For those who are visiting the East Coast, don’t pass up the nation’s capital. I hadn’t been there for *ahem* “major sightseeing” since I was a kid. Memories of roasting summer heat, ice cream, and old spacecraft came flooding back as I walked along the National Mall. One note: if you get an ice cream from a street vendor, it may be chilled with dry ice. My Strawberry Shortcake bar was so damn solid, I thought there was something wrong with it and tried to return it. But failing in that (“You open, can no return!”), I waited a few minutes, and it eventually thawed into edibility.
Here’s the obligatory snap of Obama’s house… I mean, the White House. One note: if you want a tour, book far in advance by contacting your congressman (or consulate, if you are not a US Citizen). You can’t just show up and get tickets for a tour of the White House.
My advice on going up the Washington Monument: do it right at sunset. You can stay up there for 15 or 20 minutes: first to get great views of the setting sun, then later see the city lights at night. I’m not posting any pics, though, because the windows were a bit dirty and the photos are not great. You can get tickets in advance (go early in the morning to the visitor center on 15th St. NW next to the monument, they are free), or you might get lucky like we did because almost no one goes at sunset. The guards just let us in without tickets because it was not crowded at all (caveat: it was a weekday, during Congressional recess).
For the photography buffs, here’s a nice example of what a polarizing filter can do for your shots. I love to use it whenever there’s sky in a photo:
The sky is bluer, the grass is greener, and the Capitol is white instead of gray.
Now, war memorials and presidential memorials: I recommend renting bikes if you want to see them all, as you’ll save yourself HOURS of walking between them. The distances are pretty far.
In the gardens between/around these two monuments are memorials to those who fought in WWII, Korea, Vietnam… and several more.
Okay, on to a less weighty topic: museums! The Smithsonian lines the edges of the National Mall and spreads out throughout the city. Aquarium, zoo, natural history, US national history, Native American history, Air and Space, amazing botanical gardens, and many more museums… they’re all here. And, THEY’RE FREE. My personal favorite is the Air and Space museum, with the botanical gardens as a close second. Just pick your favorites and visit them all. Bikes not required to get from one to the next, in my opinion.
Stephen Colbert had his portrait in the National Portrait Gallery for some time (also home of every president’s official portrait). Colbert was hung next to the bathrooms. When I visited the National Museum of American History, I found that the portrait had been moved there from the Portrait Gallery. Of course, it was still hung next to the bathrooms.
At the American History museum you can also see Dorothy’s red slippers, Seinfeld’s puffy shirt, Oscar the Grouch, a lot of boxing gloves, and countless other pop treasures. Then there are the “real” historical exhibits about the Presidents, maritime America, the First Ladies, and countless more. However the highlight for me was the Star Spangled Banner: the massive flag that was the inspiration for Francis Scott Key’s song, which became our National Anthem.
Getting to DC, and traveling around the city:
- I would avoid parking in town. Take the Metro everywhere, as it’s convenient, except when it comes to the monuments. As mentioned, rent bikes to trek between them.
- Eat at the Brickskeller, a famous beer bar with (supposedly) the world’s largest beer menu. They have thousands of beers in bottles, and several dozen on tap. 1523 22nd St NW.
- Catch a movie at the Uptown Theater, a large classic theater with a *fantastic* sound system. I recommend a loud summer blockbuster with lots of guns and explosions. 3426 Connecticut Ave NW.
- Smithsonian website (list of museums): http://www.smithsonian.org/museums/
Hope these tips help you enjoy Washington, DC. Any questions, ask away–I can probably find out the answers for you!