8/06/2009

50 Great Things to do in Washington DC [part 2 of 5]


[part 2 of 5]  Here they are ... 10 more great things to do, counting down on our way to 50!

11.  International Affairs. The business of our government is arguably two-fold: interfering with the lives of ordinary Americans, and interfering with the lives of everyone else in the world. Orginizations devoted to the latter include embassies representing pretty much every country in the world, the diplomatic reception rooms at State Dept, the headquarters of Voice of America, and the Organization of American States. If you want to rub shoulders with foreign nationals, a restaurant/bar called MCCXXIII reputedly caters to the embassy crowd. Oh, and don't forget to get your wonk on at the World Bank bookstore.

12. Water, Water Everywhere. Though it looks landlocked on your basic US map, D.C. is in fact bordered by two rivers: the Potomac to the southwest and the Anacostia to the southeast. This is an especially handy thing to remember on hot summer days. Ways to cool off on the water: Visit Great Falls Park, which features a series of gorgeous waterfalls; take a Paddleboat ride on the Tidal Basin; take a canoe or kayak out on the Potomac, or take a canal boat down the C&O Canal .

13.  See a Show. D.C. isn't exactly New York City, but it isn't Puxatawny either. Theaters hosting Broadway-run shows include the Kennedy Center, Fords Theater (yes, the one where Lincoln was shot - leave exra time to visit the museum), National Theater, and the Shakespeare Theater. Other quality "just off broadway" theaters include Studio Theater, Arena Stage, and Woolly Mammoth Theater. Check out Ticketplace for cut-rate same-day tickets. Or, for something a little different, don't overlook theaters associated with the major universities in the area, to include Lisner Auditorium at George Washington University. Just want to take in a movie? The American Film Institute (AFI) Silver Theater and Cultural Center screens a constant string of classics, or check out the Mary Pickford Theater at the Library of Congress, which shows films of historic and cultural significance. Perhaps, after all, you're just in the mood for a good laugh? Doesn't get better than the Capitol Steps, an improv group that specializes in political satire; or check out Shear Madness at the Kennedy Center, a farce that's been running continuously for 20+ years (much like our government, some would say). We've got opera fans covered too: check out performances by the Wasington National Opera, Opera Comerata, Bel Cantanti, the Wolftrap Opera Company, the American Opera Theater, or the Washington Savoyards, to list just a few.

14. Take in a Concert. Hard to imagine a city that boasts the variety of music available in this town. Most folks outside of DC probably don't even realize each branch of the military service sponsors a variety of superb musical groups (symphonic, band, jazz and more), but they perform here 2-3 times a week during the summer. Venues that host major rock/pop concerts include Verizon Center (fka MCI Center), DAR Constitution Hall, Jiffy Lube Live (fka Nissan Pavilion), Wolftrap, and RFK Stadium ... or for a more intimate concert-going experience try Millenium Stage at the Kennedy Center (daily and FREE!), the Music Center at Strathmore, the Birchmere, Lisner Auditorium at George Washington University, or the Carter Barron Amphitheater (at Rock Creek Park). During the summer, it's hard to turn sideways without hitting musicians performing at any of the literally hundreds of outdoor venues in the DC area, to include the Sylvan Theater (Washington Monument), Farrugut Park, the Capitol Riverfront, the Carter Barron Amphitheater (Rock Creek Park), the National Zoo, or even the steps of the Capitol building. Or if you like your music really intimate, visit any one of the 50 or so clubs that host live music of every imaginable genre: for a current list, check the City Paper or the Weekend section of the Washington Post. Want orchestra? We've got a bunch of them, to include the Capital City Symphony, the Baltimore City Orchestra, and - of course - the granddaddy of them all, the National Symphony Orchestra.

15. Eat. While not a foodie destination, DC offers restaurants for pretty much every taste. And when I say every taste, I mean pretty much every ethnic food you can imagine (literally, everything from Albanian to Zambian), catering to DC's huge population of immigrants from every corner of the world. The "best" restaurants tend to vary from year to year, so you may wish to consult Washingtonian Magazine's most recent 100 Top Restaurants list. But if you want to see how traditional DC "power lunching" is done, your best choices are the Palm (has served every pres since Nixon), Old Ebbitt's Grill, the Oval Room, the Bombay Club, Cafe Milano, The Monocle, or Johnny's Half Shell. Recent "hot" foodie destinations include Cake Love, which is featured on cable TV, and Ben's Chili Bowl, where Barack Obama likes to take foreign dignitaries for a jolt of Americana. There are even outfits that offer food tours of DC - how about that?

16. Tipple. Wine is everywhere in DC, but it's not indiginous. You can learn about it at the Washington Wine Academy; or, if you're willing to venture into Virginia, you can visit any one of 70+ actual wineries. But if you don't want to venture out of DC, I recommend you stick to beer. Start at the Brickskeller, listed in the Guiness Book of World Records as "the bar with the largest selection of commercially available beers." Then move on to Da's Rfd Washington, which has an only slightly less impressive inventory of suds. Or, if you're on the wagon, check out how Coca Cola is bottled at the Alexandria bottling plant.

17. Shop 'Til You Drop. Warning: DC is NOT a shopping town! When people in DC need designer duds, they go to NYC just like everyone else.  The closest we have to "shopping districts" are neighborhoods like Georgetown, Penn Quarter, Dupont Circle, or Old Towne Alexandria that offer a variety of funky shops, galleries, and boutiques. For national chains, check out the Fashion Center Mall at Pentagon City, or bid on art/antiques at Weschler's Auctionhouse. But if you're in it mostly for entertainment value, be sure to check out Union Station and Eastern Market, which house bunches of eclectic stores, some no larger than a booth, offering all sorts of foods, crafts, and novelties. For fresh seafood, don't skip the Maine Avenue Fish Market. Or if you're looking for bargains, head directly for the Georgetown Flea Market.

18. Stroll. Washington is a great walking city. Innumerable companies offer themed walking tours: African-American heritage tour, most haunted houses tour, Ghosts of Georgetown tour, embassy tour, U Street tour (DC's version of Harlem), Lincoln assassination tour, secrets and symbols tour (inspired by Dan Brown's Lost Symbol), and more. Memorials by Moonlight is a favorite of mine, since you get to the monuments at their most dramatic AND you beat the heat. Or strike out on your own and hike the Capitol Crescent trail, or the C&O Canal towpath.

19. Go Underground. Take the road less travelled and check out DC's subterranean attractions. If you like history, consider taking an archeology tour of the city. Mount St. Sepulcre and the National Cathedral have catacombs which are sometimes open to visitors. The biggest consumer of underground real estate is definitely the city's subway system, called Metro: expensive, but a great way to get around the city. What most folks don't know is that Congress has it's own transport system, a little mini-subway connecting the House and Senate buildings to the Capitol. (Reduces the risk of running into constituents accidentally!) Opening soon: an underground visitors center at the Washington Monument ... a compromise designed to ensure that the National Mall remains unblemished by unsightly tourist buildings. You used to be able to tour a tomb-like space below the Washington Monument - which contained stalactites, stagmites, and truly cool 1800s graffiti left by workmen at the site - but this has now been closed to visitors. (Damn 9/11!) No doubt there's also a bunch of bunkers, air raid shelters, and other emergency-type facilities to house our government officials in time of war, but pretty sure you'll get shot if you try exploring those.

20. Get ethnic. Being the capitol city of one of the world's most dominant countries has it's advantages! Many countries have established "cultural centers" in DC, which offer lectures, exhibits and other outreach programs. Among these are Mexican Cultural Institute, the Goethe Institut, and the Alliance Francaise de Washington. While DC doesn't have a lot of ethnic neighborhoods per sey (our Chinatown has been pretty much consumed by the Verizon Center, for instance), we do have neighborhoods like Adam's Morgan, Georgetown, and Logan Circle that host a huge variety of ethnic restaurants, stores, groceries, and galleries.

Stay tuned ...10 more ideas in my next post!

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