A few months ago the hubby and I made up our minds to explore the cities and towns within an easy drive of us. Since the end of March we have been to three new places (one of them twice!) and I will be sharing our experience as a way for DC locals, or tourists, to easily find a doable day trip destination from home.
First up was our leisurely afternoon at the end of March spent wandering the streets of Shepherdstown, West Virginia, about an hour drive from our house. Shepherdstown is small and totally doable for the day or afternoon. You could probably walk from one end of the town to the other in about 15 minutes.
Established in 1762, Shepherdstown is the oldest town in West Virginia and hosts about 2,000 residents. The town is home to Shepherd University, which helps to give it a hip, modern vibe unlike its neighboring towns and despite its historic roots. Due to the college’s presence, the town has made a name for itself in the coffee, art, and theatre scene and even has some tempting foodie spots, such as Bistro 112, Domestic, and The Press Room.
We had originally planned to do a short hike first in Harpers Ferry before heading to Shepherdstown, a historic town with stores lining up a steep hill on the banks of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers. But when we got there and all the parking lots were full, we turned around and went a little further down the road and wandered into Shepherdstown.
If you are a history buff, there is plenty to draw you into Shepherdstown. First established on December 23, 1762, the town has played important roles in both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. The land was originally granted to Thomas Shepherd, who built the town and named it Mecklenburg (you will notice the historic Mecklenburg Inn along the Main St), and in 1798 the town was extended and the name changed to Shepherd’s Town. It was also the site for the Peace Talks between Israel and Syria in 2000.
Along with being the oldest town in West Virginia, it has also been dubbed the most haunted town in America. There are loads of guides and story tellers who will take you on a tour of the town’s ghostly past. Hard to feel that mysterious aura in the middle of a nice, spring day though.
Most of the historic buildings along the town’s main street have been resurrected into quaint shops and coffee houses.
Don’t walk too quickly, or else you will miss all of the interesting details that make up the town’s charm and picturesque nature.
After getting the lay of the town, it’s time to stop into one of the many restaurants and shops beckoning tourists and college students alike to spend their money.
Mellow Moods Cafe and Juice Bar
Shepherdstown has quite a few cafe offerings that all looked tempting, but we ducked into Mellow Moods Cafe and Juice Bar so I could find a caffeine-free treat. They serve juices, smoothies, coffee, and small plates in a laid-back atmosphere that was inspired by the owners honeymoon trip to Hawaii in 2006.
They also apparently do jara yoga. Don’t ask me what that is. I can’t keep up with all the different types of yoga these days.
The inside is quaint and comfortable, but we chose a spot in the back of the cafe on their outdoor patio.
You can be totally boring and predictable and choose one of their many coffee and tea offerings. But I would suggest living a little and indulging in one of their (pricey) smoothie selections. This beauty was one of their seasonal recipes, a Basil Lemon smoothie. It had banana, basil, lemon, and agave nectar, and probably a couple of other things. It was perfect. Even my smoothie-suspicious-husband kept stealing it.
Thankfully I don’t fall enough into the hippie category so I was able to use the front door. But for you actual hippies, take heed. No. Exceptions.
When you are ready to move on, take the 10 minute walk back through town to Rumsey Park. Exit Mellow Moods and head southeast on German St towards the train tracks.
Take a left onto N Mill St, follow it to the end through a residential neighborhood and the entrance to the park will be on your right.
Rumsey Park is a peaceful, somewhat overgrown park with a beautiful view overlooking the Potomac River. The park was first open to the public in the summer of 1917, and in 2007, the park was officially donated to Shepherdstown by the Rumseyan Society.
After entering the park the first thing you will notice is that it is home to an impressive monument. It towers high above the trees and seems to stand as a beacon to those passing by on the river.
The monument was built for James Rumsey, who made a successful trial of his invention of the steamboat on the Potomac River just off of Princess Street in 1787. He is known as America’s first true engineer.
The building of the monument had quite the epic timeline, as the initial talks of building the monument first began in the 1830s. Serious preparations did not begin until the early 1900s however, apparently after the pressure was felt from the fact that New York was celebrating the centennial of Robert Fulton’s historical contributions.
The author of the monument text, George Beltzhoover Jr., may have been a little too excited when planning the monument. It states that Rumsey made his voyage trip in 1783, even though Rumsey did not yet have a steamboat and would not make his first trip down the river until 1787. Whoops. Maybe he thought no one would notice? Still, being able to claim the inventor of the steamboat is pretty great, so we will cut him some slack.
Make sure you stay long enough to enjoy the views that the top of the monument has to offer. Looking at the river, it’s hard to imagine a steamboat making its way through. But when you realize the first one wasn’t much bigger than a small skiff, it seems more practical.
If you hang out long enough, you might see a train making its way down the railroad tracks. Makes you feel pretty nostalgic.
All of this long, strenuous walking and sightseeing will obviously make you ready for another snack. Go back the way you came to German St into town.
Mountaineer Popcorn Company
Locals would tell you that a trip to Shepherdstown would not be complete without a trip to the Mountaineer Popcorn Company.
There’s a long list of available flavors, but you better believe that if I am going to have dairy, it better be something good. So we went for the Jalapeno & White Cheddar, which did not disappoint.
You really only need the small bag to be able to savor their offerings. I think this only cost about $2. And it’s perfectly sized for you to finish off while you walk around the town a little more to make sure you don’t miss anything.
I mean, who knows? The next shop over is a bakery! You might be forced to pop in there and compare their offerings to the popcorn…
Most likely you will have parked along one of the side off of German St. Head back to your car and consider it an afternoon well spent!
If you are still hungry, the ice cream shop at the next town over in Sharpsburg, Nutter’s Ice Cream, is supposedly to die for! But please learn from us: they only take cash. Don’t be like us and be caught craving ice cream without a way to pay for it.
What are your favorite towns within driving distance of the DC area? Have any suggestions for me? Leave a comment below!