Ditch the District for a day

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo

Tired of the city? Unwind for a day in Old Town Alexandria – just 20 minutes away on the Blue Line.

Even if you’re excited to leave your hometown for the nation’s capital, you’ll be itching to see more of the DMV (that’s the District, Maryland and Virginia) soon.

With scenic hiking trails, historic neighborhoods and other fun cities at your fingertips, you should be reserving some Saturday afternoons for exploring before the breezy D.C. autumn turns to winter.

Assateague Island National Seashore
Salt marshes, a pine forest and beaches aren’t exactly what comes to mind when you think of D.C. But just three hours east on Route 50 is Assateague Island, a national park where you can kayak, hike and swim.

Oh, and about 200 feral horses call the island home.

Nobody is sure how the horses came to occupy the 37-mile island, but a Spanish shipwreck discovered in 1997 has led to the theory that after the cargo ship sank, horses on board swam to shore.

The entrance fee is $15 with a vehicle. You can even camp on the island if you don’t mind falling asleep to horses’ neighs.

Billy Goat Trail
The 4.7-mile hike takes you on a journey between the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal – which was used to transport coal from the Allegheny Mountains – and the Potomac River. The easiest way to get to the Billy Goat Trail is by renting a Zipcar and driving west on the Clara Barton Parkway.

You’ll come across the Purple Horse Beach on the east side of Bear Island. The name is a little misleading because there isn’t anything purple about the sandy bank, nor are there horses. But it is home to climbing crags that will amp up your heart rate and make sure you earn that packed lunch.

You should also wear sneakers and be prepared to hop up and down rock faces, but light blue trail markers make it easy to stick to the path.

Old Town, Alexandria
Head to the Commonwealth of Virginia for thrift shopping, book browsing and a little history after a 20-minute ride on the Blue line. Off the main drag, King Street, the roads are lined with pretty brick townhouses, some covered with ivy, and gems like Misha’s Coffeehouse and Roaster.

The food isn’t much different than what you’ll find in D.C. unless you head to King Street Blues, a small bar with Southern offerings like $5 hush puppies, buttermilk biscuits served with remoulade, and a $5 cup of corn chili.

The Freedom House Museum on Duke Street is also worth a visit. The building used to be a holding cell for slaves, including the man on which “12 Years a Slave” is based, Solomon Northup.

Maryland’s largest city is a 40-minute MARC train ride away, which costs just a few bucks, depending on the time and day.

Visit poet Edgar Allan Poe’s grave in the Westminster Cemetery or check out The Book Thing in the Waverly part of town, where from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on the weekends, the organization gives out free books. On the south side, there’s Federal Hill Park, which offers panoramic views of the city.

For lunch, go to Beefalo Bob’s (8015 Ft. Smallwood Road), a barbecue place and sports bar that specializes in a Baltimore novelty called “pit beef” — smoked, thinly sliced beef on a Kaiser roll with raw onion. Or head to Faidley Seafood (203 N Paca St.) for jumbo lump-crab cakes and tartar sauce made in house.

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