Trip Overview: The quaint, riverside town of Occoquan, Virginia in Prince William County is a quintessential day trip that has it all– rich colonial history dating back to the 1700s, some serious small town charm, boutique shops, great dining and a relaxed, waterfront vibe. And the best part? It’s all a mere 35 minutes drive from downtown Washington DC.
I recently day-tripped to Occoquan for my first-ever visit and was blown away by this gem. I couldn’t believe it was so close by yet was so under my radar. I truly loved visiting Occoquan and look forward to returning many times in the future!
Time needed: 3-6 hours
Distance from DC: Around 50 miles, roundtrip
Best time to visit: Year round
Best suited for: Solo Day-Trippers, Friends, Families, Couples, People with Pets… this trip is for everyone
DC DAY TRIP TO OCCOQUAN, VIRGINIA
1.) Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge (13950 Dawson Beach Road, Woodbridge, VA 22191– $2.00 fee per car)
Kick off your day trip just outside of historic Occoquan at a spot that’s filled with nature and serenity. The Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge has miles of flat walking trails through grasslands, marshland and along a picturesque waterside trail. It feels like a real escape out of the city, and don’t forget your camera! Visitors can expect to see an array of wildlife– from turtles, butterflies and snakes, to eagles, ospreys, herons, songbirds and other waterfowl.
TIP: Don’t miss the photo blind on Marumsco Creek or the observation platform overlooking the Potomac River.
2.) Lunch at Bottle Stop in Historic Occoquan (311 Mill St, Occoquan, VA 22125)
Occoquan’s historic district is a quick 10 minute drive from the wildlife refuge. Parking is free (yes, FREE!) and plentiful throughout the town. Occoquan is fairly small– just about 3 blocks by 4 blocks– but there is a LOT of things to do packed into this small area.
First, head to Bottle Stop Wine Bar for lunch and a complimentary wine tasting inside at their wine shop. Don’t miss the flat bread pizzas and the extensive offering of “nibbles”– small bites meant to pair perfectly with their impressive list of wines and craft beers. There’s also a whimsically-themed wine flight that changes weekly.
3.) Window shopping throughout Occoquan
Now that you’re well fed, it’s time to shop! Take some time to wander the streets in Occoquan and enjoy discovering the character of the old buildings, stopping in the shops, listening to street performers, trying more wines at the many wine tasting spots or sitting in the waterfront gazebo in Mamie Davis Park.
4.) Hit the water with a cruise on a pontoon boat
At this point, you could feel like you’ve seen pretty much all that Occoquan has to offer. But if you want to keep on day-tripping, Occoquan has some fun activities that can to take you well into dinnertime.
On nice days, there’s really nothing better than hitting the water on a boat. Rivershore Charters offers hour-long guided river tours along the Occoquan River on their 46-person pontoon boats. As you pass by multi-million dollar homes, the captain shares lots of tidbits about regional history and local stories.
(Tours are offered every Saturday and Sunday from 12 noon till 1 hr before dark. Tickets are $12/ adult, $6/ children 4-12)
5.) Try not to get spooked on an Occoquan ghost tour
Some believe that Occoquan’s old homes and even older history provides fertile ground for spirits and things that go bump in the night. Haunted Occoquan‘s Kay Pietrewicz leads a nightly tour and shares the stories and the history behind some of the town’s most well-known ghosts, including an apparition of a Dogue Native American man that appears in a local restaurant, a street corner that has been known to have loitering Civil War soldiers and a young woman that died of a broken heart and haunts others in love to this day.
(Tours cost $12/ adult, $6/ 6-12. Tours last 1 1/2 hours and are offered Wednesday through Saturday at 8 pm, and Saturday only at 4 pm. Reserve tours in advance here.)
Before heading back to the city, consider grabbing a bite at one of Occoquan’s other dining standouts.
Madigan’s offers a seafood-focused menu with casual, waterfront seating and lots of ambiance. While Cock and Bowl pours up an impressive selection of over 60 Belgium brews alongside traditional bistro classics like mussels, steak frites and 7 different kinds of Belgian waffles. (YUM!)
**DISCLAIMER: Many of my meals and activities for this DC Day Trip were provided by the Prince William County/ Manassas Convention & Visitors Bureau. I worked closely with my contacts there to customize an itinerary that best fit my travel perspective and all opinions are my own.**