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If you know me, I love a good road trip. Especially the ones that make you feel like you’ve hopped on an airplane and you’re miles away from home but in actuality, you just jumped into your car. So if you’re like me, I created a list of my favorite summer destination that are 3 hours or less from Washington DC with a variety of adventures waiting for you. So if you like being in the outdoors, this list is for you:

Great Falls Park:

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Great Falls Park from the Virginia side

I’ve mentioned this place a hundred times on my blog so it’s definitely a favorite. Less than 20 miles outside of Washington DC, find some peace in Great Falls Park. From the roaring falls, to plenty of space to roam or have a picnic, Great Falls is kind of an unexpected gem outside a major US city. The great part about Great Falls is that there’s a Virginia and Maryland side. You can see actually see the Maryland side while in Virginia and vice versa but they are very different.

Virginia has a better view of the falls and in my personal opinion, the park just feels a little bit more open with wider fields and more viewing spots of the falls. It’s a great place to have a picnic or go on a hike with friends.

Maryland allows you to be closer to the rocks but I personally enjoy the views on the hike on the Maryland side much more.

Don’t be surprised if you see kayakers navigating the rough waters or blue herons fishing for the dinner on either side of the park.

Alexandria, Virginia

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Old Town Alexandria at sunrise

Specifically, Old Town Alexandria. Old Town Alexandria is just 8 miles away from Washington where you can enjoy a day by the Potomac River. Surrounded by cute shops and even better restaurants, it’s shouldn’t be a surprise if you find yourself smiling while walking around the neighborhood. If you of age, The BRÜT Wine Bar is a personal favorite if you like bubbly adult drinks. Waterfront Park is a fantastic place for kids to run around and to experience free outdoor art. I can’t express how much I enjoy this cute little town every time I visit.

But Alexandria is also a great central point for many other excursions. Hop on a scenic water taxi that will take you the National Harbor in Maryland or to DC destinations such as the Wharf, Georgetown, the National Mall, and Nats Stadium. It is also along the Mount Vernon trail that gives you access to Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve and Huntly Meadows Park, both wetland areas with boardwalks that make it fun for birdwatchers and photographers to enjoy the views.

Shenandoah National Park

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Shenandoah National Park along Skyline Drive on a foggy early morning

Shenandoah National Park is beautiful summer, fall, spring, winter, whenever! Just 70 miles outside of the District, it’s the best place to get a great hike in. My personal favorite is Old Rag Mountain Trail and Hawksbill Mountain Trail. Both give you an unbelievable view of the mountains and surrounding areas. Just know that both of these hikes are steep but Hawksbill Mountain Trail is significantly shorter, so plan accordingly with the time you have in the mountains.

If hiking isn’t your thing, I highly suggest finding a rental company where they’ll take you down to the river. You can rent canoes, rafts or tubes to float your way down the river. It’s so relaxing.

But if you just want an easy way to enjoy the views, Skyline Drive has stunning views from multiple overlooks along the way.

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Back when the Reach at the Kennedy Center was almost ready for the public, I was honored to be invited to see it for a special social media sneak peek.

But even though our main focus was the Reach, I still took a few minutes out to photograph the Kennedy Center. I don’t get to go often, but when I do, I fall in love with the beautiful lines and architecture all over again. I thought this image was interesting because it’s not every day that you get to see everything that it takes to replace the light bulbs in the ceiling. LOL.

I just love the injection of the orange crane in between the columns and walls at the Kennedy Center. It seems like something so out of ordinary to be there.

My camera settings for this image are F4 at 1/640th sec and ISO 250 with my Sony A7II and 70-200mm.

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Man, I take a lot of pictures at the Lincoln Memorial. LOL. It’s hard not to though. Especially with the US Capitol and the Jefferson Memorial currently under construction, it sort of limits the monuments and memorials to go to in the National Mall.

However, this image was taken as I was leaving the memorial parks and headed back to my car. I noticed how great the columns looked and loved even more that there were two people peaking their heads out trying to capture the early morning sky with their own cameras.

I think this day was unusual though. It was still very early in the morning and all of a sudden a busload of tourists came walking in. They usually don’t get there that early so I think that may have been one reason why I left so early. That and the fact that it was 20 degrees out. 20 DEGREES! I was wearing so many layers of clothing that you probably heard me swishing back to my car. But the sky that morning made it all worth it!

My camera settings for this image are F4 at 1/1250th sec and ISO 1000 with my Sony A7II and 70-200mm zoom.

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Sunday was a busy photography day for me because not only did I capture the Chinese New Year Parade in Chinatown, but I also went out and photographed the sunrise earlier in the day. I met up with some other photo friends at the Washington Monument. The sunrise itself wasn’t the best, but when the sun finally peaked over the horizon, it made the city glow.

At first, it was the reflection in the reflecting pool that attracted me to this scene. I just love how even from so far away, you can see the columns so clearly. But then looking at the little details of this image is what really makes me so happy. I love seeing all the people standing at the edge of the pool. They look so little compared to the enormous memorial. And while I was framing this image in my camera, I did notice the birds fly by so I’m glad I was able to capture them in the frame. They add a bit more interest to the top of the image that I like. But my favorite part is that if you zoom into this image, you can still see the Lincoln statue so clearly inside the memorial! So cool if you ask me!

My camera settings for this image are F4 at 1/1250th second and ISO 400 with my Sony A7II and 70-200mm zoom lens.

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In my opinion, one of my more successful photo trips of the year was when I went to Chicago in March. I must admit, I was a little scared to go because I thought it would be too cold to walk around. But after the wind settled down after the first 1.5 days we were there, it really wasn’t bad at all. I say that it was a successful photo trip because I came back with so many images I loved from that trip.

One of the highlights was definitely visiting Cloud Gate or the Chicago Bean. We actually ended up going twice. One time on a Saturday afternoon which was so packed and I don’t recommend at all. But the second time was on a Sunday morning around sunrise and it was so much more manageable. Yes, there were other people there but it was definitely not crowded like it was on a Saturday afternoon.

Visiting that Sunday morning was great because I had many opportunities to photograph Cloud Gate with no one in the frame, but I also tried some creative compositions to crop people out. In this image, I focused mainly on Cloud Gate where it’s barely recognizable. All you see are the reflections from the surrounding buildings.

My camera settings for this image are F7.1 at 1/100th sec and ISO 500 with my Sony A7II and 16-35mm.

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I still have a ton more images from Taiwan to share but taking a little break from them with some images I captured even before I left. I almost forgot that I spent a little time walking around the John F Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts one cloudy afternoon in Mid-November.

It’s great how the Kennedy Center allows visitors even when there are no events or performances going on. You are free to roam the interior around the Hall of Nations or even the exterior on the rooftop terrace. It’s a great place to just sit and appreciate just how great Washington DC is. Everything is just so grand and awe-inspiring in this venue. Just thinking about all the people who have walked through the halls and how many performances have taken place here is amazing.

As I was walking around the outside of the building, I noticed this woman walking very fast. I have no idea where she was going, but she matched perfectly with the gold exterior and fall colors. She was just screaming to have her picture taken at this moment.

My camera settings for this image are F7.1  at 1/640th sec and ISO 500 with my Sony A7II and 70-200mm zoom lens.