The National Capitol Columns at the National Arboretum
East D.C. refers to a large, relatively quiet section of the city—all neighborhoods east of Rock Creek Park and north of Adams Morgan and Capitol Hill. There are several big attractions out this way, including the National Shrine, the National Arboretum, and Carter Baron, major universities like Catholic and Gallaudet, and several very eccentric commercial areas.
Washington, D.C. is a pretty divided city, and Rock Creek Park is one of those major dividing lines. The many neighborhoods east of the park have a history that has diverged from those west, particularly following desegregation, when they experienced a large amount of "White Flight" to the suburbs, leaving the eastern section of the city underpopulated, overwhelmingly African-American, and much less wealthy than the Upper Northwest. This part of the city, with perhaps the sole exception of the National Shrine, is rarely seen by visitors. But there are big reasons to come here beyond the Shrine—especially to see the National Arboretum, but also just to better know the city as its residents do.
Brookland is the old established neighborhood around Catholic University, sometimes known as the "Little Vatican" for all its major Catholic institutions, as well as the National Shrine. Spend some time talking to Catholic University students, and you'll get an earful about the lack of restaurants, shops, etc. in the area, and they tend to hop on the metro to spend their weekends in trendier neighborhoods. Petworth sits just northeast of Columbia Heights, and seems set to follow its neighbor under the forces of gentrification. It's also home to the massive Armed Forces' Retirement Home, where you'll find President Abraham Lincoln's Cottage. Takoma, dubbed the "Berkeley of the East," has good claim to be the most liberal neighborhood in the decidedly liberal D.C. Area, and has a good collection of quirky shops and ethnic restaurants. Totally out of place is the Atlas District, just south of Gallaudet University along H St NE, where a ton of new bars have emerged out of nowhere over the past five years to form one of D.C.'s biggest and densest nightlife corridors. Serving as a sort of alternative to standard D.C. nightlife, the Atlas District attracts a slightly older, more eccentric and artsy, more local, and almost certainly less drunken crowd than you'll find elsewhere in the city.
The Red and Green/Yellow lines run through the district, with the former making useful stops at Takoma for Takoma Park, Brookland-CUA for Catholic University and Brookland's commercial strip, and New York Ave-Florida Ave-Gallaudet U for Gallaudet University—all three of these will drop you off right where you want to be. The Green/Yellow line stops at Georgia Ave/Petworth for the Petworth neighborhood and at Fort Totten where you can transfer to the Red Line.
Takoma Park, Gallaudet, Catholic, and Petworth are all pretty easy to reach by Metro—there's no real need to bother with complicated bus routes. For the other destinations, however, you'll need a good bus plan if you don't have a car:
The Atlas District, to the dismay of the local business owners, is not accessible by Metro—the X2 is the only way to go. It runs by along H St every fifteen minutes during the day (more like 30 minutes after 10PM), and goes the length of the street back through Chinatown and the East End. The bar owners have also sprung for a shuttle bus that takes bargoers back to Union Station F-Sa 10PM-2:30AM.
The Arboretum is better visited with a car or bicycle. The only bus that goes out there is the B2, which runs up from the Stadium Armory Station on the Blue/Yellow lines. Get off on Bladensburg Rd at Rand St (just past the Arboretum sign on the right), then walk one block south back to R St, turn left and walk five minutes east to the Arboretum entrance.
Both President Lincoln's Cottage and Rock Creek Cemetery can be reached via the H2, which runs along Rock Creek Church Rd between the Brookland-CUA and Georgia Ave-Petworth Metro stations (and further west on to the Columbia Heights station).
#70 and #71 run pretty much 24 hours daily, with the only significant gap Su 1:30AM-4AM. They run the entire length of Georgia Ave from Silver Spring, Maryland, down to 7th St right on to the Mall.
This section of town is less densely populated, less frequently visited, and expansive—a car is not necessary to visit these areas, but it is the most convenient option, provided you trust yourself to navigate all the treacherous twisting diagonals. There are numerous main roads, but Georgia Ave is one you should keep in mind—it's one of the city's main thoroughfares. Heading east out of the city towards the Beltway, routes US-1 and US-50 are both quick options.
Planning to catch taxis here would be a terrible idea. You'll often find them sitting at Metro stations, but otherwise you should call one in advance.
The National Shrine
Mount St Sepulchre Franciscan Monastery, 1400 Quincy St NE (15 min walk from the Metro), ☎ +1 202 526-6800, . Grounds: 10AM-5PM daily (Catacombs visits require tour), tours: M-Sa 10AM,11AM, 1PM-3PM, Su 1PM-3PM (tours start on the hour). This monastery is an odd one. Its founders, in the late nineteenth century, set out to create a Holy Land in America, and commissioned the construction of replicas of overseas holy sites, including the Roman Catacombs, The Grotto of Massabielle in Lourdes, the Grotto of the Nativity, and other assorted reproductions of sites in Jerusalem, Rome, etc. And the grounds beyond those copies are beautiful as well.Free, donations encouraged.
National Shrine, 400 Michigan Ave NW, . 1 April–31 Oct: 7AM-7PM daily, 1 Nov–31 March: 7AM-6PM daily; tours: M-Sa 9AM-3PM, Su 1:30PM-3:30PM (tours start on the hour). This massive, stunning Catholic Basilica is not only the perfect place for any American Catholic to make a pilgrimage; people of any faith will be in awe when they see the sheer size of this church. Anyone interested in architecture will be interested to see how this building was constructed without using any modern methods like structural steel beams and framework, and how it also seamlessly blends architectural styles from different periods over the last 2000 years.Tours: free.
Pope John Paul II Cultural Center, 3900 Harewood Rd NE, ☎ +1 202 635-5400, . Tu,Th-Sa 10AM-5PM, Su noon-5PM. Suggested donation: $5.
Gallaudet University, 800 Florida Ave NE, ☎ +1 202 651-5050, . Gallaudet is the nation's and the world's first university for the deaf, and remains the world's only university where all classes and services are tailored to the needs of the hearing-impaired. Aside from being the principal institution and center for American Sign Language, the university also comprises a National Historic District, a designation received for its several excellent examples of fanciful North American High Gothic architecture. The most famous of these is the campus' centerpiece, Chapel Hall.
The courtyard at Mount St Sepulchre
National Arboretum, Entrances: 3501 New York Ave NE & 2400 R St NE, ☎ +1 202 245-2726, . 8AM-5PM daily. This is the biggest hidden gem of the city (quite literally). The park's sprawling acres of carefully manicured gardens, and its wide collection of trees from around the world are fantastic for getting away from the urban world, and for a picnic. There are several attractions within the park worth seeking out, including the original columns from the Capitol Building's first incarnation, now standing alone mimicking Roman ruins, a Japanese garden, and a great bonsai collection. This is without question the best place in the city to enjoy the cherry blossom season—you can stroll serenely through them, while inwardly chuckling at the uninformed hordes sweating it out at the sardined Tidal Basin.Free.
President Lincoln's Cottage, Enter at Rock Creek Church Rd & Upshur St NW (on the Armed Forces' Retirement Home grounds), ☎ +1 202 829-0436, . Visitor Center: M-Sa 9:30AM-4:30PM, Su 11:30AM-5:30PM; tours: M-Sa 10AM-3PM, Su noon-4PM (tours start on the hour). President Lincoln and his family summered here from 1862–1864 to escape the awful climate (physical and political) by the White House. Here he penned the second draft of his Emancipation Proclamation. Recognizing that Lincoln's political acumen was rivaled by his taste in abodes, later presidents James Buchanan, Rutherford B. Hayes, and Chester A. Arthur all took up the cottage as a summer residence as well. In addition to simply looking lovely, the cottage today contains several exhibits, as well as a reproduction of the desk on which Lincoln wrote his Proclamation.$12, $5/child 6–12.
Rock Creek Cemetery, Rock Creek Church Rd & Webster St NW, ☎ +1 202 726-2080. Dawn–dusk daily. This is no Congressional Cemetery, no Arlington Cemetery. That is to say, no one has heard of the place. But this is a beautiful nineteenth century cemetery, with an impressive and beautiful High Gothic statuary. The most famous statue/tomb here is known to Washingtonians as Grief, incorrectly, as the famous sculptor Saint-Gaudens gave it a less catchy title: The Mystery of the Hereafter and The Peace of God that Passeth Understanding. The grounds are huge, so it will pay off to get a map from the cemetery office if you plan to look for anything in particular (Grief is in Section E).
Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St NE, ☎ +1 202 399-7993, . Art gallery: Tu-Su noon-6PM. "The People's Kennedy Center." The Atlas Theatre was an old 1930s movie palace, and reopened several years ago after extensive renovations turning it into an arts center and performance venue on two big stages. Those performances run throughout the whole year, running the gamut from drama to musical to cabaret to dance. The building also houses an art gallery open throughout the week.
Carter Barron Amphiteatre, 4850 Colorado Ave NW, ☎ +1 202 426-0486, . Concerts/shows only late spring–early fall. This has got to be the most fun, most beloved concert venue in D.C.—a big open air amphitheater off in the woods. What legendary performers haven't performed here? Stevie Wonder, Bruce Springsteen, Louis Armstrong, Andy Williams, Ella Fitzgerald, BB King, the National Symphony Orchestra, Nat King Cole, Peter Paul & Mary, and Kool and the Gang have all been here. Several big local festivals call this place home, notably the great, free annual Blues Festival, but most famously the Shakespeare in the Park festival in late summer—weeks of nightly free Shakespeare performances from the world-class Shakespeare Theatre Company. That's one of those things you must do in order to call yourself a Washingtonian. Watching Hamlet deliver his soliloquy in the dark night under the stars, surrounded by the rich natural sounds of Rock Creek Park, is a one of a kind experience.Free-$30.
H Street Playhouse, 1365 H St NE, ☎ +1 202 396-2125, . The Atlas Theatre's neighbor is smaller and less historic, offering a 100 seat black box theatre for a diverse range of contemporary dramatic productions in an intimate setting.
Langston Golf Course, 26th St & Benning Rd NE, ☎ +1 202 397-8638, . Given its obscure location, you might assume this would be an uncrowded 18 holes, but you'd be wrong—it may be a local secret, but it's no secret to the locals. Langston's public course offers the most challenging and interesting 18 inside the Beltway, including an infamous shot 200 yards out to an island on the Anacostia River. It opened up in 1939 as an African-American golf club, which has since attracted a good amount of African-American celebrities for a round—Joe Louis was a big fan and booster. If you hear about the other golf course in the area, Rock Creek Golf Course, skip it—the fairways look like a cow's been chewing on them.Weekdays: $15/nine, $22/eighteen; weekends: $20/nine, $30/eighteen.
Chapel Hall at Gallaudet
The Culture Shop, 341 Cedar St NW, ☎ +1 202 726-2211, . Tu-F 11AM-7PM, Sa-Su 11AM-6PM. This is a great gift shop, especially if you want something under the headers fair trade, organic, etc. Pottery, home items, foreign bric-a-brac, stationery, fabrics, etc.
George's Place, 1001 H St NE, ☎ +1 202 397-4113. M-Th 9:30AM-6:30PM, F-Sa 9:30AM-7PM. An upscale men's clothing store that's been here for over 40 years, serving local professionals. While they have clothes for all sizes, they have a particularly good selection of extra-size suits, and of dress shoes in exotic leathers.
PollySue's Vintage Shop, 6915 Laurel Ave, Takoma Park, MD, ☎ +1 301 270-5511, . M-F 11AM-7PM, Sa 11AM-6PM. D.C.'s (OK, technically Maryland's) favorite hidden gem of a vintage boutique is just a five minute walk from the Takoma metro station. Rest assured the prices here will be far more reasonable, and the vintage clothing far more vintage, than the yuppie-hipster fodder downtown. There are plenty of very wearable items here, but there are also a good amount of clothes that would be more fun at a party than in public!
Granville Moore's, 1238 H St NE, ☎ +1 202 399-2546, . Su-Th 5PM-10PM, F-Sa 5PM-11PM. The gastropub fare here is great (seafood, salads, sandwiches), but the showstopper is the Belgian mussels and fries, and even more so the 50 Belgian beers chalked in on the board.$15-25 (Belgian beers $8+).
Horace & Dickie's Seafood, 809 12th St NE, ☎ +1 202 397-6040. M-Sa 10AM-2AM, Su 10AM-9PM. Fish fry. When a neighborhood starts booming, usually at least one of the old businesses finds itself awash in late night revelers—on H St this is that place. It's hard to miss when the patrons line out the door to get the one dish this little take-out joint does quite well: fried whitefish sandwich (it does some others less well). It would be heretical to dispute H&D as the king of after-bar eating in the Atlas District.$4-7.
Sticky Rice, 1224 H St NE, ☎ +1 202 397-7655, . Su-Th 11:30AM-2AM, F 11:30AM-3AM, Sa 5PM-3AM. A stylish sushi restaurant by day and crowded H St bar by night, the biggest draw here is the sushi. The rolls are big, inventive, and jaunty—and reasonably priced. If you are here for a couple beers, definitely order a bucket of tater tots. Tuesday nights are karaoke, while F-Sa nights see DJs.$8-22.
Night in the Atlas District
Colonel Brooks' Tavern, 901 Monroe St NE, ☎ +1 202 529-4002. M-Th 11AM-1AM, F-Sa 11:30AM-3AM, Su 11AM-1AM. This is Brookland's neighborhood pub, thirty years old, and popular with Catholic students, professors, and really anyone who lives in the area. With occasional live music (dixieland on Tuesday nights), an eccentric menu, diverse clientele, and a nice atmosphere, it's a popular place for brunch after mass, dinner, or a couple beers while watching a game.$6-20.
San Antonio Grill, 3908 12th St NE, ☎ +1 202 832-8080, . Su-Th 11AM-11PM, F-Sa 11AM-11PM. A nice Tex-Mex restaurant near Catholic, with Mexican food far above the local average, as well as a few Salvadoran and Cuban entries (try the Cuban masitas de puerco). The margaritas have quickly become famous, not just for being tasty, but also for being extremely large.$8-25.
The Hitching Post, 200 Upshur St NW (across the street from El Limeno), ☎ +1 202 726-1511. Tu-Sa 10:30AM-10PM. A comfortable, homey, friendly, old-time soul food diner off by the Armed Forces Home, serving some of the best fried chicken in the metro area, always cooked to order. The sides of slaw, mac 'n cheese, etc. also drive the locals into a foodie frenzy. The portions are enormous (it's not terribly clear how "half chicken dinner" translates into twelve pieces of bird). All in all, a great place to settle into a casual, drawn out meal of slow cooked food during a football game or over a good conversation.$6-15.
El Limeno, 201 Upshur St NW, ☎ +1 202 829-5551. Su-Th 11AM-11PM, F-Sa 11AM-midnight. As a rule in D.C., you have to wander pretty far off the beaten path to find good Latino eats, and El Limeno's residential location in Petworth satisfies that criterion well. It's an attractive sit-down restaurant with a long menu of Salvadoran and Mexican dishes (stick to the Salvadoran), with especially good soups and seafood. Full bar.$10-22.
Mark's Kitchen, 7006 Carroll Ave, Takoma Park, MD, ☎ +1 301 270-1884, . M-F 9AM-9PM, Sa 8AM-9PM, Su 8AM-8PM. Mark's is a fixture of the downtown Takoma Park area if there ever was one. It's a little, very unpretentious Korean restaurant with a specialty in vegetarian dishes, and some solid American dishes at that—you can get your breakfast of buckwheat pancakes, or mung bean pancakes!$8-14.
Statuary in Rock Creek Cemetery
Ethiopic, 401 H St NE, ☎ +1 202 675-2066, . Tu-Th 5PM-10PM, F-Su noon-10PM. Despite its borderline-nowhere location, this brand new restaurant almost immediately gained the reputation of "best Ethiopian restaurant in D.C.," which is extremely high praise. The interior is stylish and relatively small—as they do not accept reservations, you are likely to encounter a wait on a Friday or Sunday night during primetime. Just about everything is well done here (save the ever questionable Ethiopian wines), bu the more adventurous foodies should not pass up the raw kitfo.$12-20.
Mr P's Ribs, 514 Rhode Island Ave NE. F-Su 11AM-7PM. The should-be-legendary BBQ master of the D.C. area serves the best damn Carolina style full rack of pork ribs you'll find anywhere this far north. And he serves it out of a school bus, in a big parking lot off Rhode Island Ave (home to the now closed Safeway). Get your sauce on the side, and don't pass up fresh sweet potato pie.$5-20.
The Atlas District has been going strong for several years now, despite the fact that most Washingtonians remain afraid of the neighborhood, and offers D.C.'s most eclectic, most unique, most off-beat nightlife. This isn't simply a strip full of hipsters lounging in dives—the different venues, bars, and lounges all have a very strong sense of individual character. Since they're pretty much all lined up on the 1200 and 1300 blocks, you can have a very fulfilling one-night crawl! Below is only a sampling, new places open regularly in the neighborhood, and most of the restaurants become bars later on in the night as well.
Biergarten Haus, 1355 H St NE, ☎ +1 202 388-4053, . M-F 5PM-1AM, Sa-Su 10AM-1AM. The outdoor courtyard is an enormous draw on H St, as is the great selection of German draughts served in huge mugs, meaning this is one crowded hotspot in good weather. If you can get past the bartenders to that courtyard, by all means spend the night here, but otherwise the indoor section is more than a fine spot for a pint. The food is not up to par with the rest of what is on offer, but even low quality German food will go well with some good beer and F-Sa live polka bands.
H Street Country Club, 1335 H St NE, ☎ +1 202 399-4722, . Su-Th 5PM-2AM, F-Sa 5PM-3AM. H St's take on Dave & Busters is possibly aiming to steal the title of the street's most eclectic venue: upscale Mexican cuisine in the dining room via a nationally acclaimed chef, an impressive cocktail menu via a nationally acclaimed mixologist, and then an outrageous mini-golf course, along with pool tables, shuffleboard, skee-ball, etc. The golf course is a work of art, full of random Washingtonian references and inside jokes (like Marion Barry's Awakening on hole eight). It can also be extremely crowded, and best played on a weeknight or otherwise very early in the evening. Alcohol is served on the course, so it's 21+. Golf: $7.
Red Palace, 1210 H St NE, ☎ +1 202 399-3201, . Su-Th 5PM-2AM, F-Sa 5PM-3AM. D.C.'s carnie bar the Palace of Wonders and music club the Red and the Black have merged to form one big bar and music venue. Fans of the side show acts, fire dancers, and sword-swallowing bartenders rightly mourn the passing of the original Palace, but this remains a good spot for a show (and it's a whole lot easier to see the big stage post-remodel) and at least burlesque remains a frequent dish on the menu.Covers: free-$20.
Rock and Roll Hotel, 1353 H St, NE, ☎ +1 202 388-7625, . Su-Th 7PM-2AM, F-Sa 7PM-3AM. Not a hotel, rather H Street's biggest performance venue/nightclub in a former funeral home. Regardless of whether anyone's playing downstairs (indie rock or DJs), the upstairs is a pretty terrific place to hang out, shoot some pool, get some drinks, or play that piano (if you can hear yourself over the blaring rock music). The atmosphere is a fun mix of metal and Western.Sometimes covers: $4-15.
SOVA Espresso & Wine, 1359 H St NE, ☎ +1 202 397-3080, . M 7AM-9PM, Tu-Th 7AM-10PM, F 7AM-1AM, Sa 7:30AM-1AM, Su 8AM-8PM. SOVA fills two niches at once as the neighborhood's coffeeshop/WiFi hangout, and as the nightlife strip's wine bar in the evenings (second floor). The coffee and tea are top notch (Intelligentsia & loose leaf Rishi Teas). The wine bar/lounge, which also serves beer and cocktails, is beautiful, comfortable, and very romantic.
Inside the Palace of Wonders
Domku Cafe & Bar, 821 Upshur St NW, ☎ +1 202 722-7475, . Tu-W 5PM-11PM, Th 10AM-11PM, F-Sa 10AM-midnight+, Su 10AM-10PM. This is one of the most fun places to get a drink in the city. The atmosphere is laid back, fashionable, and Scandinavian. The food is quite good as well, which also ventures into Polish and Baltic cuisines. For drinks, you'll be spoiled for options that you won't find anywhere else: Georgian wines (and chacha!), Baltic lagers, Armenian brandies, and Scandinavian aquavits. Flights of three of the latter are especially popular, with all sorts of surprising infusions like dill, chili pepper, cardamom, etc.Dishes: $8-20, flights: $16.
Takoma Station Tavern, 6914 4th St NW, ☎ +1 202 829-1999, . M-F 4PM-2AM, Sa 6PM-3AM, Su 6PM-2AM. W-Sa nights see nightly jazz/R&B/gogo performances (this is the best bar period to see a gogo performance), and Mondays are stand-up comedy. Music usually starts around 11PM.
In addition to those below, there are a handful of bland and relatively uninviting budget–mid-range chain hotels along US-50/New York Avenue NE just north of Gallaudet University catering mostly to motorists. Be sure to check online reviews prior to booking as many are adjacent to the busy Amtrak Northeast Corridor rail line.
A snowy day on H St
Brookland Inn, 3742 12th St NE, ☎ +1 202 467-6777, . This well-kept, all-suites B&B is really a steal—each suite has a bedroom, private bath, kitchen, and living room. If you aren't visiting Catholic University, Brookland might seem like an odd choice of location, but it's literally three blocks from the Metro stop, and is on the main commercial strip in the neighborhood. As an added bonus, the Brookland Cafe is in the same building, and is a delightful place for breakfast, and the neighborhood favorite with locals. Free WiFi, and extended stay rates available.One-bedroom: $150, two-bedroom: $250.
Hilltop Hostel (formerly India House Too), 300 Carroll St NW, ☎ +1 202 291-9591, . A converted Victorian house across the street from the Takoma Metro station, this is an affordable way to sleep in D.C. without staying somewhere seedy or boring. Private rooms with shared facilities available.$24/bed.
Intown Uptown Inn, 4907 14th St NW, ☎ +1 202 541-9400, . Bedandbreakfast.com chose this one as the number one urban B&B in the country. It's a simply gorgeous turn-of-the-century Victorian B&B in a quiet, tree-lined neighborhood, with a famously hospitable owner, and a large, beautiful garden patio (a good place for one of Sandy's lemon drop martinis). The full hot breakfasts are on a level you won't likely find elsewhere (think crab quiche, belgian waffles, fresh fruit). The rates are affordable because it is far from the center (some Washingtonians like to check in here and consider it a vacation from the city), but the 52/53/54 bus has a stop right outside the front door, and runs all day straight south through Downtown to the Mall.$140-225.
In addition to the cafes above, the following all also provide free internet (and the libraries also offer public terminals):
Savory Takoma Metro, 314 Carroll St NW, ☎ +1 202 545-8800. This little cafe doesn't get everything right, but it does have free WiFi, and live music on some nights (usually starting after 7PM).
Shepherd Park Library, 7420 Georgia Ave NW, ☎ +1 202 541-6100, . M,W 1PM-9PM, Tu,Th-Sa 9:30AM-5:30PM, Su 1PM-5PM.
Takoma Park Library, 416 Cedar St NW, ☎ +1 202 576-7252, . M,W,F-Sa 9:30AM-5:30PM, Tu,Th 1PM-9PM, Su 1PM-5PM.
Woodridge Library, 1801 Hamlin St NE, ☎ +1 202 541-6226, . M,W 1PM-9PM, Tu,Th-Sa 9:30AM-5:30PM, Su 1PM-5PM.
Aside from the obvious southward trip downtown, you could take a little trip across the D.C. border into Maryland, especially to visit adjacent Silver Spring to the north, which is on the Metro's Red Line, and has the American Film Institute Theater, Discovery Channel Headquarters, and a lot of restaurants and bars.
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