Considering a trip to Gettysburg or Washington, DC?
Families in Pittsburgh have many outstanding vacation options available to them just a short drive from the City. I recently traveled with my wife, Carol, and daughters ages 10 & 11 to two, Gettysburg and Washington, D.C. Below are some highlights.
Gettysburg has something for everyone. If you love history, read up on the battle, so when you arrive, every field, ridge, hill, cluster of rocks, clump of trees and building will have meaning to you. Or, if you’re there for beautiful scenery and great restaurants, there’s plenty of both. Or, my children enjoyed the simple pleasure of climbing on the large rocks of Devil’s Den, one of the many interesting aspects of the battlefield.
- The place to start is the National Park Service Museum and Visitor Center (https://www.nps.gov/gett/planyourvisit/visitorcenters.htm). It features innumerable displays and historic items telling the story of the battle and life during the Civil War. Highlights include the film A New Birth of Freedom narrated by actor Morgan Freeman, and the restored Gettysburg Cyclorama, which recounts Pickett’s Charge, the climax of the three-day battle.
- After spending some time at the Center you can head out to the battlefield, best viewed with the assistance of a licensed battlefield guide (http://www.gettysburgfoundation.org/14/gettysburg-battlefield-tours). We enjoyed a two-hour tour in which the guide drove our car, stopping along the way at significant points. He had the ability to quickly show me elements of the battlefield I had read about, which I subsequently went back and toured on my own afterward. There are many monuments to soldiers and old cannon throughout the site, along with magnificent scenery which made for some great photographs.
Destination Gettysburg (www.destinationgettysburg.com) is a great resource to plan a trip, including in figuring out where to stay and eat.
There are many fine hotel choices in and around Gettysburg. We opted for the affordable and family-friendly Wyndham Gettysburg (https://www.wyndhamhotels.com/wyndham/gettysburg-pennsylvania/wyndham-gettysburg/overview), just off the Interstate 15 which runs alongside the town. Our room had two queen beds; other amenities included a large indoor pool, a well-equipped fitness room and complimentary parking right alongside the hotel. We opted to have breakfast both mornings at the hotel; all was delicious. Like everything else in and around the town, there was a strong Civil War theme in the hotel décor.
- There is no shortage of terrific restaurants in Gettysburg; we chose to start at the Appalachian Brewing Company (http://abcbrew.com/), which is located across the parking lot from the Wyndham Gettysburg. It features pub house classics and dishes with a twist: Rockfish tacos, Thai coconut chicken and gumbo, fish & chips, ribs, burgers, sandwiches and soups and salads. We also sampled their excellent craft beers; each of ABC’s six Pennsylvania locations has its own small-batch craft beer brewery. ABC has two Gettysburg locations, the second being on the battlefield, as well as its original location in Harrisburg.
- When you’re in downtown historic Gettysburg, try The Pub & Restaurant (http://the-pub.com/thepub/) on Lincoln Square. It’s a great place for a burger or pizza, the soups and salads are fabulous as well. We had good luck with the spinach salad and French onion soup. They also offer a kids menu. It has a great location in the center of town.
- And, definitely make time to visit historic Dobbin House Tavern (http://www.dobbinhouse.com/), a historic 1776 home converted into a restaurant, pub and bed & breakfast. We enjoyed an upscale dinner in the restaurant one evening; its elegant atmosphere pairs nicely with the menu of seafood, steak, poultry and other deliciously prepared meat dishes. Starters include homemade bread; desserts include homemade pies and cheesecake. Take a tour of the building when you’re done eating, as it was once part of the Underground Railroad which hid fleeing slaves.
Washington, D.C. is a short drive from Pittsburgh. One of the nicest things for families is that many of its attractions are free. Call ahead to reserve tickets for a White House or Capitol tour, or go anytime to tour one of the many Smithsonian museums. When we were there we had time to tour three: the Air & Space, Art and History Museums. Also take time to walk the National Mall and surrounding area and see such favorite sites as the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials. We were impressed with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum; Arlington National Cemetery is worth a visit.
A paid attraction outside of Washington is George Washington’s Mount Vernon (www.mountvernon.org), the plantation home of our country’s first president. It’s located along the banks of the Potomac River in Virginia, about 30 minutes outside of Washington. When you first arrive, get a time to tour the main house and then check out all there is to see on the estate. You can view the quarters of the servants, the blacksmith shop, the gardens, George & Martha’s tomb and many other historic sites, as well as tour the museum and education center to find out about Washington’s life. It could easily be an all-day activity, and the surrounding landscape is beautiful.
- We enjoyed a club level room at the Ritz Carlton at Pentagon City (http://www.ritzcarlton.com/en/hotels/washington-dc/pentagon-city), an outstanding hotel less than a mile from the Pentagon. It has all the amenities, including an indoor pool, steam room and sauna and fitness center. The rooms were spacious and had great views of the city. The Metro train stop is directly in front of the hotel, and it’s a short drive to Reagan National Airport. If you are on the club level you can enjoy outstanding food and drink throughout the day. They also offer programming and menus specifically for kids.
- A second solid choice in the downtown area is the Courtyard Washington Convention Center (http://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/wascn-courtyard-washington-convention-center/). This large hotel is actually in a converted bank building which backs to the alley that John Wilkes Booth escaped down after shooting President Abraham Lincoln (Ford’s Theater is just around the block). It is centrally located near many Smithsonian museums and the National Mall, Verizon Center, shopping, restaurants and the White House and Capitol Building. Amenities include a fitness room and even a small pool. Our room had two double beds and a nice view. We had a great breakfast with many terrific choices at the hotel restaurant, The Bistro, which offers egg dishes, sausage and bacon, French toast, potatoes, cereal, yogurt, breakfast drinks and many other breakfast standards.
- A second dining choice on the property is the hotel’s Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant (http://www.gordonbiersch.com/locations/washington-dc?action=view), known for its handcrafted beers (and many fine wine options). This is the place to go to enjoy pizza, salads, burgers, steaks, tacos and seafood, garlic fries and other specialty entrees. If you don’t know which beer to select, try the 4-beer sampler. And, don’t miss dessert; we had the triple chocolate brownie.
- A great place to start your visit to Washington, D.C. is at the Skydome Restaurant atop the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Washington D.C.-Crystal City (across the Potomac River in Arlington, Virginia, http://doubletree3.hilton.com/en/hotels/virginia/doubletree-by-hilton-hotel-washington-dc-crystal-city-DCAAEDT/dining/skydome.html). This magnificent restaurant with windows all around is located 15 floors up and slowly rotates around so you have views of D.C. and the surrounding areas. You’ll get great views of the Washington Monument, Capitol building, Potomac and the airplanes taking off at Reagan National. They offer a full bar, plus delicious starters, soups and salads, small plates and main dishes. We had good luck with the fried Brussels sprouts and poke starters, as well as the Kobe burger and New York Steak. And, although it’s a lounge, it’s very kid-friendly.
- Across from the Ritz Carlton at Pentagon City is California Pizza Kitchen (https://www.cpk.com/). While they have many outstanding pizza choices, they also offer some terrific salads, appetizers and specialty dishes. Some suggestions: the Tortilla Spring Rolls/Baja Chicken is a good choice, as is the BBQ Chicken Chopped Salad. We also enjoyed the fish tacos, and the Shrimp Scampi Zucchini. If you want a pizza, take a look at their Jamaican Jerk. For dessert, save room for the Key Lime Pie.
- Near downtown, we ate at three great restaurants. Fuddruckers DC Chinatown (http://www.fuddruckers.com/dc-chinatown) is the perfect place to stop if you’re looking for a burger, fries or onion rings and a shake. They prepare your hamburger—or turkey or veggie burger, or chicken—and you put the condiments on yourself the way you like. All was fresh and delicious, quick and reasonably priced. Have a cookie for dessert.
- Hard Rock Café (http://www.hardrock.com/cafes/washington-dc/) is another great choice. Located across the street from the FBI and next door to historic Ford Theater, this restaurant is themed with classic rock and roll memorabilia (I recall, for example, sitting next to a red, white and blue flag-themed costume once worn in a performance by Elton John). Enjoy wings or nachos for an appetizer, and for a main course enjoy fajitas, steaks, ribs, salmon, sandwiches, burgers and salads. Have a colorful cocktail with your dinner, or try any one of many beers or wines. There are also some great desserts. After dinner, go to their Rock Shop store and buy a t-shirt, collectable pin or glass.
- One final restaurant we’d recommend for lunch or dinner is matchbox (http://www.matchboxrestaurants.com/), also located in Chinatown. They offer many fine bistro dishes with fresh ingredients, including pizzas baked in brick ovens which use a blend of wood to give the pizza the perfect crunch. We enjoyed their appetizer trio with scallops, crab cakes and mini burgers. Salads, sandwiches and a variety of bistro dishes make up the menu; in addition to their Cool Cocktail list they offer premium wines, beer and excellent desserts. They have a nice touch for kids; they give them pizza dough to shape and then bake it for them.
Both Gettysburg and Washington, D.C. are great fun for Pittsburgh families, and are good to visit for just a few days or longer. I hope to be back soon!