Saturday, January 3, 2015

Still Life With Robin: 3 Hits and a Miss

Photo by Thomas S. Mann
by Peggy Robin

Now that the holidays are over and all the visitors are gone, I have had time to take a breath and think back on some of the things our out-of-town guests have enjoyed while they were here...and also report on one thing they said they wouldn't have minded giving a miss. I’m talking about people who have visited DC enough times in the past to have done the obligatory memorials and museums on the National Mall, as well as many of the better-known off-the-Mall attractions, such as the Phillips Gallery, Dumbarton Oaks, and the Hillwood Museum. Our guests discovered three things to do that are not on the typical tourist’s itinerary, which I’m willing to pass along in case you are hosting similar “been-there-done-that” travelers this time next year.

1. Best little secret: The Mansion on O Street - A whimsical old mansion with over 60 fantastically decorated rooms, including secret doors and all kinds of oddities and memorabilia. The self-guided tour is just $10; the champagne tour is $30.

2. Best winter holiday evening: Zoo Lights, right here in the neighborhood, and it keeps adding more lights and more activities each year. Beyond the lights, you get to see some nocturnal animals up to stuff you’ll never see during the day. Zoo Lights ended on New Year’s Day, but keep it in mind if you will be having out-of-town visitors any time between the day after Thanksgiving 2015 and New Year’s Day 2016.

3. Best walking-around neighborhood (for visitors who have done Georgetown and Old Town Alexandria): Barracks Row/Eastern Market. So many trendy new restaurants and shops, both in the neighborhood and inside Eastern Market. It’s all so hipster-ish, you might think you were in Park Slope, Brooklyn. And when you’re done with the 8th Street commercial area, wander on down to the Capitol waterfront to see the Titanic Memorial and the waterfront park.

And now for the thing you can avoid doing, since you read here that it’s not what it’s cracked up to be: National Harbor, This is a bland expanse of hotels, restaurants and shops, nearly all big chains, lacking any sense of character. It could be anywhere. You’ll feel like you’ve been to the mall…suburban shopping mall, that is. I can’t tell you a single thing we saw down there, except for the new Capital Wheel – and that was remarkable mainly for the cost, $15 a person for a long, slow ferris wheel ride, with views mainly of the riverfront – the city appears small and far away. If you were thinking the Capital Wheel (175 feet) was going to be an experience comparable to the London Eye (443 feet), do the math: You’ll be 2.5 times higher up over the Thames than you will be when you’re up at the top of the wheel over the Potomac -- although at about $50 for a ticket, the London Eye is more than 3.3 times as expensive. So maybe our little Capital Wheel is not such a bad deal after all. Still, I’d say you can get a better view of our city and its landmarks from the P.O.V. bar atop the W Hotel downtown ( – and you can enjoy a nice cocktail at the same time. Or get an even better view by riding up to the top of the tower in the Old Post Office building* – and that’s free.

*Since the column was first published on the Cleveland Park Listserv, a few readers have pointed out that the Old Post Office Tower, run by the US Park Service, is closed and will remained closed until sometime in 2016, when the building is reopened as a Trump hotel. The tower will still be under the control of the Park Service and will still be free and accessible to all -- and worth waiting for!


Still Life With Robin is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays.

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