It is understandable that first-time visitors to Washington want to see the major sights like the U.S. Capitol and The White House. But what do long-time residents of the Nation's Capital like to do?
I have lived in Washington, DC, off and on for 20 years and I enjoy seeing and doing a mix of things on and off of the tourist trail. Here is a list of 10 places - museums, neighborhoods, and other attractions - I like to recommend to my visitors and return to when I want to take advantage of all that the city has to offer.
The National Air and Space Museum has two locations: one on the National Mall, the other near Dulles International Airport. Entry to both locations is free, although visitors to the Dulles location must pay a fee to park (approximately $12). I love both locations equally because they both house incredible relics from aviation and aerospace history, including the Wright Brothers' flyer, Amelia Earhart's Vega, the Concorde, and Space Shuttle Discovery. The latter two are featured in the hangar at the Dulles location, which can be quite a haul from downtown Washington, DC.
Someone once asked me where my happy place is, and I told them the National Gallery of Art. Also on the National Mall, the gallery is divided into two buildings. The West Building houses American and European Art ranging from the 13th to 19th centuries, whereas the East Building has 20th century and contemporary art and ample space for exhibitions. In addition to the great art on display, the NGA's gift shop and bookstore, located in an underground passage that connects the two buildings is an excellent place to buy unique gifts.
The National Building Museum's exhibits on architecture, engineering, and design are often worth the price of admission (the NBM is not a Smithsonian museum). But I enjoy visiting this museum for its gift shop; the Building Zone, a free play place for small children that is ideal when the weather is too hot, cold, or rainy; and the sheer sweep of its Great Hall, a gorgeous example of 19th-century public architecture.
Many Washingtonians, particularly those who live near Capitol Hill, use the Library of Congress for research or reading. A (free) library card is required for visiting or working in the Main Reading Room
, which is equipped with free wifi. The Thomas Jefferson Building (where the Main Reading Room is located) has spectacular neoclassical interior adorned with marble, murals, and Corinthian columns. Entry to the Library of Congress is free.
Located in Northeast DC, the National Arboretum is out of the way for most visitors to DC (particularly those who are here without a car). But I love visiting the Arboretum in the spring and summer, when its gardens are lush with flowers and herbs. Also on the premises is the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum
, a quirky botanical garden filled with miniature, manicured trees, some of which date back centuries.
Consistently listed as Washingtonians' favorite - and most underrated - Smithsonian, the National Portrait Gallery contains portraits of famous Americans ranging from George Washington to L.L. Cool J and Bill Gates. The gallery shares its space - the old Patent Office, a renovated building in the Georgian Revival Style - with the Smithsonian American Art Museum
. The museums tend to run together - I'm often not sure where one museum becomes the other - but I love walking through them, especially because the galleries are less crowded than those on the National Mall. The Portrait Gallery is located right at Gallery Place (on Metro's red line), making it an easy museum to duck into and out of for an an afternoon art fix.
There is much to love and hate about the Georgetown neighborhood. This is a fantastic neighborhood for shopping, but its popularity means crowded sidewalks and too much traffic. But Georgetown is also a delightful area for learning more about DC's history. Beyond the shopping streets of M and Wisconsin lie fabulous mansions, old churches, and genteel garden estates like Dumbarton Oaks
and Tudor Place
. On Sundays, the Georgetown Flea Market
is an easygoing place to find art, furniture, jewelry, and other collectibles.
This covered market in Southeast DC is one of my favorite places to eat and/or buy fresh food. Vendors inside the market fresh produce, flowers, meats, fish, poultry, and cheeses. On Saturdays, farmers from across the region bring their seasonal goodies for sale. Locals line up on Saturdays for Market Lunch, a small food counter in the market that offers a few specialties, including blueberry pancakes and crab cakes. There are other places around Eastern Market to nosh and shop for unique gifts and art.
Operated by the National Park Service, this green space runs almost the length of the entire city, going from the Maryland suburbs to the memorials. The park is most popular with residents for its running and biking trails, but there are also opportunities for horseback riding, tennis, golf, and more.
Washington's baseball stadium, Nationals Park, is one of the newest destinations in the city. But, as a baseball fan, I had to add this gem. The stadium is located on the waterfront, an up-and-coming area in DC within walking distance of Capitol Hill.