|Prince William County, Virginia Blog
1/5/2011 12:00:00 PM
By Nancy Dunham
Sometimes when the post holiday hustle-and-bustle feels a bit overwhelming, it's a great idea to visit Mom's.
Think that's not an option because your real mom is in California or New York? Do the next best thing, then and go to Mom’s Apple Pie Company. You can find several locations around the region but for my money the best is at 126A Commerce St.
Put off because you've read about it in "Southern Living" and other trendy publications and are worried it'll be a tourist trap? Fear not. Yes, there are lines out the doors before the holidays – one taste of the rolls, pies, breads, cookies and other pastries that offer and you'll understand why – but at heart Mom's is still down-home kind of place complete with a General Store right next door.
Even when I'm following my healthy-eating-for-the-New Year resolution, I'll stop in for a cup of coffee and a cookie (try the Russian tea cake if you want something incredibly buttery and sweet) for a total price of just under $2.
The price includes time to relax in a homey spot and chat with the friendly and in-the-know staff.
For those in the area, Mom's is a tasty slice of home.
For more details, go to www.momsapplepieco.com
12/22/2010 12:02:00 PM
By Nancy Dunham
You absolutely can't celebrate the holidays in Prince William County without visiting the Bull Run Festival of Lights.
Forget the wimpy but well-intended light displays that pop up all over during this time of the year. The Bull Run Festival is two and a half miles of lights – everything from Santa to jumping reindeer to polar bears - that are visible from miles away from the actual event.
Although the entry lines are long during peak times such as Christmas and New Year's Eve, the mood is festive. You won't find other drivers trying to rush you through the display – everyone takes their time and is respectful of others. Don't forget to look in the back seats of other cars and you'll often see kids jumping around full of excitement.
Don't forget to tune your car radio to a holiday music station when you get in line. Locally, 97.1 WASH-FM plays non-stop holiday music during the season. It's a delightful way to get the most out of your time. Of course, this year there are also displays with music too so be sure to keep your radio low so you can hear those too.
If you have extra time, plan to stop at the holiday village which has carnival rides, games, displays and treats such as warm cider and chat with other guests.
Whether you're from the area or just passing through, there's no more joyful way to brighten your holidays.
Details: Bull Run Festival of Lights is located just off Interstate 66 in Centreville on Route 29 (Lee Highway), just three miles from the historic Manassas Battlefield Park. The Festival is open seven days a week from now through Jan. 9. Fees vary per day and type of vehicle - $15 per car of van (with one to 14 people) Sunday to Thursday; $25 per car of van Friday, Saturday and Holidays; $25 per van (15 to 34 people) Sunday through Thursday and $30 on Fridays, Saturday and Sundays; and $50 per bus (35 or more people) Sunday through Thursday and $55 Fridays, Saturdays and Sunday. Go to the Web site at www.nvrpa.org for more information, a video of part of the display and discount coupons.
12/15/2010 12:04:00 PM
By Nancy Dunham
It's great to dine out during the holiday season, but you want to find the locals' favorites when you're traveling. Otherwise, you may find you've waited in long lines only to encounter surly wait staff and mediocre food.
Bistro L'Hermitage is the ideal answer. Run by long-time Washington, D.C. restaurateur Youssef Eagle Essald, the Woodbridge, Virginia restaurant is one of the finest French restaurants in the area.
It truly looks the part, too, with gleaming wood and plentiful windows covered with casually elegant curtains. The wood tables and chairs are large enough for comfort but not so oversized you feel as if you can't have an intimate conversation.
We've all been to lovely restaurants that have mediocre or poor food. Happily, such is not the case at this restaurant.
On a recent visit I found my entrée - sautéed Red Snapper with champagne risotto – fresher and tastier than comparable meals I've had in Annapolis or even Maine. A look and taste of my dinner mates' entrees showed that the other meals – sautéed veal liver with potato puree and roasted duck breast with braised red cabbage – were equally delicious and beautifully presented.
Another highlight is the warm and gracious manner of the staff. Although the restaurant was very busy the evening we visited, the staff was very welcoming and responsive to any requests we made.
There's no need to drive into Washington, D.C. for a fine French meal thanks to Bistro L'Hermitage.
Details: Bistro L'Hermitage
12724 Occoquan Road
12/8/2010 12:00:00 PM
By Nancy Dunham
Ever feel like you're on holiday overload with the carols, the lights, the presents, the Santas, and everything else that encompasses the winter holidays?
It's especially easy to feel like a Grinch during holiday travel when wait times are longer than usual for everything from seating in restaurants to going through highway tollbooths. The great news is that you can still enjoy the season while taking a break from the full-on winter holiday events.
Consider Historic Occoquan, which is a year-round highlight of the area. The colonial-style community features charming small shops, many owned by artisans, waterfront restaurants and friendly neighbors. What that means is you can duck into a shop for a quick stocking stuffer or one-of-a-kind gift, rest your weary feet while sipping hot cocoa or coffee, or just sit on a bench and listen to the carolers that are often in the area.
Now here's the twist – you can also take a ghost tour during the holiday season.
Those that know the Prince William County, Virginia, area know that there are many reports of paranormal activities. But even if you don't subscribe to the ghost hunters' beliefs, you'll still enjoy a host of historic tidbits about the area and its residents during the one-hour walking tour sponsored by the Historic Occoquan Merchants' Association.
All you need is a pair of comfortable shoes, warm attire, and an advance reservation for the tour.
Whether you want to enjoy everything Occoquan has to offer or just take a spirited tour, Occoquan definitely is designed to make your holiday bright.
What: Walking Ghost Tours
When: 7 p.m. most Fridays and Saturdays (call for availability)
Where: Salt and Pepper Books, 125 Mill Street, Occoquan, Va.
Cost: $10 Adults; $5 kids 12 and under; reservations required
Details and Reservations: 703-491-4411 or 571-334-7357
11/29/2010 8:36:00 AM
By Nancy Dunham
Home tours and decorating ideas aren't only available during the spring and summer – honest! One of the best places to gather some decorating ideas and enjoy camaraderie with others that love interior design is right in Prince William County, Virginia. Rippon Lodge
is one of the oldest standing homes in the county and has completely renovated from its grounds to the main home. Now before you write this off as a dusty, dull snooze you should realize the home recently underwent a four-year renovation and has made it onto the National Historic Register. As you can imagine, it's now something of a must-see for those who want to find out more about colonial life. At the holiday open house you'll have a chance to tour the home and gather information about decorating customs from 1747 – the time the home was built – until now. If you've got kids in tow, don't fret. They'll have a chance to enjoy some crafts, snack on cookies and cider and listen to holiday music while you are on tour. The cost is only $5 per person and you don't even have to fight traffic into Washington, D.C. Basically, you just can't go wrong.
What: Holiday Open House
Where: Rippon Lodge Historic Site is located at: 15520 Blackburn Road
Woodbridge, VA 22191
When: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, December 11
Details: $5 fee; (703) 499-9812 or (703) 792-4754
11/24/2010 12:01:00 PM
By Nancy Dunham
It's easy to become a bit – let's call it uncomfortable – about the holidays when you travel.
Although I love to see different parts of the U.S., having grown up on the East Coast I find it a bit disconcerting to see aluminum Christmas trees in California or Poinsettias around open swimming pools in Florida. Beautiful, yes, but the scenes did drain a bit of my holiday spirit.
The holiday celebration in Old Town Manassas, though, is something you can likely enjoy no matter what your climate preferences. The area gets just chilly enough to bring out the hot cider-drinking mood but still warm enough that you don't feel as if you're frozen within five minutes outside. Plus there are all kinds of great shops – pottery, jewelry, culinary – that will welcome you with plenty of heat, good cheer, and great items for gifts.
I especially like to take a trip to Old Town Manassas for the annual holiday festivities, which are slated for 5:30 to 8 p.m. Friday, December 3 this year.
Don't wait until the last minute though. Although area parking is generally plentiful, it does fill up for this event so stop down early and grab a quick lunch, strap on your skates and take a whirl around the ice rink at the Harris Pavilion or just walk around and enjoy the live music until Santa's 6 p.m. arrival – by Virginia Rail Express, of course, into the Manassas Depot.
If you aren't intent on seeing the arrival, Santa will be at the Harris Pavilion gazebo throughout the evening to visit with young and old children. Head over to the Manassas Museum (9101 Prince William Street, Manassas) for the 6:30 p.m. lighting of the Christmas Tree and more music by the Osborne High School Band, the Prince William Chorale, the Manassas Chanticleers and swing singer Jason Curtis. You can even end the evening with a free hayride.
Return by 10 a.m. Saturday, December 4, and you'll see the annual Manassas Christmas Parade that includes floats, local celebrities, music and Santa. The parade travels from Mathis Avenue and ends at Center Street and Grant Avenue. Holiday stories will be told from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Train Depot and, of course, shops will be open Saturday and from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. for a special holiday open house on Sunday.
The Manassas holiday celebration offers plenty of fun to boost your holiday spirit.
11/17/2010 12:00:00 PM
By Nancy Dunham
It's ok. You can admit the very idea of Black Friday leaves you exhausted. When you're in Prince William County, though, you are near one of the greatest shopping meccas outside of New York City. Taking advantage of the day-after-Thanksgiving bargains can reap you plenty of extra cash without ratcheting up the stress level – you just need to plan ahead. The first thing you need to do is determine how far away you are from Potomac Mills Mall and the best route to drive there. Now you might consider that if it's not next door, you don't need to go there. Not true. Remember that it's a "must-stop" attraction for area visitors from around the world and you'll realize this isn't just some mall or another cheesy "factory outlet" with high retail prices. Potomac Mills is the real deal with real deals in 200 stores including Abercrombie & Fitch Outlet, Toys 'A Million, Toys 'R Us Holiday Express, Ikea, Skechers Outlet, Saks Fifth Avenue Off 5th, and many more. But in order to navigate the mall, find your bargains, and stay unruffled, you need to have a plan.
Here's what we suggest:
Don't be sidetracked. Yes, nearby Washington, D.C. retail centers and specialty shops get a lot of press, especially now that Michelle Obama has upped the fashion consciousness of the city. If you really want bargains on fashions and other goods, though, stay focused like a laser on Potomac Mills. The retailers there will have more can't-beat prices on top-of-the-line prices than anyone.
Make your list. Sounds simple but if you go into the stores without planning, you may miss a major deal. Look online for your favorite stores and join a website dedicated to Black Friday deals such as bfads.net.
Know where to go. Most, but not all of the stores in Potomac Mills will open at midnight on November, 26. Check online at simon.com or even call and ask retailers if they'll be open. Once you're inside, "Super Sale" signs will be in the windows of participating stores. It's also a good idea to plan which stores you want to hit and in what order. You can find where the Potomac Mills stores are located here.
Plan, plan, plan. Do you get sleepy late at night? Does your blood sugar level dip after a few hours? Remember that traffic on the main route to Potomac Mills will likely be heavy so bring some coffee and snacks so you don't tire out before you arrive.
Consider staying nearby. The Mills is so popular that many hotels have special packages for those that want to shop. Not only will you be closer to the shopping, but hotels offer gift cards, free breakfasts and more for those that book those packages. Find out all about those here.
Make parking a snap.
We all know that it's easy to lose your car in the super-large parking lot, especially after you've spent hours of walking. Take a photo of your car in the parking lot as close to nearby signs as possible. That way, you can refer to it and not waste time searching.
Don't forget freebies.
On Friday, anyone who makes $150 in purchases at the mall can get an "I Survived Black Friday @ Potomac Mills" t-shirt. Just go to Guest Service. From 5 a.m. to 1 p.m., State Farm will offer free coffee, bottled water and gift wrap. Watch for signs.
Savor the moment.
Don't miss the roving holiday entertainment by The Alexandria Singers from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sure, the day is about saving but it's also about enjoying the season.
Here's a quick reference guide about Potomac Mills. Review that and then enjoy! Hours: Closed on Thanksgiving Day, November 23. Open from 12 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Black Friday, November 26. Open from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday, November 27. Regular Mall Hours: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. Potomac Mills Mall is located at 2700 Potomac Mills Circle, Woodbridge, Va., 22912, just off I-95.
For more information including directions call 703-496-9330 or visit http://www.simon.com/
11/10/2010 12:00:00 PM
By Nancy Dunham
Look, there's Bill Murray. And over there is Bruce Springsteen.
Nope, you're not in Hollywood or New York City but at the regional airport
in Manassas, Virginia. Many visitors are surprised to discover the airport is something of a Mecca for those with private planes. When politicians and celebrities fly into Washington, D.C., or nearby areas, many times they use the regional airport.
While you can't get in on the celebrities' flights – though you may spot one or two especially if you stop into the nearby bars and restaurants – you can try your own hand at the controls of a plane. American Aviation Services in Manassas offers 30 and 60 minutes flight lessons with an FAA certified flight instructor in a new Diamond DA40 ELX plane.
Not quite ready to take the controls? Demo flights and gift certificates are also available. Remember, too, you can also take sightseeing flights to see the lush Shenandoah Mountains and valleys, fly over battlefields, lakes and rivers. Want to get a birds' eye view of a different landmark? Easy enough, because you can also customize your sightseeing tour.
Here's what you need to know:
Hours: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Fee: $120 to $220
11/3/2010 12:00:00 PM
By Nancy Dunham
It is lucky for all of us serious seafood lovers that you often hear the phrase "Maryland crab." But there isn't such a catch phrase for the seafood in the Old Dominion.
That means the seafood on the Virginia side of the Potomac River is not as popular with tourists even though it's as succulent, juicy and fresh as it is in the Free State. That's especially true if you know what restaurant to frequent.
Consider Tim's Rivershore Restaurant & Crabhouse in Dumfries
. It's a bit off the beaten path for those who drive there, especially with all of the construction in the area the past year or so, but it's worth the drive (we'll offer the directions from the restaurant's website – which we followed without problems -- in a minute).
Now the first thing to note is the décor is nothing fancy. Those who've vacationed by lakes and beaches know that some of the best crab, shrimp, fish and other seafood in those areas are served in the down-home comfy places full of well-used plastic chairs and tables, solid benches and other lived-in furnishings. Don't look for five-star elegance because you won't find it.
What you will find – besides the abundant and fresh seafood, chicken, hots, hamburgers and more – is both indoor and outdoor seating, with a gorgeous view of the Potomac, a large selection of adult beverages and an incredibly friendly wait staff.
We were there during a crowded Friday night and not only were servers incredibly responsive (extra napkins please. Did I mention I need a refill on this drink?) but they were extremely jovial and good-natured with the alcohol-happy crowd.
If you want a fun casual atmosphere with great eats, this is the place to go.
What: Tim's Rivershore Restaurant & Crabhouse
Where: 1510 Cherryhill Drive, Dumfries
Contact: 703-441-1375; www.timsrivershore.com
Details: Accessible by boat or land. There are many special events throughout the year; check website calendar for details.
Directions: Do not rely on GPS due to construction in the area. Instead, use these directions from the restaurant's website:
10/29/2010 9:41:34 AM
By Nancy Dunham
Fire engines flashing their lights, American flags flapping in the breeze, veterans waving at friends and neighbors who have lined the streets – think such classic sights at parades are just on television these days?
That's not true and now that you're traveling near Manassas, you have a chance to experience one.
Grab your coffee and breakfast, and then head out to the Second Annual Manassas Veteran's Day Parade, which starts at 11 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 6. There you'll find the military displays, marching high school bands, pipe and drum corps, and plenty of local folks and visitors enjoying the day. Of course, Manassas is so full of military history you know there will be plenty to see.
The parade, sponsored by the American Legion Post 10 in Manassas, will go right through the heart of Old Town Manassas. You can find a guide here
. Take a quick peek at the route and consider heading to Old Town Manassas early. Parking is quite limited so you'll want to grab a spot as soon as you can. The great news is that the Historic Manassas has plenty of terrific shops and sights you can enjoy before you line the parade route.
Concerned about the mad dash when the parade ends? Grab lunch in Old Town. You can head right to Foster's Grille
, 9411 West St., Manassas. Find out more about them here
. They have the juiciest burgers and tastiest fries around.
What: Second Annual Manassas Veteran's Day Parade
When: 11 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 6
Where: Historic Old Town Manassas
Details: Free; 703-257-7895; http://www.manassasveteransparade.org/