You might overlook the Mall’s U.S. Botanic Gardens (take the Blue/Orange Metro line to Federal Center), figuring that plants are lame and you’d rather see the Spirit of St. Louis if you’re in the neighborhood. But that would be a grievous mistake, because the Gardens house Washington’s most exciting vegetation: the shy plant.
There’s a room to sample organic odors, and the much-vaunted Orchid House is interesting even when it’s crowded. But you’re not here for orchids. Instead, hunt for the shy plant, a small pot tucked inside one of the greenhouses, which is easily the most exciting thing at the Gardens. When you touch the plant, it folds up its leaves and waits until it thinks you’re gone to open up again. Because it isn’t well-marked, there isn’t much traffic, and you can tease it all day.
U St Corridor
For those of you who love good food, great jazz, and perhaps a little bit of poetry, the U Street corridor is the place for you. In the past decade or so, U Street gentrified quite extensively, but remains one of the cultural gems of the D.C. area. The neighborhood is rightfully renowned for its many great jazz clubs, such as Twins Jazz, which offer live music nearly every night, and Utopia Bar & Grill,which hosts live jazz performances six days a week. The U Street corridor is also the home to great alternative music clubs like the Lincoln Theater, the 9:30 Club, the Blackcat, and DC9.
If you’re looking for great food, you really can’t beat Ben’s Chili Bowl for some of the best chili and half smokes in D.C., and Busboys & Poets combines a wonderful ambience with creative culinary choices (great vegetarian options, too). Be sure to check its schedule on its website for poetry readings and other community events, like “Sharing Ramadan.” If you have a sweet tooth, then look no further than Cakelove and its Love Café, where you can snag some fantastic cupcakes.
American Indian Museum
If skateboarding and Native Americans aren’t two things you usually associate with one another, then you should check out the National Museum of the American Indian. Located on the National Mall just off the Blue/Orange Line at L’Enfant Plaza, the NMAI is the newest Smithsonian museum and provides a unique look into Native American culture. Be warned, you will not find any replica teepee dioramas here. Unlike other museums, various American Indian groups were invited to create their own exhibit, presenting their history and beliefs from their own perspective. One great example is the current exhibition, Ramp It Up, which explores skateboarding culture within the American Indian community—imagine Lords of Dogtown on an Indian Reservation. If that doesn’t inspire you, the calming soundtrack piped into the galleries is reason enough to make the NMAI your next D.C. escape.
AFI Silver Spring
Over-priced multiplex, it is not. Seeing a film in the AFI Theater in Silver Spring, MD is a necessary experience. It may be a trek (Red Line all the way to Silver Spring), but the theater’s old-time atmosphere will wow even casual filmgoers. Forget the drab velvet walls of a typical movie theater; the lobby and rooms at the AFI Theater evoke West End or Broadway more than AMC or Loews. Three different viewing rooms, each with a different capacity, ensure that every screening feels intimate. Tasteful and artistic fare reigns supreme over the kitschy, popcorn stuff of Hollywood—expect a balance of popular “indies,” limited distribution movies, and classics from decades past. Surely, this is one show you don’t want to miss.
Capitol Hill’s Eastern Market (Blue/Orange Line to the Eastern Market station) is the last remains of what used to be several public food markets and an architectural gem built in 1873. Within the stately building, vendors sell crab cakes, cupcakes, and everything in between. After filling up, non-claustrophobes should check out Capitol Hill Books, housed in a simple rowhouse, with books stacked precariously on the stairs and in the bathroom. Next, head over to the flea market, which takes over a nearby parking lot every Sunday, for clothes, music, and even old maps. Hipster cafés abound in the area for when you need to get off your feet. End the day by walking down Barracks Row (8th St. SE) while eating at one of the street’s myriad restaurants.
A diverse and exciting land of food and drink, Adams Morgan is just two long bus rides from campus. Adams Morgan provides a variety of hangouts to suit anyone’s mood or style. At Tryst (restaurant, café, and bar all-in-one), you can get a quick bite or lounge for hours sipping tea, reading your favorite book, and using wireless. I strongly recommend ordering “the Don,” a vegetarian sandwich with mozzarella, basil, olive oil, tomato, and pepper on a rosemary-garlic focaccia and a glass of the Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale. For those under 21, a pot of Trysts’s masala chai tea should suffice. Only a few doors down, live blues can be heard every night at Madam’s Organ. Take the G2 to Dupont and the 42 from Dupont to Columbia and 18th Street to check it out.
Old Town Alexandria (Blue/Yellow Line to the King Street stop) is one of the most historic neighborhoods in the area. Alexandria looks a lot like Georgetown, but its colonial exterior does little to hide the Disneyland interior of the seaport town. There are tons of good seafood eateries and homemade ice cream parlors—Pops Old Fashion Ice Cream is a favorite. One cool thing available in the boardwalk area of the town are cruise tours that circle the District, offering great views of the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials as well as the Washington Monument, and Capital.