20 Best Things to Do in McLean, VA

McLean, VA
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Sitting close to the country’s capital, McLean, Virginia, is one remarkable destination filled with famous attractions and famous people.

Named after John Roll McLean, the past owner of The Washington Post, this unincorporated community is home to influential personalities, Fortune 500 companies, and political figures.

Even though it’s not an official city, it was named the third wealthiest one in the whole county in 2018.

But don’t be intimidated by the affluent neighborhoods and powerful families.

The community is still very much welcoming to those curious enough to see the wonders of this town.

From high-end malls to magnificent national parks, from majestic waterfalls to one-of-a-kind museums, the places to be and activities to try are endless.

Here are the 20 best things to do in McLean, VA:

See the Majestic Waters of Great Falls Park

Fishers at the Great Falls Park during Fall
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The Great Falls Park is a small national park situated on the banks of the Potomac River.

Covering 800 acres of wilderness, this destination is one of the most visited attractions in McLean.

It’s where you’ll find the Great Falls, a wide section of river with rocky outcroppings and rushing waters that are often white with foam.

Many viewing platforms on the cliffs surrounding the falls offer great vantage points for photoshoots and other related activities.

Great Falls Park during Autumn
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Once you’ve had your fill of views, you can explore the other sections of the park.

Mather Gorge is a favorite for rock climbers, with steep cliffs that offer quite the challenge.

Then there are the 15 miles of trails crisscrossing the park, bringing you to some other attractions like Difficult Run creek, vast forests, and large clearings.

Young deer eating autumn leaves in a forest at Great Falls Park
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Trek the Trails of Scott’s Run Nature Preserve

Snow at Scott’s Run Nature Preserve
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Scott’s Run Nature Preserve is an important ecological hotspot sitting next to the Potomac River.

Within the 336-acre woodland, you’d find some of the rarest plant species in the Mid-Atlantic, often growing on the craggy cliffs of the preserve.

Aside from the wildlife, the place is noted for its incredibly rugged views, with boulders, waterfalls, and narrow valleys adding to the panorama.

Potomac river running through Scott's Run Nature Preserve
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Scott’s Run Creek passes right through the north of the preserve, serving as a focal point of the landscape.

This rushing body of water is often dangerously fast, so swimming and wading are prohibited for everyone’s safety.

But you’re still welcome to explore the trails and encounter the rare trees and wildflowers growing in the area.

Sunrise along Scott's Run after a dusting of snow
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Discover the Hidden Wonders of Pimmit Run Stream Valley Park

The small but scenic Pimmit Run Stream Valley Park is a little-known forested attraction on the southern edge of McLean.

Its main feature is the babbling Pimmit Run creek, which continues for eight miles until it becomes a tributary of the Potomac River.

Running parallel to this body of water are the gorgeous forested trails.

While most of them are unpaved, they’re still the favorite of hikers and mountain bikers, thanks to their proximity to main roads.

But it’s still considered a hidden gem since most people don’t know that it exists.

Dog walkers and bird watchers are also encouraged to explore the area since the woodland segments serve as the home to many native birds.

Satisfy Your Retail Needs at Tysons Galleria

Isabella eatery at Tysons Galleria
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The magnificent Tysons Galleria is an upscale super-regional mall considered one of the biggest in the Washington metropolitan area.

So if you’re looking for a place that can meet your shopping and retail needs, this is it!

Tysons Galleria has been around since 1988, planned with a European streetscape design that will make you feel like you’re roaming the streets of Rome.

 Gucci store at Tysons Galleria mall
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Today, the 120+ stores are mostly occupied by high-end brands.

So the mall has a reputation as an upper-class destination, labeled as a mall version of New York’s Fifth Avenue.

You’ll find designer brands like Cartier, Burberry, Louis Vitton, and Versace.

But don’t be intimidated—everyone is still welcome to explore the mall and enjoy window shopping.

There are also other service-oriented stores, a grand food hall, and various specialty shops.

Glass walkway to Tysons Galleria
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Immerse in History at Fort Marcy Park

Deer at Fort Marcy Park
Famartin, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

At the end of the Civil War, Fort Marcy was hastily constructed along with Fort Ethan Allen to protect the Chain Bridge approach to Washington, D.C.

It saw little action after it was finished, so most of the fort’s fortifications remained perfectly intact.

Today, it has been turned into a public park as part of the wilderness corridor surrounding the capital.

You’re welcome to join a tour and explore all the historic artifacts in the area.

Rifle pits, trenches, earthwork walls, and parade grounds are just some of the things to see.

They are all in various states of deterioration since they’ve been left to the elements, so be careful around them to avoid doing any more damage.

Then there’s the rest of the park, composed of beautiful wilderness and the gorgeous Pimmit Run, a creek meandering in the middle of the forest.

Tour the Galleries of McLean Project for the Arts

There’s a small art scene in the community, and the premier facility for this activity is the McLean Project for the Arts.

Started in 1962 by a group of women artists, the gallery has since expanded and flourished into the institution it is today.

They welcome artists from all over the Mid-Atlantic, displaying their work on rotating exhibits and events.

You’ll find magnificent paintings, sculptures, photos, and installation art in their critically-acclaimed galleries.

In addition, the organization holds more than 160 art courses where you can learn the basics of oil painting, sketching, and other areas.

For kids, the Summer STEAM Camp is a favorite annual event where children can get exposed to visual art and try hands-on experiences.

Shop ‘Til You Drop at Tysons Corner Center

Exterior of Tysons Corner Center
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Another luxury retail space in McLean is Tysons Corner Center.

This magnificent attraction is the first climate-controlled mall in the US, having been around since 1968.

And like Tysons Galleria, Tysons Corner Center has earned a reputation as a high-end destination.

It contains the first Apple store ever opened and the first Microsoft store in the Northeast.

Interior of Tysons Corner Center
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However, this mall still has a healthy mix of more affordable shops and luxury brands.

And since it’s climate-controlled, you can enjoy a comfortable temperature while roaming the mall, whatever the season may be.

There are 300 stores to see, so you’re sure to find whatever you need while in McLean.

Nordstrom storefront in Tysons Corner Center
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Let the Kids Play at Clemyjontri Park

One of the most visited attractions in McLean is Clemyjontri Park, the community’s most accessible place for kids.

While it may only be two acres big, the park boasts many amenities that elevate it against the other facilities of its kind in the area.

It’s been structured in such a way so that all kids can play, whether they’re in wheelchairs or have sensory disabilities.

So you’ll find ramps that connect every section, monkey bars set with a low height, rubber surfaces for increased grip, and other features.

One of the most visited sections is the carousel—something that you won’t normally find in your run-of-the-mill community park.

There are also picnic pavilions, high-backed swings, and other amenities for an inclusive and enjoyable playtime.

Brave the Rapids of the Potomac River

Potomac River flowing through Great Falls National Park
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The northeast borders of McLean stop at the Potomac River, making it an important geographical feature in the area.

And because of its proximity to neighborhoods, many of the town’s residents use it as the primary destination for water activities.

This influential river spans 405 miles, starting from the highlands of West Virginia before emptying into the Atlantic.

Potomac River flowing through mountains
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Along the way, it passes the nation’s capital, making it an important natural feature for economic, tactical, and recreational purposes.

Today, many people come to the river to enjoy its turbulent waters, especially near Great Falls Park.

Some sections are classified under Class VI, so they are amongst the most extreme whitewater rapids in the world.

The milder sections are ideal for seasoned professionals and beginners who want to upgrade their skill level.

Rapids of Potomac River
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Hike the Trails of Langley Oaks Park

There’s no shortage of riverside attractions in McLean, and one of these is the scenic Langley Oaks Park.

With an elevation of 230 feet, this attraction has a varied topography that makes it great for moderately difficult hikes.

Dead Run creek runs along the park, making it the main natural feature of the attraction.

While the name may be intimidating, Dead Run creek is a beautiful body of water that eventually empties into the Potomac River.

It adds another level of beauty to the forests of Langley Oaks Park, glistening underneath the canopy of trees as sunlight occasionally passes through.

Aside from hiking, dog walking and hunting are permitted activities in the park.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Once you’ve had your fill of McLean adventures, check out these attractions just a few minutes away.

Remember Our Heroes at Arlington National Cemetery

Amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery
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The Arlington National Cemetery sits next to the Potomac River, right across Washinton, D.C.

Since it’s only less than 15 minutes away from McLean, you can easily drive to the solemn destination and remember the country’s heroes.

Within a total area of 639 acres, this cemetery contains more than 400,000 graves.

Arlington National Cemetery covered with yellow flowers during autumn
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They serve as the final resting place of those who died during the Civil War and other conflicts that the country was involved in.

You’re welcome to find and discover the graves of past presidents, like John F. Kennedy and William Howard Taft.

One of the most anticipated events here is the Changing of the Guard, which happens every hour.

It’s a special ceremony where new guards replace the men guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Tomb of the unknown soldier at Arlington National Cemetery
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Visit the Washington National Cathedral

Exterior of Washington National Cathedral
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Less than 20 minutes away from McLean is the grand Washington National Cathedral, whose proper name is the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in the City and Diocese of Washington.

The magnificent Neo-Gothic architecture and immaculate facade make the structure a regal landmark north of Washington.

Because of its status and proximity to the capital, this place is often used for important events like state funerals and presidential prayer services.

Interior of Washington National Cathedral
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Upon entering, you’d be awestruck by the intricate interiors.

The stained-glass windows complement the soft lighting, giving an ethereal vibe perfect for the holy place.

There are also the high vaulted ceilings that reach to heavens and intricately decorated altar.

With these features, it’s no wonder that the church receives hundreds of thousands of visitors every year.

Bishop's Garden at Washington National Cathedral
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Explore the Wonders of the United States Capitol

Front View of United States Capitol
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Since you’re already near the country’s capital, you might as well tour the famous United States Capitol.

Traveling here takes a little over 20 minutes, so it should be a quick and convenient ride with the family.

While admission is free, you still need a ticket to tour the interiors of the immensely historical structure.

It’s a rare opportunity to see the congress in session, so reserve and book a ticket if you can.

United States Capitol lit up during night
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The grounds are open to the public, with many iconic attractions to check out.

These include the flower-packed Bartholdi Fountain, the regal Supreme Court, and the bustling Eastern Market with its many stalls.

Don’t forget to stay at the Capitol Reflecting Pool, which offers magnificent views of the building itself and the opposing Washington Monument.

Interior of United States Capitol
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Tour the Lincoln Memorial

Front View of Lincoln Memorial during night
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On the opposite end of the United States Capitol is another world-famous attraction, the iconic Lincoln Memorial.

With the Classical Greek structure standing amidst manicured fields, every visitor will feel the majestic ambiance permeating the whole area.

Majestic white statue of Abraham Lincoln at Lincoln Memorial
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This attraction was built in honor of the 16th president, with a design that resembles the Parthenon of Greece.

At the very center of the columns sits Lincoln himself, in solemn observance of the tall Washinton Monument visible in his line of sight.

While here, don’t forget to stroll the paths next to the reflecting pool and take in the beauty of the surroundings.

Interior of the Lincoln Memorial
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Interact with Animals at Roer's Zoofari

Entrance sign of Roer's Zoofari
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Northeast of McLean is the vibrant town of Vienna, with many natural and family-oriented attractions.

One of these is Roer's Zoofari, a favorite local attraction less than 20 minutes away from Mclean.

This 30-acre destination hosts a wide variety of animals, including mammals, reptiles, and birds from all over the world.

Say hi to cheetahs, barn owls, bobcats, ball pythons, and other exotic creatures cared for by professionals.

Thanks to the well-maintained habitats that mimic their original homes, these animals live in relative comfort.

The best way to see them is by boarding the Safari-style tour buses that pass through the expansive enclosures.

Final Thoughts

Much like its affluent residents, McLean is rich with natural, historic, and family-oriented attractions.

From vast national parks to hidden trails, from contemporary art galleries to historic forts, there’s something for every preference in this charming town.

Reference this list when planning your itinerary so you won’t miss the top spots!

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