DC Mythbusting: Tourist Tips

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‘Souvenir City 1086′
courtesy of ‘yospyn’

Dear DC Tourists, Interns, and Other Newbies,

Welcome to the District!  While we love to complain about you, we’re actually really glad you’re here.  Many of us were in your shoes at one point, and DC can be a little overwhelming when you first get here.  So we’ve compiled a special DC Mythbusting just for you!  Read on for the little secrets that DC residents know, including the best ways to get around the city, the real can’t-miss destinations you’ve never heard of, and the best way to see the Mall.

Love, DC

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‘where are we?’
courtesy of ‘philliefan99′

Myth #1: Metro is the only way to get around the city. Yeah, it’s a pretty cool system, and it’s easy to understand.  But it is not the only way to see the city, and it’s often not necessary to take the Metro from one place to another.  Here are a couple pointers:

  • The Circulator is just as easy to understand as the Metro system, it’s only $1, and it takes you everywhere you want to go: the Mall,  Georgetown, Union Station, the White House, Adams Morgan, Nationals Stadium, and more.
  • Smithsonian isn’t the only Metro station to see the Mall.  Foggy Bottom/GWU gets you pretty close to the Lincoln Memorial, and Capitol South drops you off right next to the Capitol, Library of Congress, and Supreme Court.
  • Metro Center and Gallery Place/Chinatown are just 2 blocks from each other, so there’s no need to get on at one station and transfer at the other.  Just walk there.
  • The Woodley Park/Zoo Metro isn’t your best option for getting to the National Zoo.  The Cleveland Park station is a tiny bit closer, and you can walk downhill to the Zoo, rather than trekking uphill.  Also, Dave Stroup says, “You can get to the zoo from the east side. I can walk from my apartment near 16th and Columbia and be inside the zoo in less than 15 minutes.”
  • And last, but not least, Dave Levy shares this: “Not a myth, but a fact: Standing on the left of the escalator will get you punched in the neck by disgruntled Metro riders who think they have a God-given right to walk down an escalator unimpeded.”  So please stand to the right, and understand why Metro can’t spell it out for you.

Photo courtesy of
‘Purple and gold’
courtesy of ‘erin m’

Myth #2: The best museums/food/attractions DC has to offer are all located around the Mall. Sure, the Smithsonian museums are fantastic, and the monuments and memorials are important to see.  But is it really worth it to battle the crowds and get the same cookie-cutter DC experience?  Here are a couple pointers on what to see, and some of the best-kept secret attractions:

  • The National Building Museum is one of DC’s best-kept secrets.  It’s just a few blocks off the Mall, and it’s full of interesting exhibits about the history of our city and the architecture of America.  There are great interactive elements for kids, and right now it’s hosting an exhibit that features LEGOs.
  • Get off the Mall.  As Patrick says, “Most tourists will want to tackle The Mall from Capitol to Lincoln. However I recommend the FDR as an off the beaten path place to visit.”  It will take you right by the Tidal Basin and you’ll come out of it appreciating our 32nd President.
  • Our food guru Katie has this advice: “Ben’s Chili Bowl/Old Ebbitt/Occidental: not the best restaurants in town.” Check out her favorite places from last year to get an idea of what else is out there.
  • Experience the Mall away from the crowds.  Ben has two great recommendations: “The Old Post Office is a great vantage point to see the city, without the crowd and hassle the Monument brings,” and “The Mall is much nicer to visit in the evening, after the sun starts to set. It’s well-lit, fewer people, quieter, and a lot easier to find meter parking. Plus, you have the Capitol and the Monument lit up nicely.”

Photo courtesy of
‘Room & Board View Normal’
courtesy of ‘Mr. T in DC’

Myth #3: You can see the real DC by sticking to the Mall and downtown. There’s so much more to the District of Columbia than just the federal part of it.  Please take some time out of your museum-and-memorial-filled schedule to see the rest of our city.  Here are some suggestions:

  • John says, “The National Cathedral isn’t the only large church in the city. The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception (adjacent to/basically on the campus of) CUA is a romanesque church (as opposed to the Nat’l Cathedral’s Gothic style). It’s Metro accessible at CUA/Brookland.”
  • If you’re here in the spring or fall, get outside!  Rachel says, “This might be a city but there are more parks and trails than you know what to do with.  DC might be the nation’s capital and quite the urban city but there are tiny bits of beautiful nature woven in throughout for the perfect early morning, mid-day, or dusk escape to nature.”  Check out our favorite neighborhood parks as well as our large parks.
  • There are even Metro-accessible trails.  Paulo says, “The best Metro-accessible beginner dayhike is the Melvin Hazen Trail, just two blocks north of Cleveland Park Station, on the right. The trail runs for a half mile through light woods to Rock Creek itself, and then you can walk the creek trail itself for about a mile and a half, right down to the National Zoo rear entrance.”
  • We’ve got some great neighborhoods to check out.  Wander through Adams Morgan, sit in Dupont Circle, catch a baseball game and explore the revitalizing Capitol Riverfront area, and soak in Eastern Market on Capitol Hill.  These places are why we love DC, and we hope you’ll love it too.

Shannon grew up in the greater DC area/Maryland suburbs, went to Virginia for college and grad school (go Hoos!), and settled in DC in 2006. She’s an urban planner who loves transit (why yes, that is her dressed as a Metro pylon for Halloween), cities, and all things DC. Email her at Shannon (at) WeLoveDC.com!

10 thoughts on “DC Mythbusting: Tourist Tips

  1. My favorite tourist tip is to always keep an eye on where one is in relation to the “high water mark” on the Washington Monument – just in case of the next flash flood.

  2. Actually, Metro Center and Gallery Place are about 4 blocks apart, not two. This is a walk I took a lot when I worked in Penn Quarter, and the hike up F Street isn’t bad at all, and you pass Ford’s Theatre on 10th Street.

  3. Is there not a Metro Center exit at 11th & G and a Gallery Place exit at 9th & G? Either way, it’s definitely walkable and there’s no need to get on at one stop and transfer at the other.

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  5. The L’Enfant Plaza Metro is also just a couple blocks from the Mall and is very convenient for Yellow line riders.

  6. Our food guru Katie has this advice: “Ben’s Chili Bowl/Old Ebbitt/Occidental: not the best restaurants in town.”

    … who eats at Ben’s because they think it’s the best food in town? You go there for the experience and the history and the ambiance. You’re not going because you’re a foodie.

  7. The other Metro blunder that kills me is people going from Crystal City to Pentagon City on the Yellow/Blue – it’s 3-4 blocks that are very easy to walk. I assume the tourists are going either to the Mall or to the Pentagon memorial. Either way, you’re wasting your ever-increasing Metro fare on the short trip. I can understand metroing from the airport only because the walk isn’t great, especially with bags, but no need to Metro between Crystal City, Pentagon City, or Pentagon.

    Archives is also very close to the Mall – probably about the same distance as L’Enfant, and you can see the Navy Memorial, Old Post, and Sculpture Garden on the walk over.