Silence in the City: Where To Go To Get Away

Photo courtesy of
‘Have A Seat’
courtesy of ‘Paul Frederiksen’

A lot happens in our great town: art shows, meetups, happy hours, plays, lectures, new exhibits opening, old exhibits closing, book signings, breakfast meetings, brunches, power lunches, fundraisers, forums, playdates, baseball games, midnight movies, networking, tweetups, talks, tours—heck, even our skeeball and kickball games are organized nearly to death. And then you’ve got e-mails, Twitter feeds, friends, half the blogs in the city, Groupon, Goldstar, the Going Out Gurus, and mailing lists from every nonprofit, theater company and neighborhood book store whose website you ever even thought about visiting, all telling you about this Great, Exciting Can’t-Miss Event! going on. So you fill your iCal, shut down your office computer at 6:00, and trudge onto a packed Metro platform, elbowing your way onto a four-car train that’s 20 minutes late and already loaded 1,000 other worker bees and 1,000 tourists and their 1,000 screaming kids, most of whom are way too big for that stroller that just ran over your toe, and you head out to that event, determined to fill your evening hours with something interesting and important. And then you do it again the next night.

DC: Stop. Take a breath. Calm. Down. Put away the smartphone. We’re here to help.

Photo courtesy of
‘Watching the sunset’
courtesy of ‘(afm)’

The collective braintrust of We Love DC would like to remind you that even when it’s 100 degrees out, even when the tourists are jamming the sidewalk, even when you have places to be, it is absolutely essential that you remember to stop and smell the roses. You’ll feel better, kinder, calmer, and if everyone in the city stopped to do it for five minutes a day, just imagine how much happier we’d all be.

We all have our favorite spots where we like to collect our thoughts in relative peace. These are the places we return to when we need quiet, and they’re usually the ones we’ve stumbled upon almost by accident. For me, one of those spots is the benches on either side of the National Gallery of Art, long after the museum has closed and the fountains have stopped running. I stumbled across the scene walking home along the Mall one night, and it’s now one of my favorite spots anywhere. When I polled the other We Love DC authors for their favorite places, that was a common theme: one day you’re just ambling along, going about life, and suddenly you look up from your path and think, “Hey, it’s really calm and quiet here, and I like that.” Those are the places we return to.

Photo courtesy of
‘Robert and Arlene Kogod Courtyard’
courtesy of ‘bbmcder94′

One interesting theme that ran through everyone’s answers was their specificity in both time of day and exact location. For Samer, it’s the back steps of the Lincoln Memorial, but only in the evenings. For Tom, it’s the plaza at the Reagan building, over by the Federal Triangle Metro entrance, any time that isn’t lunchtime. Another one of mine is around 3rd Street on the Mall, on a weeknight,  before the sun sets but after the kickballers have gone home. It’s far away from traffic, and you absolutely cannot beat the view, no matter where you’re looking. We’re particular when it comes to our spots, but when all the pieces–quiet, light, atmosphere, mood–come together, there really is something almost Zen-like about them.

Some were actually created for meditation: Paulo Ordoveza likes Bartholdy Park behind the Botanic Gardens, though the fountain is currently being renovated. “Still a few nice places to sit or stroll amidst the foliage,” Paulo says. Rebecca Gross finds peace in the garden of the Old Stone House in Georgetown, pictured at the top of this post, and the benches along the waterfall steps of Meridian Hill Park, pictured below.

Photo courtesy of

‘Meridian Hill Park’
courtesy of ‘Rukasu1′

Jenn Larsen and Katie Test both like to find themselves at the National Portrait Gallery. For Jenn, it’s the Kogod Courtyard; for Katie, it’s the Portico Cafe looking out over F Street and the Spy Museum. Samer returns again and again to the broken pier on the other side of the Key Bridge from Georgetown, and he says he can find peace on Pennsylvania Avenue, between 15th and 17th, “any night of the week.”

Photo courtesy of
‘Nat’l Portrait Gallery South Portico’
courtesy of ‘Mr. T in DC’

Ben Rome has what sounds like the makings of a great morning routine:  “Franklin Park at 14 & K, after 6 am and before 9 am; [it's] great to sit on a bench and sip some much-needed coffee,” he says. Judging from the scene below, he’s right.

Photo courtesy of
‘Power Clean’
courtesy of ‘M.V. Jantzen’

And here’s my super-secret, nerdtastic hiding spot: There’s a corner upstairs at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History’s Western Civilizations exhibit, past the Neanderthals but not all the way back by the Romans, where you can duck in a darkened room and spend half an hour watching History Channel-like snippets on Ancient Egypt. I’ve lived here for six years, and I’ve never seen another soul back there. Honestly, it gets a little spooky, what with all the mummies around the corner.

So how about you, readers? What are the spaces that help you hide from the city? Where do you head when you just need to escape from all the Stuff To Do around here? If you don’t have one yet, feel free to try one of ours on for size.

Erin McCann

Erin takes pictures. Lots of them. And then she tweets about them.

8 thoughts on “Silence in the City: Where To Go To Get Away

  1. Hmmm – what about the Arboretum? There are great spots all over the park but the best is the holly/magnolia area where there are lovely patches of both sun and shade around a beautiful fountain.

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  3. I enjoy the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden for a relatively quiet lunch. It doesn’t seem to get nearly the traffic that the NGA Sculpture Garden does. The side/back of L’Enfant Plaza Hotel is also pretty quiet after the work day has ended.

  4. The National Building Museum, between 10 and 11 in the morning about about half an hour before it closes. It’s wonderful to sit at the fountain that big, beautiful building and perhaps grab some Firehook goods and just relax (bring a book).

    The National Zoo grounds early in the morning, before the actual animal exhibits open.

    Arlington National Cemetery, walking past all the major spots, past where the tour buses go, to the back, where Fort Myer Chapel is.

    The National Cathedral, at 4 in the afternoon, in the Bishop’s Garden.

    Einstein Sculpture, late at night.

    The Mary Livingston Ripley Garden, between the Arts & Industries Building and Hirshhorn Museum.

    The dog park on Newark St NW and 35th St NW. It has a name, can’t for the life of me remember what, but any time during the normal working hours and it’s heaven. Your own personal park.

  5. Shhh! don’t tell to many people about the National Portrait Gallery. Consistently quiet and free wireless makes it one of the best places to get work done away from the office and hipster bombed coffee shops (Buzz cafe-more Apple computers than cupcakes!)

  6. Pershing Park across from J&G (W) at 15th and Penn is decent and quiet. Spanish Steps in Kalorama/West Dupont