Have a Blast in the ‘Burbs: Fairfax County

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Locations beyond the Beltway get a bad rap for being “too far” from the hubbub of the District, but the ’burbs have more to offer than shopping malls. Fairfax County, for example, has quite a rich history, dating to its founding in 1742. On June 1, 1861, the first land engagement of the American Civil War was fought here, and later the dairy and technology industries put the area firmly on the map. Today, Fairfax is Virginia’s most populous county, with more than 1.1 million residents, and it has the second highest median household income. If you find yourself within its 406 square miles, check out some of these notable places.

Photo: Go Ape

The Great Outdoors
The county has plenty of parks with activities to meet every camper’s, fisher’s and playground-lover’s desire. A couple of can’t-miss spots are Great Falls Park in McLean, which has waterfalls, scenic and at times challenging hiking, and canal boat rides (which will resume in 2019); Clemyjontri Park, a 2-acre park full of playground equipment designed for all ages and abilities; and Frying Pan Farm Park, which interprets farm life of the 1920s to 1950s with pigs, cows, horses and goats. For more extreme sports, sail the ziplines at the Go Ape Zip Line & Treetop Adventure in Springfield, or for something simpler, take a walk on some of the county’s more than 200 miles of trails.

Photo: Woody’s Ice Cream Shop

After all that activity, you’ll need to eat. Head to Old Town Fairfax, where you can find chain restaurants like Potbelly Sandwich Works and Panera near local gems such as Sisters Thai, which is decorated to look like a cozy living room, and the Old Fire Station #3, which serves Mediterranean bites like gyros and offers a children’s menu with items for $4.25. For dessert, stop at Woody’s Ice Cream for a cup or cone of your favorite flavor, locally sources from Shenandoah Family Farms and Great Falls Ice Cream. Or head down Lee Highway to Sugar Mama’s Ice Cream, a family-owned and -operated joint serving homemade yumminess.

Photo: Mount Vernon

Fairfax is a sprawling county with a long history, so there is no shortage of historic sites. Probably the best known is Mount Vernon, President George Washington’s home on the Potomac. Take a tour ($20/adult, $11/child 6-11) and get a glimpse of 18th-century Virginia life. Take a quick jaunt to Clifton Historic District, where the Union Army found a place to regroup during the Civil War. As you walk around the 161-acre town, check out the signs on the homes dating to the 1800s, marvel at the Clifton Primitive Baptist Church and step inside the Southern Railway Caboose. Other sites worth a looksee include Manassas National Battlefield Park, site of the opening battle of the Civil War; the Pope-Leighy House designed in 1939 by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright; and the Sydenstricker School, the last one-room schoolhouse built in the county.

Photo: Eagle Bank Arena

Close out the day with something more modern, such as a concert, show or sporting event at Eagle Bank Arena, formerly the Patriot Center, on the campus of George Mason University. Disney on Ice makes an appearance here each fall, and the Harlem Globetrotters showcase their tricks each spring; they’ll be here March 17 and 18. Before that, catch “Disney Live! Mickey and Minnie’s Doorway to Magic” on Feb. 25.

Where do you hang out in Fairfax? Tell us in the comments below.

—Stephanie Kanowitz

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