Winter Weekend in the Nation’s Capital — Washington, DC

One of my best friends recently moved up to Washington, D.C., so a group of us decided to visit her and be tourists for the weekend. Washington is a quick two-hour drive from Harrisonburg, VA, making this a quick and easy weekend getaway (at least for me), and as a plus, there’s plenty to do for free!

Here’s my top eight DC must-sees (and eats) that we crossed off on our bucket list this past weekend with the help of our favorite new DC tour guide:

  1. Brunch at Zest Cafe, a cozy, hip eatery in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. (Don’t forget the spicy cheese grits)
    Brunch at Zest Cafe
  2. See giant panda cub Bao Bao at the Smithsonian National Zoo. Yes, we waited in line for an hour to see the zoo’s most talked-about new resident (and endangered species), and yes, he was asleep, but it was SO worth it.
    Photo courtesy of Smithsonian National Zoo Flickr.

    panda cub bao bao at the smithsonian zoo

    OMG, can we keep him!?

  3. Visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. We spent a few hours walking around, only to be able to read about 1/4 of the information here; we could’ve easily spent the entire day walking around the exhibits. Though very heavy on the heart, the Holocaust Museum is a must. I could go on for hours about how this museum impacted me personally, but it’s truly one of those places you need to experience and reflect upon for yourself.
    US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC
  4. Spend some time sight-seeing the local monuments. (Loving this comprehensive guide to DC’s monuments and memorials)

    We couldn't resist a snapshot in front of the Washington Monument

    Couldn’t resist the Washington Monument picture

  5. Tex-Mex and Tequila (or sangria, or bloodies) at Tortilla Coast. With two DC locations and impressive happy hour, brunch, and lunch/dinner menus, this vibrant restaurant is a must for lovers of local Mexican fare.
    Bloody Mary at Tortilla Coast
  6. Grab a homemade pop tart from Ted’s Bulletin. Bonus points if you stay to watch them make these amazing treats!
    Homemade poptarts at Ted's Bulletin
  7. Make time for at least a few of the many Smithsonian museums (there are 18 and counting; don’t expect to see them all in one weekend)

    A glimpse into the Smithsonian's Natural History Museum

    A glimpse into the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum

  8. Downtown Drinks & Nightlife – Okay, this one’s obvious. Who goes to DC and doesn’t explore the nightlife at least once!? One of our favorite spots was Madhatter (and its more breathable upstairs bar).

A special thanks to my best friends for helping with the photos and itinerary included in this post! And DC, you and your endless free activities will be missed. But even more so when you swap out the brisk temps and harsh winds for sunshine and cherry blossoms.

Cooking Demos & Culinary Diversions — Arlington, VA

The 2013 Mid-Atlantic Tourism Public Relations Alliance annual meeting & marketplace brought about 100 of us to Arlington, VA, for three full days of part-business, part-play in the popular county on the outskirts of DC. One of my favorite parts of this trip was diving into the area’s diverse culinary scene (shocker), which proved to be even more enjoyable than I expected- thanks in large part to specialty tours by the chefs and culinary masterminds behind these foodie hotspots.

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Our first stop was to Lebanese Taverna for a hands-on cooking demonstration. This award-winning Middle Eastern hangout has grown from a space no bigger than a takeout-only pizza shop to a powerhouse of what is now six restaurants, four cafes,  a market, and a full-service catering business.IMG_0257 IMG_0259 IMG_0260

After learning the history of Lebanese Taverna and meeting members of the family that have been involved since the restaurant’s inception in 1979, it was easy to see how this group of hard-working entrepreneurs  were able to expand their business so quickly. Now, the Abi-Najm family is able to share the charming flavors of their Lebanese roots with foodies across the Mid-Atlantic.

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Tawanna got her hands dirty helping Chef Joseph Comfort make baklava. This type of culinary class is common at Lebanese Taverna; the restaurant offers classes and specialty parties nearly every week.

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We each got to try our hand at making grape leaves, a staple of Middle Eastern cuisine. Surprsingly, it was very, very simple. In addition to the baklava demonstration and a killer watermelon and feta salad, I walked away with a handful of brilliant – and easy – recipes straight from Lebanese Taverna’s kitchen.

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As if we weren’t bursting at the seams at this point, we still had another stop on our culinary tour: Artisan Confections. This boutique chocolate shop cranks out gourmet “bon bons” in unique flavors like black pepper, lavender-caramel,  bourbon, and ancho chile. With only the finest chocolate base (from France) combined with fresh local ingredients and custom edible designs, this shop gives a whole new meaning to the term “sweets.” And, though the prices range on the expensive side, you get what you pay for with these chocolate delights. And hey, perhaps it prevents you from buying 100 at once and scarfing them all down on the spot. Because trust me, you’ll want to.IMG_0281 IMG_0286

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While at Artisan Confections, our group was treated to a behind-the-scenes look at how the mouth-watering desserts are made. Oh, and we may or may not have tried every single flavor. All for research, of course.

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So, after eating all day, we ended the day with…. what else? More eating. We were able to choose from about 12 of Arlington’s hottest food spots and luckily for me, I just happened to pick one of the dinearound options that was personally escorted by one of the owners of Food Tour Corporation, a business that offers customized food tours in major cities across the U.S.

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Our family-style meal at Rustico consisted of the most amazing bib lettuce salad (topped with pecan granola; brilliant.), hummus with feta and chopped onions, four different pizzas, and, saving the best for last, ricotta donuts with chocolate dipping sauce.

Needless to say, my stomach was extremely full and extremely happy after this food-filled day in Arlington.

Hiking to Dark Hollow Falls — Shenandoah National Park

FINALLY, after eight months of living just 25 minutes away, we made it to Shenandoah National Park. Thank God. Because I would’ve been so angry at myself for not taking advantage of this gem within my first year of living in Virginia. The weather this Saturday was overcast and upper-60s, the absolute perfect type of day to take on a hike through the mountains.

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Lucky for me, I work right inside the hub of visitor information, and my colleagues were quickly able to point out some of the best and most notable trails in Shenandoah National Park. We decided to go with the Dark Hollow Falls trail, a near 2-mile round-trip hike that leads to amazing views of the cascading Dark Hollow waterfalls. As you can see, the way down was an easy decline. The way up, however, was tough. As in, never-ending stairclimber tough.

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That rocky, narrow, muddy, and steep trail, however, was worth every minute, thanks to views like this. And, as a bonus, Tucker even had his first experience in the water! He’s still unsure about it. But it’s a start.

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Excitement as we near the bottom of the waterfalls!

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Throughout the trail, the views and sounds of streaming water reminded me just how serene and peaceful nature can be.

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The other unforgettable part about Shenandoah National Park is the drive through. Nestled in the mountains, Skyline Drive is one of the most beautiful drives I’ve ever experienced. Every few miles, you can pull off to an overlook, which each provide breathtaking views of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. Pictures do it no justice, but I’ll show you them anyway.

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An item crossed off the bucket list + a passed out pup = one successful day of hiking. My job here is done.

Jacktown’s Brew-B-Que Throwdown — Harrisonburg, VA

This past Saturday, I spent the day with my boyfriend and a few friends from Richmond at the annual Jacktown Brew-B-Que Throwdown in Harrisonburg. The lure of a festival atmosphere with music, craft beer, slow-cooked BBQ and corn hole for a mere $10 entry fee had us sold.

Jacktown's Brew-B-Que Throwdown in Harrisonburg, VA

Not to mention, that $10 entry fee came with a free beer token. With my beer chip in hand, I wasn’t sure if I was in Vegas or Virginia. And I liked it.

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Guess what else those Jacktown tokens could buy? Mouth-watering BBQ sandwiches! Here’s mine, looking oh-so-delicious, topped with the perfect amount of coleslaw and locally-made sauce. To. Die. For.

The meat was slowly cooked overnight in the parking lot beside Jack Brown’s Beer & Burger Joint and Billy Jack’s Wing & Draft Shack, also known as “Jacktown” to those in the ‘Burg. The cooker stayed in the lot throughout the day, and the lot was blocked off and populated with tents to make room for the festival.

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The beer selection was a tap takeover of sorts from Blue Mountain Brewery, a popular Virginia craft brewery located just about an hour from  Harrisonburg in Nelson County. I’ve passed by the brewery several times on my frequent drives to NC, and it’s always enticed me to take a quick pitstop (aka beer stop), but trying several of their beers at this event was a safer way for me to do an adequate tasting.

Jacktown's Brew-B-Que Throwdown in Harrisonburg, VA

Yes, the food and drinks were so darn good that stopping for photographs was nearly impossible.

Jacktown's Brew-B-Que Throwdown in Harrisonburg, VA

A special thanks to the new friends we made from Blue Mountain Brewery who not only gave us a knowledgable rundown of the brewery and the beers we were drinking, but also showered us with Blue Mountain Brewery goodies. Hats? Check. Koozies? Obviously. Coupons to the brewery? You bet. T-Shirts? Even in our sizes of choice. So sweet!

Jacktown's Brew-B-Que Throwdown in Harrisonburg, VA

Oh, and thank goodness we did get all that Blue Mountain Brewery gear. It came in handy after a few spills.

Whiskey, Swine & Wine — Sperryville, VA

I recently attended Foodshed Magazine‘s Whiskey, Swine & Wine event. I was over the moon to attend- any event with more than one type of booze in the title HAS to be good.

The event for the local food and agriculture-based publication was held at Copper Fox Distillery, a one-of-a-kind venue in Sperryville, V.A. that spits out some impeccable single malts and ryes.

Little did I know, Copper Fox has its own little village, complete with an antique shop. I honestly was expecting Mike and Frank from American Pickers to pop out at any moment. But perhaps that was just hopeful wishing.

Copper Fox Distillery Sperryville VA

In true Americana style, the Copper Fox grounds keeps the decor simple yet charming; American flags, vintage barrels, and quaint picnic tables welcome visitors into the distillery.

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A little whiskey wisdom for the light-hearted.

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The distillery’s open bar allowed us to try Wasmund’s own whiskey in the very room where it was made. From brass to barrels, the equipment itself was a must-see at the distillery, cushioned with the unique antique pieces that surrounded us.

On the menu was an impressive spread of original recipes from local chefs, including kale cobbler, puffed maple crackers, bandera cornbread, Sperryville egg pie, curried goat (yes, goat), and gluten-free mini carrot cupcakes.

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Ready for the next trend in cocktails? Here it is. Kombucha tea + whiskey. Kombucha is a fermented tea that is trending in popularity, but its inception actually dates back to the 1800s. Kombucha was originally produced as an ailment for acute and chronic health conditions, and through countless testimonies, is apparently still doing just that. And, among other health benefits, Kombucha is known to be a cure for — get this — hangovers. Yes, people, you are drinking AWAY your whiskey hangover. Brilliant!

Thank you, Foodshed, for an amazing event with over-the-top cocktails and food spreads!