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I love walking through cities. Many places have public transportation options which can get you from point A to point B in a jiffy, but if you’re traveling and you have the time, walking instead of riding is a great way to explore a city. Washington, D.C. is an excellent area to plod through if you’re healthy and you’ve got all day. Here’s a tour you can follow that I took recently with my brother, Adam. We tried to coordinate the trip with the cherry blossoms blooming, but we missed them by a couple of days. This wimpy tree was the only one we could find!
Start at Dupont Circle after your scrambled eggs and cup of coffee. Get your bearings along L’Enfant’s streets by walking around the traffic circle a few times. Try to figure out which way the cardinal directions go. A map or GPS helps – the wacky diagonal streets do not! While you’re in the neighborhood, admire the historical buildings that have been converted into modern embassies. What’s the most random country you can find?
Make your way down to The White House at the world’s most famous address, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. If you can mash through the crowds of children singing School House Rock classics and the semi-permanent doomsday protesters across the way in Lafayette Park, you can try to center a photo through the bars of the fence. Try is the operative word. Check out the Blair house across the street from the president’s crib. I’ve never seen a building with as many historical plaques as that one.
Pass by the Treasury and go toward the National Mall. Along 15th street is where we caught our first glimpse of the half-smoke, a distinct type of hot dog native to D.C. Regular readers will come to know about my frankfurter fascination. I was pretty excited to try a new kind of tube steak, but, it was still early, so I waited a little longer to get one with everything.
The next stop is the Washington Monument. Right now you cannot go into the monument because of the repairs still underway after the 2011 earthquake. Scaffolding wraps around the base which at least makes for somewhat unique pictures of a place that’s been photographed millions of times. If you were looking for panoramic views of the city, there’s a nearby park service sign that suggests going to the Old Post Office Pavilion. It’s the second tallest habitable building in town.
You can check out the World War II Memorial next, dedicated by President George W. Bush in 2004, but we didn’t bother to stick around long because it was also undergoing renovations. The Reflecting Pool is right next door. I can’t walk along the edge without being reminded of that scene from Forrest Gump where Jenny and Forrest jump through the water to reach one another, but maybe that’s just me. Either way, you can quietly meditate toward the next stop.
The Lincoln Memorial is a classic monument, popularized by the millions of pennies stored in piggy banks across America. What you may not know is that there is a free museum dedicated to Lincoln’s legacy and the monument itself downstairs. After you snap your photo beside the big guy, find the creepy elevator off to the side behind the metal door and ride it to the basement. The museum is so-so, but it’s a great place to take a bathroom break and to fill up your water bottles. Bonus: the water tastes like pennies!
After the Jefferson is a great time to stop for lunch and plan out the rest of your day. If you cross the footbridge and head back toward the mall, you’re in the neighborhood of a bunch of restaurants, plus the Smithsonian Institute, the US Capitol Building, or even the Library of Congress.
You’ve come a long way, and no one would blame you for stopping your tour now, but if you really want to see the major monuments, you’re not done yet. I think it’s worth the effort to push through West Potomac Park around the Tidal Basin. You can hit up the Martin Luther King Jr. monument, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt monument, and the Thomas Jefferson Memorial all in an hour, assuming you stop to take a few pictures and read some inspirational quotes. The majority of the cherry blossom trees are also planted down here, so if you’re in town at the right time, you just have to make this a priority. Don’t give up yet!
I’d like to make a recommendation on where to eat and where to go next, but Adam and I opted for one of those half-smokes on the street instead. We had tickets to the afternoon session of the beer festival at Washington Nationals Park, so we ate along Independence Ave SW and then walked down S. Capitol St. SW until we got to the stadium. It was not a particularly beautiful stroll – more industrial than scenic – but it gave us a different perspective on the city. The walk is doable, but completely unnecessary if you’re going to a game. Take a cab.
The event started at one, and we arrived early enough to look around and relax in the stands before the drinking began in earnest. From there, we met up with a couple of friends and went on to sample a ton of local brews. That’s pretty much where the rest of my memory fails me, so I’ll end on that happy note. Cheers!