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Washington, D.C., is a fantastic city to explore for its attractions and history. But if you crave a little diversity beyond its Smithsonian museums, national monuments and cherry blossom-lined streets, know this: The region also boasts overnight opportunities that emulate adventures you might find thousands of miles away in places such as Napa, Yellowstone or Las Vegas. Only, these opportunities are all within a two-hour drive from the Capital. Take advantage of the three major airports (Dulles, Reagan and Baltimore) servicing the region, and parlay a D.C. visit into a bigger vacation by incorporating these destinations into your itinerary.

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1. Las Vegas on the Potomac

Where:  MGM National Harbor Resort & Casino
Distance from DC:  10 miles

Photo courtesy of the MGM National Harbor Resort and Casino

Be among the first to stay at The MGM National Harbor Resort & Casino, the region’s first Las Vegas-caliber luxury resort, which opened its doors to the public in December of 2016. Just across the Potomac River in Maryland’s revitalized National Harbor district, with views of the Capitol Building, the Washington Monument and Old Town Alexandria from many of its 308 rooms, it’s a glam destination unto itself—just like many of the resorts you’d find in Vegas. Unlike them, however, this resort has a more sophisticated and subdued vibe, a refreshing contrast to the often over-the-top revelry and sensory overload found in Sin City.

Some of this is due to the 125,000-square-foot casino residing in a separate space, still attached to the hotel but requiring an ID for those 21 and older to enter. So if gambling isn’t your thing, you needn’t walk through aisles and aisles of slot machines and gaming tables to get from one place to another. Onsite entertainment abounds beyond the gaming, however. The property boasts a full-service spa; a luxury shopping corridor (home to Sarah Jessica Parker’s first brick-and-mortar store, SJP—a sort of Carrie Bradshaw pilgrimage for “Sex and the City” fans); dazzling art installations throughout (Bob Dylan has artwork featured here); and a 3,000-seat theater, an amazingly intimate venue to experience world-class acts such as Cher, Sting and Ricky Martin, who are all slated to perform in 2017.

Plus, no need to leave the property when you get hungry: There are 15 dining options, with celebrity chefs such as José Andrés, Marcus Samuelsson and brothers Bryan and Michael Voltaggio among the owners of upscale restaurants featuring inventive seafood, high-end Southern comfort food and steakhouse cuisine, respectively. Given all of these diversions under one roof, this dynamic resort is worth settling into, and staying for at least a night.

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2. A National Park adventure

Where:  Shenandoah National Park
Distance from DC:  75 miles

If you’re craving an outdoor adventure in the mountains (instead of among the monuments), head to Shenandoah National Park. It boasts more than 500 miles of epic trails that wind through cascading waterfalls, old farmsteads, cool caverns, spectacular vistas and serene forests. The northern entrance to the park (Front Royal) is closest to D.C., and from there you aren’t far from one of the park’s most beloved hikes, the Dickey Ridge Loop.

To maximize your sightseeing if you’re short on time, cruise the Skyline Drive. It runs 105 miles along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains, slicing through the entire park and offering 75 overlooks along the way. It’s a breathtaking drive any time of year, but particularly in autumn, when foliage explodes in hues of red, orange and gold.

ALSO: Are you the only one not getting kickbacks in DC? Earn back on travel when you join Orbitz Rewards!

3. A Napa-inspired getaway

Where:  Virginia Wine Country
Distance from DC:  100 miles

Monticello wine trail | Flickr CC: Kate Hooper

The Monticello Wine Trail in Virginia is home to 30 wineries, all easily accessible from the charming town of Charlottesville. It’s a vision realized nearly 250 years after Thomas Jefferson attempted (without much success) to plant vineyards to emulate the great wine regions of the Old World. Today, more than half of Virginia’s vineyard acres grow within this region. Vineyards such as Barboursville, Keswick and Blenheim (owned by Dave Matthews) welcome day trippers with wine tastings and tours. Our new president even has a wine-themed resort here: Trump Winery.

Surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Monticello Wine Trail is sprinkled with country homes, restored barns and spectacular settings for picnics. It’s a setting you’ll want to sink into—and sip, sip, sip your way through—over a few days.


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4. A city with colorful quirk

Where:  Baltimore
Distance from DC:  40 miles

Divine statue | Flickr CC: anarchist

Escape the (sometimes) politically stuffy climate of D.C. for a colorful change of pace. A drive to the closest major city, Baltimore, puts you in the setting John Waters made famous in his musical “Hairspray.” For Waters fans, a stop at the eclectic American Visionary Art Museum is a must. It’s home to some of the country’s best “intuitive” art, including the Divine Statue, which pays homage to the drag queen from Baltimore who became a star in Waters’ films.

A lot of tourist activity, however, centers around Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, which is a favorite with good reason. It boasts a kaleidoscope of diversion: cruises, upscale crab shacks, the Civil War-era warship the USS Constellation, the world-class National Aquarium, Fort McHenry (birthplace of the U.S. National Anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner”) and the Maryland Science Center—a museum where you can literally lie on a bed of nails. Trust us, you and the kids will love bragging about that experience over Instagram.

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Tagged: Washington DC

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Erica Bray

Erica Bray

Erica is a practical free spirit who loves travel, yoga and ice cream. A Northwestern University-trained journalist with more than 15 years of experience straddling digital and broadcast media, Erica can be found doing handstands everywhere she travels -- even risking arrest in some cases. Learn about her at

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