Two Saturdays ago was a particularly rough day for Ryan making it a particularly rough day for me. Since he was still on the ventilator I decided to leave the hospital for a little food and fresh air. After lunch I wasn’t ready to head back so I drove through the streets of DC taking in all our old familiar haunts and enjoying the hustle and bustle of the city. Yes, I actually enjoyed it. I may have even laughed out loud as a multitude of horns barked their warnings across a city that’s always in a hurry and never on time (something you hardly hear in our new polite and patient city). Everywhere I looked I saw 15 years of making memories with Henry and even more years of making memories as a child.

Asking me my favorite place in DC is like asking me my favorite book – impossible to narrow down. However, since I enjoy a challenge, I put together a list of a few of my favorite things off the beaten track. This is in no way a comprehensive list of my favorite things since I purposefully tried to steer away from the typical “Top Tourist” list you might find elsewhere. Here goes:

1) Ford’s Theater:
The National Park Service runs scheduled tours giving the history of the museum and story of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. It’s one of the few places in DC where I get the same goosebumps I get standing in historic places of Europe.  There are a limited number of free tickets per day. Additional tours are available for $2.50 per person. Ford’s Theater is located off the Mall area at 511 Tenth Street NW. It’s walking distance from The Mall. At the National History Museum, cross over Constitution Ave. and follow10th street away from The Mall. Or utilize one of the parking garages near Ford’s Theater and walk to the Mall for your sightseeing after doing a morning tour.

2) Meridian Hill Park
This beautiful European-inspired park is a bit off the beaten path in a more residential part of the city. However, it’s a great place to take a picnic lunch and rest after a morning of sight-seeing. You can find it on the corner of 16th and Euclid NW.

3) The American History Museum. 
Although on the beaten track, the American History Museum deserves an honorable mention. I thought long and hard about mentioning this museum as it’s not the one I’ve frequented most. However, I think it’s least like other museums you’ll find elsewhere in the world. There’s a unique mix of exhibits from the historic evolution of travel (cars, boats, trains), American inventions, American memorabilia like the first American Flag and the ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz, Presidential and First Lady memorabilia, and Julia Child’s kitchen. The National Art Gallery, Natural History Museum, Botanical Gardens and the Air and Space Museum are also at the top of my museum list. The Holocaust Museum is also well-done but not a place I go to relax. For a listing of museums in DC, click here
4) Mount Vernon
The home of George Washington is 16 miles (at least 30 minutes) outside of Washington, DC past Alexandria, VA. I’ve been here several times as a child and an adult and enjoyed each visit. My only advice is not to go on a super hot day and wear walking shoes. There’s a ton to see on the property besides the main house. 

5) Paul Bakery
Recently I was looking for a bakery that serves more than muffins, danishes, and the ever-present, somewhat popular cupcake. I needed real desserts – the kind worth using calories on. I called my dad, a DC resident, who promptly introduced me to the Paul Bakery in Georgetown. The cafe menu includes soups, salads, savory crepes, and warm sandwiches. I had a ham and cheese croquette with a side salad that were very good. However, what I came for was the desserts which are handcrafted daily and out-of-this world. We tried the macaroons (good enough to make you swoon), the blueberry tart, the raspberry tart, and the rum-soaked crepes crowns (they have a formal name I can’t remember). The only one I wasn’t fond of was the rum-soaked crepes crowns. I’m still thinking about the macaroons a week and a half later!The great thing is they have three locations in the city: 801 Pennsylvania Ave NW, 1078 Wisconsin Ave NW (Georgetown), and 1000 Connecticut Ave NW (opening June 4).

6) Dr. Granville Moore’s
Henry and I discovered this place thanks to Bobby Flay and the Food Network. After the chef here beat Bobby Flay by cooking the better moules and frittes (mussels and fries) we knew we had to give the place a try. It’s now one of our favorite stops when we’re in DC. Way off the beaten track on 1238 H Street NE, it’s a great place to grab a Belgian beer and munch on pub fare. Be sure to try the mussels and dipping sauces that come special with the frittes. If you’re going on a weekend night, please be aware the wait can be up to 3 hours if you aren’t willing to sit at the bar. Get there early or plan on waiting around awhile for a table to open up.

7) The Natural Geographic Museum
This museum can be hit or miss depending on your interests. It’s worth taking a look at their website if you’re planning a visit since they tend to have some exclusive items come through their doors. Our family was lucky enough to see the Terra Cotta Warriors on their travels through the United States. It’s located at 1145 17th Street NW.

8) Sticky Fingers
Totally off the main trek, Stinky Fingers is a vegan cafe and bakery in the Columbia Heights neighborhood. (where you can also find a Target and Giant food store if you need something in a pinch) They make a wicked salty sweet cookie and a spin off of an oatmeal cookie sandwich called a Cowvin. They can be found at 1370 Park Road NW.

9) Farrah Olivia in Crystal City
I’m going out on a limb here, but I just spent 2 hours looking for the name of the restaurant Henry and I stumbled upon years ago when either Natalie or Ainsley was a baby and I’m positive this is it. My mother-in-law was watching our child(ren) so Henry and I could connect for a few days. We spent the afternoon at Mount Vernon stopping in Old Town Alexandria for lunch at the original location of Farrah Olivia. Chef Morou is now a local DC celebrity having since won an Iron Chef episode.  He has a new fancy-smancy location in Crystal City. The reason I’m out on this limb not having eaten in the new place or having eaten there at all for most likely five years is because our first experience with this chef was amazing. Having grown up in Africa with a French-influenced mother,  “he has described his cooking as similar to his speaking voice, ‘American with an accent,” according to a press release on his website. The new location is still somewhat on the way to Mount Vernon, but is no longer open for lunch. Check the website for location and dining times and let me know if it’s as good as I remember!

A Tip for Getting Around:
If you are looking down on a map of DC you see a big green space from the Capitol Building all the way to the Lincoln Memorial with the Washington Monument in the middle. Many of DC’s monuments and museums are found in this area, however a number of other attractions lie throughout the city. Numbered streets come off the mall perpendicular in sequence starting at 1st Street. Lettered Streets run parallel to the mall starting with C Street. Working from that grid, the streets above the mall on the Constitution Ave. side where the National Art Museum and Natural History Museums are is the Northwest section of the city up to the Capitol Building. Beyond the Capitol Building, but above the mall is the Southwest section of the city.  Below The Mall on the Independence Ave side beyond the Air and Space Museum, the Botanical Gardens, and the Smithsonian Castle is the Northeast section of the city. Then again, past the Capitol Building but on the same side is the Southeast section of the city. If you are lost, you want to work your way toward 1st street and the beginning letters of each section to return to the Capitol Building. If you want to be at the other side of the mall, over toward the Lincoln Memorial and Arlington Cemetery, you want to be around 23rd street. You can always get back to the Smithsonian Museums and the mall if you remember this. Because there are different quadrants and two sets of letters and numbers with four suffixes, you need to pay attention in the address to if it’s NE, NW, SW, or SE. There are states thrown into the mix and a grid of streets named alphabetically starting with one syllable and working up to three (I think). But focus on the letters and numbers if you’re trying to move toward or away from the Mall. Other than that, use your GPS!

If I were you:

One day:
If you have one day in DC, plan on walking a lot!!  Driving down Constitution Ave behind the Capitol Building (so you can see the Supreme Court) and up Independence Ave will give you a good look at many of the beautiful buildings and monuments in DC. Walk through the monuments for half the day and then chose one or two museums in the afternoon. A great place to eat lunch (although a little pricey) is the cafe IN the sculpture garden (another must see) right next to the Natural History Museum on The Mall. If you’re in the mood for fast and cheap, eat from the street vendors found all over the downtown Mall area. I’ve eaten from them many times and never gotten sick. If you have time, The Chinatown Friendship Gate and The Watergate Hotel are off the beaten path but easy to drive by. If you find yourself near The Friendship Gate near meal time, Jaleo’s and The District Chophouse a few blocks toward The Mall are both good eats. (There are also a ton of chain restaurants in that area.)
Two days:
In addition to day one, take the morning to tour Mt. Vernon and an afternoon at another museum. (Eat lunch in Old Town Alexandria at one of the restaurants down by the water)
Three days: 
Head into Georgetown to shop and eat at the small “European-feeling” boutiques that line the street. Take the time after lunch to take a short siesta at Meridian Hill Park at 16th Street NW and Euclid to see one of the prettiest and easily overlooked parks in the city. Head to another museum, Arlington Cemetery, or the National Zoo to end the day. 
If you enjoy theater, DC has several great venues worth checking out when you’re in town including: The Kennedy Center, Warner Theater, Arena Stage, The Shakespeare Theater, Ford’s Theater, National Theater and Stage Theater. I’ve been to every one except the last. Check out this webpage for links and information. 
There are a ton of good restaurants in DC: Galileo, Butterfield 9, Restaurant Nora, and the ones I’ve mentioned above to name a few. Find more restaurants and reviews at Urbanspoon DC. 
What’s your favorite place to visit in Washington, DC?

Comments (5)

  • ~liz / May 16, 2012 / Reply

    this is GREAT! we hope to do a family field trip there some day – thanks for the personal tour guide post! ~liz

  • Marmi / May 16, 2012 / Reply

    Little Miss Tour Guide: I say, Jjust go to Georgetown and have lunch. :)))

  • Sarah Joy / May 16, 2012 / Reply

    DC is by far one of my favorites… we also love Annapolis MD. My boys live to head into the city, any city… DC, Baltimore, NYC, Chicago. We are city people! Your post made me homesick.

  • Julie / May 21, 2012 / Reply

    Funny to see Paul’s Bakery… I went there when I was in Paris, it looks exactly the same… and in Paris it is a chain… it is yummy and I had breakfast there quite often. Wish I could have bummed around with you on your day off, I love it there. I would also suggest the Post Office Museum… I know it doesn’t sound great, but it is and KID friendly, my kids LOVED it… right next to Central Station… I also went with a friend to Puck’s restaurant from Top Chef, he has a great burger place and pizza restaurant side by side. YUMMY… I don’t remember where though, I will have to find out and let you know. HUGS and miss you

  • Leighann / May 21, 2012 / Reply

    @Julie – Paul Bakery is a family-owned business that I think started in Paris and now has US locations. Three in DC!! The Post Office Museum and shops are next to Union Station (so people don’t get confused looking for it!).

    And is the restaurant you went to called “The Source” by Wolfgang Puck? A asian-infusion restaurant in the Newseum?

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