Washington, D.C.: Recreation
As a city with tremendous history as a worldwide capital, and also a place where news and historic events take place nearly every day, Washington, D.C. is one of America's most popular tourist destinations for American families, serious researchers, and foreign travelers. Visitors to Washington can choose from 40 museums and more than 150 historical sites—most of them free of charge. Any tour of Washington starts on the Mall, the long strip of open park land between Capitol Hill and the Lincoln Memorial. Tours of the U.S. Capitol building are given daily and visitors can receive admittance cards from their elected representatives to visit the House or Senate chambers, when in session. In the middle of the Mall, surrounded by American flags, stands the 555-foot-tall Washington Monument, completed
Just outside the Mall, the Jefferson Memorial, at the foot of the Tidal Basin, is a popular spot to view the city's famous cherry blossoms in the spring. The Vietnam Veteran's Memorial provides a moving experience for the millions of people who observe the names of the war dead with which it is inscribed. The Federal Bureau of Investigation in the J. Edgar Hoover Building offers tours that include a videotape history of the agency, photos of notorious crimes and criminals, and a firearm demonstration. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing shows how it provides the nation with currency and stamps. The National Archives displays copies of the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, plus other key documents in U.S. history. The Library of Congress, besides being one of the nation's premier research facilities, also hosts concerts and literary programs. Sessions at the Supreme Court Building, near the U.S. Capitol, are always open to the public. Lafayette Park, across from the White House, is notable for frequent civil demonstrations on current issues, in addition to its statue honoring Andrew Jackson.
Elsewhere in central Washington, costumed guides at the Frederick Douglass Home explain the life of the former slave, statesman, and civil rights activist. Ford Theater, where Lincoln was shot, and the Peterson House, where he died, retain their 1860s style and are open to the public. The National Arboretum and Dumbarton Oaks on the edge of Georgetown display a breathtaking variety of plant life.
Sixteen miles outside the city, in Mount Vernon, Virginia, George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens sits on 500 acres overlooking the Potomac River. Another of America's most revered monuments is the Arlington National Cemetary in nearby Arlington, Virginia. The 600 acre site bears thousands of simple white crosses to honor the nation's war dead, as well as the gravesites of other prominent citizens that include President John F. Kennedy, boxer Joe Louis, and the Tomb of the Unknowns.
Arts and Culture
Washington, D.C. is a cultural as well as governmental center. It boasts a higher concentration of museums and art galleries than any other city in the nation. The District of Columbia regularly attracts performers as diverse as touring Broadway shows and major rock and jazz acts to its opulent theaters and concert halls.
Much of Washington's cultural life is based in the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, home of the National Symphony Orchestra and the Washington Opera, and host to almost-daily performances by world-famous artists. The Kennedy Center presents more than 3,300 performances a year before more than 2 million guests. Each December the Kennedy Center Honors is a national celebration of the arts that recognizes the talents and achievements of the world's greatest performing artists. The Arena Stage and the National Theater all offer major stage shows, including dramas and musicals. Other local theater groups include the Avalon, Shakespeare Theater, Theater J, Old Vat Theater, Source Theater, Wooly Mammoth Theatre Company, Studio Theatre, GALA Hispanic Theater, and scores more around the Washington, D.C. area. The Washington Ballet presents a varied repertoire and the District of Columbia's African Heritage Dancers and Drummers present special children's programs. Young audiences enjoy special performances presented at the Kennedy Center Lab. Children's theater is also offered by Picture Book Players, Summer Theatre Camp and special events for young people at the Washington, D.C. Armory. Many college-affiliated groups offer theatrical performances.
Washington, D.C.'s many museums and galleries provide a feast of viewing variety. The museums operated by the Smithsonian Institution, often called "America's Attic," contain everything from a 50-foot section of the legendary American highway Route 66 to the original Kermit the Frog hand puppet, from Charles Lindbergh's historic transAtlantic solo plane, The Spirit of St. Louis, to Archie Bunker's armchair from the television series "All in the Family." Smithsonian museums, which would take weeks to fully navigate, are mostly located on or just off the Mall and include the National Air and Space Museum (the most visited museum on earth), the Arts and Industries Building, the Freer Gallery of Art, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (modern and contemporary art), the National Gallery of Art, the National Museum of Natural History, the National Portrait Gallery, the National Museum of American Art, the National Museum of American History, the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of Asian Art, and the National Museum of African Art. In 2003 President George W. Bush signed legislation that will create the National Museum of African American History and Culture within the Smithsonian. The Smithsonian's National Zoological Park is set on 160 acres in Rock Creek Park.
Other museums in the city include the Pope John Paul II Cultural Museum, the International Spy Museum, the U.S. Marine Corps Museum, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Corcoran Gallery of Art (specializing in American art), the Museum of Modern Art of Latin America, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, and the National Building Museum.
Festivals and Holidays
Washington, D.C.'s biggest and best-known celebration is the Cherry Blossom Festival, held in early April to coincide with the blooming of the trees. Started in 1927 to mark the first planting of 3,000 Japanese cherry trees as a gift from the mayor of Tokyo in 1912, the festival now runs two weeks. Special events include a major parade, a Japanese lantern lighting ceremony and street festival with more than 80 exhibitors, and a Smithsonian Kite Festival held near the Washington Monument.
Other exciting annual events include the Washington Antiques Show in January; the Chinese New Year's celebration in February; the St. Patrick's Day Parade along Constitution Avenue in March; the White House Easter Egg Roll and the White House Spring Garden Tour in April, as well as the off-beat Gross National Product Parade on April Fool's Day; the Goodwill Embassy Tour—allowing the public into several foreign embassies in town—in May; the Potomac Riverfest and a National Barbecue Battle in June; the Smith-sonian's Festival of American Folklife in late June through early July; a massive July Fourth celebration; the Kennedy Center Prelude Festival in September; the Marine Corps Marathon in October, the November Washington Craft Show; and the lighting of the national Christmas tree outside the White House in December.
Sports for the Spectator
Plagued by controversy that almost squashed the deal, Washington D.C. was finally able to convince taxpayers and Major League Baseball that it was the right place for the new home of Major League Baseball's struggling Montreal Expos franchise. The Washington Nationals began play in 2005 and brought big-league baseball back to the city for the first time since the old Washington Senators left town some 30 years prior. Until a new $400 million ballpark can be constructed (estimated completion 2008), the team will play its games at the existing Robert F. Kennedy Stadium. Washington is home to four other major league professional sports teams. The Washington Redskins are the true sporting passion of Washingtonians and face National Football League opponents at the FedEx Stadium in Landover, Maryland. The Washington Capitals of the National Hockey League, the Washington Wizards of the National Basketball Association, and the Washington Mystics of the Women's National Basketball Association play at the MCI Center. The basketball team of Georgetown University has earned a national reputation for outstanding performance.
Sports for the Participant
Washington, D.C. offers a wide selection of participant sports. The city's close approximation to rivers, bays, and the Atlantic Ocean make a variety of water sports within reach, particularly boating, sailing, fishing, canoeing, SCUBA diving, and windsurfing. A true oasis in the city and one of its most treasured resources is Rock Creek Park, operated by the National Park Service and featuring more than 25 miles of trails for hiking among 1,755 acres. In all the city maintains more than 800 acres of parkland, 300 parks, 75 playgrounds, 71 community recreation centers, 33 public swimming pools, and more than 150 basketball and tennis courts.
Shopping and Dining
Avid shoppers can lose themselves in the proliferation of urban malls in downtown Washington, D.C. Perhaps the most legendary is Union Station, an historic urban shopping center with marble floors, upscale shopping at more than 130 shops, a full schedule of events and exhibitions, and more than 25 million visitors a year. At The Shops at National Place, 60 shops and a food hall serving all palates is convenient to the Metro Center subway stop. The glass-roofed Pavilion at the Old Post Office, once a working post office, is now home to retail concerns, restaurants, and offices and has been ranked as the 8th most popular destination in D.C. A different kind of shopping experience is found in Georgetown, where unique boutiques and specialty stores are housed in historic townhouses, mostly along Wisconsin Avenue and M Street; elegant shops abound at Georgetown Park Mall. Mazza Gallerie is a three-storied enclosed mall filled with elite shops, stylish boutiques, and a new state-ofthe-art movie theater. Washington's Eastern Market, in the southeast section of the city, has been a farmer's market since 1873 with fresh fruit, vegetables, poultry, and sausage for sale Tuesday through Saturday.
Restaurants in Washington reflect the influence of the many foreign cultures present in the capital, and the last decade has seen an explosion of culinary creativity on the local restaurant scene. Many of the most interesting establishments are clustered in the Georgetown and Dupont Circle areas and in the urban malls downtown. In a 2005 online poll travelers to Washington, D.C. ranked the Italian restaurant Obelisk (Dupont Circle) as the city's best restaurant, followed by Sequoia (American contemporary; Georgetown), Café Atlantico (Caribbean and South American; downtown), Georgia Brown's (American; downtown), and Jaleo (Spanish; Seventh Street). Ann Cashion, chef at Cashion's Eat Place, was named one of James Beard's best chefs in America in 2004. Capital Grille, located between the White House and the Capitol Building, is one of the best places to spot high-powered politicos gathered for lunch, drinks, or dinner.
Visitor Information: Washington, D.C. Convention and Visitors Association, 1212 New York Avenue, N.W., Suite 600, Washington, D.C. 20005; telephone (202)789-7099; fax (202)789-7037
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