11 Quick One-Tank Family Road Trips

Asian kids looking out window of car on family road trip istock

With nearly 70% of families hitting the road over summer break, America’s favorite summer pastime just might be the family road trip. If gas prices make you hesitant to invest in this summer tradition consider these kid-friendly destinations you can travel to with one tank of gas. From the coastal city of Norfolk, VA where you can combine beach time with city exploring to the Amish-town of Lancaster, PA teeming with rural adventures, here are our picks for summer getaways under 4 hours from Washington, DC.

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Norfolk, VA

Ship in port of Norfolk, VA
Nathaniel Villaire via Unsplash

What to See
If you can't decide between a city adventures or some R&R at the beach, head to Norfolk, VA where you can have both. Explore Virginia's oldest zoo, be awe-struck at the Wonder Studio an interactive space at the Chrysler Museum of Art (free to visit!), tour the battleship USS Wisconsin and take a boat ride at the Norfolk Botanical Garden. When you're ready to relax, head to Ocean View to enjoy Chesapeake Bay-front beaches.

Where to Eat
There's a lot to see and do in Norfolk, so you'll want to power up at downtown's Grilled Cheese Bistro. You'll find gourmet versions of everybody's favorite sandwich elevated with foodie toppings like olive tapenade, grilled pineapple, fried apples and more (they also have gluten free and vegan options). If you find yourself in the NEON district, pick up a sweet treat at La Brioche. After a long day of sight seeing, watch the sunset over the Chesapeake Bay at the Ocean View Fishing Pier. You'll find casual fare like burgers and chicken sandwiches alongside fresh fish dishes. The kids' menu has all the favorites; chicken tenders, corn dogs, cheeseburgers, hot dogs and grilled cheese.

Where to Stay
Stay in the center of the action at the Norfolk Waterside Marriott. With so many things to see and do  just steps away from the hotel, you can keep your car in the garage.  Check out the architecture-rich neighborhood of Freemason, stroll by outdoor art in the NEON district and wander along the Norfolk waterfront -- all under a 10 minute walk from the front doors of your hotel.

Distance: 4 hrs. (195 miles)
Online: visitnorfolk.com

Philadelphia, PA

The Franklin Institute

What to Do
If your home is divided into houses (we're talking Harry Potter), now is the time to make the trip to Philadelphia. Now through Sept. 18 you can immerse yourself in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at The Franklin Institute. But HP isn't the only reason to head to this historic city. Be sure to add these highlights to your Philly bucket list when visiting the city of brotherly love: The Liberty Bell, the Philadelphia Zoo, the Please Touch Museum and Reading Terminal Market.

Where to Eat
Carnivore kids (and their grown-ups) would be remiss for not grabbing a cheese steak from Campos, known for their shredded steak and super-soft bun. Not into submarines? Try the fried cheese curds from Bud and Marilyn's or over-the-top ice cream cones from Big Gay Ice Cream. Bon appetite!

Where to Stay
If you came to town to see The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, you might as well be within walking distance of the magic. Located in the heart of City Center, Logan Hotel is within walking distance of The Franklin institute and a quick Lyft ride away from the Philadelphia Zoo, Please Touch Museum, and the Reading Terminal.

Distance: 3 hrs. (150 miles)
Online: visitphilly.com

Rehoboth Beach, DE

Skimboard champion giving lessons at Dewey Beach
Alley-Oop Skim

What to See
Just a quick 3 hour trip from Washington, Rehoboth Beach ranks as the #1 beach destination for DC residents. In fact, so many people make the drive from DC to Delaware that this small town is often referred to as the nation's "Summer Capital." From boardwalk staples like Funland amusement park and Zelky's arcade to natural attractions like the free public beach and Gordon's Pond, it's no wonder families flock to this beach destination.

Where to Eat
Salt Air, self-described as "beach picnic" fare, is reminiscent of a beach picnic Gwyneth Paltrow might pull together. This upscale restaurant offers fresh, inventive dishes using local ingredients and sustainable fish. Despite catering to foodie adults, this restaurant has a children's menu for kids with grown up taste. Just a short walk away, DC restauranteur Chef Todd Gray owns Federal Fritter where you can carry out corn fritters as a beach-side snack (or eat them as you stroll the boardwalk). When a hot day has you yearning for a scoop (or two), be sure to head to The Ice Cream Store where you can sugar load with a flavor aptly named Crack.

Where to Stay
There are a couple of hotels that line Rehoboth Beach's boardwalk, like the Atlantic Sands and the Boardwalk Plaza Hotel, but one of the best kept secrets is the family-friendly Avenue Inn & Spa, tucked along one of the side streets downtown just one block from the beach and boardwalk. This hotel helps you unwind after playing all day with a complimentary wine and cheese hour from 5-6 p.m. and fresh baked cookies every night at 8 p.m. Bonus: there is an indoor saltwater pool onsite. If you're looking for a little more room than a hotel or inn offers, consider this modern, 3-bedroom  Airbnb townhouse just a 5 minute drive to the beach and within walking distance of downtown Rehoboth.

Distance: 2 hrs. 45 minutes (120 miles)
Online: visitrehoboth.com



Baltimore, MD

National Aquarium

What to See
When a staycation won’t due, Charm City is just a little over an hour away. The Inner Harbor is a hub of kid-friendly experiences, including the Maryland Science Center, the National Aquarium, paddle boats and more.  Not far from the waterfront, you’ll find the Port Discovery Children’s Museum, the American Visionary Art Museum and the B&O Railroad Museum.

Where to Eat
Joe Squared is a family-owned pizza restaurant that serves coal-fired, thin crust sourdough pizza; it’s casual, family-friendly fare is not far from the waterfront attractions (and just a dough ball toss from Port Discovery).

Where to Stay
The Four Seasons Baltimore offers harbor views in almost all of its 256 rooms. It’s location makes it ideal for anyone wishing to explore the Inner Harbor area. If you want to explore the city sans kiddos, the hotel can arrange babysitting services. The hotel also offers cribs, high chairs and playpens free of charge. They even have pint-sized bathrobes and toiletries for their littlest guests.

Distance: 1 hour (40 miles)
Online: baltimore.org

Harpers Ferry, WV

Toddlin' Across America

What to See
This quaint town in West Virginia has beautiful paths that wind through the National Park. Your family can stand where Thomas Jefferson stood when he said it was a view worth crossing the Atlantic Ocean for. Be sure to stop by the Visitors Center so your kiddos can pick up the Jr. Ranger packet. They’ll get the most adorable badge from a park ranger. Don’t forget to hop on the shuttle on your way into Lower Town. It is stroller-friendly and the only stop with easy parking.

Where to Eat
This town is all about ice cream. There are lots of cute places to grab a bite, but ending your day with a frozen treat is a must. Check out Creamy Creations, Scoops Ice Cream or Cannonball Deli and don’t forget to ask for sprinkles on top.

Where to Stay
Connect with nature around the area and get a little more of the great outdoors by staying in one of Harpers Ferry/Civil War Battlefields KOA’s cabins. There is room for the whole family and your sweet fur baby too. Your kiddos will love bouncing on the jumping pillow, splashing in the pool and the Saturday morning all-you-can-eat pancakes at the campground.

Distance: 1 hour 15 minutes (67 miles)
Online: nps.gov

Wilmington, DE

Sundar M via Flickr

What to See
Brandywine Valley offers many scenic, outdoor spaces to explore, like Longwood Gardens, a sprawling, 1000 acre botanical garden. For fairy-themed gardens, head to the Enchanted Woods at Winterthur, where 3-acres are dedicated to fairy-tales and magical forest creatures. On rainy days, check out the Stratosphere, a large scale (30-foot in diameter) climbing structure that makes the Delaware Children’s Museum a standout.

Where to Eat
Woodside Farm Creamery is a destination onto itself. Approximately a 30-minute drive from downtown Wilmington, this dairy-fresh ice cream shop is considered to serve the best scoops in the state. In addition to dairy deliciousness, the farm hosts family-friendly activities, like a children’s story time and telescope nights.

Where to Stay
Most activities in the Brandywine region are located within a 10 mile radius of Wilmington, DE, making the often-overlooked city the perfect place to set up camp. Downtown’s Courtyard Wilmington is within walking distance of the historic district and waterfront. Rooms feature mini fridges and microwaves. If you’re looking to unwind from the day’s activities, relax by the hotel’s fire pit or take a dip in the outdoor pool.

Distance: 2 hours (120 miles)
Online: visitwilmingtonde.com

Lancaster, PA

Toddlin' Across America

What to See
Arriving in Amish country invites your family to step back to a more peaceful time. Take a leisurely ride on the Strasburg Rail Road. Or visit the Hands-On House  for tons of interactive learning fun. Children aged 2-10 will love this stop on your trip. A bicycle is the best way to see the PA Amish countryside; check out Bikeworks Bike Tours provide a unique way to explore the area.

What to Eat
Miller’s Smorgasbord Restaurant has been serving really good food since 1929. They offer multiple dining options and tons of delicious dishes. Many of their ingredients come from local farms. Check their website for family specials and coupons.

Where to Stay
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live in a tiny house? Tiny Estates offers a one-of-a-kind experience in one of their many tiny houses. You can go really tiny with room for two or spread out in one of the gorgeous houses that accommodates six.

Distance: 2 hours  (110 miles)
Online: discoverlancaster.com

Williamsburg, VA

Toddlin' Across America

What to See
History never gets old in this almost 400-year-old town. Help your child “get into character” by renting an adorable period costume. The stories will come alive and make the whole experience more real. Hop on a horse-drawn carriage for a truly authentic way to see the city. Drive 30 minutes up the road to the Powhatan Indian Village to learn about Pocahontas and her way of life.

Where to Eat
Stop by Dubois Grocer to satisfy that afternoon sweet tooth. The friendly store attendant will be more than happy to send you home with some rock candy. At Food for Thought, you’ll dine surrounded by thought-provoking quotes. Cute discussion cards are left on the table to help with dinner conversation. Pick an eclectic dish from the gluten-free or senior’s menu. The kid’s menu is little foodie heaven with salmon, ribs and pot roast, to name a few.  

Where to Stay
Holiday Inn Club Vacations Williamsburg Resort features 2 and 3-bedroom villas with fully-equipped kitchens and in-unit laundry. A home away from home with everything your family needs to kick back and relax. Pools, Putt Putt, playgrounds and tons of family-style amenities are fun for the whole gang.

Distance: 2 hours and 45 minutes (153 miles)
Online: visitwilliamsburg.com  

Franklin, VA

Toddlin' Across America

What to See
Peanuts, peanuts and more peanuts! Southampton County is known for its peanut farms, peanut shops and peanut museums. Stop by Hope & Harmony Farms to grab a few gourmet bags. Visit Ballyshannon Equestrian Center for a pony or horse ride around their beautiful property. Take a guided kayak tour with Blackwater Outfitters Nottoway River Guides. Meet the locals at the Saturday morning farmers market and take home a few homemade treats for your crew.

What to Eat
Fred’s Restaurant is located in the heart of downtown Franklin. It has been a local tradition since 1945. Saturday mornings draw a crowd for the all-you-can-eat buffet and fish fry. Grab a seat on their “secret garden” patio complete with wrought iron fence and brick fireplace. The slightly overgrown foliage offers a fairy tale moment.

Where to Stay
Check in to PandA Homestead for an authentic farm stay experience. Your kiddos can help with farm chores by hand feeding their friendly goats, cuddling baby chicks and trying out their best turkey calls. You’ll get to relax in the 2-bedroom guest cottage. Wake up to homemade strawberry jam and fresh eggs in the fridge.

Distance: 3 hours 15 minutes (185 miles)
Online: visitfranklinsouthamptonva.com/

Pittsburgh, PA

Carnegie Museum of Natural History

What to See
This city should be renamed Kidsburgh because it is packed with kid-friendly activities and family-centric restaurants. If you’re in town for just the weekend, these attractions make the short list: The Phipps Conservatory Botanical GardensCarnegie Museum of Natural History  and the Carnegie Science Center . The Duquesne Incline  offers magnificent views of the city. Fans of Daniel Tiger will love it’s striking resemblance to the television trolley!

What to Eat
Schenley Plaza — a five-acre community space in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood — offers a dining plaza with four food kiosks including Waffallonia, which offers authentic Liège sugar waffles with all sorts of delicious toppings. The Porch is a full-service restaurant that also features a children’s garden and stage area. Before your meal (because, really, who wants to spin around post nosh), check out the PNC Carousel.

Where to Stay
The Hotel Monaco Pittsburgh features the Kimpton Kid program, which includes a welcome gift, a pet goldfish during your stay, complimentary cribs and more. We think Mom and Dad will appreciate the rooftop Biergarten!

Distance: 4 hours (242 miles)
Online: visitpittsburgh.com

Annapolis, MD

Toddlin' Across America

What to See
If long road trips are tough, you can still getaway to a historic town full of family fun and you’ll only have to drive 45 minutes. The best place to start your getaway is downtown. A stroll down Main Street ends at the gorgeous harbor overlooking the Naval Academy. You can take a water taxi across the Chesapeake Bay to the Charthouse for a piece of their famous mudpie. Or, hop on a Watermark Cruise for a 40-minute ride around the area. End your evening at the Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre and enjoy a theater-under-the-stars experience.

Where to Eat
Breakfast all day is always a good idea, especially at Iron Rooster. Your kiddos can dive into an order of French toast sticks while you enjoy a local specialty, crab cakes over pancakes. Ask for a table with a view. The harbor is gorgeous by sunset.

Where to Stay
The Westin Annapolis is in the perfect location for you to explore downtown Annapolis and the surrounding areas. You don’t really need your car if you’d rather not drive around. There is a local trolley that circles around town and makes getting where you want to go pretty easy. The hotel is centrally located near the United States Naval Academy, Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, and the Chesapeake Bay.

Distance: 41 minutes (32 miles)
Online: visitannapolis.org/

—Meghan Yudes Meyers, Angelica Kajiwara and Ayren Jackson-Cannady

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