I was in Washington, DC last month for some QAD Explore planning. Once the “work” portion of my trip was complete, it was time to see the sites. I managed to push past the well-known monuments for a taste (literally and figuratively) of what the locals do outside of business hours. Don’t get me wrong, the monuments are breathtaking and the museums are fascinating, but personally, I think that the striking beauty of the area surrounding DC often falls beyond that scope, which is truly a shame.
Whether in Maryland or Virginia, hopping between the three areas often is a matter of a bridge and maybe a handful of minutes.
The Waterfront Starts at Georgetown
This may be common knowledge, but I didn’t figure it out until my fifth day, so hopefully I saved someone the trouble by making that statement right off. Cool fountains, a nice park, and great views of the island and bridge and Virginia Skyline. Walk a little further from Georgetown and the boardwalk starts with some nice patio bars and restaurants as you work your way down towards the Kennedy Center. Good place to relax, drink a coffee, read the paper, or just enjoy the view.
Baltimore or Less
You'll notice that even 10 minutes out of town the freeways appear to start where the jungle ends. A sea of lush vegetation seems to dominate Maryland on the way to Baltimore, which makes for a relaxing drive that will take the better part of an hour. When you arrive, stick to the neighborhoods that are close to the water, as Baltimore has its darker corners. But a smattering of dingy dive joints offer stiff drinks in large glasses and a hipper, heartier crowd than you'll find in downtown DC. I particularly liked Fells Point and Canton areas, but there are many more to choose from.
Relax in Reston
A 30-minute trip down the Silver Line and you're in Reston, voted the 7th best place to live in the USA in 2012. A quiet, highly developed town center is clean and well thought out. Several patio bars are the perfect place to sip spicy ginger drinks on a warm and sunny day. Watch strollers and leashed dogs pass in this safe neighborhood where everyone seems to be smiling and enjoying each others company. Great area to find a bar to watch the game as well, as many bars have a host of great flat-screen TVs.
Revel at Great Falls
My first cab driver told me not to get too excited about Great Falls: "They're not real waterfalls, it’s kind of like rapids." A gross understatement in my opinion, I thought they were a pretty exciting sight! Roaring rapids, with several notable drops over 10 feet, serve as a playground for ambitious kayakers and the scores of people cheering them on. The river at the national park area is at least 80 feet across, and you hear of the occasional fall victim to the vicious rapids. But don't worry, you'll be safe from any one of the marked (and hand-railed) viewpoints. Take a walk or jog in the paved park pathways. There is even a snack bar that will allow you to stick it out there for a few extra hours and enjoy the tranquility.
Bike or Jog the C&O Canal
Operating for nearly 100 years the canal was a lifeline for communities along the Potomac River as coal, lumber, and agricultural products floated down the waterway to market. This canal runs parallel to the Potomac and was originally horse driven and used to raft goods over a stretch of 185 miles. Now void of traffic, it serves as a quiet waterfront for jogging and gravelly bike trail that ends right in the heart of DC.
Old Town Alexandria
Are you a bit of a food or coffee connoisseur? Alexandria is where it's at. Just old enough to have charm, but filled with current cutting-edge restaurants and breakfast spots. There’s lots to explore and its only a $12 Uber ride from the Gaylord (the Explore 2015 venue). Hop over here to grab breakfast before the sessions start for one or two days during Explore!
There is still so much of DC to check out, so if I were you, I’d tack on a few extra days to make sure you get the most out of your visit — I know I will. See you at Explore!