Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Seeking Washington Tourism Expertise

A bit off the usual path: we're finally doing a family trip to Washington this weekend, and I'm looking for tourism suggestions. Specifically, any new stuff I don't know about. I haven't done a touristy trip to Washington since Hector was a pup...well, really, not since my wife and I lived there. I have been over to the (mediocre at best, in my view) FDR Memorial, but otherwise I really haven't done anything touristy in a long, long time. 

So, helpful people: what should I know that I don't know? What's new that wasn't there twenty years ago that should be on a can't-miss list, or even an if-you-have-time list? What's changed about visiting the things that were there that I probably don't know about? The (high-school and college aged) kids are excellent tourists with broad interests, so really anything good is worth knowing about. Any help, or any pointers to further help, would be very much appreciated.

Thank you!


  1. The best thing about visiting DC now, relative to 20 years ago, is the bike rentals right outside Union Station. A bike is the best way to tour the mall - my wife and I visited several monuments (FDR, Jefferson, Vietnam War, Korean War) that I had never seen before because going to every monument by foot & metro is too much effort. Then if you have extra time you can also ride through Old Alexandria and all the way to Mr. Vernon, which is a great ride with a great destination. The same company has a location in Old Alexandria, I think, where you can drop the bike off so you don't have to ride all the way back, just jump on the metro for the return.

  2. Not worth it:

    Air Force Memorial

    Worth it:

    Spy Museum
    New Visitor Center at the Capital
    New WWII Memorial (very well done)
    Semi new: The Air and Space Museum hanger at Dulles. The shuttle is impressive.
    Nationals Park

  3. There are a host of new museums, charging admission, that have sprung up around Chinatown and the surrounding area, but the only one that's really worth paying for is the Newseum. They've tightened security significantly at the Capitol--you'll have to go through the Capitol Visitors Center and have much less chance to just wander off looking for your rep's office (this is a change much for the worse). Aside from the bike rentals at Union Station, there's also a bike-sharing system that's a great way to get around. You can buy daily memberships for a very reasonable fee, just be sure not to keep the bikes for too long--the first half hour is free, but charges rack up quickly after that, so it's more useful for point-to-point travel than leisurely touring. If you're going to use Bikeshare, I recommend downloading the free "Spotcycle" app for your smartphone--it'll tell you the locations of the nearest drop-off points. Also, the Metro sucks a lot more than it did the last time you were here--they are doing repairs, and there are frequently huge delays outside of rush hour, especially on weekends. They'll often single-track and occasionally even shut down stations (for instance, Dupont and Farragut North are closed this weekend), so be sure to check the WMATA website for the dates of your trip if you plan on using Metro, and try to avoid transferring lines as much as possible.

  4. I'm afraid all my advice is the oldies but goodies.

    Newseum's price (a lot!) has always kept me away.

    I've made it to DC 3 times in the last 5 years (though, one of those "times" was for 6 weeks). I have been to Natural History 4 times in this period; their rocks & gems hall is simply the best I've ever seen, and I can't get enough of it.

    And, for my money, you just can't beat Congress, the White House, the classic monuments (Lincoln, Jefferson...Washington is too scary for an acrophobic!), etc. Seriously, every trip to DC reminds me that I actually am quite patriotic. I'm actually getting kinda misted up thinking about the Jefferson Memorial.

  5. Eat at the American Indian museum.

  6. Another blog I read, 'theaporetic.com', has had a number of articles about various buildings and lesser-known monuments around Washington D.C. I did a quick search and pulled up the ones I could see:


    Last time I went, I spent most of my free time at the Air and Space Museum. Not exactly an unknown landmark, but pretty great nonetheless. Have fun!

  7. Other than memorials and museums, I would check out the food. Definitely eat El Salvadorian food (the largest immigrant group) and ethiopian food. I think the Eastern Market farmers market is also fun.


    1. I agree completely. One of the best things about DC is the ethnic food.

  8. capital bikeshare.

    food trucks.

    Lincoln's cottage.

    Air Force memorial.

    Union Market

  9. Love it! Thanks everyone (and keep 'em coming)...

  10. Theodore Roosevelt Island memorial is kind of cool if you've seen all the other more popular ones already. Eastern Market is fun to go eat at as well. And I've heard good things about the spy museum.

  11. Vietnam Memorial. FDR Memorial. And rent bikes and bike the Potomac bike path.

  12. On our last visit to Washington my family enjoyed the exhibits about Lincoln and the Civil War at Fords Theatre.

  13. I found the LOC-Jefferson Building quite enjoyable when I was there. Granted, that was nearly six years ago. I wanted to like the National Archives more than I did, but just didn't do it for me.

  14. Oh, if you can do the walking tour of Lincoln's assassination (we had an alumni connection set it up for a group of students, so I'm not sure of the details for people off the street), that was a lot of fun and informative.

  15. If you like baseball and the Blues Travelers, the Washington Nationals play Minnesota Saturday at 4:30 pm followed by a"free concert." Nationals stadium is nice and right on a metro (subway) line.

  16. I can't add much in terms of museums and such, but eat at Zaytinya. I ate there with my girlfriend and her daughter when we went to the White House Easter Egg Hunt last year. Fantastic restaurant.

    And if you've never been to Pizzeria Paradiso, well, you're missing out. It's wonderful.

  17. its an oldie but off the beaten tourist track - Dumbarton Oaks in Georgetown. It's historic - the WWII treaty among the Allies setting up the United Nations was signed there. The mansion itself hosts a Byzantine and a Pre-Columbian art museum (there's a combination) and the surrounding 12 acres of formal gardens filled with fountains and statuary are exquisite if you go for that sort of thing. You are much more likely to run into visiting embassy staffers than Ma and Pa Iowa and all their kids.
    Also check out the Kogod courtyard cafe with the very very extremely cool roof in the building which is home to the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Muse (the Reynolds Center. Also a bit off the beaten track (i.e. not on the Mall) - at Gallery Place.

  18. Washington is a very good State to visit I personally would recommend the Spy Museum is really interesting!

  19. it's not new but...
    of course, the Vietnam memorial. but then, walk across the street to the Einstein Statue and climb up and sit in his lap. Makes it all. almost, OK.

  20. If you have a car, the Air and Space museum hanger out at Dulles is great --- I think it's *much* better than the one downtown. And usually much less crowded.

    As others have said, Newseum is excellent. I'd skip the Spy Musuem, but that might be my tastes.

    I have very mixed feelings about the CVC at the Capitol. Compared to the old days, the exhibits are great. But it really does keep you to very limited access of the Capitol itself.

    Re: pizza, I like Paradisio. But Two Amys (just off Wisconisn north of Mass Ave.) is better.

  21. You've got a lot of good suggestions already, but on the food front I'll mention Thai X-ing, which is legendary and quite unique. You have to reserve a week in advance, but it's worth it.

    In general, Tyler Cowen's ethnic food blog is a great resource for the district & surrounding area. He finds some amazing places.

  22. I think Ford's Theater is playing 1776 over the next couple of months. Definitely the right place to see that fantastic play.

  23. Other food suggestions:

    If you have a car, Vietnamese food out at Eden Center and Korean Food in Annandale are can't-misses.

    The Pig is my favorite new-ish restaurant in the District. It specializes in ridiculously good pork, bacon, and cured meat.


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