“Only those places that you have visited by foot have you really visited at all.” ~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Almost every place you’ve ever heard of in Washington, DC, is within sight of or walking distance of the National Mall, including many Federal departments (FBI, IRS, EPA, VA, USPS, HUD, NASA, State, Justice, Treasury, Interior, Education, Labor, Commerce, Health and Human Services, Agriculture, Energy, Transportation), and other entities like the Senate Office Buildings, the House Office Buildings, the OAS, the Smithsonian, the Washington Post, the National Geographic, even the Canadian Embassy.
If you can find a good place to park your car, you can walk and see just about everything—not the government offices: the museums. However, if you are accompanied by small or growing children, or elderly or handicapped friends or family, or if the temp is excessively warm or cold, you probably won’t want to do that. You may prefer a sightseeing bus; but if you’re young and healthy, weather permitting, walking (or cycling) is good. I’ve walked all over DC, in this Federal-Smithsonian-monument-museum area, a number of times, and felt safe (I don’t get out after dark). Most of the people you meet are working professionals or friendly tourists, many international, there for the same reason you are. As a rule, they’re nice people.
You may want to start at Union Station, the train depot, at the corner of N Capitol St and Massachusetts Av*. It has a parking garage, international food court, and shopping. You may want to plan to eat here because it’s reasonably priced and offers variety; if not, you can still find the occasional restaurant, street or park vendor, or the occasional café or fast food inside a museum. But don’t count on it. Union Station is the most reliable food source if you’re not brown-bagging.
Next door to Union Station, on the corner, is the National Postal Museum, which has several galleries telling the story of our postal system. It also has rare stamps and showcases the museum collection. Across the street, diagonally, from the postal museum is the Government Printing Office.
If you leave Union Station and head toward the Capitol, you’ll pass C-Span on your right. I don’t know that they offer tours (except for special occasions, most radio and TV stations do not), but 400 N Capitol is the building from where the program is aired. As you go by, you can see where C-Span gets its view of the Capitol.
If you leave Union Station and head east on Massachusetts Av, take 1st, 2nd, or 3rd St if you’re walking, in the direction of the Capitol, and you’ll come to E Capitol St, on Capitol Hill. (If you’re driving, be aware that 3rd St is one way headed toward Union Station; 4th St is one way headed away from Union Station.) Here within a few feet of each other, on opposite sides of the street, are the US Supreme Court and the Library of Congress (not a lending library).
The Library of Congress offers guided tours. Its three primary structures are the Thomas Jefferson Building, a beaux-arts style edifice with elaborate interiors, which has the main reading room and the grand hall; the John Adams Building, a no-nonsense-looking building constructed of Georgian marble, which has the North and South reading rooms; and the James Madison Memorial Building, which has a motion picture and television reading room, law library, and US Copyright Office. Each structure offers its own online tour.
East of the Supreme Court, at 201 E Capitol St SE, is the Folger Shakespeare Library, a research center (not a lending library), housing the world’s largest and finest collection of Shakespeare materials. From the library, if you go south on 2nd St, a couple of blocks, beyond Independence Av, you’ll come to Capitol Hill Starbucks, 237 Pennsylvania Av SE, and other eateries.
The new main entrance to the US Capitol is the Visitor Center, located beneath the East Front plaza, at 1st St and E Capitol St, on Capitol Hill. The thing to see is the Rotunda, Statuary Hall, special exhibits, and Congress in session. Tours of the Capitol are free, but tour passes are required. The figure atop the dome is the Statue of Freedom.
From the Hill circle round to the front of the Capitol. If you’re driving, and if you’re lucky, you may find metered parking on 1st St or parallel parking along the National Mall. The National Mall is a long greenway running east to west between the US Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial, lying between Constitution Av (US 50) and Independence Av, with Madison Dr and Jefferson Dr running in-between. Madison Dr and Jefferson Dr are nothing but ribbons of passage for tour busses; they also provide parallel parking for motorists.
Most Smithsonian and National Park Service (NPS) sites have security procedures: government-issued photo ID; scanned bags, coats or jackets, or parcels; and opened handbags. Some guards merely look in a handbag; others pilfer. On one occasion a guard made me put my umbrella through the scanner. After I passed through, he whispered privately “Thank you.” He had to appear tough on everybody: behind me males were emptying their pockets and taking off their belts and shoes. Sometimes we forget that these security measures are as difficult for the guards as they are for us. The guard who had my sympathy was the one trying to police teenagers, who had been told not to snap photos with their cellphones. (No camera allowed is an old rule: when I visited Congress over fifty years ago, I had to check my camera.)
Below the hill, on the west side of the Capitol, you’ll find the US Grant Memorial and, facing 1st St, the US Botanic Garden. The garden offers a national garden, water garden, butterfly garden, rose garden, conservatory, and horticultural techniques for home landscaping.
Across from the botanic gardens, at the corner of Independence Av and 4th St is the National Museum of the American Indian, which has one of the most extensive collections of Native American arts and artifacts in the world.
If you stay on Independence Av and head west toward the Washington Monument, you will come to the National Air and Space Museum (has food court), which tells the history of flight from the Wright Brothers to the Space Age through corresponding exhibits. The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden features contemporary and modern art, mostly post-World War II, and sculpture by such notables as Rodin and Calder. The National Museum of African Art, which started in the home of Frederick Douglass, houses the largest publicly held collection of African art in the United States. Together the Arthur M Sackler Gallery and the Freer Gallery of Art house the largest Asian art research library in the country and contain Asian art from the Far East to the Middle East. Most of the Sackler Gallery is underground, below the Enid A Haupt Garden. Immediately behind the Sackler Gallery, fronting Jefferson Dr, is the Smithsonian Castle, which is the administrative headquarters for the institution.
If you take a right on 15th St, another right at Constitution Av, and head back toward the Capitol, you’ll come to the National Museum of American History (has food court). Among the items on display are the star-spangled banner from the War of 1812, Julia Child’s kitchen, the original Gettysburg Address, Clara Barton’s Red Cross ambulance, Sheridan’s horse Rienzi, and life-sized models of all the First Ladies. This has to be my favorite museum—not because of the ladies: because of the horse. Of course, when I saw him, sometime ago, he wasn’t behind glass. Next door, the National Museum of Natural History is the most-visited museum in North America and the most popular natural museum in the world. Here you can see the Hope Diamond and the Star of Asia Sapphire, other precious gems, taxidermied mammals (the largest collection of vertebrate specimens in the world), and an insect zoo (live insects).
Down the street is the Ice Skating Rink, the Sculpture Garden, the Pavilion Café, and the National Gallery of Art (East Building and West Building). The National Gallery has one of the finest art collections anywhere, including European art from the Middle Ages (Italian Renaissance, French Impressionism, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Da Vinci, Van Gogh) and American art from Colonial times to the present (Cassatt, Chase, Church, Cole, Copley, Eakins, Homer, Sargent).
Across the street is the National Archives. Now is a good time to sprint across the street (in the crosswalk, at the corner, with the light) to see the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Charters of Freedom, the Louisiana Purchase, the Emancipation Proclamation, JFK’s college transcript, and things you didn’t even know were there.
Sprinting across Constitution Av brings up the subject of traffic. To me, traffic in DC is no worse than anywhere else. There’s just a lot of it. During daylight hours there are a million cars on the District’s thoroughfares, and they fight for space. You think you have a lane, and it’s yours, and someone will come out of nowhere and try to cut you off. And if you don’t surrender, he may do it again. And again. Same car. Taxis move furtively, in and out, like irritating crawly things. Busses pull over and you’re stuck behind them. The signs say no left turn or no parking allowed, and someone is parked or stopped where he shouldn’t be, and you’re stuck behind him for who knows how long until you can see your way clear to pull around. Worse is your own confusion: What lane am I supposed to be in if I want to go there? What street is this? Am I supposed to turn here? There are straight streets, cross streets, and diagonal streets. Some lights are on lampposts, above the sidewalk; some are overhead. Which light governs which street? Not only that but lanes abruptly end or change direction, and you are unprepared. Someone behind you blows his horn as if you don’t know what you’re doing. Which you don’t. The District issues camera tickets, and there is no traffic cop, as in New York City …. Until you learn the city, driving can be a nightmare. Even after you learn the city, it is still stressful. And parking is at a premium. Which is the reason I use a car in DC for commuting, not sightseeing.
(You can stay on top of congestion with an online site such as sigalert, which offers real-time speeds, accidents, and traffic cameras.)
East of the National Archives, at the corner of 6th St, facing Pennsylvania Av, is the Newseum, an interactive museum of news and journalism, featuring fourteen galleries, ranging from First Amendment rights to September 11.
West of the National Archives, up 9th St, headed north, give or take a block, you’ll find the US Navy Memorial and US Navy Heritage Center, 701 Pennsylvania Ave NW, which is a tribute to the US Navy. An outer wall has famous quotes such as “I have not yet begun to fight!” and “Don’t give up the ship!” The International Spy Museum, 800 F St NW, traces the history of espionage from Greek and Roman times to the Cold War. The National Portrait Gallery, at the corner of 8th and F St NW, houses portraits, paintings, photos, and daguerreotypes of well-known persons in American history. The Smithsonian American Art Museum (has a café), at the same address, showcases the works of well-known American artists from Bierstadt, Homer, and Sargent to Hopper and O’Keeffe.
Come back to Constitution Av and head toward the Washington Monument at the corner of 15th St NW. At over 555 feet tall, the monument is both the world’s tallest stone structure and the world’s tallest obelisk. Visitors obtain timed tickets at the Washington Monument Lodge, 15th St, wait their turn outdoors, are taken by elevation to the observation deck, step down to view the exhibits, and then descend by elevator.
South of the Washington Monument, between 14th St and 15th St, is the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, 100 Raoul Wallenberg Pl SW. The many artifacts, files, video, photos, testimonies, and letters provide overwhelming documentation of what took place in the Nazi death camps. The Hall of Remembrance is an official memorial to the victims and survivors.
A block east is the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, 300 14th St SW, which is responsible for the design, engraving, and printing of all US paper currency. Tours are available. Here visitors can see how money is made: from large sheets of paper to wallet-sized dollar bills.
If you head north of the Washington Monument, via 15th St, you can circle around the White House, back to the National Mall. From the back, the south lawn or Ellipse, the White House is partly hidden, camouflaged, by cars and vegetation. Closer in, the vegetation is so overgrown, you begin to think banana republic. If you can’t spot the President’s Park from the south, remember it is directly across Constitution Av, from the Washington Monument.
Go up 15th St, make a right on New York Av to the National Museum of Women in the Arts, 1250 New York Av NW. It is the only museum solely dedicated to women’s achievements in the visual, performing, and literary arts. Exhibits range from 16th- to 21st-century works.
After your visit to the women’s art museum, turn back toward 15th St, along New York Av. When you cross 15th St, you will be at the corner of the White House property. The address is 1600 Pennsylvania Av (meaning the White House straddles the land where 16th St would be), but Pennsylvania Avenue is closed between 15th St and 17th St NW.
The White House, home of the President, is a 200-plus-year-old building of Palladian design; it was built during the Adams Administration, rebuilt after the War of 1812 during the Madison tenure, and was thoroughly renovated during the Truman Administration, when the Truman Balcony was added. Tours are not recommended, though virtual tours are available online. Immediately in front of the White House is a ped mall, from which perspective the funniest sight is professional journalists and photographers camped together in chairs on the west lawn, like a congregation, under black umbrellas. You know, those reporters you see on the evening news. To think that they have to sit there all day, elbow to elbow, waiting for something to happen. What misery!
On a slight rise immediately north of the White House is Lafayette Square, named after the Marquis de Lafayette, who joined George Washington during the Revolutionary War. When Lafayette returned from France in 1825, he was greeted as a returning hero and honored with a parade along Pennsylvania Av. In my memory the square has been used mostly for political protest.
Adjacent is the Blair House, the Presidential guest house. This is the place where Gen William Tecumseh Sherman was married and where Harry S Truman lived during the White House renovation. The Willard Hotel, 1401 Pennsylvania Av, one block east of the White House, is another popular destination for national and international guests. Next door to the Blair House, at the corner of Pennsylvania and 17th St, is the Renwick Gallery, which highlights 19th- to 21st-century American crafts and decorative arts.
If you keep circling, headed south on 17th St, you’ll pass by the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, 1650 Pennsylvania Av, where many White House staff work. It has been dubbed “the ugliest building in America” (Mark Twain), “the greatest monstrosity in America” (Harry Truman), and the architect’s “asylum” (Henry Adams). With monikers like that, is it any wonder employees struggle with sanity?
Walking south on 17th St, you will come to the Corcoran Gallery of Art, a privately-supported gallery of American art. The American Red Cross building is both Red Cross headquarters and a memorial to those who served during the Civil War. A block west, near Constitution Av, is the Art Museum of the Americas, 201 18th St, displaying works by contemporary Caribbean and Latin American artists.
Beyond Constitution Av, still on 17th St, is the National World War II Memorial, 1750 Independence Ave SW. It is a shame this grand memorial, opened 2004, took so long in coming. I knew World War II vets who never lived to see it. Between this memorial (17th St) and the Lincoln Memorial (23rd St) is the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool. While from the photos the reflecting pool appears to occupy much of the space, there is still plenty of greenway for walking and jogging. If you’re headed there, beware of runners. There is also another body of water, north of the reflecting pool, near Constitution Av; on a tiny island is the Signers of the Declaration of Independence Memorial (foot path provided). This area west of 17th St that incorporates the Lincoln Memorial, the Reflecting Pool, and other war memorials, is formally West Potomac Park.
If you keep walking from the World War II Memorial, via Independence Av, around the National Mall, you’ll come to the Korean War Veterans Memorial, which has to be one of the freakiest memorials on the planet. Representing a squad on patrol, it is nineteen larger-than-life-sized steel figures of men (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine) walking. Next to it, and totally unlike it, is the chic Vietnam Veterans Memorial, a gabbro wall bearing the names of casualties. For either war you can look for names of the deceased in the self-serve registry.
Finally we reach the Lincoln Memorial, which anchors the west end of the National Mall as the US Capitol anchors the east end. The building was fashioned in the form of a Greek Doric temple by Henry Bacon, an American Beaux-Arts architect. The interior north and south chambers are inscribed by two of Lincoln’s speeches: the Gettysburg Address and his 2nd Inaugural Address. The figure of Lincoln, seated, was sculpted by Daniel Chester French.
Within sight, situated along the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway, is the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (has restaurant and café), 2700 F St NW. In the featured photo of the Washington, DC, skyline (top of the page), the Kennedy Center is the big building in the foreground; the series of round buildings to the left, from our perspective, is the Watergate Complex, 700 New Hampshire Av NW. A schoolteacher with students on a field trip wouldn’t want to chance the commute on foot—too many flying cars—but an individual pedestrian or a couple should be able to walk to the Kennedy Center. Or take the metro to the Foggy Bottom/George Washington University Station, from where it is a short walk via New Hampshire Av (or shuttle provided).
If you head in the opposite direction from the Lincoln Memorial, toward the Potomac, go beyond Independence Av, around the rotary, and take Ohio Dr east. You can probably find parallel parking. Nested between Independence Av and Ohio Dr are the MLK Memorial near Independence Av and the FDR Memorial near Ohio Dr.
The Tidal Basin and the Jefferson Memorial are straight ahead on Ohio. Though the Tidal Basin looks sizeable in photos, its surface area is little more than a hundred acres; its circumference, a little over two miles. During one Cherry Blossom event, I couldn’t find parking, the reason being that there just isn’t enough parking space to accommodate all the visitors. And when special events occur or traffic swells during vacation months, local police have little patience with misparked cars. Cars will inevitably end up parallel parked on a street posted no parking (once one motorist does it, others follow suit) or pulled over on the grass. Police hand out tickets liberally. So I parked illegally, set my flashers, locked the car, and took off running with my family, hoping to return before my car was noticed. We sprinted through the crowds the whole circumference of the Tidal Basin, came back within fifteen minutes, reloaded, and took off—showing how little there is to the Tidal Basin.
The Jefferson Memorial, 900 Ohio Dr SW, sits proudly overlooking the basin. The neoclassical design, we can imagine, was intended to mirror elements of Jefferson’s own architectural design at his home Monticello, his other home Poplar Forest, and the rotunda of the University of Virginia, which he founded. This memorial is unique not only in its isolation but also in that the lower-floor visitor center, beneath the statue, stays open late, staffed by rangers. Here you can walk, refresh yourself, buy post cards, and chill. If you’re wondering, the area of the island beyond the memorial is East Potomac Park.
On the Virginia side, between the Potomac and Arlington, is a sliver of land called Columbia Island, and another body of water called Boundary Channel, an inlet off the Potomac. On the island, through which passes the George Washington Memorial Parkway (GWP), are the Navy and Marine Memorial, the Lady Bird Johnson Park, and the LBJ Memorial Grove. Not much to see except trees or grass.
If you drive, there is a parking garage at Arlington. Arlington is a beautiful, serene place. No wonder when JFK visited, he said, “I could stay here forever.” Heading into Arlington, you’ll pass the National Seabees of the Navy Memorial and United Spanish War Veterans Memorial. There is a museum—actually more than one, because Women in Military Service for America Memorial and Arlington House are on the property—but one primary: the visitor center. If you think a loved one is buried at Arlington, you can look for his name in the self-serve registry.
From the visitor center you can take an interpretative tour bus if the weather’s too much or if you’re tired of walking. The bus stops at certain sites (graves of JFK, RFK), a guide gives some history and points out things we might miss (like the graves of President William Howard Taft, explorers Admiral Richard Byrd and Robert E Peary), and the ride spares you the physical exertion of having to climb the hill to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, guarded by sentries—the nearby, inconspicuous grave of Audie Murphy, the most celebrated hero of World War II—and to Arlington House, former home of Gen Robert E Lee.
I prefer to walk. There’s something about being on the ground. The slow going, scanning the gravestones, allows me to see things I wouldn’t otherwise notice. Like the tomb of Robert Todd Lincoln, Lincoln’s only surviving son. I stumbled upon it one day—don’t worry, I wasn’t walking on his grave. It’s a big bodacious thing, especially for Arlington, sheltered, almost hidden, under trees. Every day, it seems, there is a funeral, and the horse-drawn caissons of fallen heroes come lumbering along, accompanied by black-suited staff with walkie-talkies. Being on the ground makes you feel part of the scene.
One spring day I walked across Arlington Bridge, all over the cemetery, then back to my car (parked on Ohio Dr, facing east) naturally fatigued—about five miles round-trip. I rolled down the car windows for air, relaxed, and refreshed myself with bottled water and coffee from a thermos. To my right, I watched young parents strolling with an infant; still farther right, rowers practicing on the Potomac. Evidently a college crew, with the coach directing through a megaphone. To my left, young preppies were playing soccer on the green. Overhead planes were coming and going, to and from, Reagan National. I thought not of how much crime there was in DC but of how much life.
“A vigorous five-mile walk will do more good for a … healthy adult than all the medicine and psychology in the world.” ~Paul Dudley White
If you take the GWP on the Virginia side, headed west, you’ll come to Theodore Roosevelt Island (which has a parking lot) and the Mount Vernon Trail. There is a foot bridge across the Potomac to the island. On the island is a statue of Theodore Roosevelt and trees (it’s dark in there). From there you can walk to more of the LBJ Grove, though sprinting across the multilane highway might be a trick. I’ve done it. Not much to see except more trees. The 18-mile-long Mount Vernon Trail goes all the way to Mount Vernon, George Washington’s estate (not part of the NPS). I’ve never walked it. I figured if I did, I’d be too tired to walk back. But I have walked some of it. It’s a pleasant journey, except for skateboards and bicycles. Someone will come along behind you and, going too fast to stop, will yell, “Coming on your left!”
Farther west on the GWP will bring you to CIA Headquarters, Langley, Virginia. There used to be a visitor center, but the only tours they are offering these days are online. As far as I know, you can still drive around.
If you take the GWP on the Virginia side, headed east, you’ll come to the Pentagon, the seven-story military headquarters. The Pentagon offers tours only by 14- to 90-day advance reservation through the website. The guided 60-minute tours include 1.5 miles of walking.
The GWP ends at Reagan National Airport, Washington’s closest, but smallest airport. In yesteryear you could have gone there and watched the planes take off and land. In today’s climate, you’ll have to settle for what you can see from the city skyline. The larger airports are Dulles Airport, off of I-66, and Baltimore-Washington Airport, off I-97.
If you choose, beyond the Pentagon, you can take I-395, which goes to Alexandria, Virginia, en route to I-95. Almost immediately behind the Pentagon, via I-395, is Pentagon City, 1100 S Hayes St, Arlington, Virginia, a large multi-floor shopping mall. Pretty but pricey. South on I-95 is the Quantico National Cemetery, 18424 Joplin Rd (VA 619), Triangle, Virginia, and the National Museum of the Marine Corps, also in Triangle, Virginia, at 18900 Jefferson Davis Hwy. The virtual tour will give you some idea of the true-to-life exhibits: real tanks, planes, helicopters, jeeps, buses, weapons, and more. There’s also a Cracker Barrel down that way, at Dumfries Rd, Dumfries, Virginia (I-95×152).
Of course, you’ve heard of some schools in DC. George Washington University (GWU), for one, is not far from the White House. If you took 23rd St north from the Lincoln Memorial, past Virginia Av, and headed toward Foggy Bottom and Washington Circle (junction of Pennsylvania Av, US 29, and 23rd St), you’d pass GWU between G St and H St. Now, while that may sound complicated, it’s just a short distance from the National Mall. You could walk it.
Georgetown University (GU) has its own bridge, Francis Scott Key Memorial Bridge (US 29), better known as Key Bridge to distinguish it from the I-695 bridge in Baltimore, and a neighborhood of its own. Mail even sometimes says Georgetown, DC, which isn’t necessary. Everything in the District is Washington, DC. But if you’re in a car, on the GWP, the Virginia side, be advised that there are three automobile bridges across the Potomac into the District: Key, Roosevelt, and Arlington. Key Bridge (not in the photo at top of page) goes to Georgetown, Roosevelt Bridge goes to Constitution Av (first bridge to the left in the photo), and Arlington Bridge (middle bridge in the photo) goes to the cemetery or the National Mall. (The far right bridge in the photo is a railroad bridge.) If you are headed for downtown Washington, you don’t want to take the wrong bridge and get stuck in Georgetown. Traffic moves at a snail’s pace, the streets are smothered in preppie-types and niche markets, and you could be hours extricating yourself.
Even Georgetown is not that far from the White House. US Grant, unaccompanied, used to walk here on Sundays. From the White House, if you’re walking, take Pennsylvania Av northwest and make a left on M Street, which will bring you to the Old Stone House, 3051 M St, the oldest unchanged structure in DC. Continue a few blocks west on M St to the Shops at Georgetown Park, 3222 M St. If you’re driving, take Pennsylvania Av northwest to the Washington Circle (the rotary), then the Whitehurst Freeway (US 29), which ends at Georgetown.
To get to Catholic University of America (CUA), you will need transportation. If you don’t have a car, go back to Union Station and take the metro, which stops at CUA. If you’re driving, take N Capitol, beyond New York Av, beyond Florida, to Michigan Av and make a right. (Due to congestion, driving from the Roosevelt Bridge to CUA could take an hour or more.) On Michigan you’ll pass Trinity Washington University (another Catholic school) on your right and, a little farther up, on your left, you’ll come to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Turn left at the light immediately in front of the Basilica and weave around to your right. The grounds of the Basilica, CUA, and Columbus School of Law behave as one. At the student center, the Pryzbyla Building, is a bookstore, food court, and Starbucks (in season). Up the street left of the Basilica, Harewood Rd NE, you’ll find the St John Paul II National Shrine. A couple of blocks south of CUA is the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.
On the opposite side of N Capitol, still on Michigan Av, weave west; at Georgia Av (US 29), take a left to Howard University. After your visit there, continue south on Georgia Av (US 29), turn left onto Florida Av and travel many blocks to West Virginia Av. At the corner of Florida and West Virginia you’ll find Gallaudet University, the world’s only university with programs and services specifically designed to accommodate deaf and hard-of-hearing students.
Massachusetts Av is the street immediately in front of Union Station. If you follow Massachusetts northwest (to your right from Union Station), you will come to Chinatown, which offers lodging, food, and shopping.
Massachusetts Av, 18th St through 35th St NW—Scott Circle to the US Naval Observatory—is known as Embassy Row. Partway, at the intersection of Massachusetts Av and 23rd St NW, is Sheridan Circle, marked by a statue of Gen Philip H Sheridan, Civil War hero and Indian fighter. The large equestrian bronze was sculpted by Gutzon Borglum, the man who chiseled Mount Rushmore.
From Sheridan Circle, you can take 23rd St NW south to Q St, cross Dumbarton Bridge, go west to 32nd St NW, and turn right to Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 1703 32nd St NW. Now owned by Harvard University, it offers a museum and a formal garden, ranked in the world’s Top Ten by National Geographic. Historically the house and grounds were the setting for the Dumbarton Oaks Conference (1944) where world leaders met to establish the United Nations.
Return to Massachusetts Av NW and continue northwest along Embassy Row. At S St, turn right to the Woodrow Wilson House NHL, 2340 S St NW. It is the only Presidential home in DC. He is buried at the Washington National Cathedral.
Go back to Massachusetts Av and continue up Embassy Row. Two blocks up is the US Naval Observatory, 3450 Massachusetts Av NW, on which property is also the home of the Vice President. Though you cannot visit the home, you may visit the observatory: 90-minute tours are offered on select Monday evenings and include a video history and, weather permitting, a look through the telescope. The Observatory has the master (precision) clock that sets the time we all follow.
The next site of interest would be Washington National Cathedral, 3101 Wisconsin Ave NW, a couple blocks to your right when Massachusetts crosses Wisconsin. This imposing Neo-Gothic-style Episcopal edifice is the sixth-largest cathedral in the world and the second-largest in the United States; the building is so massive, no photo does it justice. President Woodrow Wilson, Helen Keller, and Anne Sullivan (The Miracle Worker) are buried here.
After you’ve seen the cathedral, which is something to see, go back to Massachusetts Av, turn right, and continue to American University, 4400 Massachusetts Av NW, a private, coed, liberal arts school, affiliated with the United Methodist Church.
Massachusetts Av ends at Goldsboro Rd. Turn left onto MacArthur Blvd and continue to Clara Barton NHS. (You can also take MacArthur Blvd from Georgetown or the Cabin John Pkwy exit from I-495. Follow the signs for Glen Echo Park.) It is a strange house. The interior, called steamboat gothic design, with railed galleries, is shaped like a riverboat with a wide aisle between rooms. Above the midsection is a captain’s room suspended in space, with no underpinning.
Much farther out MacArthur Blvd, going away from the city, is the Great Falls of the Potomac, which has a visitor center on the Virginia side and another on the Maryland side. The Maryland side also has the C&O Canal NHP. If you have never seen this falls, you may want to visit. While it is not Niagara, it is rugged with a lot of whitewater, and you’re apt to run into internationals snapping photos.
Connecticut Av is one of the major thoroughfares between I-495 and downtown DC. Along Connecticut, besides grocery stores, shopping, and service stations, you will find the National Zoological Park, 3001 Connecticut Av NW, known for its giant pandas. Admission is free; parking may not be. Motorists sometimes parallel park along the street and walk over. The National Aquarium is now in Baltimore. The University of the District of Columbia is at 4200 Connecticut Av NW.
In the city New York Av is US 50. From N Capitol stay on US 50 east to the National Arboretum, 3501 New York Av NE. (Because of the divided highway there is no entrance for westbound traffic. If you were coming from the east, headed west, you would have to make a U-turn to get to the arboretum.) If you are coming from the west, headed east, stay in the right lane; take the access road from the redlight at Bladensburg Rd NE (US 1)—that slender lane rimmed by concrete—otherwise you’ve missed it.
When you drive in, you’ll notice some old ammo bunkers. Take a right at the fork and tool around to the visitor center and gift shop. If you’ve never been here before, ask for a map of the property. What you’ll see are trees, azaleas and crepe myrtles (in season), fall foliage (in season), Japanese bonsai, herb garden, and the columns from the old Capitol. Along the road behind the gift shop is a hill that you can climb to have a bird’s-eye view of the Capitol. On another corner, you probably won’t miss glimpsing, through the trees, the arboretum’s next-door neighbor, The Washington Times.
Another site in Greater DC is Six Flags America, Largo, Maryland. From Capitol Hill, stay on E Capitol St (MD 214), headed east, beyond the Beltway, to the entrance. Or you could take the Beltway (I-495) to the Largo exit. Since the Beltway makes such a large loop around Greater DC, and can be accessed only at exits, the local multi-lane highway is more direct from downtown.
“After a day’s walk everything has twice its usual value.” ~George Macauley Trevelyan
Copyright © 2014 Alexandra Lee
Photo Credit: Washington, DC, Skyline
* Mine is merely a good-faith effort to tell you where things are and, generally, how to get there. Please consult a website, road atlas, state map, or GPS for more detailed information.