Fall is many Washingtonians’ favorite season. It could be simply that it has the good fortune of bringing milder temperatures following the oppressive heat of a D.C. summer, but autumn also kicks off the holiday season, gorgeous fall foliage and a bounty of festivals.
The Washington metro area offers plenty of opportunities for residents and visitors to take advantage of fall. There’s apple picking and pumpkin patches for families, hiking among the colorful leaves for adventurers and wine tastings for those seeking a more leisurely excursion. We asked the concierges at four popular area hotels for their top fall picks. Here’s what they said:
Zineb Tourougui at the W Washington D.C. (www.wwashingtondc.com)
“As the seasons change, orchards and farms are definitely a place to visit,” said Zineb Tourougui, W Insider, a new position at the hotel that aims to be synonymous with being one of the most connected people in the city in terms of fashion, music, design and art. “Virginia and Maryland both offer many farms like Crooked Run Orchard just outside of D.C., where they invite you to pick your own fruit — a great way to spend the day and a perfect way to end your dinner that night, with the fruit you picked yourself.”
At the family-run Crooked Run Orchard (37883 East Main St., Purcellville, Va.), visitors can pick apples, plums, Asian pears, raspberries, pumpkins and gourds. During November and December, Christmas wreaths are available, too. The orchard has no admission fee; pay only for what you pick.
For adventurers, Tourougui recommends the D.C. location of the Trapeze School New York (4th and Tingey Streets, SE), which offers indoor and outdoor trapeze classes in addition to trampoline, juggling and acrobatics courses. Or try Capitol Scooter (400 14th St., SW), the only area company that rents scooters, mini electric cars and electric Trikkes. The company also offers tours such as the Capitol Trikke Tour ($90), which goes around the National Mall, White House and Tidal Basin.
Of course, staying close to your home away from home is another option for experiencing fall in the nation’s capital. This year, the season brings the reopening of the W’s POV rooftop lounge and the hotel’s new restaurant, Pinea, which will be helmed by chef Barry Koslow and will serve local produce and seasonally available meats and seafood.
“I’m obviously a fan of our rooftop that has the city’s best views of the National Mall, Virginia, White House and more,” Tourougui said. “Our proximity to all the major landmarks surrounded by multicolor trees makes for a postcard-worthy view.”
Tourougui typically spends part of the fall season in her native Morocco. “When I return in the fall I am always seeking out unique goodies and items to remind me of traveling,” she said. “I love visiting markets [such as Union Market and Eastern Market], farm stands and small shops. Our city is very diverse and depending on the season offers some very interesting and nostalgic treats.”
Fassil Ghebre at the Embassy Row Hotel (www.embassyrowhotel.com)
Washington’s best-kept fall secrets come in the form of nature, particularly parks, said Fassil Ghebre, concierge at the Embassy Row Hotel, a 231-room hotel in the midst of a $15 million makeover. On his list are the Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O) Canal, which offers great trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding in addition to kayaking, boating and fishing along its 184.5 miles. It has multiple points of entry, but the visitor center at 1057 Thomas Jefferson St., NW, is the only one in the District.
D.C.’s Rock Creek Park has a horse trail, tennis center, golf, and a nature center and planetarium, while Great Falls Park bridging Virginia and Maryland provides a scenic 800-acre spot for bird watching, climbing, bicycling and hiking. It’s there that the Potomac River, which lazily flows through Washington, builds up and forcefully spills over steep, jagged rocks.
In addition to typical fall festivals, Ghebre also likes the Taste of DC, happening Oct. 11 and 12 from noon to 7 p.m. on Pennsylvania Avenue between 9th and 14th Streets. Tickets are $10 and buy access to more than 40 restaurants, 50 beers and 50 wines, and live entertainment. Participating restaurants will have at least one item priced $1 to $3. A popular part of the event is Ben’s Chili Bowl World Chili Eating Championship, led by the D.C. eatery that’s been around since 1958 and has played host to comedian Bill Cosby and President Barack Obama.
If the way to fall is not through your stomach but rather stomach-flipping leaps from airplanes, Ghebre suggests literally throwing yourself into the fall foliage by skydiving with the Flying Club 1 at Warrenton Airpark (9272 Green Meadows Road, Warrenton, Va.). Prefer to stay inside the plane? The airpark also has recreational light flying.
For families, he recommends the Kids Euro Festival (kidseurofestival.org), taking place Oct. 24 to Nov. 9 for children ages 2 to 12. In its seventh year, the embassy-sponsored festival offers more than 200 free activities such as performances, concerts, workshops, movies, storytelling, puppetry, dance, magic and cinema, all brought by the 28 members of the European Union. This year’s programming will include Re un Re; a Latvian singing and dancing kids’ quartet; a cooking workshop on healthy Greek food; a one-act play titled “The Complete History of Malta (More or Less)”; and a British comedy performance.
“In general, I enjoy anything that relates to family activities, shows, restaurants, movies and Halloween activities in the city,” said Ghebre, who is from Eritrea in the Horn of Africa. “In the fall, my family can be found frequenting the zoo, memorials and playing outdoor basketball.”
Luis Colmenares at Capella Washington, D.C. (www.capellahotels.com/washingtondc/georgetown)
Fall at the Capella in Georgetown means the continuation of the Capella Constellation & Dinner Series, which happens a few times a month. Guests have a three-course meal in the hotel restaurant, the Grill Room, before moving to the rooftop to use a research-grade telescope and astronomical binoculars on loan from the University of Maryland’s astronomy department. Graduates of the program walk guests through the night sky before dessert and drinks are served.
Moving beyond the uber posh hotel — one of D.C.’s most expensive — lead personal assistant Luis Colmenares said Capella will help arrange trips to a nearby winery or orchard for pick-your-own apples. At press time, the exact locations had not been chosen, but he said the winery would likely be in Middleburg, Charlottesville or Leesburg, all in Virginia.
For a leisurely look at fall in Washington, Colmenares recommends a drive along Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway or a stroll through the National Arboretum.
“If they want to take a longer drive, I would definitely recommend Skyline Drive or Shenandoah National Park,” he said. The drive winds through the park, which is situated 75 miles outside D.C. in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The 105-mile road has dozens of overlooks and is often crossed by deer, black bears, wild turkeys and other woodland animals. The park itself has more than 500 miles of hiking trails, 101 of which are part of the legendary Appalachian Trail.
For adventure closer to D.C., Colmenares suggests standup paddle boarding on the Potomac.
“The in thing now is doing paddling in the Potomac, power paddling that is kind of like yoga on a board,” he said, noting that he gets a lot of requests for kayaking, too.
He directs anyone with a penchant for two wheels to bike the Mount Vernon Trail, which goes from D.C., past Reagan National Airport, through Old Town Alexandria and ends at Mount Vernon, home of the first U.S. president.
“If you’re looking for color, I think that will be the most beautiful ride,” Colmenares said. “You will have the view of the city, the interaction with the planes landing at National Airport and if you want to stop between Washington, D.C., and Mount Vernon, you have a chance to stop at Old Town Alexandria. It’s very quaint. Old Town has wonderful shops, wonderful restaurants.”
Families will especially enjoy Mount Vernon Fall Harvest Family Days on Oct. 25 and 26. Included in the admission (ranging from $8 to $17 depending on age) are wagon rides, wheat threading in a 16-sided barn, 18th-century dancing demonstrations, a straw-bale maze, blacksmithing instruction, apple-roasting, and early-American games and music.
“The kids have access to the mini zoo that they have,” Colmenares said. “It’s a lot of fun. Also you can have a wonderful view there of the Potomac River and the colors of fall.”
Personally, Colmenares likes to enjoy fall beauty with an escape inside the city by going to the Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens (4155 Linnean Ave., NW), the former home of Marjorie Merriweather Post, an American businesswoman, heiress and enthusiastic art collector.
“In the fall, one of my favorite places to go will be Hillwood,” he said. “They have a wonderful garden that they do such a display of fall colors in the floral arrangements. It’s beautiful and you can have an afternoon tea in the café. It’s wonderful.”
Eric Gammill at the Hay-Adams (www.hayadams.com)
Head concierge Eric Gammill, a member of Les Clefs d’Or USA, the only national organization of hotel lobby concierges, said that during the fall, the historic Hay-Adams often sets up guests with guided tours of Skyline Drive, punctuated by lunch at the Palladio Restaurant at Barboursville Vineyards, an 18th-century estate in Virginia.
“It’s the time to view fall foliage,” Gammill said. “The premium place to view fall foliage, of course, is Skyline Drive, and we’ll set up private, individualized tours.”
He also recommends Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens (1550 Anacostia Ave., NE), where visitors can borrow binoculars from rangers at the visitor center to get a closer look at leaves and local birds. Another oasis inside the city is the U.S. Botanic Garden, located on the Capitol Grounds and established by Congress in 1820, making it one of North America’s oldest botanic gardens. Here, roses, orchids, rainforest plants, and rare and endangered plants can be found; tours are also available for those with less than a green thumb.
Unique this year is an exhibit that Gammill expects will draw many visitors to Washington. “Picturing Mary: Woman, Mother, Idea” at the National Museum of Women in the Arts starts Dec. 5 and will look at womanhood represented by the Virgin Mary. It will bring together more than 60 Renaissance- and Baroque-era masterworks from the Vatican Museums, Uffizi Gallery and other museums, churches and private collections in Europe and the United States, including works by Botticelli and Michelangelo.
“It really is going to be a major exhibit,” Gammill said. “Big recommend on that one.”
But for him, the beauty of fall is really everywhere. “I just love to be outdoors and see the changing fall foliage. One of the wonderful things about D.C. is our four seasons, and they’re all great, but fall is one of my favorites.”
Few More Fall Treats
The Willard InterContinental Washington (washington.intercontinental.com) teams with famed Washington bookstore Politics & Prose for a regularly held Literary Series, a nod to the hotel’s history as the home away from home for writers such as Walt Whitman, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, Emily Dickinson and Julia Ward Howe. On Nov. 17, Emmy-winning and Oscar-nominated producer, author and documentary filmmaker Ken Burns will discuss “The Roosevelts,” a volume that relates to a PBS documentary that will air this fall. The event happens at noon and costs $50 or $100 for lunch and one signed book.
Starting in October, the Mandarin Oriental (www.mandarinoriental.com/washington) is offering a “Cruise into Fall” package starting at $445 per person that includes a free night with two or more consecutive paid nights, a roundtrip ride for two on the Spirit of Mount Vernon ship with a narrated cruise on the Potomac, and admission for two to Mount Vernon and three and a half hours to tour George Washington’s estate and gardens.
About the Author
Stephanie Kanowitz is a contributing writer for The Washington Diplomat.