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Things to Do in Washington DC - page 5

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Woodrow Wilson House
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1 Tour and Activity

The retirement home for President Woodrow Wilson his wife Edith, this Georgian Revival house on Embassy Row earned its National Historic Preservation Site status for both its inhabitants and its architect. It was designed in 1915 by Waddy Butler Wood, the man behind a slew of D.C.’s finest private homes, as well the Masonic Temple, National Museum of Women in the Arts, and headquarters of the Department of the Interior.

Washington’s only presidential museum, the home has been maintained much as it looked at the time of Wilson’s death here in 1924; Edith continued to live in the house until her own death in 1961. In addition to an 8000-volume library and a slew of personal artifacts and memorabilia, Woodrow Wilson House features an elevator installed to accommodate the former president, who had suffered a semi-paralyzing stroke in 1919.

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House of the Temple

One of Washington DC’s most unusual landmarks, the House of the Temple, located in Dupont Circle, is the headquarters of the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry. Built between 1911–1915 by storied architect John Russell Pope, and written about by popular author Dan Brown, the House of the Temple is free for visitors to explore.

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Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument
1 Tour and Activity

This historic Capitol Hill building, formerly called the Sewall-Belmont House, has served as the National Women’s Party’s headquarters since 1929. Today visitors can explore its fine art, books, political cartoons, textiles, and other artifacts made mostly by and about women that tell the story of the ongoing fight for women’s rights.

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Octagon House
1 Tour and Activity

One of the first homes ever built in the nation’s capital, the historic Federal-style Octagon House was designed in 1799 by William Thornton for wealthy Virginia landowner Colonel John Tayloe III. During the War of 1812, Tayloe volunteered the house as a French embassy in order to save it from destruction, and two years later, when the White House was set ablaze by the British, he offered it to President James Madison as a temporary executive mansion. Madison used a second-floor room of the house as his study, and it was here that he signed the 1815 peace treaty that ended the war with England.

Madison and his wife, Dolley, moved back into the White House in 1817, and Tayloe and his family lived on at Octagon House until 1855. Later used as a Union hospital in the Civil War, the building had fallen into decay by 1899, when the American Institute of Architects purchased it for use as its headquarters. Established as a museum in 1970 and featuring historical photos of, memorabilia from, and plans for famous American buildings, it’s now open just two days a week for self-guided tours.

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East Potomac Park

Located just south of the Jefferson Memorial, East Potomac Park is a man-made island between the Potomac River and the Washington Channel. It’s also a popular but somewhat overlooked slice of nature that locals consider a best-kept secret.

Roads and paved pathways, including the popular riverside trail, draw cyclists, runners and pedestrians to the park for an easy escape from the bustling city. And there are other recreation opportunities as ewll, including an 18-hole and a nine-hole golf course, mini golf and a public aquatic center, all found within the sprawling green space.

In the spring, two types of Japanese cherry trees bloom, converting the park into an incredibly picturesque sea of pink and white flowers. The National Cherry Blossom Festival coincides with the Yoshino cherries bloom that happens about two weeks before the Kanzan cherries open.

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Shriver House Museum

In 1860, the Civil War came to Gettysburg, Penn., changing the lives of the town's citizens forever. The stories of the townspeople are told at the Shriver House Museum, a restored home occupied by the Shriver family during the Battle of Gettysburg. George and Hattie Shriver, along with their daughters Sadie and Mollie, lived in a house that provided the Confederate Army a clear view of the Union forces. The house was occupied throughout the battle, and today, the home has been restored to its original condition and is open to the public as a museum.

Stepping into the Shriver House Museum is akin to stepping back into 19th-century America. Actors in era-specific garb represent the townspeople of the time, and tours offer insight into how the Shriver family lived. The site is filled with artifacts of the family and other citizens in Gettysburg. Some of the most interesting findings have included Civil War medical supplies, ammunition and children's toys and clothes—thought to have belonged to the Shriver children. The museum offers a fascinating perspective into the civilian aspect of the Battle of Gettysburg.

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Congressional Cemetery

Founded in 1807, the Congressional Cemetery is the only “cemetery of national memory” founded before the Civil War. The Congressional Cemetery occupies nearly 36 acres and has been designated a National Historic Landmark, while serving as the final resting place for more than 65,000 people, including many notable founders of the United States and the city of Washington in the early 1800s.

The cemetery honors 171 members of Congress who died in office with cenotaphs, or tombstones at empty graves. Some of the most notable individuals interred at the Congressional Cemetery include Vice Presidents Elbridge Gerry (the only signer of the Declaration of Independence who is buried in Washington DC) and George Clinton, J. Edgar Hoover (the first FBI director) and Tom Lantos (the only Holocaust survivor ever elected to Congress).

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DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum

Don’t mistake the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum for an antiques boutique; everything in this space is for seeing, not buying. The museum showcases American and British furniture, metals, ceramics, glass, paintings, prints, firearms and textiles from the 17th through the 19th century. There are 15 separate galleries, and the site has a reputation for showing off the “finer things” in life. In particular, the museum holds the largest collection of furniture from the American south and one of the largest collections of British ceramics anywhere outside of England.

To complement the collections, the museum educates the public through lectures and musical events. There is also a Portrait Gallery on the premises, allowing visitors to put faces with the luxury of the lifestyles demonstrated by the collections. The museum opened in 1985 in historic Williamsburg, Virginia, and was named after DeWitt Wallace, a co-founder ofReader’s Digest magazine.

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Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum

When Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, wife of John D. Rockefeller, loaned part of her folk art collection to the Ludwell-Paradise House in Williamsburg in 1935, she had no idea that her items would eventually serve as the core of a museum named after her. The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum originally opened with 424 objects, all donated or collected by Ms. Rockefeller, but today, the museum features more than 3,000 pieces and is one of the largest collections of American folk art.

Founded in 1957, every inch of the site comes alive with bold colors and intricate craftsmanship, all telling the stories of American folk life. The museum features collections of wooden toys, carvings and needlework, in addition to the art. Many children enjoy the “Down on the Farm” animal-focused exhibit.

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Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA)

Renamed in 1998 in honor of former U.S. president Ronald Reagan, this urban airport opened its doors in 1926 and is the hub for US Airways. The airport provides travelers with easy domestic escape from the nation’s capital.

Terminal A, which opened in 1941, is newly renovated, while the brightly lit and gilded halls of Terminals B and C are home to 35 gates that lead travelers to planes departing for dozens of cities across the country. Travelers on extended layovers can enjoy the artistic touches of the ever-changing Gallery Walk exhibits in Terminal A, and updated food options mean there are more places than ever for those on the go to grab a bite.

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More Things to Do in Washington DC

Dulles International Airport (IAD)

Dulles International Airport (IAD)

This international transit hub, which opened in 1962, is Washington, D.C.’s busiest airport, servicing some 22 million passengers every year who are heading to one of at least 125 destinations across the globe. Dulles is a hub for United Airlines and the third largest carrier for American Airlines.

The airport has one major terminal and two midfield terminals, which include Concourses A/B and C/D. All non-United flights and a majority of international ones operate out of the 47-gate Concourse A. Hungry travelers are sure to find exactly what they crave with more than 100 privately-owned restaurants and shops to choose from, and frequent fliers can relax in one of the 30 airline lounges—perfect for relaxing during an extra-long layover.

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Hard Rock Café Washington DC

Hard Rock Café Washington DC

Since 1990 Hard Rock Café in Washington, D.C. has been serving up classic American fare with a side of rock and roll. Travelers who are familiar with the HRC experience will find the same burgers and wings menu, friendly service and hall of fame décor the chain is known for. But this location has a bit of patriotic flair, since veterans, law enforcement and servicemen sometimes get discounts on cuisine. Visitors will find excellent live music performances nightly, great drinks specials and incredible atmosphere that’s perfect for a fun night out or a filling dinner before taking it out on the town.

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Japanese American Memorial

Japanese American Memorial

2 Tours and Activities

This moving monument that features a bronze sculpture of two Japanese cranes trapped in barbed wire pays homage to the Japanese Americans, veterans and those who were kept in internment camps after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Visitors will find a massive granite wall with names of the 10 camps where more than 120,000 people were held captive on American soil, as well as three panels covered in names honoring Japanese Americans who died while fighting World War II. There are also dozens of quotes from Japanese American writers gracing the unique memorial.

Travelers say this small gem, hidden among more epic D.C. structures is a sad but moving memorial that serves as a reminder of the horrors of war, the ugliness of humanity and the power of the human spirit to overcome even the most difficult adversities.

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Theodore Roosevelt Island

Theodore Roosevelt Island

This beautiful island, just a short drive from Washington DC, is both a wilderness reserve and a tribute to America’s 26th President. Situated on wooded lands in the Potomac River, the island has a rich heritage: it was once a Native American fishing village and thereafter owned by a Caribbean sea captain and an aristocratic family, and then occupied by Union troops in the Civil War. Today it has returned mostly to its natural state, a grove of thick trees and grassy hillsides.

At its center, a tall, bronze statue of Theodore Roosevelt stands in tribute to the man whose leadership shaped the many national parks, wilderness refuges, and public lands of the United States. His philosophies on youth and nature are immortalized by engraved quotations at the memorial site. Once you’ve paid tribute at the former president’s statue, be sure to immerse yourself in the surrounding nature on one of the many walking trails.

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National Children's Museum

National Children's Museum

Designated by Congress in 2003 as America’s only national museum focused on children, the National Children’s Museum (NCM) offers sections and activities that explore the arts, politics, the environment, global citizenship, health and play. Set on the National Harbor Waterfront, 10 miles from downtown Washington DC, the NCM is full of bright colors and several floors’ worth of hands-on exhibits that aim to inspire kids to care about themselves and the world around them.

The bulk of the museum is in a section called Our World, which aims to teach kids about biodiversity, travel, what kids are like in other cultures and countries, and a sense of connection to their own homes and neighbors. A special 3 & Under section encourages toddlers to develop their fine motor and problem-solving skills via exhibits which invite them to pretend they’re driving a car, serving lunch, and more; this section includes a sensory-stimulating Infant and Crawler Zone for babies 12 months and under.

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U.S. National Arboretum

U.S. National Arboretum

2 Tours and Activities

The US National Arboretum is a 446-acre (180-hectare) expanse of forests, meadows, and gardens connected by 9 miles (14 kilometers) of roadways. Though most known for its diverse tree collection, the arboretum is also home to the National Bonsai Museum, National Herb Garden, and the 200-year-old U.S. Capitol columns.

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Freedom Park

Freedom Park

Once known for its vibrant and boundary-pushing installations and street art, Freedom Park—located in the Rosslyn area of Arlington, Virginia—is a more understated sight today. The two-block-long, elevated park was established in partnership with the Newseum; its former artworks are displayed at the museum today.

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Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

2 Tours and Activities

The largest Roman Catholic church in North America and one of the 10 largest churches in the world, this unique Roman-Byzantine building is set beside the Catholic University of America. The preeminent Marian shrine in the US, the basilica is dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

Designed by Charles D. Maginnis, an Irish-born architect famous for building churches all over America, construction of the basilica began in 1920 but was delayed by financial setbacks during the Great Depression and World War II. Formally opened in 1959, the basilica today boasts gilded mosaic ceiling work in the Redemption Dome and more than 70 individual chapels full of art and sacredartifacts.

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Nationals Park

Nationals Park

Home to the local baseball team, the Washington Nationals (and its bald eagle mascot, Screech), this LEED-certified stadium can seat over 41,ooo fans. The Nationals, formed by the transfer of the Montreal Expos in 2005, is D.C.’s first baseball team since the Washington Senators folded in 1971. The East Division team played its first three seasons in D.C.’s RFK Stadium before moving into its own dedicated stadium in 2008.

Set in the formerly scruffy Navy Yard neighborhood by the Anacostia River, Nationals Park jumpstarted urban renewal and a thriving commercial district full of independently-owned shops, bars, and cafes; as a nod to its more historic and maritime Navy Yard surroundings, a submarine horn blares after every Nationals home run and win. The Park itself features views of the U.S. Capitol Building, National Cathedral and Washington Monument from its upper deck, and in addition to concessions by local eateries like Ben’s Chili Bowl, the Red Porch sit-down restaurant offers full meals with a view of the field.

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Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America

Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America

Formally named the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America, this Byzantine-style church and religious retreat near Catholic University and the Basilica was designed to resemble the Hagia Sophia Cathedral in Istanbul, Turkey. Opened in 1899, the elegant Franciscan Monastery also features Romanesque porticos, a cloister, and 42-acres of gardens with a greenhouse and re-creations of various shrines found in Israel.

Hour-long tours are offered on Monday–Saturday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m., and Sunday, 1 p.m.-3 p.m. The garden is open daily to the public from 9 a.m.-4:45 p.m. On its grounds, the Monastery offers a $70/night cabin called The Hermitage for one guest to take a personal retreat. This cabin includes a washer-dryer and kitchenette, as well a private outdoor deck.

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St. John’s Church

St. John’s Church

This historic Episcopal church, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was designed by Benjamin Henry Latrobe, the British-born architect of the U.S. Capitol Building. Called the “Church of the Presidents” for having hosted every president since James Madison in its pews, this Neoclassical place of worship was the second structure built on Lafayette Square – after the White House.

Completed in 1816, St. John’s features dozens of intricate stained-glass windows, as well as a wooden steeple with an almost-1,000-pound bell cast by Paul Revere's son, Joseph, at his Boston foundry in 1822; reminiscent of Revere’s bell during the American Revolution, St. John’s bell once served as an alarm for the surrounding neighborhoods.

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Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens

Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens

At its peak bloom from late May to early September, this Anacostia River wetland full of lotuses, lilies and forest wildflowers is accessible either by boardwalks or – only at high tide - by canoe or kayak. The gardens are adjacent to a large athletic field surrounded by woods and flowering bushes, and to a restored 30-acre marsh rimmed by walking paths.

Summer garden tours are offered at 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday, from Memorial Day to Labor Day. One of the tour’s highlights, only possible in late summer or early fall, is a swath of enormous Victoria water lilies, which have pads as many as four feet across. Whether or not you come for a tour, if your goal is to see blooming water lilies, it’s best to come as early in the morning as possible.

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Islamic Mosque of Washington DC

Islamic Mosque of Washington DC

When it opened in 1957, this distinctive minaret-topped limestone building was the first mosque in the Nations’ Capital and the largest Muslim place of worship in the Western Hemisphere; it remains the largest mosque in the United States. Designed by Mario Rossi, an Italian architect who had already built several mosques in Egypt, D.C.’s mosque features an ornate interior with Egyptian calligraphy, Turkish tiles and Persian rugs donated by their respective countries, and around the building’s exterior, flags from all the Muslim nations of the world.

Set on Massachusetts Avenue’s Embassy Row just past Rock Creek Parkway, a heavily-trafficked area, it’s surprising to find a peaceful courtyard garden here that is almost entirely free of street noise. Bazaars are sometimes held

Visitors are encouraged to attend services, and to arrange free tours in advance, either by email or phone. Women must wear headscarves and both men and women must keep their legs covered and shoes removed while indoors.

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Church of the Epiphany

Church of the Epiphany

Opened in 1844, this historic Episcopal, -style church has been added to the National Register of Historical Places. Used as a hospital for Union troops in 1862, the Church of the Epiphany held memorial services for slain President McKinley in 1901, and since 1925, has rung its bells in honor of each newly inaugurated president.

The church’s slim shape and Gothic Revival stone façade stand out amongst the tall modern office buildings of downtown D.C. The interior features several intricate stained glass windows, and outside, a small shaded courtyard offers benches and a bit of quiet. This small parish of about 350 worshipers is focused largely on serving, helping and supporting the surrounding homeless community.

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