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A Capital Experience

May 23, 2006  Proud DC Resident
4.5 of 5 stars based on 28 votes

DC is a grand, gracious city blessed with one of the highest concentrations of notable landmarks in the world. Vibrant yet manageable, DC is an eminently walkable city which should be experienced outdoors as much as possible.

This goList certainly takes advantage of this fact, but if the weather or your health doesn't permit a full tour, I've noted the more strenuous stretches and offered some more accessible alternatives.

If you actually try to do this tour, try to mind the days/times as much as possible. The availability of some of the attractions depends on them.

  • Explore locations featured in this Trip List: Washington DC, Mount Vernon
  • Category: Perfect weekend
  • Traveler type: Culture, Sightseeing, Shopping, Active/Outdoors, Never been before
  • Appeals to: Couples/romantics, Singles, Families with small children, Families with teenagers, Large groups, Seniors, Students, Budget travelers, Active/adventure, Tourists
  • Seasons: Spring, Fall
  • 1. A Visit with DC's Cutest Resident
    http://nationalzoo.si.edu

    Saturday, 8:00 am
    Grab a chocolate croissant at nearby Firehook Bakery and make your way to the National Zoo. Enjoy the stillness of the cool morning air and watch the Zoo's residents get in some playtime before the afternoon heat sets in.

    No trip to the Zoo would be complete without a visit to panda cub Tai Shan and his parents, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian. If their adorable antics don't warm your heart, you have no soul.

  • 2. American (Neo)Gothic
    Washington National Cathedral, Washington DC, District of Columbia

    Saturday, 9:30 am
    From the Zoo, stroll through the tony residential neighborhood of Woodley Park to the National Cathedral. Take the elevator to the top of the Bell Tower and enjoy a view that can stretch out to the Shenandoahs on a clear day. Docents offer tours daily, pointing out highlights like the Space Window, a stained-glass window with a piece of moon rock in the center and the tomb of Woodrow Wilson.

    If you have kids in tow, you'll be just in time to take them to the Gargoyle Den, a series of Cathedral-related arts and crafts activities that include gargoyle carving and stained-glass painting.

  • 3. Georgetown

    Saturday, 10:30 am
    From the Cathedral, head straight down Wisconsin Avenue for a stroll through Georgetown, where DC's elite come to see and be seen. Be forewarned: although it's a straight shot down Wisconsin, it's still a long walk. If you're not up for it, take one of the 30 buses (32, 34, 36) down Wisconsin Avenue.

    In either case, fortify yourself (or pacify the kids) along the way with some chocolate hazlenut gelato at Dolcezza, an Argentinian gelato shop on the way.

    While you're in the shopping mood, take a look around. This stretch of Wisconsin is one of the main drags in upscale Georgetown, brimming with cute places where you can part with your money. Pop in to posh places like Sugar or Sassanova for Uptown Girl gear, visit Random Harvest for your home furnishing needs, or hang out at Big Monkey Comics for the kid with/in you.

    On the way, stop in at gourmet grocer Marvelous Market on the corner of Wisconsin and P Street and pick up goodies like jambon brie sandwiches, apple feuillettes, and Orangina for a swanky picnic lunch.

  • 4. Hit the Road

    Saturday, 1:00 pm
    Hopefully, you won't have accumulated too many goodies to carry to Georgetown's Big Wheel Bikes, where you'll rent a bike and head across the Key Bridge.

    Take the time to admire the awesome view. Watch rowers propel their shells down the Potomac in the shadow of the Watergate, Kennedy Center, and Georgetown University skyline.

    At the end of the left-hand side of the bridge there is a (woefully tiny) sign marking the beginning of the 18-mile Mount Vernon Trail.

    If the 36-mile round trip is not your cup of tea, walk straight ahead to the Rosslyn Metro. Take the Metro south to Huntington Station and take the Fairfax Connector 152 bus towards "Huntington Station" (The bus goes in a loop).

  • 5. Picnic under the Planes
    http://www.nps.gov/gwmp/mvt.html

    Saturday, 1:30 pm
    The view of DC from the Mount Vernon Trail rivals the best around. After passing the Jefferson Memorial and the Mall monuments, stop about four miles in at Gravelly Point. Families come to this grassy expanse to throw frisbees, play with their dogs, and enjoy picnics on nice afternoons.

    Join them. Hang out and watch planes take off and land at neighboring National Airport while you enjoy your picnic. You'll need your strength for the ride back.

  • 6. Step Back in Time
    George Washington's Mount Vernon, Mount Vernon, Fairfax County

    Saturday, 3:30 pm
    After negotiating the especially hilly last miles of the Mount Vernon Trail, you'll be relieved to see the stately elegance of George Washington's final home rise before your eyes.

    Walk through the gardens on the grounds, which have been painstakingly recreated from archaeological and historical records. Tour the mansion on one of the tours that leave continuously from the front door (perhaps washing up a bit in one of the pavilion bathrooms first). Pay your respects at Washington's tomb.

    Now...turn around and start pedaling back to Georgetown.

  • 7. Party Like it's 1789
    1789 Restaurant, Washington DC, District of Columbia

    Saturday, 8:30 pm
    If you're still standing after the round trip from Mount Vernon, smarten up in a BIG way and continue the history-themed afternoon with a meal at 1789.

    One of the swankiest restaurants in town, 1789 is named in honor of the year neighboring Georgetown University was founded (which was also the year the Constitution took effect). The new American cuisine served there, including Oyster and Champagne Stew and Muscovy Duck Breast, however, is anything but musty.

    The dark-paneled walls ooze opulence, but if you happen to visit during a Restaurant Week, order the fixed-price option (a 3-course meal for $30.xx, where xx= the last two digits of the current year; in 2006, dinner costs $30.06) for a wallet-friendly alternative.

    FYI: You'll *definitely* need reservations for this.

  • 8. Stimulating the Economy: A Patriotic Duty
    Eastern Market, Washington DC, District of Columbia

    Sunday, 10:00 am
    Start your morning by doing your part for the economy at Eastern Market, a bustling area humming with the cacophony of commerce in the shadow of the Capitol dome. Join the young Capitol Hill families browsing stalls filled with jewelry, original art, and food. Pick up one-of-a-kind souvenirs like hand-wrought iron jewelry, mammoth Turkish-marble framed mirrors, or kitschy Art Nouveau lightswitch covers.

    Enter the big pavilion where fresh meats and produce are sold deli style. Get in line at Market Lunch for generous helpings of fiscally-prudent down-home cooking with a side of abuse (think Soup Nazi). Odds are, you won't be able to find anywhere to sit, so start moving.

  • 9. Time is Monet
    National Mall, Washington DC, District of Columbia

    Sunday, 12:00 pm
    Pass the Capitol and make your way down to the mall. DC is home to some of the finest museums in the world--most of which are completely free. Pick your pleasure based on your interests.

    Check out the Freer Gallery and visit the Peacock Room, a turquoise and gold-embossed walled period room in this Asian art collection. Visit the only da Vinci painting in the Western Hemisphere at the National Gallery of Art. Or stare at Andy Warhol's iconic Campbell's Soup can paintings at the Hirshhorn.

    But don't spend all your time indoors. S. Dillon Ripley, a former Secretary of the Smithsonian, envisioned the Mall as a park for the American people and this vision is largely realized. This area is full of open space for all to enjoy.

    Wander through the National Gallery's Sculpture Garden and cool your heels at the huge granite fountain with an excellent view of the National Archives facade. Unleash the kids on the old-time carousel and take a well-deserved rest.

  • 10. Hail to the Chief
    White House, Washington DC, District of Columbia

    Sunday, 4:00 pm
    Love him or hate him you've got to walk past the president's residence on any visit to DC. If you're a planner by nature, you've already arranged a private tour with your congressman. If not, take the obligatory picture outside the gates.

    Walk by the lawns and try to spot TV news correspondents giving their White House reports. Or look for the shartp shooters on the roof that ensure you don't get too close.

  • 11. Cultural Flavor

    Sunday, 6:00 pm
    DC may be the seat of US government, but it also plays host to an international crowd. Experience this for yourself at TenPenh, a hip Asian-fusion restaurant on Pennsylvania Avenue.

    The service is spotty, but the food and atmosphere can't be beat. Wash down some Curried Crab Cakes with a Lychee Lemonade.

  • 12. The City in Lights

    Sunday, Dusk
    I've saved the iconic Washington experience for last, and for good reason. While the monuments are impressive day or night, there's something magical about illuminated alabaster against the evening sky.

    Walk straight down Pennsylvania Avenue until it merges with Constitution Avenue. Make your way to the Capitol and loop around the Mall to the Lincoln Memorial. Sit on the steps, look out at the Reflecting Pool, and reflect on your perfect weekend in DC.