Even though I spend a good part of my time traveling the world, ultimately I am very proud of my hometown – Washington, DC. The American capital, sometimes we get overshadowed by other US cities that may be a little more flashy, which is why I thought I’d share some of my favorite things to do in DC. These may not be the top 5 most popular attractions in the city, but they’re what I think make the city so great.
Although Washington is home to one of the best museum systems in the world, the Smithsonian Institution, a private museum is probably my favorite – the Newseum. As the name suggests, the Newseum is an interactive museum sharing the history of news and journalism throughout the ages. It’s also routinely named not only one of the best museums in the city, but also in the country, which is why I am so embarrassed my first visit was just last year. That was rectified when I spent a fun afternoon exploring this light and bright institution devoted to the Fourth Estate. After entering the museum the docent told me that the tickets were good for two days, which at the time seemed overly optimistic, but almost immediately I understood why. The Newseum is massive and inside the beautifully designed interior is more information than any human could possible process in just one visit. No, I see visiting the Newseum as a series of baby steps, tackling new areas each time. Enjoying prime real estate on Pennsylvania Avenue, a visit to the Newseum starts on the terrace, with incredible views of the Capitol Building and putting into perspective what the Newseum is really all about. More than just chronicling the history of journalism, the Newseum is meant to educate visitors about the importance of the news media, especially throughout American history. Through a series of amazingly well done exhibits, the Newseum demonstrates the crucial role a free press plays in a democratic society. These thoughts have not always been popular with politicians, making the location of the museum within sight of the Capitol that much more impactful.
When I first moved to Washington, it was still the DC of decades past. Politicians piled into smoke-filled back rooms, steak houses ruled the culinary landscape and there were very sharp divides between the neighborhoods. In recent years though we have changed a lot and Washington is not the city I first met back in 2000. One reason for that is that so many newcomers to Washington have decided not to live in the suburbs, as was tradition for decades, but to find places to live in the city itself. This has resulted in the resurrection of neighborhoods thought lost and a fierce infusion of young, smart and creative people who have bent the city to their will. If you think you know DC, think again. Even as I walk through it today I barely recognize it.
When I first moved to D.C. we were not a city known for our food culture. The most popular restaurants were the same, old, tired establishments, serving up gigantic steaks, bourbons and other dishes fat politicians favored. That’s because for a long time people didn’t actually live in D.C. They lived in the Virginia or Maryland suburbs and commuted in to Washington during the day. Evening restaurants and fine dining establishments just weren’t needed. But as the demographics of the city began to shift, so did the culinary landscape and the results have been nothing short of amazing. Either in DC or within an easy driving distance we have celebrity chefs like José Andrés, Bryan Voltaggio, Spike Mendelsohn and Michel Richard all creating amazing and innovative food here in the nation’s capital. You have to understand how inconceivable this was back in 2000 and as a longtime resident it’s a great thing to witness, and taste.
Hardcore Washingtonians may not like this, but there are so many great things to see and do that aren’t downtown. Maryland and Virginia both have a lot to offer from Civil War battlefields to some of the best shopping in the country. You can stop by F. Scott Fitzgerald’s gravesite in Rockville or go hiking in Great Falls. One of my favorite not-too-far from D.C. things to do is to visit the National Air and Space Museum, Udvar-Hazy Center next to Dulles Airport. This massive, hangar shaped building is where the Smithsonian houses all of their massive aircraft that just can’t fit anywhere else. There you can see the first Boeing passenger jet, one of the Concordes and they even have a space shuttle on display. You’ll need a car to get there, but it’s well worth the extra effort.