Stepping Out

Washington, DC

By Blessing Ntekume

Perhaps more than any other city in the country, Washington, DC, is where history and culture—along with an awareness that consequential decisions are being made in nearby halls of power—combine to create an unforgettable experience for visitors. From iconic landmarks and leafy parks to world-class museums and jazz clubs, this city offers a surprisingly diverse array of attractions.

Monuments and museums

No visit to DC is complete without immersing yourself in the rich history found at its renowned monuments and museums. The Smithsonian Institution, a treasure chest of knowledge, comprises a remarkable 21 museums (and the National Zoo), including the sobering and exhilarating National Museum of African American History and Culture. Less well known, the National Museum of Womenreopens in October, after a complete renovation, with an exhibition of grand-scale sculptures by women that show off the museum’s reimagined spaces (running through February 2024).

Culture

On the edge of the Potomac River, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts showcases top-flight performances from classical music and ballet to jazz and Broadway theater favorites.

The city where Duke Ellington was born and raised is a jazz mecca boasting a wide collection of clubs where you can revel in this quintessentially American genre. The exuberant Blues Alley, one of the oldest jazz supper clubs in the country, provides an intimate setting for world-class performances. A larger venue, the 9:30 Club, hosts both established and
up-and-coming musicians. The , a sprawling celebration of the dynamic art form, is worth planning your trip around. Held in early September, the series spans dozens of venues and performers, and culminates in a weekend of concerts at the Wharf, beside the Potomac.

Outdoors

While the National Mall and the Lincoln Memorial are at the top of everyone’s list, you can also discover lesser-known yet equally absorbing outdoor attractions. Rent a bike and explore the picturesque Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, where you can cycle the scenic 185-mile towpath parallel to a once-busy, now-restful waterway. Begin in Georgetown and, as you take in the views, learn about the early history of transportation. Meridian Hill Park, with its cascading fountains and lush greenery, offers a peaceful retreat within the city—a perfect spot for a relaxing afternoon picnic. The United States National Arboretum is a horticultural haven, boasting diverse plant collections and serene landscapes that invite exploration and contemplation.

Walking tours

To delve deeper into the city’s history and culture, sign up for a walking tour, sampling the city’s legendary sites or exploring its lesser-known, quirky delights. You can unearth the secrets of DC’s historic neighborhoods, such as Georgetown with its charming cobblestone streets and historic architecture, or the vibrant U Street Corridor, once a center of African American culture during the Harlem Renaissance and now filled with lively music venues, boutiques, and eateries. Or join an offbeat tour, like the Smithsonian Associates’ historian-led retracing of John Wilkes Booth’s escape route after assassinating Lincoln.

Restaurants

The food scene is as diverse as DC’s scores of embassies. Start with our country’s own cuisine: Oohh’s & Aahh’s, a local gem renowned for its soul food, serves up mouthwatering fried chicken, collard greens, and macaroni and cheese. At Ethiopian-inspired Keren Restaurant, assorted savory stews and other delectable dishes are served atop injera, the country’s traditional flatbread. Or go European with the classic French restaurant Le Diplomate, long a favorite of power players. Who knows?
At the next table, you may find a movie
star or your senator. DW



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