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Dan and I have been making the rounds on some of the tourist destinations in DC. We started getting a feel for our neighborhood early on — which took us to the (outside of) the Capitol, the Washington Monument, the World War II Memorial, and the Lincoln Memorial. Since then, we have been trying to hit a few more sites every couple of weeks. We have been doing a far better job than I did at seeing the sites in NYC. So far, we have been to the National Museum of American History, the U.S. National Arboretum, The National Building Museum, the National Sculpture Garden, the National Gallery of Art (West Building), The National Air and Space Museum, the Christmas display at the U.S. Botanical Garden, the (outside of) the White House, the Ellipse to see the National Christmas Tree, the Japanese Lantern and First Cherry Tree Planting, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, and the National Zoo.

Continue reading if you want to learn more about our touristy adventures.

We hit the first four sites — the (outside of) the Capitol, the Washington Monument, the World War II Memorial, and the Lincoln Memorial — at night. The Monuments are open late and make great evening stops if you want to avoid the crowds of the day and don’t mind missing out on riding the elevator to the top of the Washington Monument (which, I have heard is pretty cool and gives you a great feel for the layout of downtown.)

We went to the National Museum of American History with my Mom, and it made a pleasant afternoon with a parental unit. The museum provides an good overview of American wars. Dan and I enjoyed learning more about the history of birth control in this country and Dan also liked the exhibit on the history of robots.

DC Arboretum

DC Arboretum

The National Arboretum has become one of our favorite places to spend a sunny afternoon. In the fall, the place was not crowded and provided an excellent location for a hike with a pup along well-maintained trails. It is one place that Dan and I consider underrated overall and we recommend that anyone visiting the city make the Arboretum one of their stops. The trick is that the Arboretum is located relatively far Northeast in the District and getting there pretty much requires a car — so if you are dependent on public transportation, it can be tough to get out there. So far we have seen the Administrative Building, Fern valley (one of our favorite areas), the Azalea collection (which provides a beautiful hike), the National Capitol columns, and the National Herb Garden, which Dan and I both like because of all of the different beautiful peppers that grow in the fall.

We went to the National Building Museum to see their haunted tour. The tour was led by a volunteer, in costume and speaking in first person, which provided an interesting historical story. The after-hours tour also allowed us onto the fourth floor, which is usually closed to visitors. With only our tour group for company, the building had some mystical qualities with only the emergency lights casting shadows.

We walked through the Sculpture Garden on our way to the National Gallery of Art. One of my favorite things about the National Gallery was the West Building Highlights page that is available in case you only have an hour to visit the museum. Despite living in DC and being a history nerd, I often find that hour in a museum is about the right amount of time. And one of the luxuries of living here among the free Smithsonian museums is that we can come back to see parts of the museums over several days. The Highlights page directs you to some of the most famous works in the museum including Gievra de’ Benci, the only piece by Leonardo da Vinci in the Western Hemisphere, The Alba Madonna by Raphael, A Lady in Waiting by Johannes Vermeer, Allies Day, May 1917 by Childe Hassam, Rouen Cathedral, West Facade, Sunlight by Monet, and Self-Portrait by Vincent Van Gogh.

We only had about 45 minutes in the National Air and Space museum before closing, but we got a lighting tour of some parts of the museum and I seriously doubt that my tech-loving boyfriend will let me leave DC without spending another afternoon at the museum and catching a show at the IMAX or the planetarium. One of our favorite parts was walking through a replica of the first U.S. Space Station.

The Capitol Building at U.S. Botanical Gardens

The Capitol Building at U.S. Botanical Gardens

The holiday display at the Botanical Gardens is magical in that holiday way — the kind of place that makes you wish you had kids to take with you. There are lighted replicas of famous buildings around capitol hill made entirely of plant material and surrounded by poinsettias. It took more than 600 hours to create the replica of the U. S. Capitol. There is also a train room full of miniature trains surrounded by a fairy village. The gardens are open late on certain weeknights through December and have live musical performances in the main room with the large Christmas tree. One of the coolest part about the late nights is that relatively few people visit the gardens during after-hours and not only are the holiday displays open, but you can walk around the rest of the indoor areas of the gardens with relatively few other visitors. My friend and I enjoyed walking around the second floor of the rain forest and exploring the desert and Hawaii rooms.

National Christmas Tree

National Christmas Tree

We saw the National Christmas Tree at the Ellipse.

FDR Memorial

FDR Memorial

We passed the Japanese lantern and First Cherry Tree planting on our way to the FDR and Thomas Jefferson Memorials on the opposite side of the Tidal Basin from The Mall. I am sure it is a breathtaking area in early spring. The FDR memorial is my favorite memorial in DC so far. It feels built into the natural surroundings, rather than imposed on them. The quotes illustrate FDR’s desires to ensure full employment, preserve the natural world, and bring peace to all countries. While I recognize his imperfections, and I felt Dan’s eyes role as we walked across the part of the memorial that signified the beginning of his fourth term, FDR is my favorite president.

ZooLights

ZooLights

Lastly, we went to the National Zoo for ZooLights. I highly recommend ZooLights. Not only were the lights fun, but we were also able to get in to view several of the animals, especially those that tend to be very popular during regular business hours, such as the monkeys and pandas. Tai Shan, the four-year old panda that was born in the U.S. will be headed to China early next year, and it was an excellent opportunity to watch him eat some bamboo. Tai Shan is on loan to the U.S. from the Chinese government and must be sent back to China as part of the agreement, likely to enter their breeding program to aid their species conservation efforts.

Happy Holidays to you and yours; we’ll be hitting some more of the sites in the New Year.

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