though shakes and sundaes are also available. Carl’s is a cash-only operation. And be prepared to stand in a very long line, even in bad weather. Yes, it’s that good.
A Journey in Time
This four-day tour of the Virginia Commonwealth is easy to do with just a rental car from the Washington D.C. Advantage location, a map program, and a little bit of planning. From Fredericksburg, the drive back to Dulles International Airport and our modern, busy world is just over an hour away.
Over the course of four days, this journey walks in the footsteps of history, from our nation’s capital to the man behind the Continental Congress and from the earliest settlement days before America even had a name to the dark days of civil war. A living pilgrimage, it connects us to our past, gives context to our tomorrows and offers us all a lot to think about.
When planning your trip, be sure to visit Advantage.com to make your rental car reservations and travel plans ahead of time.
Washington D. C, to Charlottesville – 2 hours 20 minutes
Charlottesville to Williamsburg – 1 hour 53 minutes
Williamsburg to Jamestown – 18 minutes
Jamestown to Fredericksburg – 1 hour 57 minutes
Fredericksburg to Dulles International Airport – 1 hour 16 minutes
Side trip: Fredericksburg to Culpeper/Brandy Station – 53 minutes