I’m from the DMV, and in the 15 years since I’ve moved, I’ve been back every other month— sometimes more. I’m always looking for new things to do, but a search of “what to do in DC” often turns up the old faithfuls— visit the Washington Monument or the Air & Space Museum, check out the Newseum, go see the National Cathedral., etc.
I wanted to get off the “beaten path” for my next trip (I’m headed to DC for New Year’s Eve) and explore what else DC has offer, places I’ve overlooked, never even heard of, or may be glossed over in your standard issue tourist guide.
I’ve added the following 10 places to myitinerary for my next trip “home”:
1. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington Cemetery is guarded 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and in any weather by Tomb Guard sentinels. The guard is changed every hour on the hour October 1 to March 31 in an elaborate ritual.
For more information: Arlington National Cemetery
2. Hampton National Historic Site
The Hampton National Historic site offers insight into the life of late 18th-century and early 19th-century landowning aristocracy. Owned by the Ridgley family for seven generations (1975-1948), the Georgian manor house (inspired by Castle Howard in England) was the largest private home in America when it was completed in 1790. he grounds were widely admired in the 19th century for their elaborate parterres or formal gardens, which have been restored to their 1890’s appearance.
The Ridgley home also has the distinction of being one of the largest slave owing estates in Maryland. The Ridgleys enslaved more than 300 people to work the vast fields and run their household. The current property contains the original stone slave quarters, and visitors are encouraged to tour them along with the overseer’s house.
For more information about the estate: National Park Service.
3. Evergreen Museum and Library
Evergreen House was the home of John W. Garrett, the president of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. When Garrett purchased the home in 1878, it as a modest house sitting on 26 acres, but with add-ons, including a wing for a billard room, gym, and bowling alley, the home eventually stretched to a 48-room mansion with a 23-karat gold plated bathroom, and a 30,000-book library.
The residence served as the family home until 1952, when it was donated to Johns Hopkins University.
To visit: Johns Hopkins University
4. Anderson House
Anderson House (1905) was the $750,000, 50-room winter residence of Larz Anderson, an American diplomat, and his wife, Isabel, an author. It was considered one of the city’s "most fashionable mansions—a "Florentine villa in the midst of American independence.” (You can take a virtual tour: here)
The house, dominated by English and Italian influences, included a walled garden, tennis court, and three-story carriage house and stable. The best craftsman and interior designers of the day adorned the house with carved wood walls, gilded papier-mâché ceilings, ornate iron staircases, and intricate marble floors. The house was the setting for an extensive art collection and high society galas attended by U.S. Presidents and foreign dignitaries.
After Larz Anderson’s passing in 1937, his wife gifted the home to the Society of the Cincinnati. The home has been open to the public since 1939.
For more information: The Society of the Cincinnati.
5. The Islamic Center
The Islamic Center of Washington came to fruition, or the idea of it, anyway, in 1944 when a Turkish ambassador died without a mosque to host his funeral. With Italian designer Mario Rossi at the helm, construction began five years later. Turkey sent tiles and experts to install them, Iran sent Persian rugs, and Egypt donated a bronze chandelier and specialists to adorn the mosque’s walls and ceiling in Qur'anic verses When the mosque (and Islamic cultural center) opened in 1957 it was the largest mosque in the Western Hemisphere.
For clarity: The Islamic Center is open to non-Muslims and they welcome visitors. To visit: HERE
6. U.S. Botanic Gardens
The obvious is the U.S. Botanic Gardens is a plant museum. The not so obvious is that each year they create a holiday train show where, well, trains, go whizzing buy miniature D.C. monuments (Capitol, Lincoln Memorial, and the Washington Monument, etc.) constructed out of plants. (I went to the NYC version of this. Epic.) The bonus this year is “Pollination Station”, which includes oversized flowers, bees and butterflies to create a “scenic wonderland.”
NOTE: The U.S. Botanic Gardens are open 365 days a year, 10AM-5PM. For more info: United States Botanic Gardens.
7. Meridian Hill Park
Meridian Hill Park (1936) is an urban park modeled to depict a formal Italian garden. In the past, gardens of this scope were generally reserved for aristocrats. It took two decades to complete, and includes an Italian Renaissance-style, thirteen-basin cascading fountain in the lower half, and gardens in a French Baroque style in the upper half.
8. Library of Congress
The Library of Congress (1897) , which bills itself as “the nation’s first established cultural institution”, began in 1800 with a “small appropriation” to buy reference books because DC didn’t have a library (unlike Philadelphia or New York , both previous U.S. capitals). Then the War of 1812 happened where what little library D.C. had been slowly building was destroyed by the British. Congress purchased Thomas Jefferson's library of around 6500 books, and since that time, the Library of Congress has grown to “the largest library in the world”,
I’m not really interested for the books though—I know, horrible thing for a writer to say—but to see this architectural masterpiece. Built in the popular Beaux Arts style of the Gilded Age, it’s theatrical, heavily ornamented and details with with millions of items including books, recordings, photographs, maps and manuscripts in its collections They don’t make ‘em like this anymore.
9. House of the Temple (The Scottish Rite of Free Masonry)
The last time I was in DC, I was driving, spotted the unusual pair of Sphinxes, and was like, "Wait. What?"
Turns out, the building is the House of the Temple (1915), the headquarters of the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, Southern Jurisdiction, U.S.A. Famed architect John Russell Pope modeled the structure after the tomb of Mausolus at Halicarnassus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
In 1917, it was awarded Pope the Gold Medal of the Architectural League of New York. In the 1920s, a consortium of architects named it "one of the three best public buildings" in the United States.
As an aside, the interior images on Google are cray-zee. For visitor info: Scottish Rite of Freemasonry.
10. The Freer Museum
The Peacock Room, created by renowned interior designers Thomas Jeckyll and James McNeill Whistler, originally existed in the 19th century London home of British shipping magnate Frederick Richards Leyland. He actually hated this room. (There’s a hilarious backstory with homoerotic undertones) But thankfully, another wealthy man, art collector Charles Lang Freer (hence the name of the museum) loved the room so much that he bought the entire room from Leyland’s heirs in 1904 and had the entire room and all of its contents shipped and re-installed in his house in Detroit. The current composition of the room at the Freer galley is based on a photograph from 1908. After Freer’s death in 1919, the room was permanently installed in the Freer Gallery of Art, which opened in 1923.
The Freer Gallery closes (temporarily) for renovations on Jan. 4. For more information: HERE