Road Trips from Washington D.C.: Eastern Panhandle

The Eastern Panhandle is home to approximately 6% of the state’s population – offering the perfect serene getaway. One of two panhandles in the state of West Virginia, this region borders the states of Maryland and Virginia. Complete with a relaxed atmosphere and small-town charm, the Eastern Panhandle is the perfect place for anyone with a love for scenic, laid-back appeal and top-notch southern hospitality to enjoy.

Day 1 – Shepherdstown

Visit Shepherdstown, West Virginia’s oldest town, and bask in the beauty of a place nestled right along the banks of the Potomac River. With a vibrant nightlife atmosphere, award-winning restaurants, local art and music and theatrical performances. Shepherdstown is sure to have something for everyone to appreciate.

Overlooking the Potomac River, The Bavarian Inn has been pampering its guests with relaxing getaway spots, gourmet meals and the finest comforts for over 40 years. This 11-acre award-winning European-inspired resort earned praise from Washingtonian Magazine for its world-class food, timeless elegance and unmatched service. Take a dip in the infinity pool overlooking the river or sample a craft-made brew, from the on-site brewery.

Just minutes away, Harpers Ferry National Historical Park is a must-see location during your visit. Harpers Ferry is historically known for being raided in 1859 by American abolitionist John Brown, who attempted to use the town as a base for a slave revolt. During the time of this raid, the state was still a part of Virginia. At the park, visitors can immerse themselves in the history and natural beauty of old buildings, scenic hiking trails and so much more. It is recommended that you take one of the free shuttles from the park’s Visitors Center down into the town, as parking options are limited.

For some creative cuisine, friendly service and a cozy atmosphere, visit The Press Room. Considered a “true gem” by locals, this upscale restaurant (located in what was once an old newspaper building, hence the name) offers a wide variety of pasta dishes, meats and fish, as well as vegetarian and gluten-free options.

Have a sweet tooth to satisfy? The Sweet Shop Bakery, located in the heart of Shepherdstown’s historic district in a 200-year-old building, is just the place for you. With delectable baked goods, steaming coffee, yummy wraps, warm soups, and more, this bakery is committed to making every customer leave with a full stomach and a happy heart. The bakery offers both indoor and outdoor seating and is also wheelchair accessible.

Day 2 – Charles Town

Spend the day in Charles Town, a beautiful place surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains that is full of unique architecture, historical landmarks and a bustling atmosphere. Founded in 1786, Charles Town got its name from the youngest brother of America’s first president, George Washington. Charles Washington is honored for donating the four corners of the George Street and Washington Street intersection to the city for public use. Home to approximately 5,700 residents, this town prides itself on its high-quality services.

Visit Cool Spring Preserve, a stunning 63-acre stretch of forest, meadow and marsh that houses 18 different species of rare plants. Open daily from dawn to dusk, this preserve is part of the Shenandoah Wet Prairie Marsh, where only 100 acres of this type of marsh are known to exist globally. The land now known as the present-day preserve was purchased by a young George Washington in 1752 and is considered to be a designated “birding hotspot” and picnic area by many.

If you’re looking to learn all about the large amount of history that shaped this small region, check out the Jefferson County Museum. Founded in 1965, this museum is dedicated to fostering a sense of love and understanding of historical events in the hearts of every visitor. Here, visitors can enjoy permanent exhibits like Early Settlement and the Washingtons, John Brown’s Raid and the Civil War, People and Industries and Jefferson County Photos: Then and Now. Brand new exhibits are added to the galleries each winter.

Take a walk on the supernatural side as Charles Town Ghost Tours takes you through some of the most terrifying tales of 100 active spirits that are said to haunt this historic district. Each story told is a true and documented account taken from personal interviews and historical records. The company offers four distinct tours. Two daytime tours, The Charles Town History Tour and The Victorian Grave Art Tour, and two evening tours, The Traditional Haunted Walk and The Cemetery Stroll. Public tours run from mid-March to mid-December. Reservations are required for each tour, and groups will be kept small.

Stop by family-owned and operated Alfredo’s Mediterranean Grille & Steakhouse for a delicious meal. With a wide variety of traditional and modern dishes and sampling food from Spain, Greece, France, Italy, Lebanon and Morocco, you’re sure to find something to satisfy your appetite.

Stay the night in comfort at The Inn at Charles Town Races. A former recipient of Trip Advisor’s Certificate of Excellence, this hotel offers first-class amenities, award-winning dining, 18 spacious suites and free shuttle service. Located on the grounds of Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races and a thoroughbred horse racing track, you’re only steps away from action and excitement. 

Day 3 – Martinsburg

Martinsburg was founded in 1778 during the American Revolutionary War by Major General Adam Stephen. You can even visit his colonial home while you’re here. When the B&O railroad arrived in Martinsburg in the 1840s, the town became a hub in many chapters of America’s history. With much of its 19th century charm still present, Martinsburg appeals to history lovers and town explorers alike.

You can explore Haunted History and Legends Tours to learn about Native Americans, 18th-century settlers and Civil War drama in Martinsburg. Tour guides share stories gleaned from newspapers and eye witnesses. Tours are two hours long, which is a generous amount of time to learn interesting facts about the early days in Martinsburg. Legend has it that there are ghosts still strolling down the streets.

The B&O Roundhouse is a striking historic monument. At one time, the domed locomotive facility accommodated 16 steam engines – or 20,000 feet of floor space. Its construction in 1866 was a feat of physics and design. Even by today’s standards, the roundhouse’s structure is mesmerizing. Today, it’s a National Historic Engineering Landmark.

If you’re hungry for authentic pizza, look no further than King’s New York Pizza. There are five locations across the panhandle – making this an exclusive West Virginia experience. King’s is committed to using fresh ingredients for their menu items. They makes their own lasagna, dough, sauce and of course, pizza. Try their breaded mushrooms, garlic bread, garlic bowls, manicotti and much more. Gluten free pasta is also available.

For dessert, you will have a hard time resisting Everything Cheesecake. There is everything you could possibly think of when it comes to gourmet cheesecakes, pastries, Black Dog Coffee, cannolis and much more. Some fan-favorite cheesecake flavors include salted caramel, Reeses, Cinnamon Toast Crunch and cookies and cream. One stop here, and you’ll be planning another trip to Martinsburg just for another forkful of their sweet goodness.

Catch a vaudeville show, movie or skit at the historic Apollo Civic Theatre. Since 1914, this has been the spot for generations of loyal fans to have a good laugh or witness some special talent. Past entertainers include big names like Will Rogers, Jeff Bridges, Merle Haggard, Robert Duvall and more. No matter what your taste in entertainment is, you’ll be sure to find a play, musical or seasonal special that speaks to you. 

For some local entertainment with the kids, Wonderment Puppet Theater is a fun choice. Joe Santoro puts on shows that are refreshingly charming and innocent. There is even a puppet gift shop if you or your kids are feeling inspired by the performance.

Martinsburg has no shortage of local vendors and shops. For fresh produce, meat, farm fresh dairy, drinks, maple syrup, honey, baked goods and more, Orr’s Farm Market has it all. Orr’s is located about three and a half miles off of I-81, making this an easy stop on your road trip. Locals love to try their apples, fruit syrups, canned goods, salsa and much more. You can even buy household goods like candles, canning supplies and soaps.

To give your home more bling, take a look at vintage glassware at West Virginia Glass. Here you will find pieces from 25 companies like Blenko and Moser. You will be welcomed by rows of vases, bowls, ornaments, pitchers, earrings and barware. Coming here will give you endless ideas on how to add some Appalachian ambience to your home.

With its relaxed atmosphere and small-town ambiance, you’re free to explore the Eastern Panhandle your own way. Where’s your first stop?

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This post was last updated on April 12, 2024