Many people traveling to Washington, D.C., for the first time are on some middle school band, chorus, history class, or junior honor society trip. Those junkets — with a need to fill numerous activities into a small educational window — can cram a schedule with monument, artifact, document and gemstone visits in our nation’s capital. But now that I’m older, I went back and appreciated the things that I had to sprint by as a child.
The three times my family and I have been to D.C. certainly involved the mainstays — the Lincoln Memorial, Smithsonian Museums, and the Washington Monument. But we also have found ways to focus on other great attractions. D.C., a very friendly walking city, has wonderful access to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s underground transit system (dubbed the “Metro”), which was built by Traylor Bros., an Evansville construction company.
The family journey started from the 834-room Hyatt Regency Washington on Capitol Hill, located on New Jersey Avenue and within walking distance of the Smithsonian and the National Mall. The Hyatt Regency Washington boasts a fantastic location near important government landmarks (the U.S. Capitol, Supreme Court, Library of Congress, and the House and Senate Office Buildings), and even its restaurant, Article One – American Grill, pays tribute to the nation’s history. (Article One of the U.S. Constitution established the framework of Congress.) The restaurant morphs from a casual breakfast and lunch location to a fine dining establishment with an American Grill menu of steaks, seafood, and chef’s specialties with a local focus.
The rooms, furnished in rich caramel and gold hues and dark wood furniture, were upscale and spacious, and the neighborhood was safe enough to visit the sights at night. All of the monuments hold significant importance in our history, but a beautiful way to see them is with a night tour via the Martz Gold Line and Gray Line bus service. Visiting the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials awash in floodlights gives a different perspective to those and other great buildings.
At the Lincoln Memorial, I stood where Martin Luther King Jr. overlooked the Reflecting Pool to give his famous “I Have A Dream” speech. Even with middle school kids around, there was a quiet reverence observed within the memorial’s walls. That was especially true of those standing at Lincoln’s feet. With hundreds of other folks around, it was remarkable to sit on those steps and look out over the National Mall on a delightful spring afternoon.
If you are in D.C. during the National Cherry Blossom Festival (late March to mid-April), visit the Jefferson Memorial, which is within walking distance of the mall and surrounded by more than 3,700 cherry blossom trees — most were gifts from Japan.
Another addition to the mall is the National World War II Memorial. With a tremendous set of fountains, the memorial recognizes the branches of the U.S. military that served in the war and celebrates the support from the home front.
In the world’s largest museum complex, which includes the Natural History and Air and Space Museums, the Smithsonian Institution has a variety of the country’s treasures. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum near the main Smithsonian campus is a somber place filled with images and artifacts that connect visitors to one of the greatest tragedies of World War II.
A few stops on the Metro outside the mall is the fantastic and fun Dupont Circle, a grouping of shops, stores, and restaurants, which acts as the gateway to Embassy Row. The urban, vibrant, and eclectic area has museums, historic homes, foreign embassies, ethnic restaurants, bookstores, and private art galleries, but it also is big on nightlife. Visit an independent bookstore, Kramerbooks & Afterwords, where first-edition originals and the latest bestsellers are available. (Bonus: Have a cold brew or mimosa with a sumptuous brunch.)
Past the embassy area with beautiful mansions and stunning architecture, take Massachusetts Avenue past the U.S. Naval Observatory (the grounds are home to Vice President Joe Biden) and the massive Washington National Cathedral, which brings Gothic undertones of the great European cathedrals to our nation’s capital.
Georgetown is another vibrant community in D.C. with upscale shops, bars, and restaurants along its cobblestone streets. Many of the homes along the tree-lined streets are 200-year-old restored row houses with beautiful gardens.
Across the Potomac River is the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The center offers the Millennium Stage series in one of the grand halls. Every day of the year, the series brings free music and entertainment to the public. My two daughters’ chorus, the Kentucky Youth Chorale from Owensboro, had the privilege of performing there and at the National Cathedral last year.
Visit the Arlington National Cemetery for the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns. Also visit the eternal flame at John F. Kennedy’s gravesite. The Iwo Jima flag-raising memorial is just outside the main entrance to the cemetery.
See small parts of the government at work by making arrangements in advance with your congressman to get a capitol tour. White House tours are more difficult to come by, but take a stroll down Pennsylvania Avenue, which has been closed to vehicles since Sept. 11, 2001, to see the White House.
Washington, D.C., is a wonderful place to visit and discover more about this nation and its history. My return helped me more fully grasp and enjoy all D.C. has to offer.