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25 Things Everyone Should Experience In Virginia At Least Once

Old Rag is a challenging climb, but it rewards hikers with some of the best views for hundreds of miles.
David Fulmer: https://flic.kr/p/9NvhzH
Old Rag is a challenging climb, but it rewards hikers with some of the best views for hundreds of miles.

Virginia was the site of the first permanent English settlement in North America more than 400 years ago, but would not officially become a state until June 25, 1788. To celebrate more than two centuries of statehood, we have compiled a Virginia “bucket list” full of Old Dominion activities that area residents should try to experience at least once.

(Of course, if you prefer the Free State, we posted a Maryland bucket list earlier this year.)

1

If the Capital Beltway and I-66 represent some of the worst driving conditions that this area has to offer, then Skyline Drive surely represents the best. Running 105 miles from Front Royal all the way down to Waynesboro in southwest, Virginia, it's an easy drive at 35 miles per hour along the spine of the Blue Ridge Mountains. With 75 scenic overlooks to stop and take in the view and numerous hiking opportunities through Shenandoah National Park, it's one of the cheapest and most rewarding weekend trips in the state.

2

Out on Virginia's Eastern Shore, the Chincoteague Pony Swim is iconic. The "Saltwater Cowboys" round up the wild ponies out on Assateague Island and have them swim over to Chincoteague Island. Some of the foals are then auctioned off — both to help control the wild pony population as well as to benefit the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company. The swim is slated to take place July 30, 2014.

3

Virginia is fast emerging as one of the best states for brewing beer in the country, coming in fourth in the medal count at last year's Great American Beer Festival. A trip along Virginia's "Brew Ridge Trail" is fast becoming a must-do weekend trip in southern Virginia for craft beer aficionados. Provided you have a designated driver, it shouldn't take more than a day to hit many of the state's best breweries, including Blue Mountain Brewery in Afton, Wild Wolf Brewing Company in Nellysford, Devils Backbone Brewing Company in Wintergreen, Starr Hill in Crozet and South Street Brewery in Charlottesville.

4

Operating in Richmond since 1928, The Byrd Theatre brings movie-goers back to an earlier age of cinema. The "Mighty Wurtlitzer Organ" operates on Saturday nights, making the $1.99 tickets seem like a deal, even if the films are second-runs.

5

You don't have to visit somewhere like Cape Canaveral, Florida, to see a rocket destined for space. You can just as easily see a launch out of NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia's Eastern Shore. The visitors center has a number of cool hands-on exhibits, but the real draw is hearing and feeling the rocket's roar as it blasts off into orbit. Sometimes you even get to talk to teams whose projects are being put into orbit.

Luray Caverns is an undeniably beautiful attraction — and quite a contrast to the green areas surrounding it.

6

If the great outdoors aren't your thing, a trip into the renowned Luray Caverns represents something of a departure. Purportedly the largest cavern system in the Eastern United States, the underground caverns prod the imagination — especially when you consider that when they were first explored more than a century ago, it was by the dim glow of candlelight.

7

There are plenty of historic sites to be visited in Virginia, but few are as all-encompassing as the "living museum" at Colonial Williamsburg. Surrounded by historic buildings and with hundreds of costumed reenactors, the imagination turns to what life must have been like in colonial Virginia in the 18th century. Critics have argued about the accuracy and authenticity conveyed in the historic area, but that doesn't make it less fun.

8

Thomas Jefferson purchased a tract of land which includes the Natural Bridge back in 1774. Sure, it's just a hole cut into limestone by the continuous flow of water from Cedar Creek, but when combined with a nightly light show, it's worth the price of admission.

9

Whether on foot, skates or bicycle, everyone in the D.C. area should try and traverse the 18-mile length of the Mount Vernon Trail at least once. The sightlines across the Potomac are fantastic, and there are lots of fun places to stop — including the quiet Teddy Roosevelt Island, Gravelly Point Park where the planes come into National Airport, all the way to Mount Vernon. On that note...

10

Sure, the most important thing to know about Mount Vernon is that it was the home of George Washington. And indeed, the tours of the house, tombs, stables, gardens, etc., offer insights into the life and times of the first American president. When you actually visit, the thrills are more visceral — with views of the Potomac you can't get anywhere else.

11

Virginia isn't known for handling snow particularly well, but that doesn't mean the commonwealth doesn't do winter sports. At Wintergreen Resort in Nelson County, there is more than 129 acres of skiing, seasonally permitting, of course. It's not a bad place to check out in the off-season either, with golf courses, zip lining, and "summer tubing."

12

For many, the George Washington Masonic National Memorial in Alexandria is as mysterious as the Freemasons that run it. It need not be a mystery, however, because tours are offered that even take you to the top of the tower for a postcard view.

13

The National Air and Space Museum is a great, educational experience for those doing a tour of the National Mall. It does not, however, hold a candle to the Smithsonian's Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly. The center's two enormous hangars are home to some of the most storied artifacts in human flight from the space shuttle Discovery to the 1903 Wright Flyer. The addition of a full IMAX theater and flight simulators doesn't hurt either.

14

The Arlington National Cemetery is a big draw for any visitors to the D.C. area, and one of the most common attractions is The Tomb of the Unknowns, a monument to fallen American service members whose remains could not be found or identified. The tomb's Sentinels keep watch rain or shine, and it's imperative to observe the proper level of solemnity befitting the occasion.

15

The Jamestown settlement was the site of the first permenant English settlement in the Americas. It's the site of ongoing archaeology work, and is one of Virginia's most prominent historic settlements. History buffs will have to act fast, however. Projections of rising ocean levels show that Jamestown could be underwater by the end of the century.

16

With sightlines as spectacular as just about any other place in the Blue Ridge Mountains, it's small wonder that so many hikers tackle the challenging hike up Old Rag every year. The views largely speak for themselves, but it's worth noting that this is not a trail to take lightly. The 9-mile hike can take as much as 7-8 hours, depending on an individuals' level of fitness and how crowded it is on a given day.

17

Bluegrass is the go-to music of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and few places capture the spirit quite as well as The Carter Family Fold in Hiltons, Virginia. The 1000-seat venue has been jamming for decades now, hosting legend Johnny Cash on multiple occasions, and there might be no better time to check it out than this year's 40th Annual Festival on Aug. 1.

18

The D.C. area is home to a lot of cool music venues, but few manage to transcend the acts they host quite as completely as Wolf Trap in Vienna. With seating for 7,000, the Filene Center has shows that can appeal to just about anybody, from Disney's Beauty and the Beast to Huey Lewis & The News. For the full Wolf Trap experience, bring a blanket and a cooler full of snacks and watch a show from the lawn.

The sight lines on Wolf Trap's lawn aren't as good as the seats, but you can't beat the picnic ambience. (John Taylor)

19

This might be less interesting to those outside of Northern Virginia, but any student of D.C. history needs to check out the original boundary stone in Jones Point Park in Alexandria. The stones marked the original 10-mile boundaries that defined the District of Columbia's diamond shape.

20

According to historic accounts, Thomas Jefferson once visited the mineral waters in Warm Springs in southwest Virginia to seek a cure for his chronic rheumatism. Those pools are now called the Jefferson Pools, in his honor. The octagonal structures built on the springs are a little beat up these days, but the area is a gorgeous place to spend a weekend.

21

Believe it or not, whale watching is something that's possible in Virginia — not just Alaska or California. Of course, it requires heading to Virginia Beach in the frigid winter months and boarding a boat in potentially choppy seas with no guarantee of success. Catching a fluke in the ocean spray would likely make it all worthwhile.

22

Two of Virginia's principal talents are in the areas of history and wine. Those talents are combined at The Winery at Bull Run in Fairfax County. Not only is it one of the closest wineries to Washington D.C., but it's also adjacent to the Manassas Civil War Battlefield Park, home of the famous Battle of Bull Run.

23

Don't listen to people from Maryland: they don't have a monopoly on blue crabs. For the full fishy ambience, we suggest heading to Virginia Beach. And few places can pack on the Old Bay quite as well as Shore Drive's Dockside Seafood Market and Marina.

24

Sometimes it's hard to believe that nature could still hold on so close to the urban sprawl of D.C., but Great Falls Park, just 15 miles from the District, is proof that it can. With everything from hiking to rock climbing to kayaking, Great Falls is a breath of fresh air.

25

At a cost of $3 billion, one of Virginia's most expensive and mysterious attractions is also one that nobody you know has likely had a chance to visit: the Silver Line. It's slated to open next month. (This probably only applies to transportation reporter Martin Di Caro.

 

Of course, we couldn't list everything there is to enjoy in Virginia. What's on your Old Dominion bucket list? Let us know in the comments.

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