Washington, D.C.: A City Reborn
Twice I’ve moved away from Washington, D.C. And both times I’ve moved back, finding a city more vibrant than when I left, but also realizing D.C. was kind-of ideal in the first place. Between its historical significance, wealth of museums, outdoor activities and burgeoning restaurant scene, it offers plenty of engaging options year-round. So when planning the perfect D.C. weekend, the challenge lies in budgeting your time.
The Thomas Jefferson Memorial is my favorite of all the National Mall’s monuments. It's best after sunset when it affords a serene nighttime view of D.C. from the water and pairs beautifully with the nearby Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. FDR specifically requested not to have a monument, but when you see this collection of sculptures up lit at night, you’ll be glad he was ignored.
For a different experience than your grade school trip to D.C., check out the Smithsonians that have debuted since I first moved here in 2000: the National Museum of the American Indian, which opened in 2004, and the just-launched National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Rather than dashing through all the D.C.’s grand museums, consider picking one and matching it with a smaller, private one on a similar subject. The National Gallery of Art, offers a thorough overview of American and European art (check out the El Grecos). Follow up your visit there with a stop in Dupont Circle at the Phillips Collection, which focuses on modern art. If you need a break from walking, there’s no better spot in the city than the bench in its Rothko Room. For families whose kids may not be up for leisurely strolls past priceless art, the National Air and Space Museum and the International Spy Museum provide plenty of hands-on exhibits that show both the raw power and delicate intrigue of military operations. A 2010 addition to the Air and Space Museum, the Udvar-Hazy Center in nearby Chantilly, Virginia, features 170 aircraft as well as the Space Shuttle Discovery.
While D.C.’s always had more attractions than those just related to it being the seat of the U.S. government, you probably wouldn’t know it based on how the city’s depicted in books and movies. Pick up food at a Georgetown eatery, rent a kayak or canoe, paddle around the Potomac, and then pull up at Roosevelt Island for a picnic. If you prefer keeping your feet on land, nearby Great Falls Parks offers hiking and climbing with views of the natural wonder.
Food wise, José Andrés has long been the city’s top chef, as least since I first moved here in 2000. Although his restaurants are still a must-visit — the pulpo a la Gallega (octopus with potatoes) at Jaleo is my favorite dish anywhere — the city’s food scene has exploded in the past few years. In particular, check out Hazel, which opened this summer in Shaw, one of DC’s hip neighborhoods of the moment. On my last visit, I sampled nine dishes (yeah, I know) and while I’d gladly order any of them again, if the steak tartare with tater tots, egg yolk, pepper cress and caramelized onion dip had been around 14 years ago, I’d have never moved away from D.C. in the first place.
Zach Everson is a D.C.-based writer and a member of the National Press Club and Society of American Travel Writers. His work has appeared in Condé Nast Traveler, Fast Company, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Lonely Planet and BlackBook.