Let’s first address the elephant in the room: While I’ve visited Washington, D.C., I’ve never lived here…until now. And, as luck would have it, I moved here during my generation’s one (and only one —you hear me bacteria and viruses?) global pandemic. So, if you’re wondering if we’ve been able to really get to know our new city, the answer is no. But, what I have been able to do is a lot of research and list making about the National Capital Region, also known as NCR or the DMV which stands for D.C., Maryland and Virginia (not the dreaded place where you stand in line for your driver’s license).
To be fair, there is absolutely zero chance I am going to capture each and every monument, museum and memorial park in a list in this blog, so I’m not going to try. What I can tell you though, is to start exploring early because if you don’t, there’s no way you’re seeing it all. The energy in our nation’s capital is unlike anything else you’ll ever experience (and I’m pretty sure it’s like that for everyone, not just government geeks like me).
Tip 1: Plan your stops, then plan your parking
If you choose to drive, which I do personally, know you’re likely paying for parking. The easiest way to do this is to install a parking app on your phone. You just type in your zone number and vehicle info and you’re set. It will also alert you when your time is running out and you can add more time without interrupting the fun to run back to the meter.
Find a central parking spot and see what you can within striking distance. If you aren’t afraid of a little walking (or of getting run over by a speeding bicycle), you can wind your way all throughout the National Mall and Memorial Parks in a single day.
Tip 2: Plan way in advance (no further)
The DMV isn’t just parks and outdoor monuments — it’s also home to some of the most secure buildings in the country. Even when we aren’t in the middle of a pandemic, you can’t just go strolling up to the White House, Capitol Complex or Supreme Court on a Saturday for a tour. Apply for or book tickets well in advance to ensure you don’t miss these experiences.
Speaking of security, you can expect security screens at federal buildings, like the Pentagon and White House, as well as Arlington National Cemetery.
Tip 3: D.C. is expensive, but not all of it
The price tag for lunch or certain museum admissions may make your eyes bug out, so be sure to spread the paid activities out over your time here. Many things are free to the public in the area though, so take advantage!
Since we’re all military-connected here, don’t miss the Air Force Memorial, Marine Corps War Memorial and the Navy Memorial Plaza, as well as the service museums: the National Museum of the U.S. Army in Fort Belvoir, Virginia and the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, Virginia. And a new U.S. Navy museum is coming soon!
If you’re feeling some museum burnout, which I get, hit the trails! One of my favorite spots to run or walk the dog is the trail that runs along the George Washington Memorial Parkway. The views are breathtaking, and you’ll see planes taking off and landing at Gravelly Point — that never gets old. And you can instantly remove yourself from city life by escaping to the trails of Theodore Roosevelt Island.
You can also get free admission into the many national parks in the area with your military ID or National Park Service park pass (which is also free when you show military ID), like Gettysburg National Military Park, Great Falls Park or Harper’s Ferry National Historical Park.
Tip 4: Don’t wait
I remember wondering when I was little if I would ever get to visit Washington, D.C., and now I’m lucky enough to live here. Part of the fun of D.C. and the surrounding area is hopping on a trail and just walking or running until you hit something of interest. So, by all means, go off script and off the beaten path. No matter what you’re interested in, you’ll find it here.