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Off-the-Mall Day Trips from Washington, D.C., to Satisfy Your Wacky Side

Enjoy a magically weird day at fairytale-themed park near Washington, D.C. (Photo: Alamy)

Without a doubt, a trip to Washington, D.C., will satisfy your need for history and culture. But if you plan it right, you can also pack in a healthy dose of the wacky, weird and downright unusual. From ghost ships rising out of the Potomac and life-sized dinosaurs to Civil War–era medical equipment and the most unusual Civil War dioramas you’ve ever seen, you can’t afford not to stray off the beaten path of the National Mall. Welcome to Washington’s wacky side.

The Enchanted Forest at Clark’s Elioak Farm

Originally a fairytale-themed competitor to Disneyland, The Enchanted Forest now consists of more than 100 recently refurbished attractions. While it will never again compete with the Magic Kingdom (it gave up all hope in the early 1990s), it still offers a magically weird day among such favorites as Cinderella’s pumpkin coach, the Old Woman’s Shoe house and the cottage of the three little bears.

Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum

Washington, D.C.
Take a trip back in time at the Stabler and Leadbeater family pharmacy outside Washington, D.C. (Photo: Alamy)

What sorts of medicines were ingested by the likes of Martha Washington, Nelly Custis and Robert E. Lee? Peruse the journals and ledgers of the former Stabler and Leadbeater family pharmacy to find out. Walking into this drugstore-turned-museum will feel like a trip back in time. The building has been left just as it was when it closed in 1933, after more than a century in business. Everything right down to the contents of the medicine bottles has been left in place, delighting fans of PBS’s “Mercy Street” and Civil War buffs alike.

Civil War Diorama Museum

Prefer your Civil War history with a bit less medicine and a bit more battle? Set in what was previously an orphanage for children of Civil War soldiers, the Civil War Diorama Museum features historically accurate representations of major Civil War battles. Well, historically accurate except for one small detail — every soldier (and there are more than 3,000 of them) is a clay model of a cat. Get your history lesson with a feline perspective.

Dinosaur Land

Washington, D.C.
RAWR! Fear not, despite evidence to the contrary, you’re be safe from T-Rex at Dinosaur Land. (Photo: Alamy)

The dinosaur exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History is closed for renovations until 2019. But that doesn’t mean your D.C. trip must go on completely devoid of the prehistoric. More than 50 larger-than-life dinosaurs await at Dinosaur Land, about an hour and a half from downtown Washington, D.C. by car. The enormous fiberglass dinos (plus a King Kong and a giant shark) don’t animate, flash or interact. But that shouldn’t stop you from pretending you’re in a real-life Jurassic Park being chased by a hungry Velociraptor.

The Ghost Fleet of Mallows Bay

Mallows Bay Park in Charles, Maryland, offers a scenic respite from the bustle of Washington, D.C., with kayaking, hiking and fishing. But you’ll also go here to see views of the Northern Hemisphere’s largest ship graveyard. Known as the WWI Ghost Fleet, the ships were meant to be part of an emergency fleet ordered by Woodrow Wilson. But before their day in battle arrived, the war ended, and the ships never set sail.

Over the decades that followed, nature took hold, transforming the forgotten ships into islands and reefs, home to fish, turtles and osprey. Drive an hour south of the District to find this perfect setting for a surreal, if not slightly spooky, day.

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