Things to Do in Washington DC - page 5
Virginia’s Monticello is the sprawling Thomas Jefferson–designed estate turned UNESCO World Heritage Site and museum. Its extensive gardens and impressive buildings inspired by French villas are popular with history buffs and visitors looking to delve into America’s past and the life of America’s third president.
This distinctive 1892 Victorian home in Dupont Circle, the first fireproof building in the city, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Often referred to as the Brewmaster’s Castle, this ornate concrete and steel fortress was built and owned by the head of the Christian Heurich Brewing Company; this company ran from 1872-1956 and was once the largest employer in D.C.
Christian Heurich, a German immigrant, rose to prominence in D.C. society as a result of his company’s success, and this 31-room mansion was the major showplace of his wealth. State-of-the-art in its day, it features indoor plumbing, heated hot water, and an elevator. Its well-preserved interior is a microcosm of life in a late 19th-century Dupont Circle mansion, which at that time was the “it” address for the city’s rich and famous.
The retirement home for President Woodrow Wilson his wife Edith, this Georgian Revival house on Embassy Row earned its National Historic Preservation Site status for both its inhabitants and its architect. It was designed in 1915 by Waddy Butler Wood, the man behind a slew of D.C.’s finest private homes, as well the Masonic Temple, National Museum of Women in the Arts, and headquarters of the Department of the Interior.
Washington’s only presidential museum, the home has been maintained much as it looked at the time of Wilson’s death here in 1924; Edith continued to live in the house until her own death in 1961. In addition to an 8000-volume library and a slew of personal artifacts and memorabilia, Woodrow Wilson House features an elevator installed to accommodate the former president, who had suffered a semi-paralyzing stroke in 1919.
One of the first homes ever built in the nation’s capital, the historic Federal-style Octagon House was designed in 1799 by William Thornton for wealthy Virginia landowner Colonel John Tayloe III. During the War of 1812, Tayloe volunteered the house as a French embassy in order to save it from destruction, and two years later, when the White House was set ablaze by the British, he offered it to President James Madison as a temporary executive mansion. Madison used a second-floor room of the house as his study, and it was here that he signed the 1815 peace treaty that ended the war with England.
Madison and his wife, Dolley, moved back into the White House in 1817, and Tayloe and his family lived on at Octagon House until 1855. Later used as a Union hospital in the Civil War, the building had fallen into decay by 1899, when the American Institute of Architects purchased it for use as its headquarters. Established as a museum in 1970 and featuring historical photos of, memorabilia from, and plans for famous American buildings, it’s now open just two days a week for self-guided tours.
This historic Capitol Hill building, formerly called the Sewall-Belmont House, has served as the National Women’s Party’s headquarters since 1929. Today visitors can explore its fine art, books, political cartoons, textiles, and other artifacts made mostly by and about women that tell the story of the ongoing fight for women’s rights.
Since 1990 Hard Rock Café in Washington, D.C. has been serving up classic American fare with a side of rock and roll. Travelers who are familiar with the HRC experience will find the same burgers and wings menu, friendly service and hall of fame décor the chain is known for. But this location has a bit of patriotic flair, since veterans, law enforcement and servicemen sometimes get discounts on cuisine. Visitors will find excellent live music performances nightly, great drinks specials and incredible atmosphere that’s perfect for a fun night out or a filling dinner before taking it out on the town.
Founded in 1807, the Congressional Cemetery is the only “cemetery of national memory” founded before the Civil War. The Congressional Cemetery occupies nearly 36 acres and has been designated a National Historic Landmark, while serving as the final resting place for more than 65,000 people, including many notable founders of the United States and the city of Washington in the early 1800s.
The cemetery honors 171 members of Congress who died in office with cenotaphs, or tombstones at empty graves. Some of the most notable individuals interred at the Congressional Cemetery include Vice Presidents Elbridge Gerry (the only signer of the Declaration of Independence who is buried in Washington DC) and George Clinton, J. Edgar Hoover (the first FBI director) and Tom Lantos (the only Holocaust survivor ever elected to Congress).
Don’t mistake the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum for an antiques boutique; everything in this space is for seeing, not buying. The museum showcases American and British furniture, metals, ceramics, glass, paintings, prints, firearms and textiles from the 17th through the 19th century. There are 15 separate galleries, and the site has a reputation for showing off the “finer things” in life. In particular, the museum holds the largest collection of furniture from the American south and one of the largest collections of British ceramics anywhere outside of England.
To complement the collections, the museum educates the public through lectures and musical events. There is also a Portrait Gallery on the premises, allowing visitors to put faces with the luxury of the lifestyles demonstrated by the collections. The museum opened in 1985 in historic Williamsburg, Virginia, and was named after DeWitt Wallace, a co-founder ofReader’s Digest magazine.
When Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, wife of John D. Rockefeller, loaned part of her folk art collection to the Ludwell-Paradise House in Williamsburg in 1935, she had no idea that her items would eventually serve as the core of a museum named after her. The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum originally opened with 424 objects, all donated or collected by Ms. Rockefeller, but today, the museum features more than 3,000 pieces and is one of the largest collections of American folk art.
Founded in 1957, every inch of the site comes alive with bold colors and intricate craftsmanship, all telling the stories of American folk life. The museum features collections of wooden toys, carvings and needlework, in addition to the art. Many children enjoy the “Down on the Farm” animal-focused exhibit.
This moving monument that features a bronze sculpture of two Japanese cranes trapped in barbed wire pays homage to the Japanese Americans, veterans and those who were kept in internment camps after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Visitors will find a massive granite wall with names of the 10 camps where more than 120,000 people were held captive on American soil, as well as three panels covered in names honoring Japanese Americans who died while fighting World War II. There are also dozens of quotes from Japanese American writers gracing the unique memorial.
Travelers say this small gem, hidden among more epic D.C. structures is a sad but moving memorial that serves as a reminder of the horrors of war, the ugliness of humanity and the power of the human spirit to overcome even the most difficult adversities.
More Things to Do in Washington DC
This beautiful island, just a short drive from Washington DC, is both a wilderness reserve and a tribute to America’s 26th President. Situated on wooded lands in the Potomac River, the island has a rich heritage: it was once a Native American fishing village and thereafter owned by a Caribbean sea captain and an aristocratic family, and then occupied by Union troops in the Civil War. Today it has returned mostly to its natural state, a grove of thick trees and grassy hillsides.
At its center, a tall, bronze statue of Theodore Roosevelt stands in tribute to the man whose leadership shaped the many national parks, wilderness refuges, and public lands of the United States. His philosophies on youth and nature are immortalized by engraved quotations at the memorial site. Once you’ve paid tribute at the former president’s statue, be sure to immerse yourself in the surrounding nature on one of the many walking trails.
Designated by Congress in 2003 as America’s only national museum focused on children, the National Children’s Museum (NCM) offers sections and activities that explore the arts, politics, the environment, global citizenship, health and play. Set on the National Harbor Waterfront, 10 miles from downtown Washington DC, the NCM is full of bright colors and several floors’ worth of hands-on exhibits that aim to inspire kids to care about themselves and the world around them.
The bulk of the museum is in a section called Our World, which aims to teach kids about biodiversity, travel, what kids are like in other cultures and countries, and a sense of connection to their own homes and neighbors. A special 3 & Under section encourages toddlers to develop their fine motor and problem-solving skills via exhibits which invite them to pretend they’re driving a car, serving lunch, and more; this section includes a sensory-stimulating Infant and Crawler Zone for babies 12 months and under.
The US National Arboretum is a 446-acre (180-hectare) expanse of forests, meadows, and gardens connected by 9 miles (14 kilometers) of roadways. Though most known for its diverse tree collection, the arboretum is also home to the National Bonsai Museum, National Herb Garden, and the 200-year-old U.S. Capitol columns.
One of Washington DC’s most unusual landmarks, the House of the Temple, located in Dupont Circle, is the headquarters of the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry. Built between 1911–1915 by storied architect John Russell Pope, and written about by popular author Dan Brown, the House of the Temple is free for visitors to explore.
Once known for its vibrant and boundary-pushing installations and street art, Freedom Park—located in the Rosslyn area of Arlington, Virginia—is a more understated sight today. The two-block-long, elevated park was established in partnership with the Newseum; its former artworks are displayed at the museum today.
Home to the local baseball team, the Washington Nationals (and its bald eagle mascot, Screech), this LEED-certified stadium can seat over 41,ooo fans. The Nationals, formed by the transfer of the Montreal Expos in 2005, is D.C.’s first baseball team since the Washington Senators folded in 1971. The East Division team played its first three seasons in D.C.’s RFK Stadium before moving into its own dedicated stadium in 2008.
Set in the formerly scruffy Navy Yard neighborhood by the Anacostia River, Nationals Park jumpstarted urban renewal and a thriving commercial district full of independently-owned shops, bars, and cafes; as a nod to its more historic and maritime Navy Yard surroundings, a submarine horn blares after every Nationals home run and win. The Park itself features views of the U.S. Capitol Building, National Cathedral and Washington Monument from its upper deck, and in addition to concessions by local eateries like Ben’s Chili Bowl, the Red Porch sit-down restaurant offers full meals with a view of the field.
Formally named the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America, this Byzantine-style church and religious retreat near Catholic University and the Basilica was designed to resemble the Hagia Sophia Cathedral in Istanbul, Turkey. Opened in 1899, the elegant Franciscan Monastery also features Romanesque porticos, a cloister, and 42-acres of gardens with a greenhouse and re-creations of various shrines found in Israel.
Hour-long tours are offered on Monday–Saturday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m., and Sunday, 1 p.m.-3 p.m. The garden is open daily to the public from 9 a.m.-4:45 p.m. On its grounds, the Monastery offers a $70/night cabin called The Hermitage for one guest to take a personal retreat. This cabin includes a washer-dryer and kitchenette, as well a private outdoor deck.
This historic Episcopal church, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was designed by Benjamin Henry Latrobe, the British-born architect of the U.S. Capitol Building. Called the “Church of the Presidents” for having hosted every president since James Madison in its pews, this Neoclassical place of worship was the second structure built on Lafayette Square – after the White House.
Completed in 1816, St. John’s features dozens of intricate stained-glass windows, as well as a wooden steeple with an almost-1,000-pound bell cast by Paul Revere's son, Joseph, at his Boston foundry in 1822; reminiscent of Revere’s bell during the American Revolution, St. John’s bell once served as an alarm for the surrounding neighborhoods.
At its peak bloom from late May to early September, this Anacostia River wetland full of lotuses, lilies and forest wildflowers is accessible either by boardwalks or – only at high tide - by canoe or kayak. The gardens are adjacent to a large athletic field surrounded by woods and flowering bushes, and to a restored 30-acre marsh rimmed by walking paths.
Summer garden tours are offered at 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday, from Memorial Day to Labor Day. One of the tour’s highlights, only possible in late summer or early fall, is a swath of enormous Victoria water lilies, which have pads as many as four feet across. Whether or not you come for a tour, if your goal is to see blooming water lilies, it’s best to come as early in the morning as possible.
Opened in 1844, this historic Episcopal, -style church has been added to the National Register of Historical Places. Used as a hospital for Union troops in 1862, the Church of the Epiphany held memorial services for slain President McKinley in 1901, and since 1925, has rung its bells in honor of each newly inaugurated president.
The church’s slim shape and Gothic Revival stone façade stand out amongst the tall modern office buildings of downtown D.C. The interior features several intricate stained glass windows, and outside, a small shaded courtyard offers benches and a bit of quiet. This small parish of about 350 worshipers is focused largely on serving, helping and supporting the surrounding homeless community.
The National Theatre first opened in 1835, supported by some of D.C.’s wealthiest patrons, who wanted their city to have a world-class theatrical institution. In the wake of the 1922 collapse of the nearby Knickerbocker movie theater during a snowstorm, the vintage limestone building was redesigned and reinforced for safety; its interior remained largely unchanged until a full-scale renovation in 1984. This renovation, quite fittingly, was overseen by a theater production set designer.
Since its original opening, virtually every great theater star has performed at the National, and a box on the left side of the stage has hosted every president and his wife; Abraham Lincoln and Eleanor Roosevelt were particular fans of the plays presented here. Today, the stage at this elegant, 1,676-seat theater hosts some of the biggest productions on Broadway.
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