I recently kicked off a new travel series called Exploring USA, aiming to showcase some of the incredible places I’m experiencing for the first time in America. For me, a great travel experience is often remembered by the delicious and unusual food I ate, the beautiful and amazing things I saw and the fun and educational things I did, so each blog will include the best things to eat, see and do. I really hope this series sparks an interest in visiting these places, or at least helps you start daydreaming about your next adventure!
In celebration of George Washington’s birthday today, I thought it fitting to share my experiences in the US capital named in his honour, Washington D.C. As an Australian, though I’ve made many visits to our capital city of Canberra, it wouldn’t be a city I’d add to your must see list if you only had 2 weeks in Australia*. On the other hand, after a 2 day visit to D.C, I would say it’s an absolute must see on your US hit list, and I am already waiting to go back to keep exploring! (1 Smithsonian down, 18 to go!)
We squeezed a lot into our short trip, but here’s my eat, see and do for D.C.!
Martin’s Tavern – this adorable pub tucked away in the equally adorable Georgetown, is famous for hosting every US president from Truman to George W Bush (Obama, you need to get here, stat!) and serving a delicious traditional menu of Irish fare. It’s said this was a favourite for JFK and Jackie O, so much so that it’s rumoured he proposed here! We were lucky to get a spot in a booth right in the back of the tavern that has been named the Lyndon B Johnson booth (all the way with LBJ!) and enjoyed some warm bread rolls and butter on the house – a very welcome relief for our freezing and tired bodies! Aside from the novelty factor of sitting where past presidents have discussed policies, blown off steam and even proposed, the food here is really good if you’re after some home-cooked comfort food. I opted for Grandma Martin’s Meatloaf which came with a secret recipe gravy, potato mash and broccoli and I savoured every last bite! They have an extensive wine list, and of course some sweet spiked drinks too – I was ready to brave the cold with a spiked hot chocolate to finish my meal.
Shake Shack – okay this is really something that New York is famous for (and rivals my hometown California’s In-n-Out Burger) but the lines for Shake Shack in New York can be so long that it’s definitely worth seeing what the hype is all about in D.C. Shake Shack is known for their burgers, fries and you guessed it, shakes and has a rather overwhelming menu of combinations to suit just about every taste bud. In my opinion you can never go wrong with a ShackBurger, fries and peanut butter shake but definitely don’t look at the calories in the shake before you start slurping it down. Also Australian pro-tip – American cheese is different to Australian cheese – so cheese fries are never a good idea even when you’re trying to be adventurous and open-minded like me!
National Mall & President Memorials – the must-see monuments and museums of D.C. are conveniently located in one long walk / bike friendly park called the National Mall, tailed by the Capitol Building on the east and the Washington Monument on the west. Though the Capitol was covered in scaffolding when we visited, both are more magnificent and beautiful than I imagined and are easily worth an entire morning checking out! We took a walking tour (I’ll say more below!) of the National Mall which I thoroughly recommend to get all the history and stories you might otherwise miss on a self-guided tour. Further west of the National Monument is another park that includes the WWII, Vietnam and Korean War Memorials, as well as my absolute favourite memorial – the Lincoln Memorial and Reflecting Pool. I’ll never forget standing at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial looking out towards the Washington Monument just as Martin Luther King Jr. did many years ago to declare “I have a dream”. You’ll also want to check-out the memorials around the Tidal Basin and I’d recommend hopping on one of the red city bikes – you’ll find some just near the Lincoln Memorial and for $8-10 you can hire a bike for a couple of hours for your own hop on, hop off tour of the MLK Jr, Franklin D Roosevelt and Jefferson memorials.
Library of Congress – if I were to have my wedding again and have no limit on budget or location, I would definitely consider the Library of Congress as my venue. The most beautiful library I’ve ever stepped foot in, the LoC is home to incredible collections of first editions in Thomas Jefferson’s library, a moving Civil Rights exhibition (though check at the time of visit for current exhibits!) and the Gutenberg Bible too. We got there right on opening at 8.30am and pretty much had the whole library to ourselves for the first hour which was just magical. Though I’m not sure if the bitter cold kept people away, I’d highly recommend a missed sleep-in to wander around this beautiful space in uninterrupted silence!
Walking Tours – D.C. has to be one of THE best cities in America for walking tours because a) HISTORY! and b) it is SO flat (I’ll have words about this later with you, San Francisco!) We took part in two walking tours during our visits with D.C. by Foot – a fantastic company offering pay what you like tours. Our first evening was spent wandering around the beautiful Georgetown in a Ghosts of Georgetown tour where we saw many homes of past presidents and heard a ghost story or two (like the incredible unluckiness of Abraham Lincoln’s son who is connected to the assassination of three presidents!) The next day we did the National Mall and Lincoln Memorial Tour which was the best 2 hours of our trip and even included a surprise sighting of President Obama and his posse of helicopters landing at the White House! The tour guides with D.C. by Foot are incredibly knowledgeable and so passionate about D.C’s history – I’d budget at least $10-20pp to thank them!
National Air and Space Museum – this was the only Smithsonian we managed to fit in to our trip but it has certainly set the bar high for the other museums! After our week of endless lines and expensive ticket prices in New York, Washington D.C. was like a breath of fresh air: NO lines and FREE museums. The National Air and Space Museum had plenty of exhibits to keep us entertained for hours including The Wright Brothers story, Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Vega and Buzz Aldrin’s collection including his spacesuit! My highlight though was checking out the 3D D-Day film at their Imax theater. I love WWI history and this documentary was the best use of 3D I’ve ever seen – I was swiping away the planes that felt like they were flying directly at me and ducking as they dropped bombs. 100% worth the $11 ticket, especially since the museum is free!
I could clearly go on and on about my love for D.C, but I’ll let you explore it yourself and tell me what you think!
Next stop on USA Exploring: Boston, Massachusetts
* Okay, Canberra really isn’t that bad, and if you do visit it, go over and check out my friend Bec’s blog here – she’s a native Canberrian who writes about the best cafes, new eats and events in Canberra and her Instagram makes me want to book a flight over, pronto!