For as long as I can remember, I’ve devoured lists of places to go.
And of all the travel listings I have seen, The New York Times’ rankings of travel destinations have been my favorite.
Take this year’s Times list, for instance, which debuted earlier this month. There’s a destination suitable for almost anyone, from exotic and expensive to easy-to-reach for those of modest means or little time.
At the top, in a move that I believe surprised some, was Puerto Rico, the American island territory devastated by Hurricane Maria in 2017. Despite massive damage, the island, with 3.5 million residents, has taken large steps forward since the disaster and tourists have begun returning in significant numbers.
The Times’ rankings run down through 52 destinations, including not only several American cities, but the state of Wyoming.
Coming in at No. 12, for instance, is Williamsburg, followed by Las Vegas. Could there be two more contrasting cities in the United States?
But the Times’ list of travel hot spots got me to thinking: Why not do something like that on a (much) more modest scale? I could create a list of places where a resident of this area could go for an extended weekend getaway.
This is somewhat arbitrary, because our time and resources are generally limited, but these are places you can drive to in about one day and stay there from one to three days without breaking the bank. This list is not ranked—1 is not “better than” 10. So here are Ten Cool Places to Go when time, money or both are sharply limited.
1. Hampton Roads. Not a city but a collection of cities, sometimes inaccurately referred to as Norfolk or Virginia Beach—two of the larger cities in the area. Not surprisingly, there is a lot to see and do here, including some top-notch museums, galleries and gardens. It’s enough to keep any tourist busy for a week, at least.
2. Chincoteague, on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. Little Chincoteague avoids big city problems but offers a gateway to Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge as well as miles of ocean beach—largely empty except in summer—where you can wander to your hearts’ content. Check schedules before you go and you might be lucky enough to see a rocket launch from the nearby NASA Wallops Flight Facility.
3. Damascus and Abingdon, on the Virginia Creeper Trail. The trail, which runs 32 miles from the North Carolina border to Abingdon, is delightful, and the small town of Damascus sits about at its mid-point, while the much larger city of Abingdon, with its renowned Barter Theater, is at the opposite end. There are endless opportunities for fun in this area.
4. Roanoke. Nestled in a valley between I-81 and the Blue Ridge Parkway, Roanoke is a vibrant town with all the expected amenities and an excellent transportation museum. Don’t miss the Roanoke City Market.
5. Natural Tunnel State Park. Far past Roanoke in Southwest Virginia is a place that appeals to outdoor-oriented people, train buffs and paddlers. With its tunnel shared by a river and an active railroad, this is a chance for fun, history and outdoor recreation.
6. Baltimore. Always a favorite city, “Bawlmer” has something for everyone without the uptight formality of Washington, some 35 miles to the south. Besides, many of D.C.’s best sights are shut down as of this writing. Do not miss the Inner Harbor and the diverse food options in the city’s numerous neighborhoods.
7. Winchester. The city at the head of the Shenandoah Valley is often overlooked but has a raft of interesting things to check out. Favorites include George Washington’s survey office;, country singer Patsy Cline’s house, the handsome library and a downtown pedestrian shopping mall. The Museum of the Shenandoah Valley is in Winchester, and not far off are key Civil War sites and the State Arboretum of Virginia at Boyce.
8. National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, W.Va. Not only is this observatory a stunning place to visit, but it is in one of my favorite parts of the Mountain State. State and national forests and parks proliferate here, and outdoor recreation opportunities abound.
9. Alexandria. This colonial-era city is one of the country’s oldest, and is renowned—at least locally—for a wide range of cultural attributes, plus grand dining possibilities and miles of walking in George Washington’s (and many others’) footsteps. Too often overlooked by tourists heading to the Nation’s Capital, Alexandria is an easy day trip for Fredericksburg-area residents. Just watch out for the parking police.
10. Frederick, Md. So often confused with our own fair city, Frederick is, likewise, a showcase of early American history with a number of engaging museums and delightful walk-everywhere opportunities. On good days, if you choose your drive times carefully, you can get there in an hour. I’ve done it. Don’t miss the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, or the nearby Washington Monument State Park on Catoctin Ridge west of the city.
Have fun. Explore.
Paul Sullivan of Spotsylvania County, a former Free Lance–Star reporter, is a freelance writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.