Marble-clad Washington lies in the Mid-Atlantic, a region of geographic diversity and historical significance, where mountains and sandy beaches are within a morning’s drive and the nation’s history—political and military battles—played out across the area’s fledgling cities, farmland, and wilderness.
East of Washington, roughly three hours away, are the sprawling shores of the Atlantic: remote undeveloped beaches like Assateague, Maryland, where wild ponies roam free, along with small family beach towns in Delaware and the bustling boardwalks and high-rise developments of Ocean City, Maryland.
To reach the beach, travelers must cross spectacular Chesapeake Bay and the vast Eastern Shore, an expanse of farmland also known as the Delmarva Peninsula. The bay is an historic waterway plied and mapped in 1607 by Capt. John Smith, 13 years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth, Massachusetts (which itself was named by Smith in 1615 when he explored the Massachusetts coast).
The Chesapeake Bay remains a significant food source for the area and is a recreational treasure known worldwide for its sailing and boating activities. The Eastern Shore beyond consists of farms, marsh, rivers, and fishing villages that hold their own special charm, including a slower-paced lifestyle that draws Washingtonians for weekends of relaxation and peaceful respite.
Traversing the bay to the Eastern Shore is the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, which carries U.S. 50 and U.S. 301 past Maryland’s state capitol, Annapolis , a favorite day-trip for its waterfront scenery, charming bed-and-breakfasts, historic colonial architecture, and lively social and dining scene.
West of DC, beyond the immediate suburbs, are open fields, farms, and small towns of the Maryland and Virginia Piedmont, a geographic area of rolling hills and gentle creeks that has spawned a sizeable wine industry, equestrian ventures, and small towns that teem with antiques stores, shops, and fine restaurants.
A trip to this area has been labeled as a “Journey through Hallowed Ground” by the National Trust for Historic Preservation for its historical significance: The 175-mile stretch from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to Charlottesville, Virginia, contains the homes of six presidents, 58 significant Civil War sites and numerous points of interest for African American and Native American history as well as the colonial period.
In this area, a number of small towns and their nearby surroundings draw visitors, including historic Frederick, Maryland, and nearby Antietam Battlefield, site of the single bloodiest day of the Civil War; Leesburg, Virginia , a colonial-era town known for its antiques stores and outlet shopping; and tiny Middleburg, Virginia , in the heart of hunt country, romantic and relaxing, a posh village centrally located near wineries, state parks, and historic sites. Between these towns and DC lie important historic sites such as the Manassas National Battlefield  and tiny Bristoe Station.
Far to the west, roughly two hours from the city, rise the Blue Ridge Mountains, a segment of the Appalachian Range, with elevations between 2,000 and 3,000 feet, tall enough to sustain small ski resorts and host winter sports, and the Shenandoah Valley, cradling the Shenandoah River, providing opportunities for hiking, white-water rafting, horseback riding, and camping.
Due south of the city, seven miles from the Washington Monument , stands one of the nation’s most historic towns, Alexandria, Virginia , home to George Washington and Robert E. Lee, a historic colonial port that is a major daytime destination for dining and nightlife as well as shopping and points of interest. Charming and alluring, Alexandria has more than 4,000 historic buildings, many along cobblestone streets, and hundreds of art galleries, boutiques, pubs, historic taverns, and fine restaurants—a step back in time with cuisine and amenities planted firmly in the now.
A bonus of living in Washington is the city’s proximity to the country: less than 30 minutes away, you can immerse yourself in a remote wilderness, a place where bald eagles soar and blue herons vie for fish, where you might not see another soul on a hiking trail, where you can paddle down a river without passing a single house.
Turn the opposite direction and you’ll wind up in a historic colonial town like Alexandria, Virginia, on the Potomac River and chockablock with art galleries, stores, and boutiques as well as historic sites; or Annapolis, Maryland, the state capital, with magnificent universities, the U.S. Naval Academy  and St. John’s College , a historic statehouse, seafood restaurants, a lively waterfront, and quaint streets lined with colonial and Victorian homes.
If you are visiting DC and plan on making any of these trips, Alexandria  is a best bet, practically a requirement for history buffs and easily reached by Metro. George Washington’s plantation, Mount Vernon , lies roughly 25 minutes south of Alexandria along a stunning scenic parkway, accessible by tour bus or car. A morning spent at Mount Vernon can be followed up with an afternoon and evening out in Alexandria, a city so compact you can park your car, stroll the streets, have dinner and drinks, and be back at your hotel in downtown DC before your coach turns into a pumpkin.
Every other destination mentioned here lies an hour away by car. Annapolis , roughly 45 minutes away, is a delightful day trip destination, with room to roam, places to shop, and the chance for the adventurous to get out on the water on a sailing schooner, a boat cruise, or a simple water taxi. The city also has a number of small bed-and-breakfasts and chain hotels for those who want to linger longer.
If you have a night or weekend to spare, consider heading west to the Virginia countryside  for a mini break. Again, the destination is not far—an hour’s drive—but a trip to hunt country is a step into a romantic world of wineries and bed-and-breakfasts, historic Civil War battlefields and plantations, point-to-point horseracing and equestrian farms, and the opportunity to hike miles of forest or fish along pristine rivers.