I went to Washington DC 3 times during college. Each time I was on a mission to see the cliche DC. You know, the capital building, the White House, the Monuments, the Smithsonian, etc, and I honestly enjoyed it everytime. So this time, going back to the DC area I didn't necessarily feel like I needed to focus on that area and instead I looked for other fun things to see and do, and let me tell you, there is PLENTY!
First up was Bens Chile Bowl. This was a recent find. I saw it briefly on the travel channel and thought if we were ever in the area that we should check it out. In reality it became more of a mission to find. We got off at the Howard University Metro Stop and walked several blocks through a slightly shady area only to find out there was another Metro stop right across the street from the Restaurant. The restaurant itself really sticks out in the neighborhood. In contrast to the Lincoln Theater next door the bright red, white and yellow exterior seemed to glow. When you walk in the place has a real diner/greasy spoon feel. Everyone behind the counter seems like family, continuously laughing and joking with smiles always on their faces. We could choose to sit in a booth or along the counter, either way we were able to soak up the culture and history of this historic restaurant that even President Obama visits. Be careful though, the chili is a tad bit spicy but the upside? The Milkshakes are awesome.
Next was the National Zoo. Go figure that I wanted to get there for years to see the Pandas, and I finally make it there only a month after I saw the Pandas in Thailand, making it significantly less special, but only the panda part. The zoo it's self was awesome and I very much loved that it was free. The only downside was that the elephant area was under renovation, so we saw the pachyderms from a distance but not up close. My favorite area in the zoo was probably the rainforest, the fish were huge!
A little bit outside of the city (and our metro stop) is Old Town Alexandria, Virginia. The streets are so charming. Although most commercial businesses (like Ross and Gap Outlet) are in newer, colonial imitation buildings, historical buildings are just around the corner. Walking down Captains Row, the historic cobblestone street adds to the charm given by each row house decorated with brightly painted doors and shutters, each one of course displaying an American Flag. Not far from there is the harbor, with it's cute shops and of course, boats. While we were visiting a tall ship was ported in the Marina offering free tours. Deceptively new, the historic looking boat was actually built in 1989, meaning it's younger than me! Today it is maintained and sailed by a group called the Twelve Tribes who later, through their informational sheet we found out is a religious cult. It was....interesting.
Finally, not really close to DC but only 1 hour away, which is closer than say, Seattle, was Annapolis, famous for it's Navy Academy. We parked along the harbor and after getting some delicious gelato we went to take a look around the Naval Academy. I tell you, if I had grown up in Annapolis I probably would have wanted to go there. I mean, the white uniforms just looked so sharp, and of course the campus is beautiful. The inside of the chapel alone was inspiring. Outside of the Academy the old town area is very charming. The shops are all very colorful and historical. They had a sort of New England feel. At the top of a hill, in the middle of town was the statehouse, which, unknown to me was actually the countries capital for a few months way back when. George Washington was there!
Just outside of the town was Quite Springs State Park, where, for an hour we rented a canoe and paddled around a little inlet of the river. We saw birds and some pretty amazing houses.
Then. On the way back from Annapolis we hit a storm literally miles from Monicas house. I mean, there were legitimate tornado warning's. At first it was just heavy rain and we pressed on but finally it was the golfball sized hail that forced us to pullover and left a shower of dents in Monicas car.
So, it is possible to have a blast in DC without even hitting the National Mall. Although, I must say it was in our plans to see the monuments at night. Alas, we got rained out. Go figure.