Boonsboro

At the Crystal Grottoes four miles south of Boonsboro on Rt. 34, you can escape the weather to explore the Washington County underground scene. (DAVID HOBBY, Baltimore Sun / August 13, 2006)

Go here: Cousins of Daniel Boone, George and William Boone established a rural town at the foot of South Mountain in 1792. The town was originally named after William's wife, Margaret, but eventually evolved into Boonsboro. Boonsboro was active in the Civil War and the first battle fought on northern soil was the Battle of South Mountain. Several of the town's churches were converted to hospitals to care for wounded sick. As a town of many "firsts," Boonsboro citizens also erected the first monument to honor President George Washington, at the top of South Mountain. The war heritage of Boonsboro is incorporated into the town's Civil War Museum, various parks and the nearby Antietam Battlefield.

Stay here: For lovers of romantic books, best-selling author Nora Roberts and her husband renovated the first stone building constructed in historic Boonsboro into a small hotel. Inn Boonsboro (1 N. Main Street, 301-432-1188) has eight rooms, seven of which were inspired by literary couples. For example there is room inspired by Elizabeth and Darcy from Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" and another one dedicated to Titania and Oberon from Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Other rooms are inspired by romantic characters from Robert's books. Rooms start at $220 Monday through Thursday and $250 Friday through Sunday.

Eat here: Old South Mountain Inn, 6132 Old National Pike, 301-432-6155. Although Old South Mountain Inn has been passed from owner to owner since its construction in 1732, the historical aspects of the inn and restaurant remain intact. The inn has been a wagon stand, a tavern, a private residence and even the headquarters of Confederate Gen. D.H. Hill during the Civil War. Now, however, Old South Mountain Inn is a restaurant that is described as the "best-kept secret" of Boonsboro. The inn serves a variety of entrees, ranging from filet mignon to seafood to vegetarian.

Don't miss this: Antietam Battlefield is where the bloodiest, one day battle in American history took place, and it's located right outside of town in nearby Sharpsburg. At the battlefield, visitors can hike throughout the property, tour the museums and talk with Park Rangers about the historic battle. In December, Antietam Battlefield is lit up with 23,000 candles, one candle for each soldier missing, wounded or killed in the battle.

Another unique attraction in Boonsboro is the Crystal Grottoes Caverns. The caverns were discovered in a routine quarry mission, but the beauty of them spared them from destruction, and led to their use as a tourist attraction. About a half-mile of the cave is open to the public and showcases stalactites, bacon rind and clay in an assortment of colors.