Hidden Gems In DC
Filled with world-renowned museums as well as numerous prominent monuments and memorials, Washington, D.C. attracts millions of visitors each year. Tour guides often recommend similar lists of things to see and do. If you are looking for something different and off the beaten path, try one or more of these sites that typically fly under the radar.
Capitol Hill Grotto
In 1874, Frederick Law Olmsted was commissioned to improve the Capitol Grounds. To provide a place for visitors to rest and water their horses, he designed and built the Summerhouse. The redbrick, hexagonal-shaped open structure is located on the West Lawn on the Senate side of the building. Along with several shaded benches and a water fountain, the historic grotto provides an excellent view of the Capitol.
Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens
Located Northeast, the approximately 700-acre recreation area is home to a wide variety of flora and fauna. The park hosts an annual summer festival celebrating the spectacular blooms of lotuses and water lilies. While spring and summer are the best times to visit, the preserve is a natural habitat that provides a tranquil retreat from the surrounding urban sprawl any time of year.
Along with the Lincoln Memorial and Ford’s Theater, fans of Abraham Lincoln should not miss the Summer Cottage situated 3.5 miles from downtown. Located in northern D.C. on the grounds of the Old Soldiers’ Home, the cottage provided a respite for the 16th president, especially during the oppressive summer months. It was here that Lincoln penned various notes for the Emancipation Proclamation.
Fort Stevens, part of the extensive Civil War fortifications built to defend the capital, has been partially restored. The fort sat astride the main northern thoroughfare into the city. In 1864, President Lincoln came under Confederate fire while touring the bastion to observe fighting nearby. A commemorative plaque recounts the event, which is the only time an enemy combatant has fired shots at a sitting president.
Theodore Roosevelt Island
Located in the Potomac River west of the city, Roosevelt Island is a national memorial to the 26th president, an avid conservationist. The namesake wilderness preserve offers numerous walking trails that afford the opportunity to view a variety of wildlife species. The 88-acre park also has a memorial plaza featuring a 17-foot-tall sculpture, two fountains and four stone monoliths inscribed with some of his famous quotes.
The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal stretches for 185 miles to upstate Maryland from its origins in Georgetown. Its system of locks was a major transportation route during the mid-19th century. Portions of the canal have been restored. You can stay in a lockkeeper’s house, ride a reproduction canal boat as it traverses the waterway and travels back in time while experiencing life along the canal. The towpath is used for scenic hikes, jogging and bicycling. In addition to a number of wildlife species, the canal offers excellent bird-watching opportunities.
Located on 22nd Street NW near S Street NW, the Spanish Steps is an enchanting staircase built in 1911 that was modeled after the Piazza di Spagna in Rome. Designed by local architect Robert Cook, the staircase accommodates pedestrians who need to navigate the steep difference in elevation between S Street NW and Decatur Place NW. A granite lion-head fountain adorns the top of the steps. There is a wonderful view of Embassy Row from the top of the staircase as well.
The Municipal Fish Market
The oldest continuously operated open-air fish market in the country, the Municipal Marketplace is nestled between the National Mall and the Potomac River. This D.C. landmark features a wide range of vendors serving fresh and cooked seafood from a variety of unique barges.
U Street Corridor
This bustling commercial strip in northwest DC was once known as the Black Broadway. Many of the corridor’s jazz clubs and theaters that hosted luminaries, including Pearl Bailey, Cab Calloway, Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughn, still exist. These include the Bohemian Caverns, the Lincoln Theatre and the Howard Theatre, where Ella Fitzgerald won an amateur talent contest. U Street is also a haven for foodies enjoying a wide range of restaurants featuring ethnic menus.
The Mansion on O Street
Designed by Edward Clark in 1892 for his family, the mansion is a series of five interconnected townhouses. The regal estate has over 100 rooms and 70 secret doorways. An architect of the nation’s capitol, Clark incorporated many leftover highly detailed tiles and woodwork into his home. It is believed to be one of the few remaining virtually intact residences from that period left in the District. Today, it is an intimate luxury hotel with various themed rooms and suites.
You can leave the crowds behind and still experience the history and culture of Washington D.C. with these and other hidden gems.