The weather is warming, blossoms are bursting from the trees, and there’s a 60 percent chance of precipitation at all times. It’s spring in Maryland, which means it’s time to shake off the cold-weather lethargy and get out of the house.
But where to go? The weekends are ripe for exploration, and we live within an hour’s drive of three different states. To narrow your options, we put together a guide of some of the best trips in the tri-state area: all the best food, sites, and events to while away those springtime days. With any luck, you’ll find a spot that you might never have discovered on your own.
The town: Berkeley Springs, West Virginia
Where to eat: Tari’s Premier Cafe (33 N. Washington St.), Lot 12 Public House (117 Warren St.)
Berkeley Springs, a quiet town across the river from Maryland, is known for being an early resort destination for the some of the country’s most prodigious founding fathers. So, it’s fitting that the town is now home to some of the best restaurants in the region.
One of them is Tari’s Premier Cafe, an expanded dining room conveniently located on the town’s main street. Long-time chef Devin Lucas serves up some of the best crab cakes in the area (even by Maryland standards), which remain a mainstay on the globally inspired menu. His best work, though, is often reflected in the restaurant’s Southern-style dishes: pan-seared scallops and grits, for example, or a starter of ultra-creamy housemade pimento cheese. Lucas is also a skilled pitmaster whose smoked creations are represented on their own separate barbecue menu.
Walk 10 minutes south and you’ll find yourself at Lot 12 Public House, another seasonally inspired concept helmed by chef Damian Heath and his wife/restaurant manager, Betsy. Damian’s skills in the kitchen extend to the restaurant’s signature dish, a roasted quarter duck served on a rosemary potato cake with tender pear chutney. It’s one of the only permanent options on a menu that changes with the weather. The restaurant is currently in the process of implementing its spring offerings, Betsy said, which will include seasonal produce like ramps and morels along with local microgreens.
Where to go next: Mineral spas (locations vary), Star Theatre (49 N. Washington St.), Cacapon Resort State Park (818 Cacapon Lodge Dr.)
Even George Washington visited Berkeley Springs for the town’s eponymous warm mineral baths — water that’s long been lauded for its healing properties. The town is studded with spas, from the elite services at the Country Inn of Berkeley Springs (110 S. Washington St.) to the state-run Roman Bathhouse next door (2 S. Washington St.). One of the most cost-effective ways to take in the water is at the Old Roman Bathhouse (closed for renovations but set to reopen this summer), where adults can reserve a half-hour soak for $27 a person. Additional guests are only $17, and the cost lowers to $14 a person for groups of six or more.
For some small-town nostalgia, pay a visit to the historic Star Theatre, a cinema that’s been operating for the last 91 years. Screenings are limited to 8 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, plus a 2 p.m. Sunday matinee. But the prices — $5 for adults and $4.50 for children under 12 — can’t be beat. The theater even has its own popcorn recipe featuring peanut oil and real melted butter, published online by former owner Jeanne Mozier.
Of course, it’s West Virginia, so outdoor activities also abound. Some of the most famous are the nearby Paw Paw Tunnel on the C&O Canal and the Panorama Overlook on the Washington Heritage Trail — a roughly 3-mile walk from Berkeley Springs that offers a view of West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. Or try horseback riding at Cacapon Resort State Park (818 Cacapon Lodge Dr.), where you can choose between seven different scenic loops.
The town: Cumberland, Maryland
Where to eat: Zeb’s Barbeque (51 Potomac St., Ridgeley WV), Queen City Creamery (108 W. Harrison St.)
Okay, so, technically, Zeb’s is a five-minute drive from downtown Cumberland (or a 20-minute walk), right across the Potomac River in neighboring Ridgeley. But semantics are meaningless in the face of melt-in-your-mouth smoked brisket from Cumberland natives Russ and Christine Miller, whose pitmastery was inspired by the former’s Army platoon sergeant.
Beyond brisket, Zeb’s offers Carolina-style pulled pork with vinegar or Memphis barbecue sauce, plus meaty racks of ribs with a fall-off-the-bone texture. Tennessee is also the inspiration behind a couple of smoked bologna sandwiches, a Memphis staple that combines salt, smoke, and fat in one hard-to-resist package. The Millers’ sides are equally pleasurable, including a mayonnaise-spiked coleslaw with a nice hint of Sriracha.
You can and should wash down the barbecue with a malt from Queen City Creamery, a local favorite with homemade frozen custard. The store’s rotating flavors for April include banana cream pie and brown sugar bourbon, but you can stay lighter with a serving of sorbet. Or, you know, not. The Creamery also offers a bevy of adult-only drinks, from spiked milkshakes to a champagne float with fresh strawberries and vanilla custard.
Where to go next: DelFest (11400 Moss Ave.), local hiking (locations vary)
Visit Cumberland at the end of May and you can hit up DelFest, an annual bluegrass festival held over Memorial Day weekend (this year, it runs May 23 to May 26). The lineup includes artists like Trampled by Turtles, Sam Bush, and The String Cheese Incident, plus weekend yoga classes and an on-site arts and crafts festival. Alcohol is also available, but the event is designed to be family-friendly. In other words, don’t be afraid to bring your kids.
The city is also known for its proximity to hiking and biking along the C&O Canal. Cumberland Trail Connection (14 Howard St.) offers bike rentals and maps, and the nearby Mountainside Bike Tours (108 Decatur St.) offers plush guided packages if you’re looking for a multi-day experience. Rocky Gap State Park also lies a mere 10 minutes from downtown, and offers access to a lakeside beach and the hilly Monkeys Head Rock hiking trail.
The town: Hagerstown, Maryland
Where to eat: Dolce Pizza (792 Frederick St., Suite A)
Don’t let the name fool you. Dolce serves up plenty of Italian, but the real draw is a small menu of Eastern European specialties from chef Julia Manea’s native Romania. Try dishes like the pan-fried pork with polenta, a homey plate of loin, liver, and smoked sausage covered in a garlicky tomato sauce. The accompanying fried egg makes for a compellingly messy finishing touch. Other options include the hearty stuffed cabbage, bright with notes of fresh dill, and the Moldavian chicken — tender breast meat topped with a soupy tomato sauce.
Every meal at the unassuming cafe comes with a basket of yeasty dinner rolls and ends with a plate of light, sugar-dusted donuts. Plus, the restaurant is Bring Your Own Beer. The hospitality is as gracious as Manea herself, and more than worth the half-hour drive to get there.
Where to go next: Hagerstown City Park and the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts (501 Virginia Ave.); Engine Room Art Space (36 N. Potomac St.)
Baker Park is beautiful, don’t get me wrong. But if I’m being totally honest, Hagerstown City Park — a tree-lined amenity in the center of town — is even better. The shaded paths are the perfect place for a springtime stroll, complete with scenic brooks and a pair of resident swans. The park is home to four different museums and galleries, including the Jonathan Hager House — homestead of the city’s founder — and the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts.
The latter option is currently undergoing renovation, but it still features four collections with work from European masters and more recent artists (Rodin, Courbet, Ballin, and Luks, just to name a few). An upcoming exhibition will feature work by Albrecht Dürer, a German renaissance master known for his woodcuts and engravings.
If you’re looking for really contemporary work, drive 10 minutes downtown and visit the Engine Room Art Space, a gallery attached to a set of city-subsidized artist lofts. The space rotates its exhibits every few weeks and is currently hosting “Subtle,” a display of work from resident artist Lisa Foucart and two other regional creators. A former railroad city, Hagerstown is in the process of building some serious art cred.
The town: Shepherdstown, West Virginia
Where to eat: Blue Moon Cafe (200 E. High St.), Press Room (129 W. German St.), Shepherdstown Sweet Shop (100 W. German St.)
For a Frederick-like feel in a smaller setting, Shepherdstown is the place to go. The streets are lined with the same historic row homes, but the surrounding countryside offers breathtaking cliffside views of the meandering Potomac River.
The town is also home to several excellent restaurants. Special occasions, or the spontaneous date night, call for a visit to Press Room, an upscale restaurant built into a former newspaper building (the paper, called The Independent, ceased publication around 1975, according to chef and co-owner Michael Luska). Luska favors clean preparations and a strong assortment of pastas, from classic carbonara to a pappardelle with porcini and shiitake mushrooms. In early spring, there’s also plenty of local ramps and soft-shell crabs coming from the Carolinas.
Walk a couple of blocks and you’ll find the Blue Moon Cafe, a cozier spot with an assortment of salads, sandwiches and pizzas. The food is low-maintenance and delicious, and the cafe has the added benefit of a beautiful garden with a gently babbling brook. Spring is the perfect time to sit down with a glass of wine (or a tall boy of Sierra Nevada) and admire the scenery.
Once you’re downtown, don’t miss the chance to visit the Shepherdstown Sweet Shop, a first-rate bakery with picturesque pastries. The shop’s unique English muffin bread, with its butter-catching interior, is a great gift to take home.
Where to go next: Downtown shopping (locations vary, but most of the boutiques line German Street), Shepherdstown Mystery Walks (100 E. German St.), the Bavarian Inn (164 Shepherd Grade Rd.), Antietam National Battlefield (302 E. Main St., Sharpsburg, MD)
Cute downtown Shepherdstown offers plenty of cute downtown shopping, including Four Seasons Books (114 W. German St.) and On the Wings of Dreams (139 W. German St.), a New Age shop with crystals, sage, and talisman jewelry. The Good Shop (123 E. German St.) is another local favorite, with overstocked name-brand clothing at discounted prices.
For a more sinister take on the town, try a guided ghost tour with Shepherdstown Mystery Walks. Groups meet at the Shepherdstown Public Library and follow a candlelit path through some of the town’s most haunted sites, from the Old Trinity Church to private homes that supposedly housed Civil War veterans. Beyond the supernatural stories, it’s a great way to become acquainted with the town.
Maybe you’re trying to make a weekend out of it, though. In that case, consider splurging on a room at the Bavarian Inn, a long-running hotel with an attached microbrewery (and an excellent Sunday brunch). The hotel recently added an infinity pool with gorgeous views of the Potomac and tiki-inspired cocktails, which opens for the season on May 1. There’s also plenty of time to visit Antietam National Battlefield, a quick 10-minute drive from town. The historic site is less touristy than Gettysburg and offers a gently rolling hike through one of the bloodiest battles on American soil. Burnside Bridge, which spans the shaded banks of Antietam Creek, is an especially scenic spot for a picnic.
The town: Knoxville, Maryland
Where to eat: Guide House Grill (19112 Keep Tryst Road)
If Guide House Grill initially reminds you of a truck stop, you’re not totally wrong. The red clapboard exterior, right next to a Crown gas station, was once a mom-and-pop diner that catered to the truckers turning off US-340. It took a bit of time for chef Darin Kordyak to change local perceptions, but he managed to do it with a menu that channels the best of gastropub cuisine.
Much of the restaurant’s allure come from the small details that highlight the level of care in the kitchen. Steaks arrive with a smoky crust and the option for add-on toppings, including some delicious housemade compound butters. Tender grilled salmon comes on a bed of risotto so creamy and rich, it could double as its own separate entree. The brunch and lunch menus are nothing to sneeze at, either, with southern breakfast staples and fat sandwiches featuring homemade pickles and slaws.
If you need another reason to visit, it’s the restaurant’s excellent bar program, helmed by co-founder Sarah Murphy. The taps feature craft beers from nearby breweries (including Smoketown in Brunswick), and the cocktail menu is packed with creative and original recipes. Anything made with Murphy’s handcrafted syrups is a solid bet.
Where to go next: River & Trail Outfitters (604 Valley Road)
Now that the weather is finally getting nice, you can burn off some steam (and your meal) with a visit to River & Trail Outfitters, an outdoor adventure company mere minutes from Guide House Grill. The business offers a myriad of activities, from whitewater rafting and kayak rentals to ziplining and camping along the C&O Canal. There’s tubing, too, which presents the opportunity to bring a cooler onto the river with you. If you’re imbibing, just be careful. Alcohol is allowed on Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers, but it’s strictly forbidden on the banks. And of course, you’re on the open water with rapids and currents, so be responsible.
On that note, the company also offers several food and beverage tours, including guided kayak journeys to local breweries and wineries.
The town: Chambersburg, Pennsylvania
Where to eat: Trickling Springs Creamery (2330 Molly Pitcher Hwy.), Pure and Simple Cafe (164 E Baltimore St., Greencastle, PA)
If you’re not already familiar with Trickling Springs through its presence in several downtown specialty stores (including Serendipity and Firestone’s Market), the creamery offers some of the best ice cream in the area with dairy sourced from small, family-run farms. The Trickling Springs store in Chambersburg offers a full variety of ice cream flavors and shakes, plus deli sandwiches and hoagies (with the option to build them on the store’s homemade soft pretzels). You can also pick up prepackaged pints of ice cream along with the dairy’s grass-fed milk and cheeses. And don’t miss the chance to pick up a bag of Kay and Ray’s Potato Chips from Gibble’s Foods, whose manufacturing facility is right down the road. They are, without a doubt, the best potato chips in the entire world (probably because they’re cooked in lard).
If you’re looking for a healthier lunch before your ice cream splurge, make a stop in nearby Greencastle at Pure and Simple Cafe. The restaurant launched three years ago and offers a full lineup of healthful options for breakfast and lunch. Think grilled portabella mushrooms on a sprouted spelt wrap, or buckwheat pancakes topped with fruits and nuts. Owner Cathy Pence also offers health counseling if you’re looking for a way to incorporate more of those ingredients into your day-to-day life.
Where to go next: GearHouse Brewing Co. (253 Grant St.), Roy-Pitz Brewing Company (140 N. 3rd St.)
Take a tour of Chambersburg’s fledgling beer scene with visits to GearHouse and Roy-Pitz, the town’s only current craft breweries. They’re located within a block of one another, but both offer a fairly different range of options. Expect a more diverse menu at GearHouse, where dunkels and hefeweizens join IPAs and a unique bière de garde (the pale ale originated in the north of France). The brewery also offers beer cocktails and an expansive menu of burgers, bar snacks, and dinner-sized entrees.
Roy-Pitz also offers bar food and a more cultivated list of beers. Right now, the brewery has a blonde, American IPA, and sour ale year-round, plus a seasonal pilsner brewed with local orange blossom honey.
The town: Middleburg, Virginia
Where to eat: The Red Fox Inn & Tavern (2 E. Washington St.), Goodstone Inn & Restaurant (36205 Snake Hill Road), Gentle Harvest (8372 W. Main St., Marshall, VA)
Perhaps the most bourgeois of all the options on this list, Middleburg — just an hour’s drive from Frederick — is an upscale foodie paradise nestled deep within Virginia horse country. The most iconic option might be The Red Fox Inn & Tavern, a country retreat with an official spot on the National Register of Historic Places.
The adjoining restaurant features a solid gastropub menu with historic Virginia dishes, including peanut soup and country ham biscuits (available on the pub menu). You can also spring for the “Culinary Table” experience, a four-course tasting menu with optional Virginia wine pairings (the base price is $125 a person; for an extra $250, the culinary director or sommelier will present each course). The spring menu includes seasonal produce like asparagus and okra alongside rockfish and other regional proteins.
For an equally deluxe experience, head 10 minutes north to Goodstone Inn & Restaurant, a farm-to-table establishment in the most literal sense. Much of the menu is grown on the 265 acres of farmland and gardens joining the property, which includes an expansive and award-winning wine cellar. Menus are prix fixe with two- and three-course options, plus a $115 chef’s tasting. They can all be previewed on OpenTable.
Downtown Middleburg is peppered with more affordable options, including Market Salamander (200 W. Washington St.), a casual offshoot of the nearby Salamander Resort and Spa. The cafe is conveniently located across from Mt. Defiance Cidery and Distillery (207 W. Washington St.), a local fixture for craft spirits. But if you drive 20 minutes to nearby Marshall, you’ll find Gentle Harvest, a specialty co-op where you can buy local groceries and order from a fast casual menu with humanely sourced meats from nearby Ayrshire Farm.
Where to go next: Glenwood Park (Glenwood Park Lane), Greenhill Winery & Vineyards (23595 Winery Lane), National Sporting Library and Museum (102 The Plains Road)
Middleburg is horse country, y’all, and equines are the main attraction. April 20 marks the 108th Middleburg Spring Races, a steeplechase course navigated by thoroughbreds. General admission tickets are only $25, and tailgating is a key part of the experience. Grab your binoculars and pick up a picnic from Gentle Harvest or Market Salamander for the full race experience. Glenwood Park, where the race is held, hosts several other equestrian events throughout the spring and summer.
Wine is another attraction, and Middleburg offers plenty of options. Greenhill Winery & Vineyards is one of the best, with a unique Blanc de Blancs sparkling wine. But before you sip, think about paying a visit to the National Sporting Library and Museum, a truly unusual collection of art and rare manuscripts devoted to equestrian, angling, and field sports. A recently launched exhibition explores the science behind equestrian sports with examples from the museum’s own galleries.