1>>Attend Orioles’ Opening Day
Nothing signifies the start of spring like an umpire shouting, “Play ball!” After all those winter months of brown grass, the turf looks impossibly green on Opening Day. There’s a feeling of hope in the air, of renewal and second chances and forgiveness for past sins of mediocrity. It’s always an afternoon game— the time when baseball was meant to be played, under the sun, not beneath the ghostly glow of artificial lights. Fans are reacquainted with the familiar smells of steamed hot dogs, the smoke from Boog’s Barbeque and spilled beer. The sold-out crowd cheers when it’s supposed to, even without the help of the scoreboard’s Orwellian commands. And for at least one sunny, happy day, our beloved Orioles are guaranteed not to have a losing record.
Make It Happen: Tickets to Opening Day are notoriously hard to come by. If traditional outlets— the Orioles box office and Ticketmaster— are sold out, try your luck with ticket brokers or stubhub.com. —J.S.
2>>Get in Touch with Civil War History
On Sept. 17, 1862, the bloodiest single-day battle in American history took place near Sharpsburg, Md., and Antietam Creek— 23,000 soldiers were killed, wounded or missing. In contrast to the terrible noise of that battle, Antietam National Battlefield today is a quiet place. There is less to see than to imagine: how men were mowed down one after another in the cornfield and along the sunken road, how the gun smoke rose into the air. Just 60 miles away in Gettysburg, there’s no need to imagine: every July Fourth weekend re-enactors stage six famous battles for a crowd of thousands. This year, 10,000 to 15,000 re-enactors, including more than 400 mounted cavalry, will create the spectacle of sight and sound. The weekend climaxes with the massive Pickett’s Charge, during which, as The New York Times correspondent of the day reported, “the Confederate shells burst and screamed as many as six a second and made a very hell of a fire… men were cut in two and horses died still fastened by their halters.”
Make It Happen: Antietam National Battlefield, $4 per person or $6 per family, nps.gov/anti/. Advance tickets to the Annual Gettysburg Re-enactment start at $24, gettysburgreenactment.com. —L.W.
3>>Spend a Weekend at The Inn at Little Washington
Is it the picturesque small-town setting among Virginia country roads and farm-land? The sumptuously decorated rooms? The five-star service? Or the impeccable food? Obviously, it’s all of the above that earns The Inn at Little Washington a spot on this list. Opened by untrained chef Patrick O’Connell and his former partner, Reinhardt Lynch, in 1978 in a converted garage, The Inn at Little Washington has gone on to receive just about every top culinary and hospitality award in America. Craig Claiborne of The New York Times called it “the most magnificent inn I’ve ever seen, in this country or Europe” and dining on O’Connell’s creative American cuisine has been called the “gastronomic equivalent of sex.” If you’ve ever wondered just what that experience could be like, book a room and find out.
Make It Happen: Hotel reservations are taken up to one year in advance. Dining room and kitchen table reservations are taken up to 30 days in advance for Saturdays and Sundays. Sunday to Thursday, dinner is $148 per person; $158 on Fridays and $168 Saturdays. Room rates start at $410 per night. 540-675-3800, theinn-atlittlewashington.com —J.S.
4>>Watch the Chincoteague Pony Swim
No one knows the exact moment when the ponies will cross Assateague Channel. It all depends on the tide. And that only fuels the anticipation of the tens of thousands of people gathered on the shores to watch. Sometime between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m., slack tide, the lowest of the day, arrives, and the band of Chincoteague volunteer firefighters, on this day dressed in cowboy hats, spurs and chaps, gives the signal.
“There they go!” a spectator yells. And suddenly, 150 Chincoteague ponies are driven into the water in a chaos of thrashing and snorting. “Yah! Move on!” the saltwater cowboys shout. Camera-wielding viewers extend zoom lenses as kids yelp and scream and fantasize about which pony their parents will buy for them at auction.
The excitement’s over in just three minutes, as the last of the wild ponies stumble onto Chincoteague Island, shaking the water off their hides. For the next two days, the ponies will be kept in a pen at the carnival grounds and 70 of them will be auctioned off in order to thin the herd, a process that has been repeated every year since 1926. For a week, the town celebrates with carnival rides and games. And then, the remaining ponies are unceremoniously escorted back to Assateague Island to roam free until the following July, when the firefighters give up helmets for cowboy hats yet again.
Make It Happen: This year’s pony swim occurs on July 30. For the best views of the crossing, book a seat on the Assateague Explorer, 757-336-5956, and watch from the water. —J.S.
5>>Watch Fourth of July Fireworks over The Mall
Sure, Baltimore boasts a pretty good Fourth of July fireworks display, but there’s just something special about watching the rockets’ red glare over our nation’s capital. And the best vantage point is from the terrace atop the historic Hay-Adams hotel. Viewing the bombs bursting in air from nine stories up, with the White House across the street and the Washington Monument just beyond is enough to make even the most cynical American feel patriotic.
Make It Happen: Fourth of July packages at the Hay-Adams start at $829 and include deluxe accommodations, dinner for two and rooftop access passes for two adults. 800-424-5054, hayadams.com. —J.S.
6>>Smell the Roses at the Philadelphia Flower Show
Each year about the time the first crocuses are peeking out from the ground, the largest indoor flower show in the world gets under way. Occupying 10 acres in Philadelphia’s Convention Center, the show is truly a garden of earthly delights, with professional landscapers, florists and horticultural organizations creating over-the-top displays they hope will garner the coveted “Best in Show” award, and lectures on everything from orchids to Ikebana. Wear comfortable shoes, plan to spend about five hours— and bring a notebook to write down the name of that rose you just have to have.
Make It Happen: March 2 to 9. Advance online tickets, $22. General admission tickets at the box office, $24 to $28. theflowershow.com —L.W.
7>>Visit a Grand Resort
It’s not just their beautiful mountain settings, grand rooms with huge fireplaces and elegant furnishings, manicured grounds and top-rated restaurants, golf courses and spas that make us adore The Greenbrier and The Homestead. It’s the fact that when you step onto their premises you feel transported into a world of luxury, civility and, dare we say it, fantasy— a world not so much in existence these days. Since the 18th century, these Grande Dames have hosted U.S. presidents and VIPs, not to mention legions of honeymooners and families. We trust their judgment.
Make It Happen: The Greenbrier , 800-453-4858, rooms from $389, greenbrier.com; The Homestead, rooms from $210, 866-354-4653, thehomestead.com —L.W.
8>>Attend Virginia Gold Cup
No offense to our beloved Hunt Cup, but we think it’s worth the trip to Virginia’s beautiful Great Meadow to take in the Gold Cup, which is as much a rite of spring as fields of waving daffodils, and has been a fixture on the social scene since 1922. This May, 100 horses will compete in seven hurdle and timber events, and there will be Jack Russell Terrier races, too. But the tailgating is almost as important as the competitions. And, oh, the pageantry. You’ll see spring dresses and straw hats on the ladies, light khaki suits and over-the-top plaid sports coats on the gents. The North Rail boasts a younger, Washington crowd while the South Rail is more family-oriented. Members Hill has the best views of the course, and is centered directly on the finish line and next to the saddling paddock. Expect a multitude of mint juleps in all locations.
Make It Happen: This year’s Gold Cup steeplechase is Saturday, May 3 at Great Meadow, near Warrenton, Va. Parking passes start at $75, 800-69-RACES,
9>>Eat a 33-course meal at Cafe Atlantico’s minibar
“If the Cirque du Soleil served food, this is what it would look and taste like,” Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema wrote about minibar when it opened in 2004. With just six seats at the bar, diners are guaranteed a prime viewing spot as two chefs prepare your dinner of 30-plus courses behind a black, granite-topped counter. These are not your traditional soup, salad, entree and dessert courses, however. Each bite-sized course is a colorful experiment in food prep: “clam chowder” arrives deconstructed as potato foam, a single clam and a chunk of bacon served on a single soup spoon; foie gras is somehow puffed into the consistency of cotton candy; tomato capresse is served in an eyedropper. Not everything works, but what does is magnificent, and for the jaded foodie, it’s an experience not easily forgotten.
Make It Happen: Reservations for minibar’s two nightly seatings, 6:30 and 8 p.m., can be made through Cafe Atlantico, up to one month in advance. Dinner costs $120 per person. 405 8th St., N.W., Washington, D.C., 202-393-0812. —J.S.
10>>Attend an Army-Navy Game
The annual Army-Navy game is an athletic event even the most devout football hater can love. Sure, there’s the usual running, passing and tackling. But there’s history— the game’s been played nearly every year since 1890— and the palpable sense of something large at stake. Since most seniors will spend several years serving the country after graduation, very few go pro— this is the final game of their careers, played for love, not for the scouts. And though the rivalry is fierce, so is the respect. At game’s end the winning team stands alongside the losing team and faces the losing academy students as their alma mater is played; then the losing team accompanies the winning team, facing their students. It’s always freezing in the stands, but a scene like that can warm your heart.
Make It Happen: This year’s game is Dec. 6 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. Only a limited number of tickets are available to the general public. 877-TIX-ARMY, 800-GO-NAVY or stubhub.com. —L.W.