Sun. Jun 4th, 2023

With countless historic monuments and internationally renowned museums, it’s easy to plan a visit around the “can’t miss” attractions that draw the most tourists to the nation’s capital. 
But what about us, the locals, who have seen all of that, probably many, many times? We might want to explore something more off-the-beaten-path, even venturing outside D.C. proper.
In that spirit, we delved into some of the attractions nearby that warrant a day trip, but that you may have yet to visit. Take a look and see what new plans you can make for your next family outing or solo adventure.
The Big Number
19.1 million
— Number of total visitors to D.C. in 2021, up from 13.3 million in 2020, bringing the District’s tourism sector about 78% of the way back from the depths of the pandemic.
Another Big Number
$10.2 million
— Total amount of transient lodging tax revenue, a.k.a. the hotel tax, collected by the city of Alexandria in fiscal year 2022, which ended June 30. That’s just shy of three quarters of its 2018 collections — the city’s pre-pandemic peak.
1. M-NCPPC Dinosaur Park
Where it is: 13100 Mid Atlantic Blvd., Laurel
Why it’s worth a visit: Nestled in northern Prince George’s County you’ll find a 115 million-year-old fossil site, and yes, it has real dinosaurs. And you can help them find more. “To put it in perspective of time, the fossils of the plant and animals found by our visitors are roughly 50 million years older than Tyrannosaurus rex,” said John-Paul Hodnett, paleontologist and park program coordinator. Every first and third Saturday of the month, visitors are free to join in making new discoveries. Private educational programs are also available for schools, and private digs can be arranged for the general public.
Fun fact: “Dinosaur Park is also home to the Maryland state dinosaur, Astrodon johnstoni, the largest dinosaur currently known on the East Coast of North America,” said Hodnett.
2. College Park Aviation Museum
Where it is: 1985 Corporal Frank Scott Drive, College Park
Why it’s worth a visit: This 27,000-square-foot museum houses a collection of historic and reproduction aircraft dating back to the birth of flight. Museum Director Kevin Cabrera said one of his favorite things to do is compare the 1910 Wright Model B plane to the 1939 Taylorcraft BL-65.
Fun fact: “The museum is connected to the College Park Airport, which has been in operation since 1909 when it was founded by the Wright Brothers, making it the world’s oldest continuously operating airport,” Cabrera said.
3. Vanadu Art House
Where it is: 3810 Nicholson St., Hyattsville
Why it’s worth a visit: Come and see what owner and creator Clarke Bedford described as, “an art house surrounded by art cars, both stacked high, inside and out, with assembled objects in what might be called ‘junk Victorian,’ creative OCD or personal expression/obsession/therapy.” Visitors are invited to wander around and even say hello to Bedford if he’s home.
Fun fact: Bedford is a former art conservator at the Hirshhorn Museum. His favorite comment from a visitor: “This house is like a cross between ‘Sanford and Son’ and the architect Gaudi.”
4. National Museum and Health and Medicine
Where it is: 2500 Linden Lane, Silver Spring
Why it’s worth a visit: This free museum open Wednesday through Sunday houses a unique, often macabre collection of historic medical artifacts, specimens and archival materials, from instruments to anatomical and pathological specimens to research collections, down to the fatal bullet that was lodged in President Abraham Lincoln’s brain. Andrea Schierkolk, NMHM’s public programs manager, said her favorite current exhibit is “Advances in Military Medicine,” which includes Bay II from the emergency room of the Balad Theater Hospital, used during Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2003 to 2007.
Fun fact: The museum has been operating since 1862, but not always from its current digs. “Our museum has occupied at least nine different structures since then, including Ford’s Theatre after the assassination of President Lincoln, the ‘Old Red Brick’ that was formerly located on the National Mall where the Hirshhorn Museum is today, at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and most recently at the Forest Glen Installation in Silver Spring,” said Schierkolk.
5. National Capital Trolley Museum
Where it is: 1313 Bonifant Road, Colesville
Why it’s worth a visit: If you ever get tired of the same old Metro ride, you can venture over to the Trolley Museum and ride one of its historic streetcars on its own rails. The collection includes vehicles from six countries, including a few that used to operate right around here. “Our mission is to preserve and share transit history, from stories of technological progress to civil rights movements spanning a century of streetcar service in the D.C. area from 1862 to 1962,” said Executive Director Brittany Lester
Fun fact: It recently launched a new educational program, “All Aboard,” on the first Saturday of every month, when kids and families learn about a new topic in transit history. January’s will explore how historic streetcar crews and track workers dealt with snow. 
6. The Patowmack Canal Trail
Where it is: 9200 Old Dominion Drive, McLean, inside Great Falls Park
Why it’s worth a visit: Amidst the natural beauty of Great Falls, you can enjoy the historic remains of the country’s first canal system, now slowly being reclaimed by nature. “From Gen. George Washington, who brokered agreements between Virginia and Maryland that led to the canal’s construction, to Capt. George Pointer, born enslaved and sent to work at the canal when only 12 or 13 years old — he was one of the many workers, enslaved, indentured or free, paid laborers who actually built the canal,” said Park Ranger Susan Finta. “The stone walls of the canal’s lock systems still stand as silent reminders of the strength of character and determination of the human spirit.”
Fun fact: Not a fun fact, necessarily, but an “inspirational fact,” Finta said, is the story of George Pointer, who worked on the canal as a teen and purchased his freedom from his enslaver at age 19. He remained employed by the Patowmack Canal Co. as a free African American man for over 40 years and rose to the position of ship captain, she said.
7. Colvin Run Mill
Where it is: 10017 Colvin Run Road, Great Falls
Why it’s worth a visit: The wooded and landscaped grounds are free to explore, hike and picnic. Get a ticket to tour the fully operational mill to learn the history of the property, see the mill in action, and even buy samples of its cornmeal, grits, buckwheat and wheat flour in its general store. The store itself is also a step back in time.
Fun fact: “In 1763, George Washington purchased the land where the mill is located as a way station for his horses to western Virginia (now West Virginia),” said James Wallar, president of the Friends of Colvin Run Mill. “After the Revolution, he judged the spot excellent for a mill. He visited the grounds in November in 1799, after his presidency, but died one month later.”
8. Foamhenge
Where it is: 15621 Braddock Road, Centreville
Why it’s worth a visit: We’re talking about a full-size replica of Stonehenge, recreated in 2004 out of Styrofoam by artist Mark Cline of Enchanted Castle Studio. It has resided at Cox Farms since 2017. The best time to see it is during the farm’s Fall Festival, but it does have shorter visiting hours throughout the rest of the year. And while you’re there, you can also visit the many farm animals ranging from ducks, pigs, horses and cows to sheep, alpacas, goats, rabbits, chickens and even a llama named Chewie.
Fun fact: Foamhenge was originally conceived as a roadside attraction that sprung up just in time for April Fool’s Day in 2004. Cline bragged to in an interview, “It took the Druids 1,500 years to build Stonehenge. I can do it in 10 days.”
Maryland and Virginia 
9. NASA Goddard Visitor Center and NASA Wallops Flight Facility Visitor Center
Where they are: 9432 Greenbelt Road, Greenbelt, and 175 Chincoteague Road, Wallops Island
Why it’s worth a visit: Did you even know that the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center has a visitor center? Not only that, but it also offers free in-person and virtual programs for student groups, in case you want to nudge your kid’s teacher. Reservations can be made for groups of eight or more, with programs including life on the International Space Station and how satellites are built. “Our exhibits are engaging and fun to explore for sure, but our programs provide a personal connection that is just awesome,” said Cate Maynard, the Goddard visitor center director. 
Fun fact: At Wallops, you can actually watch the launch of NASA vehicles live, such as Artemis I, which launched Nov. 16. “If a launch attempt occurs during the visitor center’s open hours, all are welcome to watch with us,” the visitor center website says.
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