10 Capital Treats to Savor in Washington, DC

Admittedly, it feels a bit redundant to be recalling favorite destinations in Washington, D.C., having spent much of the past month mentally resident in the nation’s capital as the history-making administration of POTUS 44 Barack Obama decamped and incoming President Donald Trump took office.

That said, if you’ve never set foot in America’s unique, compact federal city wedged between Maryland and Virginia on the Potomac River, but know it only from TV coverage of past inaugurations, public protests and nightly news feeds, you’re in for a pleasant surprise: there’s a living, breathing, funny and endearing city beneath all the pomp and circumstance.

Yes, you will experience monuments; the mindboggling Lincoln Memorial, the inspiring Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial and the heartbreaking Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall in the shadow of the Washington Monument are three must-sees. A stroll past the White House always invokes a sense of déjà vu, embedded as it is in our cultural memory. The National Mall, Smithsonian Museum buildings, and the United States Capitol and sundry government buildings that surround it feel welcoming if dated, frozen in time. The soaring columns alone can send you scurrying to the nearest bohemian coffee shop.

If you have but a three-day weekend or an event window to work with, here are 10 capital treats to savor in the District of Columbia.

National Museum of African American History & Culture (pictured above): The Smithsonian’s latest gem is a powerful combination of historic artifacts, milestone retrospectives and a timely celebration of the contribution that African Americans have made to our society.

The National Gallery of Art and Sculpture Garden: While this surprisingly intimate gallery often takes a backseat to the antics on its ice rink in the garden mid-November through mid-March, its permanent collection is truly impressive, featuring major works by Rubens, Rembrandt, Monet, Degas and Van Gogh.

Grab a slice at We the Pizza: Sneak in a snack break the way Barack and Michelle Obama used to at this tasty Capitol Hill pizzeria, which daily fills Pennsylvania Avenue with the aromas of its traditional or cast iron pizzas, knots and wings on the fly.

Newseum (pictured right):This seven-floor celebration of the importance of the First Amendment features memorabilia, major event retrospectives (the Civil War, Vietnam, 911 and others), touch-screen interactives and Pulitzer Prize-winning photography from five centuries of news reporting. You can even try your hand at being a reporter or photojournalist in the Interactive Newsroom.

Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum: While you really can’t go wrong visiting any of the Smithsonian’s 19 museums and galleries in town, Air and Space is an absolute must, especially if your group includes kids. From actual aircraft, rockets and spaceships to engrossing interactives and out-of-this-world images at the Einstein Planetarium, this funhouse puts you firmly in the cockpit of the history of flight.

Lunch at Union Market: For a taste of Washington’s foodie culture, swing into this hip northeast artisan community for free-range ethnic fare (Korean tacos, anyone?), music, pop-up boutiques and spontaneous film combustion.

United States Botanic Garden  (pictured left): When the museums, the monuments and the sheer magnitude of must-sees become overwhelming, recharge amid orchids and rainforest in this relaxing, free public garden near the Capitol reflecting pool.

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden: Lest you depart D.C. thinking it a tad stuffy, one pass through this iconoclastic modern/pop art mecca should cleanse the pallet. Did I mention it’s also a Smithsonian?

Dinner at 1789 Restaurant: After a day spent absorbing history, it’s time to savor a locally-sourced feast or private event at this Georgetown favorite, housed in a Tudor home from the Federalist period.

International Spy Museum: Finally, for those who prefer their martinis shaken and not stirred, the wonderfully atmospheric International Spy Museum makes for a memorable post-event wrap-up. Centrally located in the Penn Quarter neighborhood, this homage to espionage features a 200-capacity (150 dining) midcentury modern event space with a wall of windows overlooking the American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery. Before dining, enjoy a lively scavenger hunt through the museum, or select Operation Spy to see whom among your group best deserves the title Bond, James Bond.

Photos: Shutterstock.com

Jay MacDonald

Jay MacDonald

Jay MacDonald is an award-winning journalist, author and blogger who incorporates humor and human interest into a broad range of topics. Follow him on Twitter @omnisaurus

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