DC Cool. The nation’s capital, unique and original, has long been known as the center of American politics, nicknamed “The Federal City.” But it is also an exciting and vibrant city that mixes historic and iconic buildings, monuments, and museums with modern restaurants, art, and events. The city’s character reminds visitors of the past—and represents the future.
For more information, the official tourism site for DC, http://washington.org/ offers a ton of itineraries and ideas for dining, shopping, and attractions. Best of all, most of these popular tourist sites are free, making them accessible to all. Below are a few highlights not to be missed.
The National Mall stretches two miles from the U.S. Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial, with the Washington Monument in between. Its tree-lined paths are bordered by museums and federal buildings. Whether headed inside to one of the bordering museums, and or just looking for a beautiful place to stroll among historic sites and memorials, “the Mall” is a must-see for visitors and locals alike.
Memorials on or near the Mall: A number of monuments and memorials located on or next to the Mall are outdoor, accessible, and free. The iconic Washington Monument, in the middle of the Mall, recently reopened after experiencing damage from an earthquake in 2011. Just west of the Washington Monument is the National World War II Memorial, with a central plaza and “Rainbow Pool.”
Just across Constitution Avenue north of the Washington Monument is the Ellipse, a park in front of the White House. Locals can often be seen using the Ellipse’s paths and grand public lawn for walking, jogging, and playing ultimate Frisbee or kickball.
Beyond the WWII Memorial on the mall is the Reflecting Pool, at the end of which is the Lincoln Memorial. Flanking the Reflecting Pool are the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to the north and the Korean War Veterans Memorial to the south.
Museums on the Mall: The Mall is also home to a number of Smithsonian museums, which are free to the public. The most popular of the Smithsonian museums are the Air and Space Museum, American Indian Museum, American History Museum, National Museum of Natural History, the National Gallery of Art and the Hirshorn Museum (modern art). Both art museums also host sculpture gardens on the Mall.
Museums off the Mall: Just a short walk up 7th Street NW from the Mall, at the Gallery Place Metro Stop (red line), are the National Portrait Gallery (free), and the International Spy Museum, which offers visitors the chance to attend spy school and learn the truth behind spy shows like The Americans (admission fee). Across Pennsylvania Avenue from the National Gallery of Art sits the modern Newseum, where visitors are immersed in the past and present of news media and can see an authentic piece of the Berlin Wall (admission fee).
National Zoo: Also part of the Smithsonian is the impressive National Zoo, where its most famous residents are the Giant Pandas, Washington, D.C.’s unofficial mascots. The zoo is free and accessible on the Metro red line. The eclectic Cleveland Park neighborhood north of the zoo offers a number of unique dining options, while a short trip south zoo takes you to Adams Morgan, a center of night life for the city’s young and young-at-heart.
Georgetown: This upscale and famous—yet quaint—D.C. neighborhood is not directly accessible by Metro rail but is worth the short walk from Foggy Bottom (Metro orange line) or reachable by Circulator bus. The hustle and bustle of upscale shops and restaurants abounds on M Street and Wisconsin Ave in the heart of Georgetown but a more relaxed feel greets visitors who walk, dine and take in views of Arlington and the Kennedy Center along the Potomac River, the southern border of the neighborhood.
Leaf peeping: Fall foliage in the Washington area typically hits peak color in late October and early November. Rock Creek Park (an expansive greenway that cuts through center of the city, with numerous paved trails), the National Mall, and the Tidal Basin all offer walkable opportunities to take in gorgeous autumn colors inside the city.
Exploring close to Bethesda: Bethesda and the area around the hotel are most known for shopping and dining. Landmark Bethesda Row Cinema is an art house theater showing indie, foreign, and mainstream films and the Roundhouse Theater hosts professional live productions. Other interesting landmarks located within several miles of the conference hotel include the striking Gothic-style Washington National Cathedral, protected by its many gargoyles, on Wisconsin Ave (admission fee for sightseeing) and the Hillwood Estate, Museum, and Gardens, the impressive former home of Post cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post (suggested donation).