May 9, 2010
Look beyond the White House and the Mall to discover the myriad cultural, commercial and culinary delights of the US capital. Washington-based writer Beth Kanter, author of a number of guides to the city and its surroundings, shares her recommendations for those wishing to explore beyond Pennsylvania Avenue…
“Go ahead – take the requisite photo with a cardboard cutout of Barack Obama in front of the White House, and buy the freeze-dried astronaut ice cream at the Air and Space Museum. But remember to explore the places beyond the Mall and the monuments that most bus tours never see. Sip tea and enjoy art at the former estate of a wealthy cereal heiress, watch aeroplanes fly just overhead in a park or enjoy jazz on a street which has seen performances from most of the greats.”
Just a few blocks from the north side of Mall you’ll find Penn Quarter, DC’s latest “it” neighbourhood. Before the gentrification fairy waved her wand over the area it was known only as Chinatown, something attested to by the massive colourful arch near the Metro.
“Trendy restaurants and shops now define a neighbourhood anchored by the Verizon Center sports arena, which helped spark the initial gentrification. At Rosa Mexicano, guacamole is prepared tableside and the pomegranate margaritas have a loyal following. Other favourites include Zaytinya for Middle Eastern mezze.
Forget George Washington, Duke Ellington slept here. Northwest DC’s U Street Corridor once served as the heart of African-American nightlife. Back in the day you could hear Ella, Duke or Dizzy on any given night – more likely than not after playing a gig for a “white only” crowd in another part of the city.
The 1968 riots following the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. left the area in disrepair until the mid 90s when it started to make a comeback. You can still listen to jazz at the fabled Bohemian Caverns where the greats once played and lounged. The nearby Twins Jazz also offers live music along with an American, Ethiopian and Caribbean menu. During the day browse the mix of independent shops on U Street: Home Rule is a local favourite for fun housewares, while Vastu is the place for modern furnishings.
When you’ve had enough of crowds in places like the National Museum of American History, head up to the Dupont Circle area to check out a few of the lesser-known galleries. The Phillips Collection, the country’s first museum of modern art, exhibits favourites such as Renoir’s “Luncheon of the Boating Party” and has a popular Rothko room. On the first Thursday evening of every month the museum hosts a gallery talk with live jazz and a cash bar. Nearby the charming Textile Museum houses an impressive collection of quilts, wall rugs, fabrics and garments from non-Western cultures. The gift shop here is a gem.
Nestled in a more residential part of town is the Hillwood Museum, former home of the cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post. At only 27 years of age she took over the Postom Cereal Company, following the death of her father. She was once listed as the wealthiest woman in the country and purchased Hillwood in 1955 to serve as her home and as a future museum. Highlights include an extensive collection of Russian imperial art, including Fabergé eggs, porcelain and Orthodox icons.
Locals love Gravelly Point Park and for good reason – where else can you picnic under an aeroplane as it comes in for a landing? You really do feel like you can reach up and touch the underbody of the incoming aircraft and the adrenaline buzz from the roar of the engines can be addictive.
The grassy Arlington, VA, park is about 400 feet north of the runway at Ronald Regan Washington National Airport. If you can manage to take your eyes off the sky, check out the view of the city from across the Potomac. It’s a great reminder of why you came here in the first place.
Thanks to Flickr photographers VinothChandar, yeowatzup, dbking and Anosmia for the great shots. Head on over to Beth’s other feature to discover Washington’s Top Ten Boutiques. Virgin Atlantic operate daily flights to Washington Dulles International Airport from London Heathrow.