It may be the dog days of summer, but after the year we’ve had, we’ve never been more excited to bust loose. From tubing down the river to sipping wine slushies, from throwing a killer block party to doing yoga with goats, from rock concerts to festivals of every stripe, we’re ready to have fun again. Let the fireworks begin.
Take a Walk in an Amazingly Lovely Park
There are folks who have lived in the area for years who have no idea there is a 95-acre public garden tucked into a verdant crook of north Vienna. But Meadowlark Botanical Gardens has been there since 1992, and it’s a hidden gem worth multiple visits. Trails course through thousands of flowers, in several open fields, and around three ponds that sustain turtles, koi, and visiting wildlife. Oversize sculptures punctuate your stroll as you take in the stellar collection of native plants and trees. Dogs are welcome on the perimeter trail. There are three areas available to rent for private events, including a glass-walled Atrium; the scenic Lilac Pavilion; and the distinctive Korean Bell Garden, a pagoda structure surrounded by replicas of ancient Korean monuments and walls. And where else are you going to find a three-ton ornamental Korean bell? Pro tip: If you’re taking photos for special occasions, be aware of the photo-permit policy ($25 and a reservation required). 9750 Meadowlark Gardens Ct., Vienna
Up Your Grill Game
Throw meat from any of these boutique butchers on the barbecue for a backyard grill-out like never before.
Rage Out (Responsibly)
“I’m mad as hell,” Peter Finch screamed at the world in the 1976 classic Network, “and I’m not going to take it anymore!” Too bad rage rooms wouldn’t be invented for another few decades. The concept, which originated in Japan in the late 2000s before spreading globally, charges you to don protective safety goggles and then destroy all matter of objects with hammers and other blunt tools. Also known as anger rooms, stress rooms, and smash rooms, they are either equipped with items for you to destroy (like old broken televisions), or you can bring your own, all while hard rock or heavy metal music blares in the background. And yes, primal screaming is permitted—even encouraged. Several abound in the northern Virginia area. The Lose It Rage Room (7701 Southern Dr., Ste. D7, Springfield) markets itself with the tagline “the other side of self-care.” Their packages have names like Controlled Chaos, Boiling Point, All Glass Everything, Colossal Rage, and Group Therapy. (That last one is $240 for half an hour with up to six people.) Smash Pit (7701 Southern Dr., Springfield) was founded by a registered nurse and includes eminently crushable items like printers and computer keyboards. Want to venture out a bit beyond Springfield, which obviously has an anger-management problem? The Destruction Room (4425 Shore Dr., Ste. 104, Virginia Beach) features packages like The Break Up, Tantrum Time, and Full On Release. (Their slogan: “You bring the stress, we clean the mess.”) Central Virginia has Rage RVA (2403 W. Main St., Richmond) with packages including The Quickie, The Beat Down, Unleash, and The Rumpus.
Back into the Swing
If you wouldn’t even venture onto a golf course during the pandemic, here are five to hit.
Rock Out Like it’s the ’90s
Remember “She Talks to Angels?” How about “Remedy?” Get ready to “Shake Your Moneymaker” to the tunes of The Black Crowes when they hit Jiffy Lube Live on September 22. It’s the perfect season to pull on your bell bottoms and top off your outfit with a gaucho hat for a reminder of just how much we loved the ’70s during the ’90s, for some reason. During pre-pandemic times, the massive venue boasted seating for 10,444 in the covered area and 14,818 on the lawn. That means that even with reduced capacity, shows will attract a crowd that will help you re-create your 20th-century glory. So pack a Jolt cola in your picnic basket and prepare for an evening that’s worthy of your time at any age. 7800 Cellar Door Dr., Bristow
Do Sun Salutations with a Baby Goat
Want the best back massage ever? There’s nothing quite like doing child’s pose and feeling a 3- to 7-pound baby goat with carefully trimmed hooves pitter-patter on your trapezius. Farmer Gary Bedford claims that Little Goat Farm at the Lake in Nokesville was the first place on the East Coast to offer goat yoga six years ago. Currently, public classes take place on the farm at least once a month (as well as at Eavesdrop Brewery in Manassas). Or schedule a private session to have the goats, bunnies, and “shy baby alpacas” all to yourself. All instructors, and many of the handlers, are registered and certified teachers who are watchful of guests’ joints, spines, and body alignment in all their asanas. But most importantly, the back-massage portion of the $40 class is free. Except, of course, for the hugs and snuggles the babies crave as “tips.” 8954 Burwell Rd., Nokesville
5 Best Rooftop Bars
A brew with a view? Now that the CDC no longer requires masking up outside, a rooftop restaurant or lounge is an even more appealing place to get a little loose. Here are some of our favorite elevated places for a tipple or two, all with food you’ll crave.
Melt Away Your Worries
In search of an oasis from the summer heat? The brand-new King Spa has a literal one. The famed relaxation destination has locations in Chicago and Dallas that bring in droves of faithful from afar. This Korean spa broke ground in 2018, so local fans have long been on the lookout. When it opens next month, you can expect more than 62,000 square feet of pools, saunas, and other spaces fully devoted to tranquility, including a salt room, ice room, and charcoal room. Treatments include famously powerful acupressure massages, hot-stone massages, and premium facials. Love Korean food as much as a heated room to relax your muscles? There’s a restaurant to feed your stomach as well as your weary soul with traditional dishes like bibimbap and mandu. 25330 Eastern Marketplace Plz., Chantilly
Have a Cocktail with Cupcake the Miniature Horse
“Miniature horses can be a little feisty in personality, but she’s a real sweetheart,” says Reggie Cooper, general manager of Salamander Resort in Middleburg. He’s talking about Cupcake, the petite brown-and-white filly who’s become the property’s mascot. For locals who have always wished to have a glimpse of how the other half lives at the luxe resort, this is an ideal opportunity. Just want to take a selfie with an adorable being? It’s stellar for that, too. Perhaps you’re in it for the cocktails. Though kids are welcome and there are plenty of options for both cocktails and mocktails, the chocolate Cupcake Martini features vanilla vodka, dark and light Godiva liqueurs, and housemade whipped cream topped with rainbow sprinkles. “If you get real close for a picture, sometimes Cupcake will try to sneak a little whipped cream off of it,” Cooper says. But don’t feel the need to share. Cupcake is already living the high life. 500 N. Pendleton St., Middleburg
Take a walk along Alexandria’s Waterfront Park, and you’ll come upon Groundswell, a temporary art installation that pays homage to Old Town’s history as a busy port. Artist Mark Reigelman installed the 102 wood pilings topped with cobalt-colored mirrors, and from the day it opened in March, people eagerly interacted with them. Children have leapfrogged over the pilings, people have eaten their lunch perched upon them, and some have even struck yoga poses there. The idea was born from a virtual meeting Reigelman had with experts from the Alexandria Archaeology Museum, who explained that in the 1780s, the town sank decommissioned boats into the Potomac to extend the port into deeper water. Reigelman responded to the idea of Alexandria’s changing shoreline and wanted to create artwork that takes up the whole site so people would walk right through it. He installed real wood pilings, which are gently weathering with time. “It’s interesting to see nature interacting with the artwork,” says Diane Ruggiero of Alexandria’s Office of the Arts, which commissioned the installation. “The mirrors on the top reflect the changing sky, and when the sunlight moves, the shadows get longer, like a sundial.” It’s a reminder that time is ticking—Groundswell leaves in November. 1 Prince St., Alexandria
See a Movie Al Fresco (Even Though, Yes, Theaters are Open Again)
The return of the Family Drive-In Theatre (5890 Valley Pike, Stephens City) was a relief to area film fans. Not only is the drive-in movie theater a diminishing opportunity—there are only about 300 left in the country, down from more than 4,000 in 1958—but the owner, Jim Kopp, passed away in January from COVID complications. That, and a major technical breakdown at the end of the 2020 season in December, caused a few screening cancellations. Given the narrow margin drive-ins work on—most of the revenue is from concessions sales—fans of the picture show had reason to worry. Fear not! The 65-year-old, two-screen, 10-acre complex opened after a delay in early May. Bring folding chairs or sit in the car and listen to the sound on pole-mounted speakers or via your FM radio. (Mind you, don’t kill the car battery.) Order concessions from an app and you get a text when it’s ready for pick-up. Pro tip: With 240 parking spots for Screen 1 and 144 for Screen 2, shows commonly sell out. Buy your tickets online before heading out (and bring your pooch, if you’re inclined—dogs are welcome). On the other side of the region, a parking lot in Alexandria becomes a pop-up drive-in each weekend, with proceeds from the family movies benefiting the ATHENA Rapid Response Innovation Lab and other area charities. Up to 215 cars—at $40 each, available only online—are permitted; there are food trucks on hand for evenings at Alexandria Drive-In (5001 Eisenhower Avenue, Alexandria). No refunds for bad weather (it becomes a donation), so check the forecast first or take your chances.
Be in the Room Where it Happened
Fans of a certain Broadway blockbuster Broadway will gain new insights into memorable songs during a Hamilton: The Musical Tour at George Washington’s Mount Vernon. The musical, as approximately the entire planet knows by now, tells the story of founding father Alexander Hamilton and his pivotal relationship with the first American president. Known as Washington’s “Right-Hand Man,” Hamilton worked with Washington as both a soldier and a statesman to conquer the British Army during the Revolutionary War and establish American democracy. History interpreters, like former school principal Karen Fischer, connect songs from the musical to various stops on Mount Vernon’s sprawling property. For instance, while standing in the Kitchen Garden, flanked by grapevines and fig trees, Fischer recounts a phrase from “One Last Time,” when Washington asks Hamilton to edit his Farewell Speech. Fischer explains that Washington chose the phrase “Sit under your own vine and fig tree where no one shall feel afraid”—a verse from the Bible referring to persecution for religious reasons. “Washington felt strongly everyone should have a place where they could feel safe sitting under their own vine and fig tree. So he planted a bunch of them,” says Fischer. “When he says ‘ever-favorite object of my heart,’ it could have been Mount Vernon.” At the historic tomb, we learn Martha Washington burned her personal letters after the death of her husband, just as Eliza Hamilton does in the song “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story.” After the tour, settle into a rocking chair on the Mansion porch overlooking the Potomac River. From this incredible vantage point, now that you’re well-acquainted with Washington’s life story, it’s easy to understand why he longed to return to his beloved home. 3200 Mount Vernon Memorial Hwy., Mount Vernon
Get Your Laughs with a Side of Politics
Comedy Central’s The Daily Show has been making you laugh, if not daily, for four nights a week since 1996. Four of the minds behind the satirical news program—Kat Radley, Randall Otis, Joseph Opio, and Matt Koff—take to the stage this summer on The Daily Show Writers’ Comedy Tour, combining political jokes with more traditional comic fare like dating woes and owning cats. See the bits you won’t see on TV at the Arlington Cinema & Drafthouse on September 3 and September 4. 2903 Columbia Pike, Arlington
Sip a Wine Slushy
We have two suggestions for where to bring on the brain freeze. Quattro Goombas Winery & Brewery (22860 James Monroe Hwy., Aldie) sells 50 bins a week of their icy cold beverage, perfect to wash down their Sicilian-style pizzas or meatball subs. Red Wine Frappé is made with cabernet sauvignon and a blend of sweet spices, White Wine Frappé uses Piney River White, and a rosé version has cabernet franc; all are sold in 12-ounce servings for $10. You can also pick up frappés and kits to go, for easily mixing up your own boozy treats at home. Meanwhile, slushies at Bluemont Vineyard (18755 Foggy Bottom Rd., Bluemont), a farm winery overlooking the Shenandoah Valley, start with Farm Table White, a blend of viognier, vidal blanc, and chardonnay. It’s mixed with whatever fruit is cropping up at the farm, including strawberries and peaches. The beverages are available by the glass for $9, or snag a stainless-steel branded tumbler for $22 that includes your first slushy. The playful potables have been such a fan favorite, the winery gets calls and messages about them all year long. “Who doesn’t want a frozen wine drink while soaking up the heat and humidity of a Virginia summer?” asks the vineyard’s Becca Rally. “There’s the saying ‘Frosé all day.’ I say, ‘Slushy the day away!’”
Shuck Your Own Oysters
Love slurping icy cold, briny bivalves at your favorite seafood joint but think it’s just too daunting or difficult to shuck a whole platterful of Olde Salts at home? Travis Croxton, co-owner of Rappahannock Oyster Company, one of the leaders in Virginia’s revitalized aquaculture industry, gives you the half-shell intel:
• Start with the right tools. You’ll need a shucking knife, at least one shucking glove (for the hand holding the oyster), a cutting board or wooden block, and a terry-cloth bar towel.
• Hold the oyster with the flat side up and cupped shell on the bottom. Wrap the towel around half of the shell.
• After inserting the knife, slightly twist while exerting gentle pressure until you feel the adductor muscle release and the oyster pops open. Don’t force it. It’ll feel like a clasp unhinging, he says.
• Sweep the blade across the top of the shell to sever the other end of the muscle. If you make a sloppy cut, simply flip the oyster over in the shell.
• If you’re roasting, grilling, or baking the oysters first, they’ll be a lot easier to open. Just stop cooking them when about one-quarter to a third of them have opened; if you wait for all of them, you’ll end up with some overcooked pieces, Croxton says.
• Serve with your choice of accoutrements. We like freshly shaved horseradish, lemon wedges, and mignonette, as well as Rappahannock Oyster Company’s stellar homemade hot sauce, cocktail sauce, remoulade, and BBQ butter, found online or at your local Whole Foods.
All Aboard for Yacht Rock Revue
Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts may be landlocked, but that won’t keep Yacht Rock Revue from sailing into the Filene Center on August 22. The often-maligned genre of oldies pop called “yacht rock” (the breezy, familiar Spotify playlist you might hear on the titular boat) is showcased by the seven-piece band from Atlanta that sounds like a Saturday Night Live skit gone off the rails—but these musicians are dead serious about sounding dead-on like their ’70s and ’80s heroes. And who might those be? Seals & Crofts, the Doobie Brothers, Michael McDonald, the Bee Gees, Hall & Oates, and everyone else on “soft rock” radio. Full-throated singing along is assured. “Every person in the audience has memories tied up in these songs,” lead singer Nick Niespodziani says. He’s 42, so you have to imagine Niespodziani’s memories of Rupert Holmes’s “Escape (The Piña Colada Song),” which came out the year he was born, began in the cradle. Yes, it’s an earworm extravaganza that promises to infect the brain for weeks, but after a year of livestream concerts, it will be nice to hear people play instruments in person. 1551 Trap Rd., Vienna
Place to Hang
In praise of the humble hammock (and where to hook yours up, stat).
Lounge at a Winery (with a Side of Beer)
Enjoy craft beverages in an adults-only atmosphere at The Winery at Sunshine Ridge Farm, a combined winery and brewery that opened in March on 20 acres of undeveloped land on Lake Manassas. Much of the building and decor was either repurposed or made by hand; the wood was milled from the property’s former life, old barrels became tables, seating includes salvaged pews from a burned church, and a tall metal drainpipe laser-cut to spell “love” is both an homage to Virginia’s motto and an Instagrammable spot. Estate-grown vidal blanc grapes are still a few years from being ready to sip; right now, the owners source grapes and work with The Winery at Bull Run for production of vino like cabernet franc and a dry French-style rosé. They also brew around a quarter of their own beer and get the rest from Cedar Run Brewery in Nokesville. Outside seating is first come, first served, but visitors can book a table inside the facility or one of the glamping tents on the property, which comfortably seat up to eight, with table service and a picnic area outside. New events include monthly Wednesday Ladies Nights with drinks and artisanal vendors, and Sunrise Yoga every Sunday at 10 a.m., which includes a post-class mimosa and light breakfast. 15850 Sunshine Ridge Ln., Gainesville
Host a Backyard Movie Night
As the sun sets over your turf, turn it into a pop-up cinema, now showing the flick of your choice. Online tutorials abound for MacGyver-ing your own screen with a bedsheet, but you can also rent one (and a projector, too) through local A/V companies. Set up a s’mores station to be the host with the most.
See the Panda Family at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo
You can once again get an up-close view of the Zoo’s newest panda cub, Xiao Qi Ji—if you plan ahead a bit. Viewing will be limited for social distancing purposes, so you’ll need a separate, free timed-entry pass. Pick up a free pass for Asia Trail and the Giant Pandas when you arrive at the Zoo; passes will be released throughout the day. Just remember: Xiao Qi Ji, who was born in August 2020, is still young and sleeps a lot during the day, so don’t expect the cute antics to be nonstop. You can also peek at the cub, along with his parents, on the Zoo’s live panda cams. 3001 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington, DC
Slither into Summer
Ready to be buddies with a Burmese python? Maybe you’d rather get to know some ball pythons. Or perhaps you’re in it for the people-watching. (Who are these folks willing to stand in line just to see snakes?) More than 30 vendors will be on hand at the Northern Virginia Reptile Expo on August 28. Pose with a 14-foot reticulated python or bring home a tiny, pug-faced Western hognose. The greatest fun is seeing the pure diversity of morphs, or color and pattern variations, among the most popular snakes. For example, you may see a few “normal” black-and-brown ball pythons, but there are currently around 6,500 different morphs, many of them represented here. Look for white snakes with blue eyes, piebald snakes, and even scale-less snakes to be your newest companion, or just enjoy making a scavenger hunt of finding some of the rarest varieties. Prince William County Fairgrounds, 10624 Dumfries Rd., Manassas
Throw the Best Block Party Ever
The pitch-ins with Tupperware full of UFOs (unidentified food objects) had their day, but we’re all a little more wary now of scooping dip from communal bowls, right? Get your neighbors together for an afternoon of supping on poke, tacos, and freshly baked cookies from food trucks, many of which will come to you if you request it in advance. Start by checking social-media outlets like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, where many trucks post contact info. Try to book several of them with different types of cuisine, depending on your neighborhood size, about a month in advance. Then spread word of the bash—and don’t forget to save spots for the trucks to park. It’s a cheap and easy way to socialize with your neighbors again—and everyone gets to eat what they want, no sleuthing around mystery meats required.
Be a Parrot Head for a Night
If Mariah Carey has become the inescapable music act of winter, or at least of late November through New Year’s Day, then surely Jimmy Buffett is her summer counterpart. The man delivered his speech at the University of Miami graduation ceremony in aviator sunglasses and flip-flops. Has anybody ever played “Margaritaville” in February? He’ll perform August 7 at Jiffy Lube Live, where Parrot Heads are bound to come out in full force to celebrate the hottest of the four seasons the way it was meant to be. 7800 Cellar Door Dr., Bristow
Rent Out a Movie Theater
Skip the crowds and hold your own private movie theater experience at The Alamo Drafthouse Cinema. Fill the theater with up to 35 friends and family members and choose from a couple dozen movies for your showing at either location, from Kung Fu Panda to The Shining. Packages start at $150 and can include birthday and special occasion add-ons, like extra time to decorate and socialize and a table to store all of your special goodies for the celebration. 20575 Easthampton Plz., Ashburn; 15200 Potomac Town Pl., Ste. 100, Woodbridge
Take Your Dog on a Date
No, not the kind where you end up slurping spaghetti together, Lady and the Tramp–style. Just, you know, a casual hang at the Barkhaus, the Alexandria spot where your pooch can come inside with you while you dine on epicurean delights from The Laughing Pig, paired with local beer and wine. There are both indoor and outdoor off-leash play areas so you guys can burn off that grass-fed cheeseburger and Parmesan truffle fries (you know you snuck him some under the table). Register in advance for access, ranging from a day pass to an annual membership. 529 E. Howell Ave., Alexandria
Experience Cuteness Overload
Brave the summer heat to visit the adorable animals at Frying Pan Farm Park. The farm is still full of equipment and buildings from the 1930s, when it was a fully operating farm. Now, guests can meet the horses, chickens, goats, and peacocks that call it home. You can also take a wagon ride around the property to see the farmhands at work; after that, you’ll be ready for a refreshing ice cream from the Country Store. 2709 W. Ox Rd., Herndon
Summer-ize Your Home Bar
Just because pandemic precautions are falling by the wayside doesn’t mean you have to go out and party like it’s 2019. Make your own home lounge-worthy by keeping some seasonal libations on hand: Grab a few bottles of rosé to stash in the fridge, bump the bourbon and red wine to the back of your bar cart, and stock up on the makings of warm-weather drinks, like fresh limes and mint, coconut milk, and juices for pairing with rum and tequila. You can pour a drink, sit back, and thank yourself come July 10 (National Piña Colada Day).
Hike to a Waterfall with a Swimming Hole
On a warm summer day, there’s nothing like a waterfall hike that ends with a well-deserved splash in a dreamy swimming hole—ahh, refreshing. Thankfully, we’re in close proximity to more than a few tumbling waterfalls that fit the bill. At Shenandoah National Park, a forested hike leads to 67-foot-tall Rose River Falls. This 3.9-mile loop guides worthy park visitors over wooden bridges and alongside a glistening stream before reaching the dramatic waterfall and invigorating swimming hole. Bring a beach towel and water shoes. Not surprisingly, Shenandoah National Park is home to several must-do waterfall hikes, including trails to White-oak Falls (Upper and Lower) and South River Falls. Both reward you with oasis-like swimming holes that are pure heaven on sunny days.
Beyond Ice Cream
There’s not a scoop of the stuff to be found in any of these frozen treats.
Take Yourself Out to the Ballgame
Do you have the “Natitude”? Now that fans are being welcomed back to the ballpark, head over the bridge to DC to catch a Nationals game. While you wait for the chance to grab a foul ball, go old-school with peanuts and Cracker Jack, or order the mouthwatering new chicken tinga and barbacoa tacos from the Taqueria Del Barrio stand. The Nats are scheduled to play at home this month from July 1 to 4, 16 to 21, and 30 to 31. For an even more leisurely evening, take a summertime drive to Fredericksburg to watch the Nationals’ minor-league team make its inaugural season debut at its brand-spanking-new stadium. Nationals Park: 1500 S. Capitol St. SE, Washington, DC; Fredericksburg Nationals: 42 Jackie Robinson Way, Fredericksburg
Get Off the Road for an Epic Adventure
Get your motor running and hit the rugged mountain trails in the spectacularly scenic Shenandoah Valley on an ATV. In Gore, get behind the wheel of a four-wheel-drive Jeep Wrangler with Appalachian Off-road Adventure for a guided exploration across more than 40 miles of extreme mountain trails. Get ready to tackle steep hills, mud pits, tree roots, stream crossings, and jagged rocks. No experience? No problem. The sessions include all you need to know about off-road driving, including basic skills and techniques to maximize the fun on the mountainous terrain. Don’t forget a swimsuit or fishing pole: The price of the session also includes access to Cove Lake, which boasts a sandy beach area. 980 Cove Rd., Gore
See the Stars at a Dark-Sky Park
Virginia may be for lovers, but now it’s also for star-watchers, thanks to dark-sky destinations across the state known for primo celestial viewing. We’re now home to five dark-sky parks, including Sky Meadows State Park in Delaplane and Natural Bridge State Park in Natural Bridge. Both state parks were certified as International Dark Sky Parks in early April by the International Dark-Sky Association, a nonprofit working to minimize nighttime light pollution. The two newest dark-sky parks in the state join James River State Park in Gladstone and Staunton River State Park in Scottsburg, as well as Rappahannock County Park in Washington, Virginia. Enjoy stargazing an evening away.
Five Ways to Make Waves
Need a respite from the stickiness of a NoVA summer? (And just for the record: It’s the heat and the humidity.) Even if you don’t own a sailboat to cruise the Chesapeake or a lake house where the dock is lined with Jet Skis, here’s how to splash, paddle, and otherwise get onto the water.