Do The District
Depending on your interests, you can spend months (literally) wandering the halls of the various Smithsonian Museums. And the best part is, they’re free! You can finally get into the African American Museum of History and Culture without scalping tickets. I got a timed pass (online) for the same day and, barring vacation weeks and weekends, you will, too. It’s a moving experience to view the exhibits from slave ships through the civil rights movement, to current music and culture. Then you’ll have another good cry as you walk through the halls and images at The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Both museums are an essential stop on any trip to DC, a shocking history lesson, and and a heartbreaking reminder of how precious our freedoms are.
For me, I love to visit the First Ladies’ gowns and Julia Child’s Kitchen (growing up in Cambridge we trick-or-treated at her house!) at the National Museum of American History and seeing the presidents up close and personal at the Portrait Gallery (I missed the unveiling of the Obamas by a week!). The covered Kogod Courtyard at the Portrait Gallery is a spectacular spot for lunch or a short respite if you’re suffering from Stendahl syndrome, even on a rainy day.
Courtyard at the Portrait Gallery
And there’s always something interesting going on in the modern galleries at the Hirshorn (my daughter’s favorite).
Start here to find out what’s going on at all the Smithsonian museums during your visit: www.si.edu/museums.
Visit the events calendar for special tours and entertainment: https://www.si.edu/events/calendar
First Ladies: americanhistory.si.edu/exhibitions/first-ladies
At the African American Museum
These could very well be my relatives at the Holocaust Museum
Traipse around DiSuveros, Kellys, Calders and LeWitt’s at the National Gallery Sculpture Garden (a favorite spot) and in winter, rent a pair of skates and whirl about the rink in a stunning setting.
Phillips Collection, Dupont Circle
I always like to stop in and see the Rothko Room at the Phillips Collection (one of the few museums in the district that charges admission), which is as close as you’ll get to the Rothko Chapel. I’ve been known to hang around for hours in the serene cafe or courtyard with free wifi.
Photo courtesy of Phillips Collection, credit: Robert Lautman
The Washington National Cathedral
The National Cathedral is a must see, and a stop for a bite at the cathedral cafe is a don’t miss. Or the other way around! Salad nicoise with a chunk of salmon, hefty chicken salad on homemade bread, lovely soups, and a wide variety of just baked desserts (we tried the oatmeal pie! so interesting), plus the usual cafe lineup of cappuccinos, espressos macchiatos etc. It’s a serene place of course, and a nice spot to bring your laptop and get some work done with God watching over you.
It’s easy to spend a day strolling M Street in Georgetown, but for the most part, it’s an outdoor mall with mainly national brands. Head to 14th street for inspiring independent stores. Here are a few faves:
Salt And Sundry
This highly curated shop recently moved to larger quarters on 14th Street, better to harness it’s ever-expanding and thoughtful inventory of gift, jewelry, tabletop, relishes and bitters, journals and coffee table books, and pretty much everything you’d ever be tempted to buy, except clothing. There is a creative genius behind the scenes here, and the meticulous arrangement makes it all so tempting.
This textile-centric company hails from San Francisco, but it could be New England based, too, for its modern take on classics, like striped boat-neck tees and cuddly sweats. I’m always on the hunt for the perfect short-sleeved summer tee and I was very excited to find it here: a crew neck with a short, almost cap-sleeve and an easy slightly a-line fit (does NOT grab you around the tummy!). I liked them so much I went for the 3 for $100 deal. Lovely men’s duds, too, all in yummy fabrics. The “please touch” sign gives it away.
Little Leaf (plants and stationery):
All this time spent in front of our computers has left us yearning for analog, and you’ll find it here. This interesting shop sells letterpress cards, hand-printed wrapping paper, and wall calendars, plus an assortment of live foliage like rubber plants, mother-in-law tongues, and cacti (i.e. plants that college kids and twenty-somethings are unlikely to kill). Oh, and it smells really nice.
This mashup of antique furniture, vintage, and new clothing, and cool sundries is a hoot to snoop around; sort of like landing in your ultra-hip friend’s house, the one with an eagle eye for style.
www.goodwooddc.com 1428 U Street
Shinola has an outpost on 14th Street, and if you’re in need of the perfect journal, you’ll find it here in a hard-covered canvas version, that they’ll happily monogram for you while you wait. It’s one of my favorite gifts to give, and I’m never without a short stack of my own. Everything here is crafted beautifully in Detroit: watches, bags, wallets, even bicycles. We gave my daughter a Shinola watch for high school graduation and it’s one of her favorite things.
Find the watches here.
Jenni Bick, Dupont
This place is a writer’s fantasy. Yards of journals and cards and writing instruments with in-store monogramming. You’ll spend hours. Online shop, too:
Kramer Books, Dupont
Can’t know a town without visiting their most famous independent bookstore. Lovely cafe, too.