In order to escape from the everyday stresses of modern life, residents of Fairfax Station and Clifton need hardly leave their hometown. Fairfax Station and Clifton offer opportunities to explore nature, travel back in time and entertain children of all ages. “[At Burke Lake] it feels like you’re on vacation, a little mini vacation,” said Kimberly Cherington. “[Visiting the Hermitage] is like going into a time portal,” said Jason Cary.
Friday, 6:30 p.m.
Dinner at Hermitage Inn Restaurant
Built in 1869, the structure now housing the Hermitage Inn Restaurant initially served as the Clifton Hotel. “It was a retreat for the higher class, people like Grant, Teddy, and Hayes,” said manager Jason Cary. Portraits of the three presidents currently hang illuminated against crimson walls in the restaurant’s pub. The second and third floors, once used as guest rooms, have been converted into the kitchen and dining rooms, many featuring fireplaces.
At the “French-country” restaurant, surf and turf is a customer favorite said Cary, though he also recommends the breast of duck, which goes well with any heavy bodied red wine, such as McWilliams Merlot. The chef mixes up the surf and turf sometimes with shrimp or lobster, for example, and is flexible with special requests.
Overall, the Hermitage offers a fine dining experience with “amazing service [and] great food” that is “reasonably priced,” said Cary. “It’s very peaceful, a very quiet atmosphere,” described Cary, “it’s still a nice retreat from Centreville, D.C., Manassas and Springfield.”
The Hermitage Inn Restaurant is open Tuesday to Saturday, 5:30 p.m.-closing and Sunday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m., reservations are recommended and the dress code is business casual. Call 703-266-1623. The restaurant is located at 7134 Main St., Historic Clifton.
Saturday, 9 a.m.
Breakfast at Clifton General Store
At the Clifton General Store, the breakfast taco is the most popular way to begin the day according to storeowner Tom McNamara.
“It’s salsa, bacon, egg, and potato,” said customer Paul Centeno, “it tastes great.”
Wrapped in a flour tortilla, the taco also includes cheese, sausage, ham, lettuce, tomato, jalapeno and onion.
The store offers fast, friendly service and, as the sign outside declares, good hot food. “Visualize a 75-year-old country general store,” said McNamara, one that provides “a sense of community.”
“We do a lot of community functions, always helping people find lost dogs,” said McNamara. “We’re kind of the unofficial chamber of commerce.”
The store also serves lunch, for which McNamara recommends the ham special, and sells an array of products, including books on the history of Clifton and the popular Bunnyman Bridge T-shirt. McNamara said he doesn’t believe the legend about the mysterious figure that haunts a nearby bridge. Still, the store has sold over 800 shirts with McNamara’s hand-drawn picture of the bridge and summary he wrote of the legend on the back.
As the carry-out Menu states, “If you can’t find it at the Clifton Store, you can’t find it!” Call 703-830-0038. The Clifton Store is located on Main Street in Historic Clifton.
Saturday, 10 a.m.
Tour Historic Clifton
In the heart of Historic Clifton sits a home apparently built by a gangster in 1941. By walking along Main Street and reading the signs placed by the Clifton Betterment Association, one discovers this stone house, called the Wright House, which also had the first indoor bathroom in town. Also along the way lies the Buckley House, built in 1896, where Jeff Arch wrote the screenplay for “Sleepless in Seattle.” At the Kincheloe House, the sign indicates that 5-cent buckets of beer were brought each Friday to the boarding school teachers.
Walking from the General Store, the last stop before crossing the street is the Clifton Primitive Baptist Church built in 1871 by the emancipated slaves who were the first inhabitants of the town. The walking tour then ends at the Heart in Hand Restaurant, originally the Buckley Store, across from the General Store.
Picnic at Burke Lake
Picnickers at Burke Lake don’t always bring the expected baskets full of sandwiches and watermelon. Instead, they bring carryout pizza in cardboard boxes. Still Burke Lake has plenty of picnic facilities, by the marina and by mini golf course. For those not willing or wanting to tote their food to the park, they can purchase lunch at the Ice Cream Parlor in the form of hotdogs and soft pretzels and finish up with an ice cream cone. "The Breyers ice cream at the ice cream parlor is a golden oldie," said George Anne Daily.
Before Memorial Day, the Ice Cream Parlor is open weekends only 11a.m.-6 p.m., after Memorial Day open daily weekdays 11a.m.-4 p.m., weekends only 11a.m.-6 p.m.
Once you’ve finished your ice cream, take a ride on Burke Lake’s train and carousel.
The train that runs along part of the lake is actually a replica of a Central Pacific Huntington Steam Engine. “Kids of course really enjoy it,” said Judy Pederson, spokesperson for the Fairfax County Park Authority. The train travels over 1.75 miles during the 10-minute ride, reaching speeds of 10 to 12 miles per hour.
“I used to come for the train and now I come to run,” said Stephanie Leonard of Oak Hill.
The trail operates daily from Memorial Day to Labor Day from 11:15 a.m.-5:45 p.m. Rides cost $2.
Nearby sits the historic carousel built, which was built in the 1950s. Originally the horses were wooden and hand painted, but they are now made mainly of fiberglass. “It’s one of just a few like it in the country,” said Pedersen. The Fairfax County Park Authority has a total of three, one at Lake Accotink, Lake Fairfax and Burke Lake. “Kids love it,” said Pedersen. The carousel is open daily Memorial Day to Labor Day, from 11:30 a.m.- 5:30 p.m. Rides cost $1.50
Saturday, 2 p.m.
Play a Round of Mini Golf
Water splashes down rocks at the center of the new Burke Lake 18-hole mini golf course, large trees branching out to provide shade to the mini golfers of all ages and abilities. “[It’s] fully accessible to everyone,” said Pedersen.
George Ann Daily, whose nephews give her a handicap when they play, said you “can tailor it to all ages and skill levels.” The entire Fortney family came out to the park to play together recently, allowing young Jillian to start her golf ball a little farther up the course.
Jim Cureton brought his granddaughters to play, helping Selena align her putter on the first hole. "The courses are challenging but doable," said George Anne Daily.
Mini Golf opens at 11 a.m., the last play is at 7 p.m., and closes at 8 p.m. A round costs $6 for adults, $5 for seniors and juniors.
Scattered throughout the woods lies the Frisbee golf course, which like the mini golf is adaptable for all ages. Each “hole” is numbered and Frisbee golfers must begin on the cement block located at the start of each. The par for each is written in yellow on the metal contraption that serves as the hole. "It's a good course and it's free," said Frisbee golfer Brent Spangler.
At Burke Lake, even golf is an activity suited for all ages. Rob Strain’s two sons, Carter and Wade, practiced their game at the driving range, attempting to hit the ball collector. “My motive here is to get them playing golf, but you’ve got to take your lessons before you start playing golf,” said Strain. The two boys are taking lessons at Burke Lake Golf Center. “[It’s] a lighted driving range with 40 stations and an 8,000 square feet putting green,” said Pedersen.
“There’s a lot of spaces, so there’s lots of room,” said Strain.
Saturday, 6 p.m.
Fish for Your Dinner
For those who wish to fish, Burke Lake offers both piers and boat rentals. Celebrating his 11th birthday, Victor Ortega said, “I had fun, I just caught a fish.”
"It takes a lot of patience," said Lucas Schoonover. The lake boasts a varied population of Largemouth Bass, Walleye, Muskie, Catfish, Black Crappie, Yellow and White Perch, Sunfish, and Bluegill. "You can catch Largemouth Bass," said Ortega. Fishing tackle is for sale at the marina. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, the marina is open daily Friday and Monday, 6 a.m.-8 p.m.; Tuesday-Thursday, 8 a.m.-8p.m., last boat rental is at 6:30 p.m., boat return at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, 8 p.m.
Camp at Burke Lake
For those who aren’t satisfied with a day at the lake, visitors can spend the night at the campground for $25 a night, or less for senior citizens. “It’s a great place for families,” said Judy Pedersen, a spokesperson with the Fairfax County Park Authority.
“We camp, it’s close to home,” said Kimberly Cherington.
Each campsite has a grill and fire ring, so campers can, as Leah Cherington said, “Roast marshmallows.”
Call 703-323-6600. From June through August the Burke Lake camp store is open daily 8 a.m.-9 p.m.
Sunday, 9 a.m.
Walk or Bike Around the Lake.
Surrounding the 218-acre body of water that is Burke Lake is a path lining the 4.7 miles of shoreline. “I have a running group that meets out here every weekend,” said Kimberly Cherington.
The fitness trail has in fact been deemed one of the best 10 in the nation according to the American Hiking Society, based on its location near a metropolitan area and the time in which the trail can be completed.
"The trail around the lake is soft and shaded and it's really long," said Matt Saunders. Suitable for walking, jogging, running and biking, much of the trail is surrounded by trees. Multiple benches are available for resting or for enjoying views of Burke Lake. “We can all ride our bikes or walk or run,” said Cherington, who has two daughters and a son.
Sunday, 11 a.m.
Brunch at Heart in Hand
A wooden sign reads “Welcome Friends” in the entryway of Heart in Hand, while in the dining room quilts adorn the walls. “It goes back to a time when the pace of life is slower, no hurry, no rush,” said customer Brenda Cheadle.
“It’s a hidden jewel in a busy city. With all the traffic and just all the construction, it’s nice to see they left something,” said Sue Sharp, visiting from Morton, Ill.
Since serving as the family-run Buckley Store from 1900 to 1951, the Heart in Hand restaurant now serves up baskets of cornbread muffins, a customer favorite.
“I’m a big fan of the bread and the ham,” said Jennifer Olooney, “its very salty.”
“Mmmm, Virginia ham,” agreed Sharp.
“I like the navy bean soup and roast beef sandwiches,” said customer Kevin Ryan, from Clifton, who brought his friends from Austin, Texas for lunch.
“The flank steak salad is very good, it’s a mixture of the hearts of palms, the steak, the tomatoes, it’s delicious,” said Ed Horne, visiting from Austin.
“It’s very quaint,” said Elizabeth Horne.
“It just takes you back in time,” said Ed Horne.
The Heart in Hand is located at 7134 Main St., Historic Clifton. Call 703-830-4111 for reservations. Open for lunch Tuesday-Friday 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; dinner Thursday, 5-9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5-9:30 p.m., and Sunday 5-8 p.m.; and brunch Sunday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
Sunday, 12 noon.
Visit St. Mary of Sorrows
The red steeple of St. Mary of Sorrows rises above its white clapboard structure, recalling the organization whose founder volunteered there during the Civil War. Following the Battle of Second Manassas, Clara Barton along with other volunteers and doctors attended to wounded soldiers and helped evacuate more than 3,000 as the Confederate army approached. Barton later founded the American Red Cross.
"It's just so historic and just so beautiful and peaceful," said parishioner Andrea Baker.
"A lot of the headstones here are the Irish who worked on the railroad," said William Baker.
A Confederate soldier from the Civil War remains in the upper edge of church courtyard also, as his family wished for him to stay on Catholic ground.
St. Mary of Sorrows is located at the intersection of Fairfax Station Road and Route 123, Fairfax Station.
Visit Fairfax Railroad Museum.
A multitude of doors adorn the building now housing the Fairfax Station Railroad Museum. "It’s a place in history, originally this was the station Fairfax Station," said Rex Becker, a Friends of Fairfax Station board member. The doors signal the segregation of the past, as there were separate waiting rooms, separate entryways and separate ticket windows.
The stationmaster’s office had two windows to serve customers in both rooms. “I think it’s a curious part of our history that people forget about, but this was something all the way until the station closed in the 1960s,” said Becker.
Inside the museum, many Civil War era artifacts are on display, outside sits a bright red caboose that children can explore. On the third Sunday each month, the Northern Virginia NTRAK sets up model trains that delight children as well.
"It's always fun watching these little kids around the train, when they smile when they see the trains come by," said NVNTRAK member Paul Petzrick.
After standing and watching the trains pass by again and again, Jack Friedman said to his mother, "I don't want to go home, I just got here."
The Fairfax Station Train Museum is located at 11200 Fairfax Station Road, Fairfax Station. Call 703-425-9225. Open Sundays, 1-4 p.m.
Sunday, 2 p.m.
Hike, Bike, Boat or Kayak
Much like nearby Burke Lake Park, Fountainhead Regional Park offers opportunities to fish, boat, bike, hike and play mini golf. However, Fountainhead is not “overused,” said visitor Lynn Mulvey.
“I’m cautious,” joked Mulvey. “If I recommend it to people then more people might come.”
“It’s usually not very crowded,” said kayaker Katy Reinsel. “It’s kind of calming and it’s nice to be out on the water.” Fountainhead also sets itself apart with its kayak and canoe rentals, horse trails, and mountain bike trail. “They have a great mountain bike trail unsurpassed by any in the Metro region in terms of level of difficulty, length and maintenance,” said Ron Baker. “The volunteers that come out [to maintain the bike trail] do a great job.”
“[I’m] glad to spend my tax dollars on this,” said Mulvey. Fountainhead Regional Park is located at 10875 Hampton Road, Fairfax Station. Call 703-250-9124. The park is open daily dawn to dusk from March 17-Oct. 31.
Sunday, 4 p.m.
Two Scoops, Please
Right off Main Street in Historic Clifton, music greets customers as they approach Peterson’s Ice Cream Depot, maps and photos lining the way to the shop. “We have an ambiance that’s hard to match because of our location,” said Tom Peterson, ice cream shop owner and mayor of the Town of Clifton.
“At night it’s been described to us as magical because of the Christmas lights. It just has a great atmosphere,” said Peterson.
All the ice cream is made on site and the sundaes are named after Clifton residents and friends. The shop offers 20 different flavors of shakes, the most popular being cookies and cream, strawberry, banana, butter pecan, and of course chocolate. “People rave about our shakes,” said Peterson.
“People have taken to ordering things in their shakes, some kid got gummy bear in his vanilla shake,” said Cassie Peterson.
For those looking for something other than ice cream, the shop offers Jean’s iced tea and iced coffee. “We aim to please,” said Tom Peterson.