Making the Most of Free Time
July 17, 2012 11:13 AM   Subscribe

I've got an utterly free week coming up in DC. What should I do with my time?

I've lived in either DC or Arlington for the past nine years. I've seen all of the area's big museums and touristy spots. I'm looking for either specific recommendations for things to do in the area or general tips for not wasting a 'staycation.' Also, places to have a delicious lunch. The only guidelines are that I really, really don't like crowds and that I don't drive, so if it's out and about it has to be accessible by public transportation. I don't have a ton of money, but I can splurge a little.

I've left myself a week gap (7/28 to 3/5) in between the old job and the new job. What should I do with that time? I'm afraid if I don't have a list of options ahead of time I'll just waste it loafing around the house in my pyjamas.

posted by troika to Travel & Transportation around Arlington, VA (23 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite

I asked a question about what to do during one day off in DC and got some great answers here.

For what it's worth, I went to the Museum of the American Indian for a very yummy lunch and strolled in the Botanical Gardens. It was really pleasant and nice. I also must recommend Peregrine for a latte.
posted by k8lin at 11:27 AM on July 17, 2012 [4 favorites]

If you've only ever been to the Smithsonian on weekends or holidays, you owe it to yourself to check one out in the middle of a weekday. The art museums are especially quiet and contemplative.
posted by JoanArkham at 11:45 AM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Washingtonian recently had an article on "61 Hidden Gems" in DC. And you say you've been to all the "big museums," but this list has about 70, so there are sure to be some new ones. To avoid crowds, consider Tudor Place, Lincoln's Cottage, Dumbarton House, Decator House, Hillwood, Kreeger, and Frederick Douglas House.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 11:47 AM on July 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

I don't know a ton about DC specifically... but in the fantasy universe where I'd ever be lucky enough to have a completely free week in a very familiar place, I think that instead of seeking out the few remaining random activities I hadn't yet tried, that I would specifically try to come up with ways to de-familiarize things I'd already done. Maybe a week-long project like
--taking a camera and trying to compile a photojournal of little-noticed parts of the famous monuments I'd seen
--specifically aiming to get off the subway at every stop on a particular line (not just the ones I'd always used), and buy/eat/journal something memorable at each place
-- visiting a few key museums with an eye toward leisurely peoplewatching of the other visitors, not the sights themselves
--exploring a particular subculture-- so, visiting a bunch of indie record stores/orthodox churches/political movement headquarters, just to see what other interesting things are going on near places I use everyday
And so forth. Particularly if you've enjoyed your time living in the city, it might be nice to use this staycation to do something that'd deepen your knowledge of/intimacy with the area, not merely to further broaden an already broad experience.
posted by Bardolph at 12:00 PM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

The National Arboretum is quiet and relaxing if you've not been there recently. The Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens are also something that many people have never been to.
posted by drlith at 12:01 PM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you've not been, The House of the Temple (in D.C.) and/or the George Washington Masonic Memorial (in Alexandria VA) are interesting, open to the public, and free. The architecture and decor of the House of the Temple in particular are stunning.
posted by usonian at 12:11 PM on July 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

Correction: It was free when I was there 3 years ago, but now the House of the Temple charges $8 for admission (unless you're a Mason or active/retired military.) Hmm, it looks like the George Washington Memorial is also charging admission too. Still, I'd say both are worthy destinations.
posted by usonian at 12:19 PM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

I know you said no museums, but there are a few temporary exhibits this summer that I think look interesting: African American Art at the American Art Museum, an exhibit on immigration at the National Archives, and the George Bellows exhibit at the National Gallery.
posted by kayram at 12:20 PM on July 17, 2012

I've never known anyone else in DC to visit this, but the Franciscan Monastery is really an interesting place to visit-- there are little replica rooms of things like the Catacombs in Rome and the Lourdes Grotto, and our tour guide was in the Order of Malta (er, something those lines, it was a few years ago) and very entertaining. I'm Catholic, but it's a beautiful little place and as far as I can tell, very unknown. There are several bus lines that go nearby and I don't think it's too far from the red line during the day to walk.

Have you ever explored the old forts of DC? Kind of a neat way to learn about the history and topography of the city, even if very little remains of the buildings themselves. If you like walking or hiking, there are a number of trails that are quite interesting throughout Rock Creek and the rest of the city.

Although it's at the most central location ever, the Smithsonian's Renwick
seems like it's always deserted when I'm there. Beautiful building, very interesting little exhibits.

Have you checked the City Paper's event listings? The Library of Congress sometimes shows great films for free, and the Goethe Institut often has cool movies and other low-cost events. There are a number of cultural organizations like that, sometimes run through embassies; if you're interested in Italian at all, check out the Italian Cultural Institute's events too!

Perhaps a little nerdy/walking-heavy, but it's really kind of fun to track down mysterious statues in DC, some of which are hidden in plain sight.

Other suggestions I'd nth from above: Dumbarton, Hillwood (if you know any members, they get a million guest passes a year), House of the Temple (near the excellent Meridian Hill Park and upper Adams Morgan restaurants), National Arborteum, etc.
posted by jetlagaddict at 12:34 PM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

You may know it already but I went to Bayou Bakery for lunch and loved it.

As a volunteer at 826NYC I was excited to hit up DC's counterpart, the Museum of Unnatural History. Whether you just take a look around the store or actually have time to volunteer, it's a worthwhile place.
posted by mlle valentine at 12:34 PM on July 17, 2012

Take the train to Culpepper and see the new Library of Congress structure out there. Then, go to Fredericksburg and see the battlefields. Or go to Charlottesville and see UVa.
posted by Ideefixe at 12:51 PM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Have you spent much time in Baltimore? It's so close to DC it's practically a suburb (in fact, I have taken to thinking of the two of them as one big place called Baltiwash). There is great transportation from DC to Penn Station in midtown Baltimore, and from there you can take the Charm City Circulator (free bus with four routes) to get to almost anywhere you'd want to go. Things I would particularly recommend are the Washington Monument (designed by the same guy who did the one in DC, but different), the Basilica (the oldest cathedral in the USA; free), the Walters Art Museum (free), the National Aquarium (pricey, but not so bad for one person), and Fort McHenry (the site of the original star-spangled banner; not free but not too expensive). But there's tons more. And wonderful places to eat all over. Me-mail me if you want more info.
posted by ubiquity at 12:58 PM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oops, forgot the link for Fort McHenry.
posted by ubiquity at 1:00 PM on July 17, 2012

Or go to Richmond. You can get there by train, and it's a beautiful city with an interesting downtown, lots of galleries and shops to wander in, some major museums, and a lot of beautiful botanical gardens and historic landmarks.
posted by tully_monster at 1:25 PM on July 17, 2012

you might enjoy beating the heat by doing some reading and research in the magnificent reading rooms of the library of congress?

you'll need to sign up for a researcher card in the main floor of the Madison building (the white marble one), which i should note also has a stellar 6th floor cafeteria overlooking the waterfront of the potomac. once you have a readers card, you can head down into the tunnels that connect to the jefferson reading room and order some cool books there (takes about 30 mins for them to show up in your desk. the views within the jefferson reading dome are unrivaled ornate beauty.
posted by garfy3 at 1:49 PM on July 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

Go to the National Zoo! If you go on a weekday it's not too crowded (especially in the morning and towards closing time) and for me, at least, it's always exciting even though I've been there before. Then after that you can walk down to Palena (the cafe part) and get a burger. That is a really good burger.

Dumbarton Oaks is also great -- I've never been inside the house part, but the garden is one of the best I've seen anywhere (it's the kind that's designed in "rooms," so there's always something unexpected around the corner) and when I've been on a weekday there was almost nobody there. You can get a nice chunk of fudge at Thomas Sweet's on your way there and eat it while reading a good book under the wisteria arbor. Bliss. It should also be noted that Dolcezza is close by. Try the Vahlrona chocolate and the mango.

It can be a lot of fun to see a movie at the E Street Cinema on a summer afternoon when you have almost the whole theater to yourself.

Or go to Dupont Circle and architecture-watch! The facade of the Cairo is awesome.

And some delicious lunch spots at random: Amsterdam Falafelshop in Adams Morgan (massive buffet of free toppings for your falafel -- put lots of fried eggplant!), Ray's Hell Burger (OK, this one is in Arlington).
posted by ostro at 3:27 PM on July 17, 2012

One of the best days I ever had in DC was at the Library of Congress. I hung out, read books, and pretended I was in various movies set there (like All the President's Men). It was awesome.

Also, you might consider visiting the National Museum of Health and Medicine. You can see the bullet that killed Lincoln.
posted by OrangeDisk at 3:29 PM on July 17, 2012

My favorite museum is the National Portrait Gallery (in Chinatown). Bring a book and spend an afternoon in the beautiful atrium.
posted by koselig at 3:33 PM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Try restaurants from as many regions of the world as you can. DC has a terrific variety of international foods.
Get nosebleed tickets to the Nats or DC United.
Rent a bike (if you don't have one) and ride to Great Falls on the C&O towpath.
Hang out on the mall at lunch time and join a pick up game.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 3:34 PM on July 17, 2012

If you get health insurance through your employer, you should probably check and make sure that you're not going to have a gap in coverage.

Nationals Stadium is relatively new and easily accessible. Cheer on the home team!

The Navy Yard, which is near the stadium, has a museum and cool sights to check out, including an old destroyer. Note that visitors should use the 11th & O St gate to enter the yard.

Eastern Market is also a pretty cool place to grab lunch or some fresh foods.
posted by roomwithaview at 9:15 PM on July 17, 2012

You said no crowds so I wouldn't go at night, but I really enjoy the U Street area. If you're interested in books and want a nice meal, try KramerBooks in Dupont Circle. (Oh, I miss DC.)
posted by Neneh at 5:17 AM on July 18, 2012

Dcist recently published a list of outdoor summer film festivals. They're all free and mostly transit accessible. There will definitely be a lot of people there but not so many that you can't spread out a large picnic blanket and give yourself plenty of personal space.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 9:30 AM on July 18, 2012

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