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Off Beat Things To Do In Washington DC

Updated on December 13, 2012


The photo with this hub represents an image a lot of people have of Washington, D.C. (It's actually from the Lincoln Memorial looking down the Mall towards the Washington Monument). Most people come to the city to look at monuments and eyeball the wheels of government. If, however, you are bored with the Smithsonian, fed up with the Mall and really don't feel like trying to peer over Congress' shoulder, then what else does this city have to offer? The answer is a surprising amount.

Explore the Alexandria Waterfront

If you're fit, you can walk from downtown. If less so, take the metro to the King Street station and then a free shuttle bus down King Street. The waterfront has a small park and a marina, from which boats are launched on evenings and weekends. It has even been occasionally visited by tall ships.

Front and center is the Torpedo Factory, which is now devoted to something far more positive than munitions. It is, in fact, the D.C. area's leading arts incubator. The plaza outside almost always has somebody performing, be it a musician, a juggler, a clown or something even stranger. Inside, artists sell their wares from open studios, making this a great place to purchase a souvenir that is not a Washington, D.C. or 'You Don't Know Me' T-shirt. Afterwards, check out one of Old Town's numerous restaurants. A hidden gem is Bilbo Baggins, tucked away a block or two off King Street and decorated with children's reactions to the Hobbit. (And why yes, many of the dishes do involve mushrooms).

Appreciate Rock Creek Park

Twice the size of Central Park and far less manicured, Rock Creek Park gives you a chance to forget you are in a major city. The park contains a planetarium, an art gallery and an ampitheater. It also contains the remains of several Civil War era forts.

If you want to give your own feet a rest, you can let hooves do the walking with a trail ride from Rock Creek Park stables. (They ride western - if you prefer English tack you can go out to Maryland where Wheaton Park Stables offers trail rides for beginners and up in a wooded park in Maryland).

Keep an eye out for coyotes, which have been glimpsed in the park.

Go For A Bike Ride

Bike tours are available from several locations in DC. Or, you can buy a one day membership in Capital Bikeshare and check out a bike on your own from one of a large number of bike stations in downtown and the inner suburbs, returning it to any other. (The downside is that unlike most of the store front rentals, there are no helmets provided). Cycle along the Potomac on the Arlington side or along the C&O Canal. The Capital Crescent trail is one of the best routes, running between the C&O and Rock Creek Park. The best cycling weather often coincides with the peak of the cherry blossoms, too!

Shop at Eastern Market

Having now recovered from a fire that threatened to destroy the building in 2009, Eastern Market is the last survivor of what were once several covered markets that supplied the city with most of its food. Visitors go to the Capitol. Locals go to the Market. On the weekend, a farmer's market is set up outside the building. Try local apples and cider from Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Buy snack food or arts and crafts. Or just spend some pleasant time browsing something which is not a major chain or an upscale boutique. Don't forget the baked goods.

Take In A Movie

The best cinema in D.C. is the Uptown, which is near the zoo (it was recently renovated and received an upgraded digital projector). This large, single screen, traditional theater shows only one movie at a time, and generally a high budget, high special effects blockbuster. It shows both 2D and 3D movies (sometimes showing the 2D print in some time slots and the 3D in others).

If you want an even bigger screen, the Smithsonian has three IMAX theaters - in the Natural History Museum, the Air & Space Museum and the Udvar-Hazy Center (at Dulles), and sometimes shows first run movies to raise funds for the museum.

Equally famous in a different way is the second run Arlington Cinema and Draft House, which does card (21 or accompanied by a parent/guardian), but offers cheap movies, cheap beer and cheap snacks. It also does some stand-up comedy events.

In Alexandria, the Old Town Theater was once a small first run theater that closed because it could not compete with the multiplexes. After a brief stint as a comedy theater, it recently reopened as a true dinner theater that offers independent movies combined with sandwiches, snacks and drinks (including beer and wine).

Take in a Show...Silently

Most people are aware that D.C. has the Kennedy center and, of course, an excellent Shakespeare company.

Rather less well known is the Synetic Theater in Arlington. For the last ten years, the theater has been producing its dynamic art pieces that combine text, dance, acrobatics and music. What it has become best known, however, is the Silent Shakespeare series. The theater takes major Shakespearean plays and performs them with no dialog, communicating entirely through movement. They also do family series productions ideal for the younger ones and have educational programs.

There You Go

A few things to think about doing in Washington, D.C. that aren't wandering around museums or looking at statues to important dead people. There's plenty more here, and far too many tourists never get off the Mall except to go to their hotels.

I probably missed a few things, too. Further suggestions are welcome in the comments.


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