Exploring Leesburg & Manassas, Virginia
Jennifer Waldera is the DW&S writer that knows how to find the unique spin. From a horseback winery tour to the perfect winery sunset or even an urban cooking class, Jennifer covers the Northern Virginia food and beverage scene.
Follow along on a tour of NoVA’s Leesburg & Manassas with Jennifer Waldera…
When planning a peaceful getaway, Northern Virginia may not always spring to mind. However, avoiding busy roads and strip malls to enjoy Northern Virginia’s serene side is easier than it seems on a weekend of exploration between Manassas and Leesburg.
A Day in Historic Manassas
Manassas is most known for its historical context in the Civil War. The Manassas National Battlefield was the site of two significant battles during the war and is a natural draw for visitors to the town, with tours and hiking onsite in addition to the museum, book shop, and self-guided tour options. However, there is an abundance of other places to explore in Manassas as well.
Historic Downtown Manassas sports a number of shops to meander through from food-based spaces like Weinegar’s Bakery and Tearoom, Popcorn Monkey, Tummy Yum Yum Gourmet Apples, and Lemonade Bakery to grab sweet snacks to Calico Jack’s, full of home goods and gifts to browse.
Food enthusiasts can stop into Manassas Olive Oil Company.
Enjoy samples from the 45 flavors of olive oil or balsamic vinegar in the tasting gallery or peruse the other seasonings, sea salt, hand-crafted pottery. Meanwhile, collectors are likely to enjoy Iron Horse Antiques or Rebel Coin Company, described as “a gathering place for Civil War relic hunters and coin collectors since 1959”.
For history buffs, Echoes, The Manassas Museum Store holds a treasure trove of Civil War books, prints, Manassas and Civil War collectibles, and even educational toys.
For more books, those with a love of all that is literary can pop into Prospero’s Books in the iconic Hibbs & Gidding building. The decades-old shop specializes in military and regional history as well as the Civil War, specifically, and sells rare and out-of-print books, antique maps, prints, and general fiction and non-fiction.
While Manassas still maintains its small-town vibe, it has no shortage of spots to sip or swill. Sinistral Brewery, right on Main Street, houses a bar area, patio, and lounge with board games and their in-house brews. For wine lovers, Aroma Wine Tasting serves tastings of Morais Vineyard’s wine in their rustically elegant tasting room.
On the periphery of the downtown area, beer lovers can also visit Heritage Brewing Company. The veteran-owned brewery produces their beer in the Manassas headquarters, a large warehouse with the tasting room in the center. With 16 taps, the brewery offers all of their flagship beers as well as other limited releases.
Also, just a short ride from Downtown Manassas is KO Distillery who offers tastings and tours of their facility. They produce a variety of spirits including bourbon, wheat whiskey, rye whiskey, white whiskey, a standard strength gin, Navy-strength gin, and a bourbon barrel finished gin. For those that prefer their spirits mixed, the distillery also offers a cocktail tasting.
To sop up all those suds or spirits, there is a wide range of restaurant options. For a more casual feel, The Bone is an award-winning cozy BBQ spot near the train station serving pork, brisket, turkey, and ribs. Another relaxed option is The Philadelphia Tavern, whose tag line is “Where Philly meets the south,” and is known for serving up authentic cheesesteaks on Amorosa rolls.
For a laid back, unique experience, Crossroads Tavern is the place. A board game tavern with over 1,400 games available and an approachable menu with punny food names like “Weiner Takes All,” they also have a long list of local craft drafts and astoundingly affordable cocktails that at around $7.50.
Mid-range restaurants are aplenty with some of our favorite concepts including Public House Kitchen and Brewery with its extensive beer list, and affordable wine to wash down the likes of pork belly deviled eggs, poutine, and fried chicken, and Okra’s, a New Orleans bistro with its creative Creole cuisine and cocktails.
For upscale dining, Carmello’s focuses on “elevating traditional Portuguese and Italian dishes” by mixing the classic with contemporary. Seasonally prepared seafood, meats, and pasta are on the menu and the wine lists, categorized by region, are extensive.
After a day of exploration around Manassas, the perfect place to rest before hitting the highway is Manassas Junction Bed and Breakfast. Housed in an authentically restored 1902 Queen Anne Eastlake style, the B&B is right in the historic district, making it easily walkable to and from restaurants, bars, and shops. Having breakfast on hand in the morning makes for a smooth start to the day, and the proprietors ensure that the meal utilizes fresh, organic, locally grown products when possible as well as fresh fruit and vegetables from their own garden.
Do Not Miss Gilbert’s Corner
While it is obviously more efficient to head straight from Manassas to Leesburg, we recommend a slight detour and a pit stop near Middleburg – literally.
The Pit Stop, located at Gilbert’s Corner at the intersection of routes 15 and 50, is an institution at this corner market. Only open on weekends, the BBQ joint attracts long lines of people willing to wait for ribs, chicken, pork, smoked chicken salad, greens, and mac and cheese. In addition to noshing on BBQ, visitors can explore the rest of the vendors at the market selling the likes of kettle corn, salsa, pastry, kabobs, pizza, and other retail goods.
Middleburg is known for being hunt country, but it can also proudly claim to be home to a number of wineries. In fact, there are nearly two dozen wineries within 30 minutes of the town making it a top tasting destination.
With so many choices, we narrowed down the options to some that are closest to Gilbert’s Corner. Chrysalis Vineyards is just a three-minute drive from the market and is dedicated to growing the native Virginia grape, Norton. Cana Vineyards is just a matter of minutes past Chrysalis on Route 50 and Greenhill Winery and Vineyards is a mere minute or two from there. 50 West Vineyards, with a gorgeous overlook of the Bull Run Mountain Range is less than ten minutes from the other destinations as well.
Ciders & Spirits
If ciders and spirits are more in your wheelhouse, Mt. Defiance Cidery and Distillery is the destination in the Middleburg area. With two separate locations, one the Cider Barn and the other the Distillery, both are close by. At the Cider Barn, Mt. Defiance features traditional farmhouse blends of dry cider as well as infused ciders featuring blueberry, ginger, honey, and even five pepper. Meanwhile, the distillery focuses on “lost spirits” like absinthe and cassis liqueur but also produces apple brandy, bourbon, award-winning sweet vermouth, and multiple liqueurs in addition to rum, their shout out to one of the most popular spirits of the colonial era in Middleburg.
If wine, spirits, and cider tasting trigger an afternoon appetite, historic Hunter’s Head Tavern, an authentic English pub, is just a few more miles west in Upperville. Also, the owners of Ayshire Farm (which specializes in rare breeding), Hunter’s Head’s proprietors ensure that the tavern is a true farm to table concept. With bangers and mash, shepherd’s pie, chicken pot pie, and Guinness beef stew, the menu offers plenty of hearty classic English fare alongside contemporary dishes like steamed artichokes with lemon butter and Korean fried chicken wings with kim chi.
Welcome to Leesburg
Leesburg is a short 25 minute drive from Middleburg offering the opportunity to either stay overnight in Middleburg or make the brief trek to Leesburg. While Leesburg sports some adorable and affordable AirBnB accommodations, Middleburg has some spots to stay that are worthy of a multitude of awards.
Named one of the top ten best romantic inns in America by USA Today and one of the most excellent inns in North America by Conde Nast Johansens, Goodstone Inn sits on a 265-acre estate and is home to award-winning French-inspired restaurant The Conservatory. The wine cellar houses a selection of 820 wines and breakfast, lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch are all served.
Salamander Resort and Spa, awarded a Five-Star Rating by Forbes Travel Guide and named one of the world’s best spas by Wall Street Journal is a destination unto itself with the opportunity to play tennis, take nature hikes, and zip line as well as participate in Saturday afternoon classes in the Cooking Studio. Harrimans Virginia Piedmont Grill, the onsite restaurant, makes innovative use of upscale ingredients like sweetbreads and foie gras while also stirring up impressive cocktails that utilize local ingredients.
Finally, the Red Fox Inn and Tavern celebrates the hunt country culture and experience in each of its unique dining options from the serene Garden Terrace to the sophisticated Night Fox Pub and Parlor to the more casual Tavern and Tap Room. Additionally, guests can peruse 19th and 20th century sporting paintings and sculpture, curated by owner Turner Reuter, at the onsite Red Fox Fine Art Gallery.
Any trip to Leesburg warrants meandering through the quaint downtown for shopping and dining, and there are closeby historical spaces like Morven Park to explore. For those looking to learn about the culture and the history of the area, there are online walking tours via the TourLeesburg app which will start at any point of interest.
For breakfast through dinner, and brunch on the weekends, the pleasantly quirky Shoe’s Cup and Cork delivers sustainable and local meals and drinks in a historic repurposed shoe repair shop. With the 1920s and ‘30’s feel, the restaurant has multiple dining areas from a 1920’s speakeasy-inspired poker room upstairs to a casual cafe area and a secret garden with a full bocce court.
Casual restaurants abound in Downtown Leesburg with one of the most popular destinations being Puccio’s NY Deli who boasts “Big city taste without the traffic.” Their fresh housemade sides and hearty sandwiches are the perfect portable meal to eat on the go or to take to a nearby winery.
For a more upscale experience, visit the Lightfoot, winner of Wine Spectator’s 2018 award of excellence. Housed in a historic bank building, the elegant restaurant is known for its top-notch dishes like the honey ham biscuits and “atomic crab cake” as well as for its creativity with dishes like the Peking duck quesadilla.
Leesburg Public House is the place to stop for drinks to sip alongside crafty dishes like Thai chili cauliflower or seared peppered scallops with house smoked pork belly. The bar boasts 33 craft beers on tap, and the cocktails and wine list are impressive as well.
While visiting Downtown Leesburg could occupy a day on its own, there are opportunities for a more rural experience as well. Beer enthusiasts will enjoy a trip to Jonathan Staples’ Vanish Brewery which operates with a plant-to-pint philosophy, using ingredients from their own farm. The tasting room offers up to 20 beers as well as cider, red and white wines, and wine cocktails alongside a food menu of pizza, bbq, sandwiches, and snacks.
Named by Travel and Leisure magazine as one of the top 25 wineries in the United States in 2018, Zephaniah Farm Vineyard is only five miles from Leesburg and Stone Tower Winery is just shy of 7 miles from the heart of downtown. For a culinary experience, The Winery and Vineyard at Lost Creek is focused on pairing their 100% Virginia wines with a farm to table small plate pairing menu. Winery 32 also features a bistro menu to pair with their wine with all menu items prepared by chef/winemaker Michael Moosher and clocking in at an affordable $10.
From a quaint downtown to rural spots to relax, Leesburg, like Manassas and Middleburg, has no shortage of ways to savor the serenity that some parts of Northern Virginia have to offer.
Become an expert on Virginia Vineyards by checking out the Virginia Wine Travel Journal!