I am not a DC resident, but nor am I a typical tourist. I am a student closing in on my four years of "visiting" DC while at the George Washington University. In this journal, I offer my accumulated knowledge about the city to benefit other visitors.
by Lannb26 on April 15, 2009
Hiking Old Rag is a day trip out of DC. This is really more for DC residents or the frequent/jaded DC traveler with a whole day (and a car) to spend as you please. If you enjoy hiking though, I CANNOT recommend this day-trip enough. The primary hike that most people do on Old Rag is a circuit of about 8 miles. I'd say 65% of the hike is a standard switchback trail, but the other 35% around the rocky summit are scrambles. Scrambling is just what it sounds like - scrambling over rocks. It's not really rock climbing, but more often than not you will be using all four limbs to scuttle between tight spaces, pull yourself up onto a boulder, etc. Given the scrambling, you should be fit and, at minimum, be moderately familiar with hiking. It’s not a walk-in-the-woods-never-been-hiking-in-my-life excursion. However, I have taken friends out who don't really hike, but who are generally into sports and exercising. At an easy pace with plenty of stops for water and to gawk at the views (you reach over 3,000 feet in elevation) you can do it in 4 to 5 hours. Old Rag is crazy popular. I've been there early on a chilly February, president's day Monday and the parking lot right by the trail head is full (there's two parking lots, the other one is just a quarter mile away from the trail head). On a gorgeous fall or spring day, you won't be able to go a minute without seeing someone on the trail, which, quite frankly, is not preferable. So come super-duper early and/or in the middle of the work week. Common sense, do not try to hike when its really cold or hot or when there is likely precipitation - rain, snow, ice will make the scrambles absurdly dangerous. It's somewhat tricky getting to Old Rag the first time. Yes, Google maps produces directions when you type in DC to Old Rag. However, the dead end road the directions take you too is marked with a wooden sign "GOOGLE IS WRONG" which should be pretty obvious since the base of the mountain is still some distance away. Fear not, Google does not lead you astray - in fact, those directions are a good base. Where the Google directions end in Sperryville just pick up with the NPS directions from Sperryville to the parking area. Those directions are on the second page of this NPS guide: http://www.nps.gov/shen/planyourvisit/upload/old_rag_area.pdf. Oh, and it's just under two hours to get there from DC. There's a small park service fee per car at the main parking lot. Every time I've been there, no one enforces it. It's on your honor though, and the fee helps to maintain the quality of the trails (note the handy trail markers on the scrambles pointing out the safest route). Pack a lunch and snacks. Take lots and lots of water (two big bottles per person even when it’s not hot). Bring a camera. When you start getting close to the top and you're starting the scrambles, the panoramic views will make you gasp.
by Lannb26 on February 10, 2009
If you are only in DC for a brief trip - say a long weekend - I wouldn't opt for TR Island over some other activities like the Smithsonian or monument walks. However, if you are in DC for a while or if you are a frequent business visitor and want to get away from buildings for an afternoon, drive/bike/or walk to TR Island for some serenity and a look at a monument of Teddy. When I visited it was a cool 65 degrees in February and all sorts of families with children and pets were flocking to the island to hike around on the paths or have a picnic around the monument in the center of the island.Worth seeing if you have the time. Although if you plan on walking from somewhere downtown, it will take you at least an hour to get to the island since you will have to walk across bridge to the other side of the river from DC - the pedestrian walkway onto the island is located on the opposite side of the island if you are looking at it from the Georgetown boardwalk. There is a parking lot and bike racks next to the pedestrian walkway onto the island.
by Lannb26 on April 2, 2009
As a soon-to-be law student, it was absolutely necessary that I see oral arguments at the Supreme Court before I leave DC after graduation. For me, the second try (and thankfully not the third) was the charm. Successfully getting into watch oral argument at the Court is somewhat shrouded in mystery as they don't give a very clear explanation on their website. The site says that general admission opens to the court around 9:30 before the session begins at 10. Ha! Even on a day with a no-big-deal case, if you get there at nine you will have wasted a walk and a metro trip to Capital South (although, maybe not - just walk next door and see the Library of Congress- lots of exhibits there). If you truly want to see oral argument at the Court, do the following:Look up the Court's calendar and look for the days in the month when they will hear oral argument - Monday through Wednesday, usually just six times a month. Pick your day and go to sleep early the night before. Be at the Court (right across from the Capitol and next to the Library of Congress), AT 6:30 AT LEAST. At around 7 to 7:30, the guards will hand out little paper tickets with numbers on them. As the closed lipped guards will tell you, these tickets are not a guarantee as they have no way of knowing how many general admission spots will be available, could be 5 could be 40 (usually closer to the latter for non-headline days), because it all depends on how many 'guests of the Court' are coming. [side-note, I always think its cruel how the guards don't tell people who arrive at 8 to just go some place else, because there is no way they are getting in to watch a full argument]When you get your ticket, you can go and warm up, dry off, cool down (as weather requires) in the Court cafeteria which you access through a side door. They say to be back in line (according to your number) at 8:30. They will start letting people in a little after 9, which is when you'll go through two rounds of security. Be prepared to sit in the back on close fitting, wooden chairs and not the nice benches towards the front. It is a great experience though. The Justices really are the main attraction - not the petitioners' or respondents' attorneys. You get to watch them grill, unnerve, and poke fun at the attorneys. Read the briefs if you're really hardcore, but that's not necessary to enjoy the spectacle of it. Oh, and if you don't want to get up at the crack of dawn or watch a full oral argument, just show up a little later and wait for the 5 minute line where you go in and watch for 5 minutes before being ushered out - but that's no fun in my opinion.
The National Portrait Gallery is one of my most favorite museums in DC. On the main floor, I love going through portraits of individuals from early American history (John Randolph, Daniel Webster, etc) - putting faces to names from history books. There's also a rotating section of non-portrait paintings by American artists on the ground. On an upper level, there is - of course - the section containing presidential portraits. Very cool. Every president is featured in this section and the more quirky/relaxed styles of the portraits of newer presidents is interesting (oh, and check out the juxtaposition of Bush Senior and Junior - one standing, suit clad, serious and the other sitting, grinning, in shirt sleeves). On the top most level, you can see sports portraits, which are pretty neat - plus the architecture up at the top of the building is very cool. There's even an area where you can essentially see a whole bunch of pieces jammed together/in storage - they aren't portraits, just other smithsonian owned pieces.Those are just my favorite sections. People also tend to enjoy the portraits of modern celebrities. Oh! And almost forgot, I love the military oriented section where there are paintings of individuals like Patton. It's free, there's a cool covered courtyard to chill out in, and it's right by the Chinatown metro stop (and all of Chinatown's restaurants!). Check it out.
by Lannb26 on April 8, 2009
I have a soft spot for the Navy Memorial because I can go to one of the National Registry computers in the Heritage Center (behind the memorial) and look up both of my grandfathers who served during WWII. If you have a family member in the service, I don't think their picture and supplementary statistics will automatically show up in the registry. However, it's a pretty easy dose of paperwork to have someone added in and it's free - makes for a creative gift.The Memorial is off Pennsylvania Ave. and the outdoor portion consists of a fountain, various nautical flourishes, a huge map of the world, and the Lone Sailor Statue (which my mom has made me pose next to for pictures on several visits to DC dating back to when I was 12). Again, the service registry is in the Naval Heritage Center, which also contains educational displays, information about the Navy, Marines, etc., and a gift shop. Check out the Memorial, register someone who has served, and make your child of any age pose next to the Lone Sailor. It's a brief visit and worthwhile for any Navy enthusiast.
I had walked by this hotel a hundred times during my time as a student at GW (since its right on the fringe of the campus in Foggy Bottom) and I had never given it much thought. However, this past February, when my mom wanted to visit me solo, I thought I might as well suggest this hotel since it was less than a block away from my apartment - meaning I would have minimal walking distance to get to her during her stay. It could not have turned out better.Although the building is essentially renovated large efficiencies (her room had a pretty large kitchen), everything was spotlessly clean, there was a make-up dressing room in between the bathroom and the bedroom (which my mom loved), the beds were huge and comfortable and clean (I stayed over on her extra queen bed), and there was a big flat screen t.v. The price was absurdly reasonable for the location - much much cheaper than if you take a hotel just seven blocks north in the West End near Georgetown. As a result, we didn't have much hope for how nice it would be. Clearly, we were presently surprised. The one minor criticism is that due to the hotels excellent location (walking distance to the mall and only seven blocks to a metro station) and its reasonable price, it's very popular with student groups to the area. Hence, if you are checking in at the same time as a busload of 7th graders, you will have a long wait for the elevator / there is the potential for a night of loud urchins. Even with that though, it was a pretty quiet place. High marks for the State Plaza Hotel.
Given DC geographical location, there's an abundance of restaurants that specialize in southern or "low-country" cuisine. Vidalia, Acadiana, Art & Soul - you can take your pick and they all serve solid cuisine. However, everything from its monster sized Sunday brunch (with a buffet table + an extra entree), to its gumbo, to its corn bread with honey butter is excellent. GB's is probably the most unpretentious of its kind (meaning low-country cuisine in a fine dining setting) and it is not horribly expensive. Must have the appetizer sample platter of fried green tomatoes, bacon wrapped/blue cheese stuffed dates, catfish fingers, and fried chicken livers. Centrally located right off of the McPherson metro stop. Make reservations.
During my four years in college in DC, every February when my birthday rolled around, I would go with a troupe of my friends to Lauriol Plaza for an evening of Margaritas and Mexican food. Therefore, I have a soft place in my heart for Lauriol. It is though, an excellent Mexican restaurant in DC. Purists may say it's not real Mexican food, but it's certainly not Tex-Mex overly cheesy schlock. During the day, for lunch, Lauriol has an easy-going atmosphere and it's fairly easy to get a table since there are three levels to the place. In the evening, on the weekends, it has a definite "going-out" air. Low lighting, two hour wait times for table, and lots of young people. Point being, if it's a weekend and you want low-key Mexican food, go elsewhere or try going early to Lauriol's sister restaurant Cactus Cantina - it'll still be busy and its near American University, but it has more of a family vibe and there is more sitting area. However, if you're out with some friends and you want to down several margaritas and a couple baskets of chips before dinner, you can't beat Lauriol (they have pork laced salsa!!). I always had tons of fun.On the food, like I said - it's definitely crowd pleasing, so don't get on your foodie high horse. Nevertheless, it's very very tasty and has moments of authenticity. This last trip, while my friend recently returned from a long stay in Mexico turned her nose up at the lime, swirled, icy margaritas, the rest of my friends and I slurped one after another down like it was our business. I tend to get the Guadalajara platter (beef taco, enchilada, tamale, rice, and beans), but a week or so ago (on a non-birthday outing) I stepped out of my box for some lamb fajitas and was very pleased.Sum up: Whether you're looking for an evening out in DC designed around eating out or just some solid Mexican food, Lauriol Plaza is superb.
I first visited Brickskeller the spring after my semester abroad in London. With a multi-page beer list of hundreds upon hundreds of beer varieties (http://www.lovethebeer.com/beer-list.html), they have all the tasty foreign brews I had become addicted to - go Schnieder-Weiss. Plus, most of the seating is in a dark homey cellar, which - much like a favorite London spot Cheshire Cheese - speaks directly to my love of cozy nooks. If I had my druthers, every night I've been dragged into the foul stench of Lucky Bar would have been spent at Brickskeller You can spend a lot during an evening at Brickskeller or a moderate amount. Just depends on whether you are pounding reserve Belgian lambic beers or Strongbows. Actually, don't pound anything at Brickskeller, it's not a pounding place, but you can definitely keep yourself within a reasonable budget, even if you're being adventurous in your choices. When you are choosing your beer, it's generally a good call to pick one or two back-ups. I'm a creature of habit and they always tend to have my faves. It's not uncommon though for them to run out of some of the more exotic or highly seasonal varieties. That way, when the often surly, but knowledgeable waitress finally flits over to your table and she informs you that, no, you can't have a Samuel Smith's oatmeal stout, you can still shout out another option without incurring her wrath by pondering further the beer book.Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays there's often a wait for a table, but never impossible in my experience. Food is pretty standard that I've had - can't beat cheesy fries. If you want a similar place on U Street, the Saloon is an excellent choice - they mainly specialize in Belgian beers and they are very serious about their no standing/no dancing policy. One thing the Saloon has that my beloved Brickskeller doesn't - it's a stones throw from Ben's Chili Bowl. A post drinking half-smoke with chili and cheese - good grief, it's heaven.
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