Museums and Activities
1. The Newseum: Reporting Live From Pennsylvania Avenue
This modern, six-floor building is a welcome break from the stately classical edifices housing most of DC’s museums. And the museum contained within this building is also a welcome break from the norm. On the museum’s front, visitors find a six-story stone etching of the first amendment: a tribute to the very law that permits the Newseum (and all museums, for that matter) to operate. You guessed it: herein lies anything you could ever want to know about the news. From famous moments in history that the news has played a part in (spoiler alert: it’s basically all of them) to the very ethics and laws of modern journalism as a practice. Good thing admission is good for two days- because you’ll definitely need both to see every incredible exhibit that the Newseum offers. How’s that for your daily dose of news?
2. The National Archives: “Oh look- there’s the Constitution”
This is probably one of the go-to attractions in DC. Where else in the world can you see the US Constitution, Declaration of Independence, and The Bill of Rights, all within feet of each other? That’s right- nowhere (unless Nicolas Cage has stolen the Declaration again). Even though I expected it, I still felt a bit of awe at the fact that the actual documents on which the very idea of today’s America was written were just a foot or two from my very face. It’s definitely one of those “you’ve got to be there” moments. A tip: pay around a dollar-fifty in advance to get a timed entrance (if you know exactly when you want to visit) to skip the long line at the entrance. Plus, go on a weekday or low-traffic time of day to make sure you don’t have to push through crowds to get a look at the actual documents.
3. The National Mall: You Just Have to Walk It
Think Central Park; minus the hills, trees, and boulders; and add a plethora of monuments and memorials in seemingly random places. That’s DC’s National Mall. In a perfect world, I would have an entire day to walk the northern part (from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial), stopping at as many memorials as possible along the way. The fact that it’s flat makes the mall a bit more tedious walk than a similar distance in Central Park, but it’s still lovely when you get a nice day. This is the DC that comes to mind in peoples’ imaginations.
4. The Capitol Visitor Center: More Than Just a Pretty Dome
Behind the Capitol itself (the side not facing the Mall), is the Capitol’s Visitor Center. Located underground, this relatively new museum is a great way to actually learn about our government (at least the legislative branch). It’s all broken up into time periods (for example, the 35th Congress to the 50th Congress), which talk about the issues facing the government during those times as well as a model of what the immediate area of DC surrounding the Capitol looked like. While you don’t actually get to go inside the Capitol, the Visitor Center really gives you an inside look at this iconic piece of American history.
5. The International Spy Museum: Nothing Is What It Seems…
One would expect the entrance to a museum about spying to be hidden- maybe you have to step down below street level and open a futuristic door or something. But The International Spy Museum’s entrance is in plain view, directly across from bustling Gallery Place. That doesn’t mean it’s any less clandestine, though- with a mysterious elevator ride to get to the start of the exhibits and staff telling you to memorize the information of an alias, you can definitely tell this isn’t a museum for bad liars. The exhibits feature decorated rooms and interactive features that definitely make this a unique museum pick- plus, the subject material is just inherently cool. From Ancient Rome to the Cold War and beyond, this is espionage exposed.
6. The Holocaust Museum: A Lesson From History
In my opinion, every citizen of the world should be required to visit The Holocaust Museum. It’s a well done tribute to this crevasse in history. But the thing that’s more impactful is its “never again” attitude- bent on educating its visitors on how to prevent such horrific events from occurring again. You’ll have to get a timed pass (available online in advance for around a dollar) in order to enter the main exhibit, and expect it to take at least 2 hours. This is not a museum to rush through- it’s a museum of quiet reflection. The end of the museum was a tribute to other genocides in history, and what we as citizens can do to keep them from ever happening again. It was a solemn yet uplifting note to a reflective visit.
7. The Smithsonian Air & Space Museum- Udvar-Hazy Center: AV Geeks Only
Yes, I have to admit that I’m obsessed with everything that has to do with flying contraptions. So, this museum was the closest earthly thing to my imagination of paradise. Ok, maybe not, but it was still pretty incredible. This gigantic facility (which is actually built into an airplane hangar) is around 45 minutes west of DC in Chantilly, VA, literally connected to Dulles International Airport. 760,000 square feet of aviation history sits on the floor and hangs from the ceiling, and you can easily make a day out of all of it (well, at least I could). There’s also a restoration hangar where you can actually look down on ongoing projects. But my favorite part of the museum was the Donald D. Engen Observation Tower, a 160+ foot edifice that resembles an air traffic control tower, high enough to overlook Dulles airport in the distance, and you can even see planes taking off and landing through the glorious floor-to-ceiling windows. I could have spent hours up there. But that’s just me…
8. Georgetown: The Hipster Annex
Every city has a place where the hipsters concentrate, and in DC, that’s Georgetown. Cobblestone streets and 19th century buildings make this a great area for shopping and, of course eating. It’s not connected to the DC subway line, so you’ll have to take a bus or drive there (parking is limited). Spilling down over the hills on the northeastern bank of the Potomac, this neighborhood is definitely a great place to walk, shop (they have an entire store dedicated to spices), or grab a bite.
1. Ping Pong Dim Sum: Upscale and Inventive
DC’s Chinatown is a famous spot in the city for Dim Sum, and Ping Pong doesn’t disappoint. Set in the heart of Chinatown this sleek, modern restaurant has a great Dim Sum service with a menu (because it’s always nice to know exactly what you’re eating). My favorite orders were the chicken and chive emerald dumplings (with funky green casings), prawn balls (shrimp covered in crispy wonton noodles and fried), honey chicken puffs, and the delicious mango lemonade (with a shot of mango puree). And for dessert, order the roasted banana and chocolate spring rolls. They just speak for themselves.
2. Farmers, Fishers, Bakers: Georgetown Grub
Imaginative takes on farmhouse classics reign supreme at this hip hangout just a few steps from the Potomac. Bacon covered kettle corn can be served on the same table as hand-rolled sushi, all while industrial decor gives the place an edgy-yet-homely vibe. Make sure to order the guacamole (made tableside), brick oven pretzels (what cool people eat instead of the normal ‘waiting bread’), fried Carolina whites shrimp (tastes like those massive, delicious gulf shrimp you find in Florida), for dessert, Uncle Buck’s Beignets: balls of fried goodness served with raspberry coulis, hot fudge, and bourbon caramel.
3. Golden, Brown, Delicious (GBD): Everything is Just Good
Just down the street from DuPont Circle lies GBD, a small, quirky joint where pictures of chickens imposed upon the heads of famous people adorn the walls. Plus they had a heater, and it was snowing outside, so that’s a plus. For lunch, I ordered a Tendie Lunchbox, a tray consisting of a few chicken tenders fried to dark golden perfection, perfectly-seasoned french fries, a creme-fraiche biscuit, and the best ranch sauce I have ever tasted. Ever. To conclude, I tired one of GBD’s famous doughnuts: the Oreo doughnut. A glazed doughnut stuffed with Oreo creme and covered in rich chocolate, it was an honor to place it in my mouth.
4. Founding Farmers: Seconds, Please?
We loved Farmers, Fishers, Bakers so much that we had to stop into its sister restaurant, Founding Farmers. In Rockville, MD with a location in downtown DC as well, we chowed down on a delightful brunch at this restaurant that also specializes in twisting farm food. We ordered a few biscuits with a tasty salted honey butter spread for the table, while some dishes that quickly gained fame with us were the fried chicken and waffles, the Benedict Arnold (a witty name for eggs benedict), a mango phosphate (fizzy homemade mango soda), and my personal favorite, the New Orleans stuffed french toast (massive rectangular prisms of french toast stuffed generously with vanilla cream- I’m getting hungry just thinking about it).