FAIRFAX, Virginia, June 3, 2017 – When it comes to a premier travel destination, Fairfax and its surrounding county, offers plenty to do along with close proximity to the monuments and museums of Washington, D.C.
Fairfax is located in lush Virginia countryside along the Potomac River, just west of D.C. and only an hour east of Shenandoah National Park. It’s home to dozens of historic landmarks and minutes from national monuments, yet you have room to spread out, plenty of free parking and budget-friendly attractions.
Here’s how to make the most of your trip.
Choose a home base
The county seat is the bustling city of Fairfax, a great spot for travelers thanks to its central location. For a little luxury, stay at the Fairfax Marriott at Fair Oaks. The hotel is up-to-date and strikingly modern. They cater mostly to the corporate set, so tourists can take advantage of better rates on the weekend and often even lower prices around holidays.
It’s a short walk to the Fair Oaks Mall and close to both I-66 and Route 50 so you can easily get around the city and capital by car or Metro.
Guest rooms are comfortable and spacious, many with private balconies available at no extra charge. They come with a mini fridge and, if you ask for it, a microwave which is always handy if you need a snack or quick meal.
You can also visit the on-site restaurant for locally sourced food.
Northern Virginia is known for natural beauty. The county’s most famous attraction, Mount Vernon, is renowned not only for the mansion George Washington once owned but also for the 18th century landscaped grounds. Don’t miss Washington’s historic gristmill and the authentically rebuilt distillery located near the mansion. The original building was destroyed by fire.
Flower lovers will enjoy Meadowlark Botanical Gardens. Covering 95 acres in Vienna, the gardens bloom in every season: peonies, tulips, daylilies, crape myrtle and more. Pick up a map at the front desk so you don’t miss any of the themed gardens or architectural features like the restored log cabin and Korean bell. If you go with kids, they’ll love spotting the fairy statues near the entrance.
A natural oasis of a different style, Great Falls Park lets you get close to the powerful Potomac River. As water rushes through the gorge, it creates a series of cascades just steps from the visitor center. The national park includes trails for hikers, but tourists can visit all three overlooks in a matter of minutes. Two of these are wheelchair accessible, and admission is just $10 per car. Fair warning: On the weekend, it’s popular, so go early.
The Fair Oaks Mall is a destination for dining as well as shopping. There are, of course, chain options to choose from, but go local — yet international — at La Crepe Bistro. A small cafe with a continental theme, this hidden gem serves up fast casual French cuisine prepared right in front of you. Start with something savory, like the chicken fontina, folded into an airy, generously sized crepe. If you’re not as hungry, split with a friend so you can save room for dessert. Fillings and toppings include cream, fruit, Nutella and caramel, among others.
These are the real deal. Pair it with an espresso and dream of Paris.
For dinner, stop by the Old Town Plaza in Fairfax. The Plaza is a fun place to walk and window shop as you decide which restaurant to visit. You can’t go wrong with the award-winning Bollywood Bistro. They serve inspired Indian food like date-filled naan and slow-cooked lamb biryani.
If you’re vegetarian, there are nearly a dozen entrees with tempting ingredients from potato croquettes to smoked eggplant. Flavors are fresh, and the prices reasonable.
Experience the city
Pick any city in the county and you’ll find something unique, whether it’s a 19th-century mill or a zoofari. Photographers have their pick of art galleries and monuments. Evening crowds can enjoy live theater on the stage or live music at one of the pubs.
For an extra thrill, sign up for an escape game. At Room Escape DC, you and your team have 60 minutes to unravel clues hidden around the room. The puzzles are clever and out-of-the-box, but it makes the challenge that much better.
Room Escape DC has six themes to choose from. If you’re feeling patriotic, “Save the White House” is an absolute blast and can be completed with anywhere from two to 10 people.
Save a day to head into DC. There’s public transport from Fairfax County, or you can drive. If you opt for driving, budget for parking fees. Before you leave for the capital by car, do a little parking research, check Parking Panda, or make sure you download the app for on-street metered pay before you leave.
On the plus side, several of DC’s best attractions, including museums, don’t cost a dime. At the National Zoo, you can hang with apes, alpacas, pandas and sea lions, all for free. If you can, visit during meal times when the animals are active. The keeper talks are also not to be missed.
If you’ve done the DC tourist circuit already, don’t worry — there’s plenty more. For an attraction much less crowded than the Smithsonian museums but still of the same caliber, try the International Spy Museum.
Walk through the weird and hands-on history of spycraft to encounter gadgets, plots, disguises and fascinating lore. Featuring Bond memorabilia and even a simulated spy mission, it’s great for all ages and anyone who wants a glimpse into the secretive world of espionage.
D.C.’s newest and most in-demand attraction is the new National Museum of African American History & Culture. Entrance is by pre-arranged timed passes, so before you leave for your trip, order your passes here.
- With so much to see, you can easily spend a week in the area, but plan for at least three days to hit the main sights.
- If you drive into DC, allow extra time during rush hour, particularly on weekdays.
- Several museums are free, including all the Smithsonian museums, which total eleven museums and galleries on the National Mall, six in the area and the National Zoo. While the bigger named museums, like the National Museum of Indian History, are easy to identify, there are also many smaller museums like the Freer | Sackler Museum of Asian Art that has a wonderful exhibit of Japanese art and culture. The museums also have many special exhibitions, some of which require pre-ordered passes.
- Located right in Fairfax County in the town of Chantilly, the popular National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is one of the best museums of aviation history you’ll ever see.
- Stop by the visitor center in Tysons Corner for a free gift. They’ll also share maps and advice for how to plan your stay.