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11 MILITARY REC SITES FOR YOUR NEXT VACATION

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Welcome to The Great Place! You have orders to Fort Hood, Texas, one of the largest military installations in the country. Fort Hood lives up to the saying, "Everything is bigger in Texas." You will see this with the vast spaces, houses, CAV patches, as well as great traditions you will come to love.

What do you need to know before you purchase those cowboy boots and head to the Lone Star state? See below for a list of pertinent information, unique customs, and a list of local points of interest all within your reach, then head over to PCSgrades.com to start your housing research or get connected with an A-graded REALTOR!

WHERE IS FORT HOOD?

First things first, Fort Hood is centrally located in Texas about an hour north of Austin and 3 hours south of Dallas. The base is enormous and spans 3 cities when including the training areas, but the central city that houses Fort Hood is Killeen. Harker Heights is to the east and Copperas Cove is to the west, rounding out the other parts of the post. The training and cantonment area combined to cover a whopping 340 square miles, rivaling most of America's larger cities. Fort Hood is also the largest single-site employer in the entire state of Texas with an estimated 45,414 assigned service members and 8,909 civilian employees. That means lots of people, lots of traffic, all converging in one area every day.

FORT HOOD HOUSING

ON POST

Fort Hood housing is privatized and managed by Winn Companies. Homes range from townhomes to duplexes to single-family homes. West Fort Hood and a few other neighborhoods are considered "on base" but are located about 1-2 miles from the main base and can be easily accessed through multiple gates. Some of these neighborhoods are open to non-military families and not all have gate guards. To see updated photos and read reviews of the neighborhood your family would qualify for, click here. Fort Hood is located in Killeen and Copperas Cove, TX. On base housing is available for all ranks. However, not all neighborhoods fall within the main cantonment area with some communities being across the highway and not having gate guards. Check out photos of all the Ft Hood housing neighborhoods at PCSgrades.com.

OFF POST

The average cost per square foot in the Fort Hood area (Killeen, Harker Heights, Copperas Cove) is around $76, making it a very attractive place to buy a home. Many service members capitalize on the low mortgages and purchase to maximize their BAH. Another bonus…there are no state taxes for Texas! While it is not required to update your Home of Record, Texas has no state taxes, so making the switch will put some extra cash in your pocket! To read reviews from fellow military families on where to live off post, click here.

FORT HOOD WEATHER

You will experience two seasons at Fort Hood: hot and hotter. With mild winters and hot summers, it's rare you will experience all four seasons. With numerous water parks, pools, and lakes in the area to keep you cool, most people don't seem to mind the break from the cold weather. Stay hydrated and just get used to applying that sunscreen, even during Christmas break!

FORT HOOD AMENITIES

There are two large Commissaries and Exchanges located on each side of the main post, and the brand new Carl R. Darnell Army Medical Center opened in March 2016. Seven Elementary schools and two Middle Schools are located on post also. High Schools students living on post are zoned for Killeen High School or Shoemaker High School. Fort Hood also has many medical facilities, pharmacies, restaurants, parks, and pools on the post.

CULTURE AND CUSTOMS

FOOD AND BEVERAGE

One Texas landmark you will come to love is the grocery store H-E-B. Though it may be the only show in town, excluding Walmart and the Commissary, it will never disappoint. H-E-B sells every product you can imagine at low prices and houses a vast array of local Texas wines and beers. After experiencing it once, you will never want to shop anywhere else again.

As for local cuisine, Texas is home to some fantastic BBQ, all things Tex-Mex to include breakfast burritos, and Texas kolaches. What is a Texas kolache you might ask? It's a giant pastry stuffed with meat that you can get with cheese and jalapeños. If you are feeling thirsty after your local cuisine, head to one of the many drive-thru daiquiri bars. (Yep, you read that right… but as always, be responsible and don't drink and drive!) Each city in the Fort Hood area boasts a least one! If you would like something a little more elegant than the local "Brew Thru" you can head to any of the local wineries in the surrounding area. Did I mention Fort Hood loves its local wine and beer?

FORT HOOD TRADITIONS

Fort Hood has so many traditions that you find yourself quickly falling in love with the pomp. First, you have the Cavalry charges! Picture this scenario: cannon shoots, bugle sounds, horses running, guns firing in the air and everyone screaming "CHARGE" as the donkey-drawn wagon brings up the rear. You will feel like you are in an old western. Also, every Friday is "Stetson Friday" on base. That means that from Private on up, you remove your service cap and put on a giant Stetson (aka cowboy) hat. Complimenting that Stetson is either a gold or silver set of spurs, but don't go and buy them, those are earned either through a deployment or a Spur Ride. It's all very John Wayne and romantic.

The cities that make up the greater Fort Hood area are also very military friendly. The Independent School Districts (ISD), are sponsored by units on base and soldiers volunteer their time at those schools. Soldiers typically have late calls and can take their kids to school on the first day. Have a parent deploying or coming home on a school day? No problem! Schools treat this as an excused absence. You are not truly a local until you have a family bluebonnet photo. Bluebonnets are the cherished state flower of Texas and bloom for a few weeks each year. You will see photographers and families pulling off the side of the highway when they spot a "bluebonnet field" all to get that perfect shot.

ATTIRE

Texas casual is an actual dress code that will come on event invitations. What does it mean? Jeans and cowboy boots are not only acceptable but encouraged. When in Rome, right? In addition to the boots, you will also see lots of large belt buckles, spurs, and Texas ties.

Homecoming Mums. You are in for a treat if you have never seen or heard of this practice that seems only to take place in Texas. Students will wear giant "mums" attached to their clothes during homecoming week and the contraption consists of anything and everything. They vary from small to large and have ribbons hanging off of them (typically one ribbon per year in school) and can even be blinged out with lights. The sky is the limit with how you decorate your mum. Guys give them to their homecoming dates; girls give them to guys in garter form to wear on their arm, and parents can make a killing if they design and sell these!

Stationed at Fort Hood? Pay it forward with a neighborhood review!

AREA ATTRACTIONS NEAR FORT HOOD

Since Fort Hood is located in Central Texas, you have access to some amazing surrounding cities all within a few hours drive.

GEORGETOWN (45-MINUTE TRIP)

Georgetown is a quaint town you will pass on your way to Austin. It has a beautiful city square with local shops, antiques, and excellent restaurants. Not in the mood to shop? Head to the local winery and relax with a wine tasting.

AUSTIN (1-HOUR TRIP)

Austin is not only the Capitol of Texas but known as the music capital of the world. There is so much to do in Austin that you will need to make more than one trip. You can attend a music festival, watch the bats fly off the Congress Avenue Bridge, visit the Lyndon B Johnson Presidential Library, swim in Barton Springs Pool, pose in front of the famous "I love you so much" wall, or catch a University of Texas football game. The options are endless in Austin.

DALLAS (2.5-HOUR TRIP)

Dallas is a large city that deserves more than one trip to accomplish the checklist of events that the town has to offer. The most notable attractions include the JFK History Tour that ends in Dealey Plaza, the George W. Bush Presidential Library, the Dallas World Aquarium, Cowboys football games, Rangers baseball games, the Dallas Zoo and many more parks and museums.

SAN ANTONIO (2.5-HOUR TRIP)

What a fun place to visit! Military families love to take a weekend trip to San Antonio and visit the local attractions. The Riverwalk, lined with colorful umbrellas, restaurants, boat tours, and much more. Or head to Sea World and check out the aquatic life (they even have a great military discount program!). Probably the most visited site in San Antonio would be the Alamo. Just don't ask to see the basement.

HOUSTON (3-HOUR TRIP)

Houston is also home to the (NASA) Space Center Houston, Houston Zoo, Houston Museum of Natural Science, the Astros baseball team, the Downtown Aquarium, and the Children's Museum… just to name a few. Or take a boat tour and participate in one of the many crawfish boils the city hosts.

GALVESTON (4-HOUR TRIP)

Galveston is also where many families like to escape and enjoy a nice beach vacation. You can simply enjoy Island Time in a beach chair or shop around, tour the Moody Gardens, or head to the Lone Star Flight Museum and check out the historical air crafts and artifacts. Galveston is also a major port of call to hop on a cruise ship and take an extended vacation!

This post sponsored by PCSgrades.

You have orders to Southeast Arizona! Living out west may be going home for you or, like many military families, it might be a brand new adventure. Living in a desert climate can be quite a different experience if you have never done it before. Knowledge of Arizona geography is usually limited to the Grand Canyon, Phoenix and maybe Tucson. In fact, if you have orders to Fort Huachuca (Sierra Vista), you might have to really search the map. Southeast of Tucson you say? Is there really something southeast of Tucson in the US? Sure enough, and it's called "High Desert" which is something you may not even know exists! We have put together some information we hope will help you learn more about this desert area you are about to call home!

IMPORTANT INFO

Snowbirds – Arizona has a huge retirement community. From military retirees to golfers, there is a definite influx of an older generation when the snow starts hitting the northern states. It isn't a huge deal as rush hour traffic isn't that bad to start with in most areas, with the exception of the Phoenix area. The real challenge is that the base pharmacies are not staffed for these military retirees, so starting in October there are generally longer lines. Oh, and for those who are looking for off-season tee times, that happens in July in Arizona.

Weather – Yes, it's hot. Very hot in the summer. Average temperatures in Sierra Vista/Fort Huachuca in June hit 100. You can easily watch the temperature rise 10 to 15 degrees as you drive north towards Tucson. Sierra Vista is about 5,000 miles above sea level and it makes it much cooler than Phoenix. And it is, in fact, a dry heat. Some folks prefer the dry heat to humidity, but it can be a real adjustment for some people. Staying hydrated and taking care of your skin is a must when you live in any part of Arizona. And sunscreen? It is an absolute requirement year-round. You will burn fast in this part of the state as there is little shade and the sun is intense. Many playgrounds are covered for this reason… but please, lather on that sunscreen

Does it ever rain, is it ever cold? Actually, yes… in some parts of the state more than others. Monsoon season lasts from mid-June to mid-August. It rains almost every day, bringing in some cooler temps and greenery. You will experience more frequent rain in Sierra Vista and Tucson than in Phoenix, of course. In the high-desert area of Sierra Vista it snows in the winter, but usually not until after January. It's not uncommon to see snow on the beautiful mountains in the distance, and it might even snow in your yard a couple of times… as late as mid-March. Snow in Phoenix is not likely, and in Tucson it might happen briefly.


Wildlife – The farther south you go in Arizona, the more interesting wildlife you see. Bugs, spiders (and yes, tarantulas during monsoon season!), snakes and the most talked about animal: the javelina. These wild pig like creatures are particularly amusing to those of us non-locals. They are pretty ugly, smell bad, and are not scared of anything. They torment the dogs and are smart enough to know when trash day is. They work together to knock over the trash cans so they can root through and make a huge mess. They can even get bungee cords off of the cans. But when you're safe inside watching them walk down the street, it's a treat. They are pack animals and can be aggressive, so steer clear.The Javelina!

It is also not uncommon to hear about sightings of "urban wildlife" on the bases here. Wildcats, bears, deer… many of them come down off of the mountain at certain times of the year, especially if wildfires have impacted their habitat. It is why folks are encouraged to keep trash cans inside your garage in this area, and why it is important to keep an eye on family pets. Yes, small dogs have been known to disappear when a large bird swoops down and yanks them right out of their yard!

CUSTOMS AND TRADITIONS

Food & Beverage – You're going to see a lot of wine in Southeastern Arizona. Yes! The desert is good for growing something! Vineyards stretch from Tucson east to Wilcox and south through Sonoita. Wine tours, wine tasting and festivals are popular throughout the late spring and into the fall months. Sierra Vista is also host to a fantastic wine tasting shop, owned and operated by a military spouse! Even if you're settling in Tucson, it's worth the trip down 90 to try out Hoppin' Grapes. Tell Kristine we sent you.Prickly Pear, sold in grocery stores for cooking!

You will also get to experience different food items while you are here. Arizona is home to some of the oldest documented food traditions in North America. Meats are often smoked with mesquite wood, giving it a unique flavor. You might find syrups and jellies made from the Prickly Pear Cactus, you won't want to miss eating a Sonoran Hot Dog (dog wrapped in bacon and topped with beans and other condiments), and of course Mexican cuisine is popular in the area. Yum!

Arizona Casual – The dress code down here in Arizona is pretty casual compared to the East Coast. Even in the business world, you'll rarely see a business suit. For starters, it's just too hot, and the atmosphere is much more casual. In fact, even casual is casual. Khaki shorts are very common in the summer and flip flops are a fashion staple. Office wear is generally closer to golf attire in the summer. Almost everything is more casual in Arizona.

POINTS OF INTEREST

Tombstone – Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp, and Johnny Ringo liked Tombstone, and that should be reason enough to check it out. Staged gunfights fill the dusty streets, whisky flows from the saloons, and western legend look-alikes wander the streets in the most authentic western town left in the US. Visitors like to have old-time photos taken, visit Big Nose Kate's, and try out one of the many tours. This is absolutely worth the drive!

Sedona – One of the most naturally beautiful places in the country is a half-day drive from the Tucson area. Red Rock National Park, the famous Bell Rock, and Slide Rock "water slide" is open and ready for visitors. Pink Jeep tours are a highly recommended way to see the sites and one of the most popular restaurants is Elote, which is famous for its fire-roasted corn dip. Definitely add this place to your list and get there early, no reservations accepted.

Bisbee – Tucked into the Mule Mountains about 90 minutes from Tucson and 30 from Fort Huachuca, Bisbee is a unique world. Established due to the copper and precious metal mines, Bisbee is a blast from the past these days. It's well preserved as a twentieth century town and offers a cooler climate and creative spirit. Check out the Bisbee Breakfast Club to start your day off with a wonderful meal and stroll the streets for antiques, fun wares and wine-tasting. In October Bisbee hosts the "Bisbee 1000," which is a foot race spanning about 4 miles and 10 staircases throughout town… 1000 stairs total! It's a full-town event that you won't want to miss!

Phoenix – There is so much to do in Phoenix, it's impossible to pick just one thing to visit. The Zoo is wonderful, and can easily take a day to wander through. The Arizona Trail is a favorite here, which features the wildlife that are commonly seen throughout the state. There are also many options for hiking, sports, and museums, including the Hall of Flame Fire Museum and the Arizona Science Center. It may seem silly to drive a few hours for a weekend, but it opens up opportunities for lots of exploring time. In both Phoenix and Arizona you will find many hotel chains that are like mini-water parks! Multiple pools, splash pads, slides, lazy river rapids… all a chance to spend sometime in a "beach" environment despite the lack of water in the state!

Tucson – Reid Park Zoo is a favorite in the area, and can be seen in full in about 3 hours time. Military members can get a year-long pass that pays for itself in just a couple of visits. The Gas Light Theatre is a great place for a family dinner theatre experience, and there are many national parks, museums and canyons to explore.

Aircraft Boneyard – Beginning after World War II as a storage area for aircraft, this has turned into the largest aircraft boneyard in the world. Featuring over 4,400 various aircraft, this is a great place to wander around and see some old classics. Tours are available through the Pima Air & Space Museum (Tucson) and last about an hour and a half. Frequently throughout the year, there are special events held there, including a foot race in the spring.

A little bit further down the road – While you are stationed in this part of the country, there are a few vacation destinations you will not want to miss. The Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, and the Hoover Dam are must-sees while you are here. Additionally, it may only take you 8 hours or so to reach the California coast where there are tons of places to visit!

MILITARY BASES

Arizona is home to three active duty military bases and two of them are located in the Southeast corner of the state. Both are historic in their own way and both have large retirement populations, as jobs are specialized here and the weather (as we've mentioned) is appealing to many.

Davis-Monthan Air Force Base – Located on the eastern side of Tucson, Davis-Monthan, or DM as it's often referred to, plays host to A-10s. Housing is open to all ranks and the amenities include sports facilities, a roller hockey rink, and a splash park. A lot of active duty and retiree families make the trip to DM to use the large BX and commissary. There are two elementary schools on the installations, both of which are part of the Tucson Unified School District. Child care on the installation typically has a nine-month wait, and recreation facilities are plentiful.

Fort Huachuca – About 40 miles east out of Tucson, you'll see a sign for Fort Huachuca. (Don't worry, it takes a while to learn the pronunciation: Wah-Chew-Ca) 30 miles south from I-10 is where you'll find it. Fort Huachuca, or Fort We-gotcha as it is affectionally called, is a training installation primarily training the next generation of intelligence officers and soldiers. Base housing is privatized and available to all ranks. Historic homes and new housing bring together a community that is close-knit despite the seemingly constant turnover. The school district on post is separate from the city schools, and has an elementary school for K-2, one for 3-5, and a new, technologically advanced middle school. Two off-post options for high schools are available, with transportation from the installation.

This post sponsored by PCSguides.

Maybe you've been able to avoid the assignment for several years, or have been dying to move to the area, but now the orders are official! If you are depending on a typical duty station experience, you may be disappointed. Most agree the National Capital Region is unlike any duty station you've had in the past.

Get ready to enjoy this unique experience full of history, politics, inside the beltway traditions and patriotism like you've never seen before! After you read the rundown of the Nation's Capital below, head to PCSgrades.com for neighborhood reviews with photos and maps to help you pick the perfect part of town for you.

WHERE IS THE PENTAGON?

While you may hear people say they are PCSing to Washington D.C. for an assignment at the Pentagon, this unique building is actually located across the Potomac River in Arlington, Virginia. You've seen large bases and posts but when you park at the Pentagon, it gets tricky remembering your parking space among the 67 acres of parking lots, which accommodate over 8,700 vehicles.

The Pentagon itself is indeed impressive. This concrete structure featuring seven floors, two below ground and five above, is the largest office building in the world, covering 34 acres. It is double the size of the Empire State Building. Nearly 30,000 military and civilian employees share 691 water fountains and 284 bathrooms. There are no elevators in the Pentagon. Ramps accommodate those moving from floor to floor. Pentagon tours are offered which are always a hit with out of town guests.

HOUSING

There are many options for housing in the National Capital Region. Although, depending on where you are coming from, there may be sticker shock as the DC suburbs feature seven of the country's 10 richest counties. There is no on-base housing at the Pentagon. However, there are several nearby military installations that offer housing options. These include:

Joint Base Anacostia–Bolling in Southeast Washington, D.C.
Joint Base Andrews in Prince George's County Maryland
Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall in Arlington, Virginia
Fort Belvoir in Fairfax County, Virginia

Housing takes many forms in the National Capital Region. Single family homes, townhouses, condos and apartments can be found in both urban and rural settings a short distance from downtown.

NOVA (NORTHERN VIRGINIA)

  • Arlington and the city of Alexandria, Virginia are inside the beltway.
  • Fairfax County, Virginia (Falls Church, Reston, Tysons Corner, McLean, Great Falls, Fairfax, Fairfax Station, Lorton, Oakton, Springfield, Burke, Annandale, Chantilly, Centreville and Clifton) is the largest county in the Washington, D.C. area. It falls inside and outside the beltway and is home to George Mason University.
  • Loudoun County, Virginia includes Sterling, Ashburn, Potomac Falls, Countryside, Middleburg, South Riding, Hamilton and Dulles International Airport.
  • Prince William County, Virginia includes Woodbridge, Dumfries, Haymarket, Occoquan, Lake Ridge, Manassas and Manassas City.

MARYLAND

  • Montgomery County, Maryland includes Bethesda, Rockville, Silver Spring and Wheaton
  • Prince George's County is home to the University of Maryland, government agencies like NASA and the Department of Agriculture, as well as the Washington Redskins Bowie, Brentwood, Capitol Heights and Cheverly College Park.

Prices vary widely depending on the state and county you choose to live in. If you work with a PCSgrades reviewed realtor,you'll find there is a rental or mortgage to fit every BAH.

WASHINGTON D.C. WEATHER

There are four distinct seasons in Washington D.C. and the surrounding areas. Winters are relatively mild with an average snow fall of 15.4 inches, three quarters of it falling in January and February. Springtime is preferred as tourists travel from around the world to see the cherry blossoms along the Tidal Basin. These delicate flowering trees only bloom for a couple weeks out of the year. Summers can be as steamy as the politics with temperatures rising above 100 on some days in July and August. The mild temps tend to stick around in September and October. But by Halloween the fall foliage is in its full splendor with the vivid colors of autumn.

BAH WASHINGTON DC

Your BAH may not stretch as far living in the DMV, (the District, Maryland or Virginia). Depending on where you are PCSing from, you might have sticker shock when house hunting in the D.C. area. You will generally pay more for a home in the District of Columbia than in the suburbs of Maryland or northern Virginia, but they have lower property taxes.

In Prince George's County, MD the median price for a single family home rose 9.6 percent over the last year to $312,345. The average sales price in Fairfax County is $560,919; this is up 2.17 % from January of 2017. The housing market in both states is currently hugely competitive, and it's common for sellers to receive multiple bids.

To read the latest on the NOVA Housing Market, click here.

The good news is NOVA receives high marks for "its above-state-average school scores and a very low crime rate compared to the national average."

CULTURE AND CUSTOMS

There is, perhaps, no more a diverse duty station than Washington D.C. and the surrounding areas, providing for many unique experiences. From mid-September until Thanksgiving, and again from about mid-January to June, Congress is in session which means the hotels are full of guests and the restaurants and bars are enjoying a booming business. From mid-March through June, families and school groups pack the Tidal Basin to see the cherry blossoms and enjoy Washington's monuments. This is also high season for protest marches.

PASSPORT DC

May features a month-long celebration called Passport DC, which showcases more than 70 embassies and cultural organizations with tours and open houses. A summer highlight is the annual Fourth of July festivities. There is an Independence Day Parade along Constitution Avenue from 7th to 17th Streets NW and a Capitol Fourth Concert featuring world renowned musicians and vocalists at the U.S. Capitol west lawn. And of course, fireworks over the monuments are always memorable!

Speaking of monuments, almost every out of town visitor that you host during your time in D.C. will want to see "the monuments," and with good reason. From seeing all the names on the Vietnam Memorial wall, to climbing the massive steps to the Lincoln Memorial, to visiting the National 9/11 Memorial at the Pentagon, it never gets old.

THE COMMUTE

You think you have experienced traffic woes at other duty stations but the traffic in and around D.C. is near the worst in the nation according to most traffic studies. A typical NOVA commuter spends an additional 82 hours behind the wheel annually due to traffic delays, which is why many commuters use public transportation.

METRORAIL & METROBUS

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority operates the second largest rail transit system and the fifth largest bus network in the U. S. The system serves the District of Columbia, the Northern Virginia counties of Arlington, Fairfax, and Loudoun and the suburban Maryland counties of Montgomery and Prince George's.

CARPOOLS & VANPOOLS

Carpooling and vanpooling are also great options, especially for those commuting longer distances. These commuting options offer excellent cost savings and can cut commuting time through the use of HOV (high occupancy vehicle) lanes.

ONLY IN DC!

A unique form of commuting referred to as 'slugging', is very popular for those heading downtown or to the Pentagon each day. Drivers needing additional passengers to meet the required three-person HOV minimum, stop to pick up passengers as they stand in a 'slug line'. The driver displays a sign featuring the destination or calls out the destination through an open window. No money is exchanged as all parties benefit from the arrangement. It's been referred to as the "safe way to hitchhike" and has its own set of etiquette rules.

LOCAL CUISINE

With an international flavor and the fact that many people living in and around D.C. are originally from somewhere else, the cuisine is eclectic to say the least. In the mood for Salvadoran food? It's here! Want to try Ethiopian cuisine? We got it! How about Indonesian? Yep! Regional specialties include: blue crabs from Maryland and peanuts and country ham from Virginia. There is no need to dine at the same place twice with so much variety available in the D-M-V!

AREA ATTRACTIONS

Despite being a major urban area, it is not a concrete jungle. There are many outdoor areas to enjoy, including:

Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historic Park
This park dates back to the 18th century. The canal and towpath trail extends from Georgetown, Washington D.C. to Cumberland, Maryland – a distance of 184.5 miles. You will find outdoor recreation, picnicking, bicycling, fishing, boating and hiking at this great location.

Georgetown Waterfront Park
This park sits along the Potomac River and visitors can enjoy picnicking, bicycling and skating.

Rock Creek Park
Extending 12 miles from the Potomac River to the border of Maryland, the National Zoo is also located within Rock Creek Park. There is lots to do including: picnicking, hiking, biking, rollerblading, tennis, fishing, and horseback riding.

Great Falls National Park
With 800 acres along the banks of the Potomac River in northern Fairfax County, this park offers whitewater kayaking and canoeing. There are also fifteen miles of scenic hiking trails, five of which are multi-use for horseback riding, hiking and biking. Additionally, you can experience rock climbing on the cliffs in Mather Gorge above the Potomac. The falls total 76 feet over a series of major cascades.

Mason Neck State Park
Located in southern Fairfax County, about 20 miles from Washington D.C., visitors to this park can enjoy hiking trails, a large picnic area, a playground, a car-top canoe launch, bicycle rentals and bird watching.

DAY TRIPS

Annapolis, Maryland
Just 32 miles away, it will take you about an hour to drive here where you can enjoy this gorgeous town with quaint restaurants and the Naval Academy!

Shenandoah National Park & Luray Caverns, Virginia
Another three hour drive at about 120 miles away, the park is located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, west of Washington, D.C. Skyline Drive is the only public road running through the Shenandoah National Park. Nearby Luray Caverns is the largest series of caverns in the east. This eerie underground world of stalactites and stalagmites is worth a day trip from NOVA.

St. Michael's, Maryland
Only 79 miles away, you can make this trip in about 1.5 hours. Maryland's Eastern Shore features crabs and scenic water views like no other!

Richmond, Virginia
The 108 mile, two-hour drive to the Virginia State Capital is a nice day-trip if you are in the mood for a thriving restaurant scene and craft beer breweries

Lewes/Rehoboth Beach, Delaware
And finally, 121 miles and just 2.5 hours away by car, makes for a relaxing weekend. What can we say? It's the beach! Bring your sunscreen, flip flops and your bathing suit and enjoy!

This post sponsored by PCSgrades.

PCSing to coastal California is a dream assignment to some: beautiful weather, an abundance of things to see and do, and the Pacific ocean! And yes… there is also a higher cost of living than many areas you may have lived before. It means being stationed at the home of the 1st Marine Division, the oldest, largest and most decorated division in the United States Marine Corps. It's a large installation, spanning more than one county, and can be a different experience for many military families. So let's dive in and explore your new duty station, then head over to PCSgrades.com to for reviews for base housing, neighborhoods, and more!

WHERE IS CAMP PENDLETON

Camp Pendleton is nestled up against the Pacific Ocean, in between Los Angeles and San Diego, and sandwiched between Oceanside to the south, San Clemente to the north, and Fallbrook to the east. It boasts a coastal climate, with average low temps dipping into the 40s and highs reaching into the 80s.

Interstate 5 runs the entire length of Camp Pendleton against the Pacific, and Interstate 15 runs alongside the base to the east. I5 and I15 are connected south of the base by highways 76 and 78.

The Coaster is a commuter train that runs from Oceanside straight through San Diego and travels right next to the water. The Sprinter is a commuter train that runs from Oceanside inland to Escondido.

ON BASE AMENITIES

Naval Hospital – NHCP is a new facility, completed around 2012, and located on the south side of the installation.

Balboa – Balboa is another Naval Hospital located in San Diego, and houses some of the most advanced Naval medicine clinics on the west coast. It is the Bethesda equivalent, but with a more updated facility.

Post Exchange – the PX aboard Camp Pendleton is also new, located near NHCP, and boasts a Dunkin Donuts, among several smaller niche shops.

Commissary – there are two commissaries aboard Camp Pendleton, one on the south side of base and one on the north side of base. The commissary on the north side of base is significantly smaller but less busy. The cost of living in California can be high, so many families exclusively shop for groceries on base to save money.

Beaches – there are two beaches aboard Camp Pendleton: San Onofre and Del Mar. San Onofre offers beach rentals – cottages, RV sites, and camp sites. Del Mar offers Del Mar Resort, a brand new facility that advertises villas, campsites, cabanas, palapas and surf gear available for rent. They also provide services for weddings and other events.

Gyms – there are 13 fitness centers aboard Camp Pendleton. They are located in the 14, 21, 22, 23, 31, 33, 41, 44, 52, 53, and 62 areas, as well as the O'Neill Fitness Center and Paige Fieldhouse located on the main side. Hours vary by facility.

CAMP PENDLETON HOUSING

ON BASE

There are several housing choices aboard Camp Pendleton through Lincoln Military Housing: Wire Mountain, South Mesa, San Onofre, Del Mar, Forster Hills, O'Neill Heights, Pacific View, San Luis Rey, San Mateo, Santa Margarita, Serra Mesa and Stuart Mesa. Eligibility is determined by rank or GS level.

OFF BASE

Families who choose not to live in base housing often opt to live in the San Clemente, Oceanside or Fallbrook areas. CheckPCSgrades.com for photos and reviews from fellow military and veteran families on off-base housing/neighborhood options.

SCHOOLS

Inside Camp Pendleton, you will find what is referred to as 80/20 schools. This means that 80% of the student population is military or DoD related. Twenty percent are civilians from the surrounding area. The schools are held to DoD standards, which often more than exceed the state standards. There are five such elementary schools aboard Camp Pendleton. Middle school and high school students attend schools off base. Off base schools on the south and east sides of base generally, have a lower school rating from Great Schools than those on base and on the north side.

BAH AND COST OF LIVING

The median home cost in San Diego is $575,000 which is well above the national average making it a rather expensive place to buy.

CAMP PENDLETON WEATHER

The "rainy season" is winter, with the average annual rainfall a mere 13 inches. Don't let the lack of rain fool you, though. Due to lack of rain, roads are often incredibly slick when it rains, mostly as a result of oil from vehicles not being sufficiently washed away as would happen in an area with more rainfall. It is not uncommon for experienced drivers to be prone to accidents on roads that are well traveled, including the several interstates and major highways in the area.

CUSTOMS AND TRADITIONS

Camp Pendleton has all the same rules that other military installations have. Don't walk on the grass. Stop your car for the lowering of the flag. Don't use your phone while driving on base. Wear proper civilian attire – though the rule on close-toed shoes is generally waved at this installation due to the proximity of the beach.

Celebrities often visit the installation, where they generally enjoy some of the most respectful receptions around. Once, I walked out my back door to find Matthew McConaughy standing by my car chatting with my neighbors. Our family was cordially invited to participate in filming a commercial with him, and his crew was awesome. I've yet to run into a celebrity or crew on base who wasn't polite and gracious.

While the installation feels laid back because of its closeness to the beach (and its lack of closeness to Marine Corps Headquarters), the business aboard Camp Pendleton is incredibly and the. Don't off-road on the many dirt roads you'll find in seemingly random places, or you might find yourself in the middle of a hot range.

THE CROSSES

Atop a 1st Sgt's Hill near Camp Horno, stands the crosses that were, at one point, heroically saved by a group of Marines from 3/5 during one of the many wildfires in recent years. The crosses are memorials erected by Marines in honor of their fallen in Iraq and Afghanistan.

5TH MARINES MEMORIAL GARDEN

Every infantry Marine aboard Camp Pendleton will, at some point, visit the 5th Marines Memorial Garden. It is open to everyone who finds themselves stationed aboard the installation, whether active duty or family. It is located on the north side of Camp Pendleton, at Camp San Mateo.

LOCAL CUISINE

Californians are all about delicious food. You'll find that In-n-Out has die-hard fans. Beach Break Cafe is famed as the best breakfast in town. And Chronic Taco is a local favorite. Ruby's Diner serves amazing fish tacos. The Jolly Roger has a great view of the harbor. And Harbor Fish and Chips has delicious fresh food.

There are hundreds of little independent eateries dotting the beach from Camp Pendleton down to San Diego. If you love food, you should make it your mission to hit as many of them as possible.

AREA ATTRACTIONS

THE SUNSET MARKET

This market is a weekly occurrence year round. People travel from all over to take part in the festivities that include food, entertainment, shopping, and even a family-friendly KidZone.

OCEANSIDE PIER

The famed pier is a busy location and a tourist hotspot. It is located in the heart of Oceanside.

PENDLETON PAINTBALL PARK

Located aboard the installation on Vandergrift Blvd, this paintball park is open to ages 10 and up, with hours Friday to Sunday, from 0830 – 1700. They take private reservations 7 days a week for groups of 15 or more.

CAMP PENDLETON PLAYLAND

Located next to the paintball park. Camp Pendleton Playland features a zip line, laser tag, several bounce houses and more. It's only open on weekends from 1000 – 1700.

MARINE MEMORIAL GOLF COURSE

Near the paintball park, the course is open from 0630 – 1630 during the winter and 0600 – 1800 during the summer. Rates depend on rank.

OTHER IDEAS

There are a lot of other things to do around Camp Pendleton, as SoCal is rich in perfect weather. Other places to visit while stationed aboard Camp Pendleton are Knott's Berry Farm (which converts to Knott's Scary Farm for Halloween), Lego Land, and Universal Studios. Of course, Disneyland is always a favorite. The weather is nearly always perfect for whatever plans you have.

If you need more info about the area, go to PCSgrades.com where you can see what other military families think about Camp Pendleton and the entire area. Enjoy your time aboard the installation!

This post sponsored by PCSgrades.

So you've accepted orders and are PCS'ing to Texas A&M at College Station. Gig'Em! Here's the information you need to make your A&M tour rock:

PERTINENT INFO

College Station is one half of a set of twin cities known as Bryan-College Station. The twin cities are the 11th largest metropolitan area in Texas, but you wouldn't know it from the town itself, as it is cleverly disguised as a small college town surrounded by farmland and ranches.

Bryan-College Station (BCS) rests quietly in Central Texas, roughly 2 hours north of Houston, 2 hours east of Austin, and 3 hours south of Dallas. It boasts a subtropical climate, with average low temps dipping into the 40s and highs reaching into the triple digits.

The local area sees rain year round, with July averaging 2 inches of rain, and October averaging about 5 inches. Winters are mild, lasting approximately 2 months, and summers are long, generally warming up early March and staying hot until mid-October.

BCS is smack dab in between I-10, I-35, and I-45, with highways 6, 21, and 190 branching out from the BCS area to meet the interstates.

There is a small local airport, Easterwood Airport. It regularly has flights to and from Dallas and Houston and is open from 4am to 11pm.

WILD LIFE

BCS is surrounded by farms and ranches, so the typical wildlife should be expected, i.e.: snakes,
wild boar, spiders the size of your hand, rabbits, coyotes, and deer- just to name a few. Hunting is
a big deal in the Brazos Valley- which surrounds BCS, with permits issued for things like alligators, duck and goose, white tail deer, and snipes. While tempting to add them to the list of wildlife, college students do not fall into this category.

CUSTOMS AND TRADITIONS

It is impossible to be stationed at College Station without acknowledging and accepting that you will live and breathe Texas A&M for the duration of your time there.

Everywhere you go in BCS, you'll hear "howdy" being exchanged regularly, "WHOOP" is a proper response to almost everything, and "Gig'Em" is the equivalent of "Oohrah", "Hooah", or "Hooyah" and is said with one thumb up. Aggies (the residents of BCS) don't boo, rather- they hiss.

There is a saying in the Brazos Valley- if we've done it twice, it's a tradition. Some of the more popular traditions are putting a penny on Sully, proposing to your significant other under the Century Tree, attending the Bonfire Memorial, attending football games and tailgates at Kyle Field, and Silver Taps (monthly) and Muster (annually).

The Texas A&M Corps of Cadets is the largest Corps of Cadets as well as the largest producer of commissioned officers- outside of the service academies. Until 1965, participation in the Corps of Cadets was compulsory for attendance at A&M, but is now completely voluntary. Women were not accepted to the Corps of Cadets until 1974, after gaining admission to the University in 1963 on a limited basis.

IMG_7816The Fightin' Texas Aggie Band is the largest military marching band in the world, and is comprised of more than 400 cadets. They travel with the football team, as well as performing on their own at various events nationwide.

Yell Leaders– Texas A&M does not have female cheerleaders for its football team. Rather- it has Yell Leaders. Yell Leaders are traditionally 5 men, elected by the student body, and comprised of 3 seniors and 2 juniors from the Corps of Cadets. The Yell Leaders do not "perform cheers". Instead, they lead the crowds with a series of signals. A spectator will find that a hundred thousand plus people in a stadium can be directed to chant, motion, and move around on demand with a single hand motion from a Yell Leader.

12th Man– This is a point of contention with some fans of the Seattle Seahawks, but Aggies claim the 12th Man tradition so furiously that they trademarked the phrase in 1990. The story goes that, at an away game, the football team had sustained so many injuries that the team was at risk of being forced to forfeit the game. Rather than take a loss, the coach pulled a Cadet from the stands and ordered him to suit up. While the cadet never actually played, he was termed as "the twelfth man". Since then, the number 12 is practically a religious symbol to Aggies.

POINTS OF INTEREST

Memorial Student Center– Upon approaching the Memorial Student Center (MSC), one will be inundated with "Stay off the Grass" signs. If you find yourself on a swath of grass, someone from the MSC is destined to magically appear before you to correct the transgression. The MSC is dedicated to Fallen Aggies who've served in all branches of the military and have died in combat. It houses several galleries, halls, meeting rooms, gaming areas, piano rooms, and dining options.IMG_7817

One of the most respected spots at College Station will be the Hall of Honor inside the MSC, a hall that displays large photos and bios of 8 Aggies who received the Medal of Honor.

Bonfire Memorial– The memorial is located at the entrance of Texas A&M, and is comprised of 12 portals- commemorating the lives of the 12 students who were killed in a bonfire collapse in 1999. Eighty Nine stones are arranged south to north- to commemorate the 89 years of bonfires before the collapse. The year JFK was assassinated, the bonfire was cancelled in honor of the late president. Twenty seven stones that join the portals commemorate the 27 injured in the collapse.


IMG_7814Kyle Field– Don't call Kyle Field "The House that Johnny Built" or an Aggie might knife hand you. The stadium surrounding Kyle Field began the first stage of its most recent rebuild in 2013, seating 102,733 fans (though the record for attendees is actually 110,633) and becoming one of the 5 largest collegiate stadiums in the nation

Dixie Chicken– Dixie Chicken, located in North Gate, is a figure dating back to 1974. It isn't much to look at, with carvings on every available space of wood, but the food is delicious. IMG_7819Other must try eateries: Fuego, Laynes, Raising Cane's, Sodalaks Steakhouse.

Messina Hof Winery and Resort is located in Bryan, and is an award winning winery and B&B. The winery is run by the son of the founders (Paul and Merrill Bonarrigo) and his wife. The younger Paul is a Marine Veteran. If you are a Marine stationed at A&M, make sure to secure a ticket to the private Marine Corps Ball that Paul hosts every year at the winery. You won't be disappointed.

North Gate is located on the northern edge of the University, and is the entertainment go-to for the college crowd. It is a series of country bars, dives, and restaurants, notably the Dixie Chicken, Harry's, and Blackwater Draw Brewing Company (who boasts a killer brunch on Sunday mornings).

In 2014, College Station and Texas A&M were declared the Fittest College in America, and it's no wonder. The town has more gyms than bars, and more running clubs than Greek clubs. BCS is home to the BCS Marathon, which pulls in runners from around the world. This writer once ran the BCS Half and while I did not die- I did meet people from around the world that I am only likely to meet again in Heaven.

MILITARY BASE INFO

There is no military installation in College Station, though there is a small National Guard outpost outside of Bryan. There are extremely limited services available here, to include an ID office. There is no commissary, military treatment facility, or exchange. Active duty personnel stationed at College Station and their dependents will be assigned a civilian PCM, and dependents will have a co-pay for all medications and treatments not completely covered by Tricare. This writer estimates the cost of medications monthly for my family averaged $100- $150, so plan accordingly if you accept orders to College Station.

College Station is a unique experience and one that military families are sure to remember with fond memories long after leaving the area.

This post sponsored by PCSgrades.

Your Fort Belvoir Area Guide

PCS

The Fort Belvoir homepage states: "A list of the organizations who call Fort Belvoir home reads like a 'Who's Who' of the Department of Defense." Often in the shadow of the Pentagon, there is perhaps no other Army installation in the world that can compare to Fort Belvoir's diverse mix of commands, activities and agencies. This northern Virginia military installation provides logistical, intelligence, and administrative support to a wide range of United States military organizations.

Here is out list of all the things you need to know before relocating to northern Virginia.

WHERE IS FORT BELVOIR?

The main post is located off Interstate 95 (exit 166), 12 miles south of Washington, D.C., 9 miles south of Alexandria, 7 miles north of Woodbridge, and 5 miles west of Lorton.

Fort Belvoir is home to nearly twice as many workers as the Pentagon and is the largest employer in Fairfax County. The post is actually comprised of three geographically distinct properties: the main post, Davison Army Airfield, and the Ft. Belvoir North Area.

Agencies headquartered at Ft. Belvoir include: the Defense Logistics Agency, the Defense Acquisition University, the Defense Contract Audit Agency, the Defense Technical Information Center, the United States Army Intelligence and Security Command, the United States Army Military Intelligence Readiness Command, the Missile Defense Agency, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, all agencies of the United States Department of Defense.

FORT BELVOIR HOUSING

On-post housing is privatized with two to five bedrooms available in new and historic housing in 15 different villages. Homes are available for military families from all branches of service assigned to local duty stations to include Fort Belvoir, Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, and the Pentagon. Select homes are also available for geographical bachelors and single soldiers E6 and above. All homes offer dishwashers, refrigerators, high-speed Internet connection and electric washer/dryer connections.

If you have lived in on-post housing on Ft. Belvoir, we would love to hear from you. Leave a review of your housing experience here.

There are many options for housing off-post. But get ready for sticker shock as the D.C. suburbs feature 7 of the country's 10 richest counties. Single family homes, townhouses, condos, and apartments can be found in both urban and rural settings a short distance from post.

NOVA (NORTHERN VIRGINIA)

  • Fairfax County, Virginia is the largest county in the Washington, D.C. area. It falls inside and outside the beltway and is home to George Mason University.
  • Arlington and the city of Alexandria, Virginia are inside the beltway.
  • Prince William County, Virginia includes Woodbridge, Dumfries, Haymarket, Occoquan, Lake Ridge, Manassas, and Manassas City.
  • Loudoun County, Virginia includes Sterling, Ashburn, Potomac Falls, Countryside, Middleburg, South Riding, Hamilton and Dulles International Airport.

Prices vary widely depending on the county you choose to live in. If you work with a PCSgrades reviewed realtor, you'll find there is a rental or mortgage to fit every BAH.

FORT BELVOIR WEATHER

There are four distinct seasons here. Winters are relatively mild with an average snow fall of 15.4 inches with three quarters of it falling in January and February. In the spring, people come from around the world to see the Cherry Blossoms along the Tidal Basin in downtown D.C..

Summers are hot and humid with temps often rising above 100 in July and August. Mild temps tend to stick around in September and October, but by Halloween the fall foliage is in full view with the vivid colors of autumn.

Hurricanes and Nor'easters can affect the area. While not common, NOVA has had a few tornadoes. And snow, well, some years there are only a few inches and others see larger snowfalls of over a foot. It doesn't matter how much, snow usually cripples northern Virginia.

BAH & COST OF LIVING

Unless you are coming from San Diego or Hawaii, you most likely will have sticker shock when you arrive here. Just about everything will be more expensive. The current housing market is also highly competitive. MostPCSgrades' A-graded Realtors agree that it is an excellent time to buy. Additionally, while sales prices have continued to climb, mortgage interest rates remain at historic low levels.

Median sale prices completely vary throughout Northern Virginia, D.C. and even southern Maryland. The average sales price in Fairfax County (NOVA) is $560,919; this is up over last year. Click here to look at neighborhoods and realtors in the area around Fort Belvoir.

ON-POST AMENITIES

There is one school on post – Fort Belvoir Elementary School. Two off-post public schools include: Walt Whitman Middle School and Mount Vernon High School.

Fort Belvoir Community Hospital is northern Virginia's home for world-class military healthcare with satellite health centers in Fairfax and Dumfries. The post also features the Fort Belvoir Commissary, Post Exchange, Class Six store and two joint service spouses clubs: the Belvoir Officer Spouses Club (BOSC) and the Belvoir Enlisted Spouses Club (BESC).

There are also five state-of-the-art Community Centers on post that offer free Internet access, copying and faxing services, along with free meeting and party facilities. There is a free community pool located in Woodlawn Village along with picnic pavilions, fitness trails, basketball and volleyball courts, a dog park, and playgrounds. Other amenities of living on-post include: an 18-hole golf course, a marina, field house, bowling center, movie theatre, Officer's Club and pool, and skate park.

CULTURE & CUSTOMS

If you want to venture off-post, you won't be disappointed! From mid-September until Thanksgiving, and again from about mid-January to June, Congress is in session. This means the hotels are full of guests and the restaurants and bars are doing a booming business. From mid-March through June, families and school groups pack the Tidal Basin to see the cherry blossoms and enjoy Washington's monuments. This is also high season for protest marches.

May features a month-long celebration called Passport DC, which showcases more than 70 embassies and cultural organizations with tours and open houses. A summer highlight is the annual Fourth of July festivities. There is an Independence Day Parade along Constitution Avenue, A Capitol Fourth Concert featuring world renowned musicians and singers on the U.S. Capitol west lawn. And of course, fireworks over the monuments! Ft. Belvoir hosts a Fourth of July concert on-post as well as fireworks after dark.

THE MONUMENTS

From seeing all the names on the Vietnam Memorial wall to climbing the massive steps to the Lincoln Memorial to visiting the National 9/11 Memorial at the Pentagon, Washington's monuments never get old! If you are lucky enough to have the chance to volunteer either at the airport or at the World War II Memorial during an Honor Flight, do it! Bring the kids! It is a special experience. You will never forget seeing these brave men and women visiting their memorial for the very first and for many the last time.

One of Ft. Belvoir's largest events of the year is the annual Oktoberfest, a four-day festival highlighting authentic German food, beverages, music, and dancing. Fun events geared towards the whole family include: a carnival, Volksmarch 10K Walk, and a Craft Show.

THE COMMUTE

Traffic in and around Washington D.C. is the worst or near the worst in the nation according to most traffic studies. A typical NOVA commuter spends an additional 82 hours behind the wheel annually due to traffic delays which is why many commuters use public transportation. Families choosing to live off-post often select housing in Fairfax Station, Lorton, Woodbridge, Alexandria, Springfield and Burke to avoid daily traffic snarls.

Flying in and out of the area is relatively easy. Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport is approximately 15 miles from Ft. Belvoir. Dulles International Airport is 33 miles from post and Baltimore/Washington International Airport is 55 miles away.

LOCAL CUISINE

Variety is the key word when it comes to cuisine in the northern Virginia/Washington D.C. area. With an international flavor and the fact that many of those living in and around D.C. are originally from somewhere else, the cuisine is eclectic to say the least. In the mood for Salvadoran food…it's here! Want to try Ethiopian cuisine? We have it! How about Indonesian? Yep! Regional specialties include: blue crabs from Maryland, peanuts, and country ham from Virginia.

AREA ATTRACTIONS

Despite being close to a major urban area, there are many outdoor areas to enjoy including:

FT BELVOIR MARINA

The beautiful Potomac River takes boaters past Mt. Vernon, the home of George Washington, and north to the nation's capital, offering a view of the city's monuments and parks.

MASON NECK STATE PARK

The park in southern Fairfax County offers hiking trails, a large picnic area, a playground, a car-top canoe launch, bicycle rentals and bird watching.

GREAT FALLS NATIONAL PARK

800 acres along the banks of the Potomac River in northern Fairfax County, this park offers whitewater kayaking and canoeing, fifteen miles of scenic hiking trails, (five of which are multi-use for horseback riding, hiking, and biking), and rock climbing on the cliffs in Mather Gorge. The falls total 76 feet (20 m) over a series of major cascades.

CHESAPEAKE & OHIO CANAL NATIONAL HISTORIC PARK

This park dates back to the 18th century. The canal and towpath trail extends from Georgetown, Washington, D.C. to Cumberland, Maryland, a distance of 184.5 miles. There is outdoor recreation, picnicking, bicycling, fishing, boating and hiking available.

GEORGETOWN WATERFRONT PARK

Located along the Potomac River, this park offers picnicking, bicycling and skating.

ROCK CREEK PARK

Rock Creek Park extends 12 miles from the Potomac River to the border of Maryland. The National Zoo is also located within Rock Creek Park. There is a lot to do including: picnicking, hiking, biking, rollerblading, tennis, fishing, and horseback riding. Additionally, there are concerts, planetarium shows, animal talks, exploratory hikes, crafts, and junior ranger programs.

FUN DAY TRIPS

Annapolis, Maryland – 32 miles; 1-hour drive – Gorgeous town, quaint restaurants and the Naval Academy! St. Michael's, Maryland – 79 miles; 1.5-hour drive – Maryland's Eastern Shore features crabs and scenic water views like no other!

Gettysburg (84 miles), Hershey (130 miles), Lancaster (120 Miles) Pennsylvania – Three unique Pennsylvania cities within 3 hours of the metro area – Relive the civil war in Gettysburg Learn the unique story of Milton Hersey and immerse yourself in the life of the Amish in Lancaster, PA.

Shenandoah National Park & Luray Caverns, Virginia – 3 hour drive; 120 miles – Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, west of Washington, D.C. Skyline Drive is the only public road running through the Shenandoah National Park. Nearby Luray Caverns is the largest series of caverns in the east. This eerie underground world of stalactites and stalagmites is worth a day trip from NOVA.

Richmond, Virginia – 108 miles; 2-hour drive – Virginia State Capital with a thriving restaurant scene and craft beer breweries. Lewes/Rehoboth Beach, Delaware – 121 miles; 2.5-hour drive – What can we say? It's the beach! Bring your lotion and your bathing suit and enjoy! Chincoteague Island, Virginia – 170 miles; 3.5 hour-drive – Do not miss watching the ponies at the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge on the quieter side of the Eastern Shore.

This post sponsored by PCSgrades.