Visit our Nation’s Capitol
D.C. Deserves More than a Day
So often, I hear people say they will be in our nation’s capitol for a day. This makes me cringe, and I’ll tell you why. A day is simply not adequate. Even if you are there for business, I urge you to take some time to explore.
Physically, D.C. is not that large, and a wonderful metro system makes getting around very easy. During peak times, the metro can run slow, but it is affordable, convenient and part of the show. The metro runs to nearby districts, allowing you to take advantage of lower rates for hotels slightly outside the city.
Aside from being the seat of Democracy, D.C. is full of museums, galleries, and monuments. Most of them are free, and many are available 24 hours a day. Perhaps the most famous museum is the Smithsonian Institute. The name is misleading. This is far more than a single museum. The Smithsonian offers 19 different museums, ranging in interest, from fine art to postage stamps.
Three of these receive the most visitors: Air and Space Museum, American History Museum and the Natural History Museum. All are outstanding, with exhibits that excite both young and old visitors. Each deserves a full day to explore, although you can rush through them all in a single day. I have been to the Natural History Museum several times, and there is always something new to explore.
The Air and Space Museum will set imaginations on fire, as you view the Spirit of St. Louis, the plane that flew Charles Lindbergh across the Atlantic in 1903; Apollo 11’s command module is on display, along with SpaceShipOne, the first privately owned spaceship. If it pertains to air or space, you will find it here.
The National Museum of American History has always been one of personal favorites. The flag that
inspired our National Anthem, the Star Spangled Banner, will stir your inner patriot; personal items from the likes of Washington, Jefferson, and pop culture icons are housed here, along with the “ruby slippers” worn by Judy Garland in the Wizard of Oz. This museum is dedicated to science, societal, political and technological development of the USA.
The Natural History Museum covers human development from our earliest ancestors, cultures, flora and fauna, all the way to the present. You will stand amazed alongside an actual skeleton of a T-Rex, or get an up-close look at creepy crawlies, birds, mammals and marine life from all corners of the world. See the legendary Hope Diamond, and learn its mysteries, in the tremendous gem and mineral hall. The rotunda inside is an architectural delight.
You could easily spend a week exploring these three alone, but why stop there? I haven’t even touched the art museums, were you can see the great masters, modern art, sculpture or the portrait gallery of US Presidents.
The National Zoo is home to 2,000 animals of 400 various species. It is considered one of the best zoos in the world, and features many rare and endangered animals. In 1972, China gifted the US with a breeding pair of Giant Pandas. Now the group numbers four, and are a must see. (Note: While the zoo is free, parking is a hefty $22. Another strong argument for the metro.)
No trip to DC is complete without visiting a few monuments. It seems no stone has been left unturned, when it comes to things to memorialize. Individuals, such as Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Martin Luther King, Jr., have earned a monument through their contributions to the nation. The most famous of course are the Washington, Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials.
The most emotionally poignant memorials are those dedicated to our war heroes. The African
American Civil War Memorial pays tribute to an often-overlooked group of American heroes. Arlington National Cemetery is very moving. Visit the tomb of JFK, and the Tomb of the Unknowns, or gaze upon the thousands of rows of perfectly aligned head stones, belonging to those who served, and gave their all.
Nearly every war is represented, as are the individual branches of the military.
As the nation’s capital, no trip would be complete without a visit to a handful of government
establishments. The Supreme Court offers regular tours when the Court is not meeting. The Capital Building, with its’ magnificent dome is just one of the structural masterpieces found in the city.
If you want to see the White House, you will need to contact your Congressional Representative six months in advance, to request tickets. You will get a confirmation about one month before your requested dates. Visits to the Pentagon or Federal Bureau of Investigation offices also need prior arrangements, but you can do them yourself.
After exploring all the sites, you might want to let your hair down. Adult travelers might enjoy a cocktail at any of the Georgetown clubs, or grab a burger and a beer at the Black Squirrel near downtown. Adams Morgan Bars offer a diverse and international menu, lively nightlife and dancing. Truly, every corner of the city has its unique watering holes; some have been host to dignitaries over the decades. Ask a local, and be ready to experience the true neighborhood spirit. (Beware: some neighborhoods you will not want to experience. As with any bustling city, there are areas to avoid.)
Dining is a treat in DC. Whatever you crave, you will delight in the choices this city affords. Nearly every cuisine is covered. Looking for a great Indian curry house? You will have plenty to choose from. Get authentic Mexican, Mediterranean, seafood or steak. Go fancy with French fare, or enjoy family style Italian. Every palette can find foodie paradise all over this vital city.
The tourist sites I have already covered are free to the public. Some of the attractions that charge admission are worthy of a visit, attracting young and old alike. Two that my entire family enjoy, are the International Spy Museum, and the Newseum. The Newseum is dedicated to making the news. You will explore what it was like to cover the Viet Nam war as a correspondent, and experience the news through engaging interactive displays and stories. Discover headlines from by-gone days, or today’s breaking news.
The International Spy Museum is a revelation. Learn how spies and secret agents helped move world history throughout the ages. Human intelligence is vital to winning wars. Spies have existed since the dawn of civilization, but their techniques have evolved greatly. See the real life gadgets spies have used internationally. Bond fans will love the exhibit dedicated to the famous 007. You can compare his movie gadgets to the real thing. It might surprise you. Intrigue and espionage fascinate us, and there is no better place to explore than this.
Mount Vernon was the private home of George and Martha Washington. The home and grounds are beautifully presented, and worth a trip if you have time. Depending upon the time of year, look for festivals and annual events, which are top notch in our nation’s capital.