Virginia Variety

5 key sites near the nation's capital

In the rolling hills of Northern Virginia, five sites illustrate the region's many identities, from retail mecca to home of founding fathers.


From a 19th-century rural crossroads known as Peach Grove to today’s mega commercial zone, Tysons Corner has seen one of the region’s most dramatic transformations. The 1968 opening of Tysons Corner Center, the state’s largest shopping mall, proved a major driving force. Next up? Four new Silver Line Metrorail stations expected to open in 2014.

Intersection of routes 7 and 123, McLean


Udvar-Hazy Center
The Boeing Aviation Hangar at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center (©Dane Penland, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution)

Defying Gravity

At the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, all manner of history-making aircraft seem about to take flight. This 760,000-square-foot satellite of the National Air and Space Museum displays planes like the WWII Enola Gay and speed-record-setting SR-71 “Blackbird” plus the space shuttle Discovery. Wonder what it’s like to ride the shuttle? Hop aboard the simulator. From the observation tower, see today’s jets taking off and touching down at Dulles International Airport.

14390 Air & Space Museum Pkwy., Chantilly


Meadowlark Botanical Gardens
Meadowlark Botanical Gardens (©Brooke Sabin)

Vibrant Oasis

Every season, indeed every month, a Monet-worthy palette sprouts at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens. No surprise that horticulturalists as well as photographers amateur and pro (even brides and grooms) make it a destination. This 95-acre sanctuary holds three lakes teeming with koi and turtles, sweeping emerald meadows and paths that wind past cherry trees, azaleas, ferns and native wildflowers. The atrium’s indoor tropical garden ensures lush greenery year-round, and a Winter Walk of Lights dazzles with 500,000 LEDs. In the Korean Bell Garden, a hand-built pavilion shelters the three-ton bronze namesake symbolizing peace and harmony.

9750 Meadowlark Gardens Ct., Vienna


Gunston Hall
Gunston Hall's Chinese Room (©Frank N. Barker, Courtesy Gunston Hall)

By George!

The name factors prominently in the Old Dominion. There’s the first president, of course, with his riverside estate near Alexandria. But another George lived just a few miles south. George Mason, who quilled the Virginia Declaration of Rights, built an elegant brick home in 1759 that’s now a National Historic Landmark. Gunston Hall’s eclectic interior decor—furniture and woodwork in “Chinese Taste,” windows topped by scalloped pediments and wallpaper with ornate classical scenes—contrasts with the unadorned facade. This architectural style, ironically, became known as “Georgian,” a term derived from the despised monarch.

10709 Gunston Rd., Mason Neck


Great Falls National Park
Great Falls National Park (©Gary718/

Wild Water

If Norman Maclean had set his celebrated novella at Great Falls National Park, it’s a good bet the title would be something like "A River Rages Through It." Here the Potomac plunges 76 feet down a series of cascades into Mather Gorge. Only 15 miles from D.C., this 800-acre national park delights visitors with shady picnic spots and 15 miles of wooded trails. Clifftop overlooks and even hot air balloons give a bird’s eye view of the Class VI rapids and the daredevil kayakers who run them.

9200 Old Dominion Dr., McLean