“America has never been united by blood or birth or soil. We are bound by ideals that move us beyond our backgrounds, lift us above our interests and teach us what it means to be citizens.” -George W. Bush
Washington, D.C. can be an aggressive environment in many ways. Think about it, you have equally as many republicans as you do democrats, all striving to make their version of a “better America” a reality. There is a palpable tension in the air that creates an atmosphere of reserve: in what you say, how you respond and what you do. But I dove head first into this atmosphere without any guidance. There were times I put my foot in my mouth and likewise, times when others did the same. D.C. taught me the art of understanding-I may not agree with others views but I can certainly respect the fact that due to democracy, they have a right to them. Keep this in mind during your time in the capital and I promise, you’ll enjoy yourself.
Now let’s get into the good stuff!
Where to stay/ Navigation:
As I mentioned in the previous blog, The District: Part I, I used Airbnb to establish housing throughout my time in the capital. I highly recommend it for both short and long term stays-the units typically have everything you could need which means less packing for you.
Now, where to stay can be a bit tricky. To be honest, living in The District can be a nightmare, especially if you have a car. Parking is HELLA expensive not to mention, often requires that you relocate your vehicle at odd hours of the day/night for lane closures. Because of this, I would recommend two things:
- Try to stay somewhere outside of D.C. (Alexandria, Old Town or Crystal City)
- Use public transit as much as possible. (The Metro or Uber/Lyft)
The three areas mentioned above are only three of my favorite suburbs. All of them felt safe and well populated without being overly crowded which was a huge plus for this country girl! IF, however, you really want to stay in The District, then I would recommend either Georgetown, Navy Yard or anywhere within reasonable walking distance to The National Mall. You’ll notice that D.C. is one of those cities where you find yourself walking down a safe street only to turn the corner and not feel so safe anymore. With that in mind, always be aware and if you’re like me, carry a weapon. (Don’t act surprised folks, I grew up in the south).
If you are new to the public transit scene, first of all welcome! Do not let it intimidate you!! I truthfully found The Metro simpler to navigate than NYC’s subway system. Plus let’s be honest, just the thought of speeding 55mph underground in a rail car full of strangers excited this country bumpkin! But regardless, it can be scary for some-I promise friends, it’s safe and efficient. The WMATA website has a marvelous app called trip planner that maps your route, and includes color-coded rails, transfers and arrival/departure times. If you are going to be exploring the city for more than three days, I would recommend purchasing a SmarTrip card. These are single transaction cards that can be refilled as needed. They can be used interchangeably on the rail or bus and can be purchased online or at a vending machine at any Metro station. The beauty behind theses SmarTrip cards is mostly convenience but they do also provide discounts. For instance, when transferring from bus to rail, use of your SmarTrip card will discount your rail ride. Sweet right?! For those of you who do not plan to use The Metro much, I would recommend just purchasing a one day pass which can be found online. It’s currently 2018, so I think it’s safe to say we all know what Uber and Lyft are. If you don’t, get out from under the rock you’ve been under for the last decade and join the rest of us in the land of urban taxis!
I assume we’re all well versed on the abundance of national monuments, museums and artifacts available for viewing in the Capital. Since I knew that I would have three full months to explore all things D.C., I took my sweet time revisiting some Smithsonian classics while also discovering new ones. In all, I think I spent three separate weekends in the National Mall alone which doesn’t even include Arlington, the Pentagon or Mount Vernon. Sadly, most of you will only have four or five days to explore so, how do you choose? Which museums you decide to visit all depends on your interest. For example, if you are big on history, I would recommend The National Museum of Natural History but keep in mind, this is NOT just American history. If you’d rather focus on that, go next door to the National Museum of American History. My personal favorites included the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Lincoln Memorial, the United States Botanical Gardens and my tour of The Pentagon (s/o to Papa Phil and Julie for the private tour). In reality, we could sit here all day and discuss, in detail, each and every one of these options or I could just give you some tips to consider:
- There are 17 museums/galleries available to choose from for free,
- Map out your day ahead of time to make the most of your time.
- Museums and galleries are open 7 days/week with the exception of Christmas Day (Check the hours of each museum as they are subject to change).
- Most of the museums/galleries are FREE to view.
- The further away you venture from The National Mall, the more likely you are required to pay admission (i.e. Mount Vernon).
- Wear comfortable shoes-you’ll be on your feet ALL DAY!
- Keep watch for runners in the National Mall (generally the trail begins at Independence Ave heading West, passing the Washington Monument on the right, circling in front of the Lincoln Memorial, and then returns East towards the Museum of Natural History, ending where it began at Independence Ave). The trail is three miles total for you runners.
- All other questions can be answered by visiting the Smithsonian Institution Building, otherwise known as ‘The Castle.”(Smithsonian Webpage)
No matter which museums you choose, take your time and soak it all in. The history behind the world we live in is B I G and beautiful and in a word, extraordinary!
Other activities outside of the National Mall that I enjoyed include:
- Shenandoah National Park
- Arlington National Cemetery (Changing of the Guard)
- Mount Vernon
- Potomac Water Taxi
- Washington Nationals baseball game
- Washington Capitals hockey game
- Smithsonian National Zoo
- Annapolis, Maryland (waterfront city on the Chesapeake Bay)
Ragan and Danko