In 1992 & 1993 we lived in Reston Virginian, a suburb of Washington DC. I loved Reston and loved our 20 months in the DC area. There were endless things to do and we did them all. If you are an American history buff even a tiny bit, this region will make you swoon. But despite how much we loved our time here, we had never been back, except for passing through Dulles Airport now and then. So on our road trip from Atlanta to Boston, we planned five days in Washington DC. I wanted to revisit a few of my favorites, but I also wanted to see all of the things that have changed in thirty years. So we set out to explore Washington DC – Old, New, Red, White & Blue.
Arriving by car, as we crossed into the district from Virginia we were greeted by the familiar and beautiful sight of The Capitol Building and the Washington Monument. Iconic images for any American. We drove down Independence Avenue and I was so happy to see these “old” friends.
Something “new” for us was arriving in the neighborhood of Capitol Hill to our Airbnb. When we lived here we spent almost no time in the area East of the Capitol building. So I was excited to explore and enjoy this beautiful neighborhood of historic homes, parks and small shops. Over the next few days we walked and ran all over this area, visited the wonderful Eastern Market (a favorite local attraction for food, flowers, produce and meat), and admired the architecture. I highly recommend the Airbnb we stayed in. Check it out.
We hit the ground running on day two. First, on this sunny and cool morning, we walked from our Airbnb to the White House, which took us about one hour. I am very lucky to say this was my seventh visit to the White House. When we lived here we went twice with out of town guests, twice to see the Christmas decorations and twice for the White House Easter Egg Roll. What is “new” however is how you visit. Back in the day you could arrive and wait in a long line and then walk through the White House with lots of other visitors. Today, things have changed. You can only visit the White House with a timed entry ticket that you obtain through your Congressional representative or Senator. Luckily we knew this in advance, and thanks to our Congressman we had a 9:30am tour. It was everything I remembered and more. Truly something everyone should try to do at least once in their lifetime at least once…if not seven times!
Next we headed to the National Gallery of Art. This falls into the “old” category as we had visited it many times but it remains a favorite. Did you know all the Smithsonian and Public Buildings in Washington DC are free? Well, when planning a visit to DC take that into account. Compared to what you pay to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York or the Natural History Museum in New York you will definitely save money visiting DC.
Next was something “new” – the National Museum of the American Indian. Opened in 2016, this beautiful building houses a wonderful collection of artifacts and tells the remarkable story of the American Indian. Chronological history of the treaties, slaughter and oppression of the Native Americans as well as wonderful handcraft, carvings, beadwork and much more. I highly recommend you visit this wonderful museum.
Back up to Capitol Hill we headed to have a one-on-one with our Congressional representative Derek Kilmer. This was a “new” experience for us. Although we have known Representative Kilmer since before he was in office, it was a great privilege to visit with him in his office in the Longworth Building. We can’t thank him enough for taking the time to meet with us.
Back to the Airbnb for a quick freshen up and then on to something else “new”. Nationals Park, opened in 2008, began a revitalization of the Navy Yard area. Formerly a working class and somewhat rough area, today the stadium and the Washington Nationals team (World Champions in 2019) have breathed new life into this part of the city. Restaurants, bars, shops, apartments, hotels and condominiums fill the neighborhood. We had a great time watching the Nationals play the Orioles.
We had a little more time in the morning so I enjoyed a run in Capitol Hill before walking back down into the heart of the city. We could not wait for this “new” adventure today, visiting the highly acclaimed Museum of African American History and Culture. Absolutely amazing. We spent about 2 hours and twenty minutes and we could easily have spent two more hours. It’s a vast look at the story of African Americans and it is not to be missed. We see a lot of museums in our travels…this was one of the best.
Important things to know; because of its popularity you will need a timed-entry ticket. Tickets are free and you can get them online. If I had planned better, we would have done two hours on the first day and come back and done two hours the next day. Get your tickets as far in advance as you can.
We spent most of our time in the “C” sections (starting on the bottom floor), which chronologically covers everything from the start of the slave trade to civil rights to the election of Barack Obama. The upper floors include wonderful sections on music, entertainment, sports, and other cultural subjects.
We tore ourselves away from this museum and headed back up the hill for our tour of the Capitol Building. Although we had toured the building thirty years ago, we really wanted to do it again. Once again our Congressman’s staff made sure we had an exceptional experience, giving us a personal tour. What a treat to not be in a group of thirty people, but instead have a personal guide. Our guide Hayden explained so many things to us about the history, art, architecture and events that have occurred in this building from when the British burned the Capitol in 1814 to the Insurrection on January 6th 2021. And through it all, the beautiful building stands, our democracy stands and we the people stand.
By this time we were pretty tired, but the weather was incredible so we decided to do one more “new” thing at the end of this day. We took an Uber to The Wharf, another newly revitalized area on the Potomac River. I remember this area from thirty years ago. Kinda decrepit and somewhat unsafe. We came here to buy blue crabs from the fisherman on the pier. Well you would not even recognize it today. Another gathering place of restaurants and shops as well as The Anthem performing arts center. A boardwalk goes along the river, kids were playing in a water feature, people were kayaking…it was wonderful. We had oysters and seafood at Hank’s Oyster Bar. A perfect end to a great day.
Something else “new” (like in many cities) is the ability to grab a bike (conventional or e-bike) or razr-style scooter all over DC. So on Day four that’s what we did. First we walked to the National Archives. We have been here before but we wanted to see it again. We made a brief visit because it was jam packed with school kids, but it’s always inspiring to gaze upon the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution of the United States.
On our bikes we set out to the far end of the mall to visit some old and some new. The Lincoln Memorial, Reflecting Pool and the Vietnam Memorial are some of our favorites from the past and they never get old so we spent some time there saying hello once again.
“New” since we were here are the WWII Memorial, the Korean War Memorial and the Martin Luther King Memorial. We loved all of these. In honor of my dad we spent a lot of time at the Korean War Memorial looking for family names. We found one person with my birth name of Haydock and four with my married name of Lund.
We continued on the bikes along the Tidal Basin to the Jefferson Memorial and then out to East Potomac Park. We had never been out to this small island park before, where we took a break off the bikes and watched the planes come and go from Reagan International across the river, before riding the bikes all the back up Capitol Hill.
A quick shower and rest and then we headed to one of Capitol Hill’s thriving areas of restaurants, also “new” to us, to meet our “old” friend Mimi. I’ve stayed in touch with Mimi since we lived here and I always love catching up with her. We had a fantastic meal at a Belgian Restaurant called Belga Cafe and enjoyed every minute of it. Great food and conversation. What a great day.
Our last day in DC! It’s been fabulous! Although the weather changed and it was a bit stormy, I still squeezed in one last run, we went to the laundromat and worked on the laptop. We found a few minutes to walk to the Eastern Market, one of the coolest and “new” to us places on Capitol Hill for an outdoor farmers market. Also packed our bags, ready to take the train to New York the next day. But we had one last “new” thing to do.
For dinner on this night we met Arne’s second cousin and her husband for an amazing dinner. This was our first time meeting Hannah and Fatih and they took us to a remarkable Turkish Restaurant called the Ottoman Taverna. We loved meeting them and spending time together. It was a perfect ending to a perfect visit to our nations capital.
Washington DC – Old, New, Red, White & Blue
Whether you are American or not, this city has so much to offer…we hardly scratched the surface. So many other museums and sites. A variety theater and music. Vast outdoor activities. And endless options for great food. Come and see for yourself – Washington DC – Old, New, Red, White & Blue.
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