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No Car? Not a Problem for These Area Getaways

Metro, Bus, Walking Lead Washingtonians Away From the City and Into Slower-Paced Old Town, Nature

In a city where work never stops, smart phones are always buzzing and e-mails pop up by the second, weekend escapes from downtown Washington, D.C., are as vital as clean air.

That doesn’t bode well for Washingtonians who don’t own cars. They may find it easy to commute to work using the Metro transit system, but finding a spot for a car-less getaway means they’re confined to Metro lines, bus routes and their own legs.

But there’s hope. Many hospitable and far-removed destinations on the outer edges of the city are Metro-accessible. Here are a few suggestions for suitable day trips to consider as the weather warms.

Old Town

With its cobblestone sidewalks and quaint Colonial-era houses, Old Town Alexandria brings the on-the-go city pace down a few notches.

Less than a dozen blocks from the King Street Metro stop, old-fashioned row houses and small boutiques and galleries give the area a small-town feel.  

On weekends, people meander aimlessly down Queen and King streets, the town’s main drags. Shoppers wander in and out of antique shops and bakeries and down to the farmers market to grab fruits and veggies at Market Square (301 King St.).

Old Town Theater (815 ½ King St.), built in the early 1900s, runs old classics and new films, and it may be the only movie theater that offers hot roast beef, turkey and veggie panini for $10 as well as beer and wine in addition to the traditional popcorn and gummy bear favorites.

History buffs can check out the George Washington Masonic National Memorial (101 Callahan Drive) to learn about Freemasonry and see the 17-foot bronze statue of President George Washington.

Just off Queen Street, across from Market Square, visitors can take tours of the Carlyle House (121 N. Fairfax St.), a historical mansion built in 1753. Gen. Edward Braddock (the British commander in chief who arrived with more than 1,200 English soldiers) used the house as headquarters during the French and Indian War. Later, Union troops captured the home and turned it into a hospital for soldiers during the Civil War.

Tours occur twice each hour and cost $5 for adults and $3 for children younger than 13. Watch out for Red Coats if you visit — the House has occasional re-enactments.

Visitors might also enjoy one of the hourly tours given at the Lee-Fendall House (614 Oronoco St.), the Victorian mansion that housed 37 members of Confederate Army Gen. Robert E. Lee’s family, though not the leader himself, from 1785 to 1903. The home is just north of Old Town, and tours are $5 for adults and $3 for kids younger than 17.

Remember Nature?

Those who easily tire of concrete sidewalks and steel buildings and seek surroundings more like Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden” can enjoy the smell of grass and feel of dirt footpaths just minutes from downtown.

Theodore Roosevelt Island sits in the middle of the Potomac River, blocked off from cars and bikes. The island, accessible by footbridge only, is lined with short easy trails that weave through woodsy, swampy and open grassy areas.

The park is free and open year-round.

Interested nature-seekers should take the Metro to Rosslyn, walk Lynn Street toward Lee Highway and turn right onto the Mount Vernon Trail (visible from the road). The trail runs into a bridge that crosses the Potomac to the island. A sign marks the entrance.

For hikers looking for more than a short nature stroll, there’s the 6,300-acre Seneca Creek State Park in Gaithersburg, Md.

The forested area includes more than a half-dozen “easy” to “moderate” trails ranging from 1 to 16 miles. Several trails encircle Clopper Lake, a prime fishing spot. Another passes three stone arches that once upheld the old Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.

There are picnic pavilions for lunching, and several trails allow mountain bikes.

It’s here that those on foot get a nice perk: Although the state park charges an admission fee for cars driving in for the day, those who walk into the park get free admission. Washingtonians can catch the Red Line to Shady Grove and hop on the Ride-On Bus 71 for a 10-minute ride to the park’s entrance.

Although park offices are closed on the weekends in early spring, guests can pick up trail maps just inside the first set of double doors, which remain open.

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