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51 Things Everyone Should Experience At Least Once In D.C.

D.C. is a small place with plenty of things to do.
D.C. is a small place with plenty of things to do.

As the nation's capital, there's no end to the historic places to visit, cultural events in which to take part, and scenic views to take in around the Washington D.C. region. But when faced with a free Saturday afternoon, even longtime residents of the region can sometimes draw a blank when trying to decide what to do. So just as we did for Maryland and Virginia, the WAMU newsroom brainstormed the things — 51 in all — any resident or visitor to the city should do at some point in their life. This is your District bucket list.

Did we forget some? Probably! So feel free to add your thoughts in the comments.


Take in a view. D.C. may be relatively flat and low-lying, but there are some great vantage points from where you can take it all in: Cardozo High School in Columbia Heights, the Frederick Douglass House in Anacostia, the top of the Washington Monument, the Newseum's balcony, the top of the Old Post Office, the Washington National Cathedral, and so on. You may even have to travel outside of the city for the best view of it: the Robert E. Lee Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery or Netherlands Carillon at Iwo Jima are two good spots.


Even locals have to appreciate the National Mall and its many free Smithsonian museums. And the National Zoo, of course, which has seen a bit of a baby boom as of late.


And they may not be free, but offerings like the National Building Museum, the Phillips Collection, the Corcoran (especially since it's closing), and others are worth the time. Here's a handy list of all the museums you need to work through.


Visit the White House. We live with it, so you may as well enjoy it. Also: the U.S. Capitol, where you can see a statue of Frederick Douglass donated by D.C. for Statuary Hall.

There's plenty of memorial in D.C., but some are less obvious than others — like this one honoring Albert Einstein. (Photo by afagen)


D.C. is home to many monuments and memorials, including the big ones: The Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, etc. Visit those. But don't ignore the lesser-known ones: The Albert Einstein Memorial, the Titanic Memorial, Temperance Fountain, the Victims of Communism Memorial, the African-American Civil War Memorial, and many more. For an even more special experience, visit these at night.


Do a Segway tour. Seriously. And while you're at it, join a Scandal Tour, take a pedicab somewhere, and find quirky ways to be a tourist.


Think you know D.C.? Prove it with The Washington Post's annual Post Hunt, a scavenger hunt that will test even the most knowledgeable of the city's residents.


Cross the Anacostia River and head to the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site and the Smithsonian's Anacostia Community Museum. And if you head over, consider biking: some of the city's steepest hills are in Anacostia.


Go to a show at Fort Reno. Given how close the long-running series came to being canceled recently, take advantage before it's too late.


Another musical tradition not to be missed is Jazz in the Garden, the summertime concert series that takes place every Friday afternoon in the National Gallery of Art's Sculpture Garden.


Want even more free music? Try the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage's offerings.


In music, jazz has a rich history in D.C., so make sure to catch a show at HR-57 on H Street NE or at the Westminster Presbyterian Church near the Southwest Waterfront.


A long-standing Sunday evening tradition, the Meridian Hill Park drum circle attracts musicians, dancers, families — you name it, they'll show up to enjoy improvised drum jams that can include dozens of percussionists.


Rock Creek Park is 2,800 acres worth of nature in the middle of D.C., with hiking, cycling and even horseback riding. Hike the entirety of the 5.5-mile Valley Trail, pedal the length of Beach Drive when it's closed to cars on the weekend, visit the Nature Center and Planetarium, catch a concert at the Carton Barron Ampitheatre — the possibilities are endless.


Walk or bike the C&O Canal, which starts in Georgetown and heads 184 miles north to Cumberland, Maryland.


Get on the water. Swimming in the Potomac or Anacostia isn't recommended — and is illegal in some cases — but you can rent a kayak (Key Bridge Boathouse or Fletcher's Boathouse are good options), try standup paddle-boarding or take a paddle boat for a spin in the Tidal Basin.

Yards Park in Southeast D.C. is a big draw from families. (Photo by Daniel Lobo)


Speaking of, enjoy two of the city's newest — and best — waterfront parks: the Georgetown Waterfront along the Potomac and Yards Park along the Anacostia.


You can play golf, tennis or swim laps — all with a view of the Washington Monument — at the East Potomac Park Rec Center. For no, or a small fee, the park offers no-frills amenities in a unique setting. The pool, which doesn't have a kiddie section, is popular with training triathletes and fills up quick on weekends, so bring your own seats if you want to lounge. And non-residents can get in on the action for a reasonable fee (bring cash!).


Along with East Potomac Park, you can play a round of golf at two other public courses in the city: Langston and Rock Creek Park. Or if you want a quirkier challenge, try the H Street Country Club, which boasts both a bar and small mini-golf course.


The Anacostia River will long be fighting an uphill public relations battle thanks to its history of pollution and neglect, but the Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens is a magical escape from city life — and it exists fully within city limits. If you're out on a boat in Kenilworth Pond, you can really forget you're in the middle of the city, much less a river in which it wouldn't be wise to swim!


Not far south is the U.S. National Arboretum, a 446-acre escape in Northeast D.C. Check out the azaleas, the bonsai collection and the Capitol Columns, which started at the U.S. Capitol but were moved after it was determined they couldn't sustain the weight of the dome.


And if you're in the area, check out Anacostia Park — notably the outdoor roller-skating pavilion.


Want to legally ride a mountain bike off-road within city limits? The only place is Fort Dupont Park in Ward 7.


And if you're there, lace up some ice skates at the Fort Dupont Ice Arena, the only indoor public ice rink in town. Speaking of ice-skating, winter offers some great outdoor options: The Sculpture Garden, the Georgetown Waterfront and Canal Park.


Take in some sports. D.C. may no longer have a professional football team — it moved to Prince George's County years ago, though it keeps the city's name — but it has the Nationals, Wizards, Capitals, United, Mystics, Kastles, Spirit, Hoyas, Colonials, Bisons — we could go on. There's even the Breeze, Prodigy, Rollergirls — got 'em all?


It's not just pro sports: Go watch the Kenner League basketball games at Georgetown. It's the only NCAA-sanctioned summer league in D.C., and the annual tradition of great players coming to McDonough Gym for summer ball goes back decades. Back in the day, you might have seen Iverson there. Or Dikembe. How cool is that?


Visit all avenues and streets named after the 50 states. Some are long (Massachusetts), some short (North Dakota) and one even named after something other than a state (Puerto Rico, which is an unincorporated territory). If you really want a challenge, try the 50 States Ride, a 65-mile bike ride that hits all of them.

Can you find all of D.C.'s boundary stones? (Photo by Mark Zimmermann)


Find the city's boundary stones, the sandstone markers that were placed around the city's boundaries. Last year a couple walked along the entirety of the city's borders to find the stones; in 2012 we met up with a group trying to maintain them.


Cross the Potomac — but stay in D.C. It's a little-known fact that the D.C. border with Virginia is actually on the commonwealth's side of the river dividing the two, which means that Roosevelt Island, Lady Bird Johnson Park and Columbia Island Marina are all technically part of D.C.


Travel abroad without leaving the city. As the nation's capital, D.C. is home to plenty of embassies — many of which open their doors to residents and visitors for cultural events, food, and more. And despite the fact that you're technically on foreign soil when in an embassy, there's no need to bring your passport.


Among some embassy standouts, there's the Canadian Embassy Rotunda (which is designed to serve as a big echo chamber), the Japanese Embassy's Ippakutei Tea House, the House of Sweden, the Spanish Cultural Institute, and, if you can get in, the pub at the British Embassy or the sauna at the Finnish Embassy.


Buy the daily catch at the Maine Avenue Fish Market, which, according to food historians, has been there since the times of George Washington.


Speaking of markets, there are plenty in D.C. worth visiting: Eastern Market, Union Market, plenty of farmers markets, the Georgetown Flea Market, and more.


Don't miss the chance to watch a movie outside, whether on the National Mall with Screen on the Green or at neighborhood-based movie festivals like NoMa, Capitol Riverfront, Union Market, and many more. A full list is here.  

Parades — be there. (Photo by Victoria Pickering)


D.C. is a great place for parades and street festivals, so get to one (or many). For next year's Independence Day, check out these parades; stop by the H Street Festival, Fiesta D.C., the Chinese New Year, Adams Morgan Day, and more.


During the Civil War, 68 forts ringed D.C., protecting it from Confederate forces. (Only one ever saw battle — Fort Stevens.) Get to know some of them.


The Mansion on O Street is as quirky as they get: it's got hidden doors, secret passages and funky furnishings and fixtures. It's great for a walking tour, or if you need a distinct place to stay, it's also a hotel.


Speaking of houses worth visiting, take a stroll around Tudor Place, Hillwood Estate, Dumbarton Oaks, and the Franciscan Monastery. Various neighborhoods around town also have home tours.


After the Heurich Brewery closed its doors in 1956, D.C. went 50 years without any breweries of its own. In the past few years, though, breweries have come back with a vengeance. There are now six within city lines, all of which offer tastings — and some also have tours. Check out D.C. Brau, Three Stars, Chocolate City, Atlas, Bluejacket, and Right Proper.


It's not just beer — there's also a few distilleries to be sampled: New Columbia and D.C. Liqueur.


You can discover both storied and up and coming artists every First Friday of the month, as the art galleries in Dupont Circle open their shows to the public free of charge. Sip on complimentary wine at the participating galleries, and end at The Hillyer, where for a $5 donation, you can enjoy wine and beer from local shops and check out some of the area's more eclectic art and photography.


D.C. has a wonderfully active theatre scene, so plan to take in a show at any of the many theatres in town: Woolly Mammoth, Studio Theatre, D.C. Shakespeare Theatre Company, Atlas Performing Arts Center, Anacostia Playhouse, Arena Stage, and others. And don't miss the annual Capital Fringe Festival.


Pay a visit to Congressional Cemetery, which is the final resting place for members of Congress, J. Edgar Hoover, a Supreme Court justice, and many more figures in local and federal circles.

Cherry blossoms annually bloom along the Tidal Basin — and you should be there for it. (Photo by Y Nakanishi)


Visit the Tidal Basin's cherry blossoms during full bloom.


Watch the Good Friday Parade as it snakes its wat through Mt. Pleasant and Columbia Heights, two of the city's traditional Latino neighborhoods.


Run up the Exorcist steps in Georgetown. Just try. Don't fall down them, though.


Wander around the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on the campus of Catholic University. It's the largest Roman Catholic church in the U.S., and is one of the ten largest churches in the world.


Take in the Library of Congress' Main Reading Room, where researchers work at wooden desks under a soaring dome. If you're curious about D.C. history, make sure to visit the Peabody Room in the D.C. Library in Georgetown or the Washingtoniana Collection in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library. For even deeper dives, try the D.C. Archives.


Get to know D.C.'s many neighborhoods — by walking them. Cultural Tourism D.C. has over 15 self-guided heritage trails that point out historic facts and locations in neighborhoods from Shaw to Deanwood.


Listen to a Supreme Court oral argument. All sessions are open to the public, though seating is limited so don't expect to just walk into the most controversial of arguments.


Phew! After doing the 50 things above — not to mention the many we're sure we weren't able to include — you'll probably be hungry. There's too many food options to mention in one go, but you should certainly consider mainstays like Ben's Chili Bowl and Eastern Market's Market Lunch, upscale options like Komi, quirky favorites like Perry's Drag Queen brunch, food trucks, and much, much more. The Washington City Paper recently published it's annual food issue, and it's got some great ideas.

Ideas and suggestions contributed by Chris Lewis, Emily Berman, Lauren Ober, Rebecca Sheir, Michael Martinez, Tayla Burney, Kathleen Allenbaugh, Jonathan Wilson, Kavitha Cardoza, Erica R. Hendry and — you! Leave your ideas in the comments.


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