No matter what side of the aisle you’re on, it’s hard to deny that excitement has gripped Washington, D.C. As the locals well know, a changeover of administration always brings a new electricity to what is, after all a “company town,” and the city always seems to puts on its best face to welcome the newcomers and to send off the old guard. Visitors to the city these days will find more choices than ever, from iconic buildings, monuments and museums to world-class restaurants, shops and historic neighborhoods, not to mention nature walks along the leafy banks of the Potomac River. So politics aside, there has never been a better time to take in the nation’s capital.
Author Neal Learner Photography United Airlines
DAY THREE / After breakfast, grab a taxi to the 1 Washington National Cathedral. Tell your driver to take you along Embassy Row, an impressive stretch of Massachussettes Avenue lined with stately mansions flying colorful national flags. Have your cabbie slow down as you approach the vice president’s residence, which many consider to be a more desirable piece of real estate than the boss’s digs.
The sixth largest cathedral in the world, Washington’s richly decorated Gothic church is great fun to explore. From the outside, try to spot the Darth Vader “grotesque” high on the northwest tower. Then visit the Gloria in Excelsis tower, the city’s highest point, which offers spectacular views of the District and its nearby environs acrodd the Potomac, including 2 Alexandria, Virginia, your next destination.
Hail another taxi to the Woodley Park–Zoo Metro station, and take the Red Line to Gallery Place–Chinatown station. Transfer to the Yellow Line and head to the King Street stop in Alexandria. It’s less than an hour to this historic zone, which today retains much of the same charm that attracted George Washington and other Colonial-era notables.
Meandering down brick-lined King Street to the Potomac, you’ll encounter many art galleries and home décor shops. Take a tour of the Carlyle House, completed in 1753 by John Carlyle, a prominent pre-Revolutionary Alexandria merchant. This impressive residence provides a unique window into the tastes and temperaments of the eighteenth-century upper class. (Did they really favor turquoise trim?)
By this time, you’re probably ready for lunch. In keeping with the Colonial theme, consider Gadsby’s Tavern, one of the only restaurants in the country that can legitimately claim that “George Washington ate here.” While the menu today is mostly modern, it also includes some traditional dishes, such as cock-a-leekie pie, an herbed chicken and vegetable stew baked in a crock with a puffy pastry crust, and “George Washington’s Favorite,” a cider-glazed duckling with corn pudding, rotekraut and port wine orange glacée. The savory peanut soup remains as much a favorite today as it was more than 200 years ago.
After lunch, conclude your Alexandria jaunt with a visit to the nearby Torpedo Factory Art Center, an actual World War II torpedo manufacturing plant which has been converted to studio space for more than 165 working artists.
As late afternoon approaches, head to the nearby Alexandria marina and board one of the water taxis—departing every hour or two—bound for Georgetown. (Service starts in April, depending on the weather.) The 45-minute cruise offers a fantastic view of D.C.’s monuments and a nice opportunity to unwind. Once on land, it’s back to your room to clean up for dinner. Your destination tonight will be Zola, adjacent to the Hotel Monaco.
Affiliated with the popular International Spy Museum, and located next door, Zola’s décor takes its cue from the intriguing world of spycraft. Large, shadowy photo portraits of trench coat clad individuals keep a silent vigil over the dimly lit dining rooms as patrons devour such specialties as lobster cake, served with tomato jam, arugula Pesto and brioche crisps, and roasted mignon of beef rib eye. For dessert, try the caramel torte and banana “Freddo.” You’ll be stuffed, but don’t worry. You don’t have far to stagger home.
Back at your room, bid goodnight to President Jefferson, who once cautioned against the dangers of idleness. “It is wonderful how much may be done if we are always doing,” he wrote. After three jam-packed days in Washington, you can take some pride in the knowledge that you’ve followed his sage advice.
Neal Learner, an Alexandria, Va.-based writer has spent many perfect days in and around Washington, D.C.