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June 13, 2014 8:28 AM   Subscribe

What should be my nephew check out while he's going to school in Washington, D.C.?

My nephew will be attending American University this Fall as a Freshman majoring in Political Science.

He is 18 years old, grew up in a small New England town and will be living on campus. He's done some travelling in his young life and has been to D.C. before, but, what places and things should he definitely check out now that he's a young adult just starting out in life? Anywhere or anything specific that he should avoid? All suggestions welcome! Thanks!

And on a side note, what kind of unique gifts (i.e., gift certificates to restaurants, stores, etc...) could his cool uncle get for him from that area? Thanks again!
posted by Hanuman1960 to Travel & Transportation around Washington, DC (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
He is 18 years old, grew up in a small New England town and will be living on campus.

The important thing for him at this age isn't that he go out and EXPERIENCE THE IMPORTANT DC THINGS it's that he actually get out and experience things.

I don't know about American University specifically, but most campuses tend to be safe (as in, comfort-zone) little bubbles of collegecollegecollege 24/7, and lots (perhaps most?) kids are content to just hang around campus doing campus stuff.

I went to school in Chicago in a very bubbly campus, and made it my mission to get out into the city at least once a week. I had a quarter where I didn't have any classes after 10am on Tuesdays, so I used my Tuesdays to really thoroughly explore museums. I paid attention to restaurant openings (Chicago has so much good food omg) and went and tried new places every weekend. I got on the trains and just rode them as far as I could go. I'd pick a random neighborhood and just walk around it for hours, going into any shops that seemed interesting. I grew up in a really non-city place, and I wanted to use the time I had here to get as much out of Chicago as I possibly could. (I ended up falling in love with the place and still live here.)

Anyway, my point is, he's going to have more free, unstructured time in college than he'll probably ever have again, so I think the most useful thing you can do is encourage him to just...use it. Don't try to structure it for him, don't say "oh, you must go do x, y, and z," just give him a Metro pass and some spending money and tell him to git.
posted by phunniemee at 8:48 AM on June 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

Every single Smithsonian! I eagerly recommend natural history, but his interests may vary.

Cool neighborhoods like Adams Morgan and H Street. (speaking of H Street, get him a gift certificate to Dangerously Delicious Pies & he will thank you!)

I would have loved a fully loaded metro card - it's how I got absolutely everywhere. Does he have experience riding a subway system?

He will love his time there!
posted by fireandthud at 8:51 AM on June 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

The great small music venues, especially Bohemian Caverns and Blues Alley, which are old standbys.
posted by sallybrown at 9:04 AM on June 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

He should check out SPX in Bethesda September 13-14. It's a really awesome annual small press expo, with artists from all over. Also, it can be reached by the subway from DC.
posted by to recite so charmingly at 9:08 AM on June 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

American's not as integrated into the city and transit as, say, GWU, but it's very easy for him to get around from there if he's motivated to get off campus. phunniemee is right - the important part is that he gets out of the bubble at all.

But aside from getting out in general, DC has some things that are special and fun for an undergrad, for sure. The local music scene is fantastic. Near his campus is Embassy Row, and we used to go trick-or-treating there, and for the big international open house to tour the embassies. Some friends of mine just went and gathered in the street outside the White House after Bin Laden was killed, just to be a part of history. For that matter, playing in the snow by the White House or on the mall during our rare snowstorms. Going running in Rock Creek Park or the Zoo, which are both not too far from AU.

That being said, he's a poli sci major? He'll be fine. He'll probably be required by his professors to do things like go see Supreme Court arguments (so cool) or hearings on the Hill. He's almost certainly going to wind up interning on the Hill, or at a federal agency, or for one of the zillion NGOs, or all of the above. That'll get him out and about, and he's at a bit of a competitive advantage, being able to do those kinds of internships in the fall and spring semesters without needing to find special housing and take time off of school. Also, my freshman year, my professors required us to take a day and go to the Library of Congress, get reader cards, and learn how to use their system. The Library of Congress can be used by anyone for research, and that is a seriously cool way to work on a paper.
posted by bowtiesarecool at 9:22 AM on June 13, 2014

I've lived here for 10 years and love it. There are lots of free things going on at any given time. Here is a page that should help.

I agree that as a poli sci major he'll be fine but I'd encourage him to learn quickly that D.C. is more than where his college is and where the National Mall, Smithsonians, Congress, etc. are. This city and the surrounding areas are more than a tourist attraction - real people live here who have nothing to do with the federal government besides paying taxes. To that end, I'd encourage him to get out of NW DC as much as possible. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with NW DC but there is a lot more to the area.

I'm sure he'll do internships at some point but I'd also encourage him to volunteer with a D.C. organization. It will help him feel more connected to the area and look great on his resume. Unfortunately, volunteering in D.C. can sometimes be surprisingly difficult. A wonderful volunteer organization that I have worked with has a reputation as a great place to volunteer and Michelle Obama has volunteered there so it can be difficult to get on the schedule. Plus his hours will be wonky as a student. But if he finds an organization that he likes, he can make it work.

My first summer in D.C. was as an intern. As a result, I didn't really learn how to get around the city because I was always just following other people. The sooner he learns to explore on his own, the faster he will feel comfortable in the city. Also, when it comes to getting around the city, a lot of people think only in terms of Metro but there are a lot of buses. People are frequently bus-shy but if he has a smart phone, he can download an app and find out what buses to take. Again, the sooner he does that, the sooner he'll feel more comfortable in D.C.
posted by kat518 at 10:36 AM on June 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

AU is very service-oriented, and he will probably be seeing the city through non-tourist eyes as part of a service project.
posted by jgirl at 10:41 AM on June 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Has he asked you for a list like this? Because many young people find the transition from home to an independent college life enough new territory to cover without an additional tourism requirement.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:08 AM on June 13, 2014

Thanks everyone! Keep them coming! :)

DarlingBri, he didn't. I thought that I would just put the question out there and see what I got, and then let him pick and choose! Thanks for asking!
posted by Hanuman1960 at 11:46 AM on June 13, 2014

I recently went to Great Falls/C & O canal and had a ball. Great place to just get out and about to hike,bike, and learn a little history.
posted by PJMoore at 7:12 PM on June 13, 2014

Visit monuments like Jefferson or Lincoln or WWII or Vietnam on a weeknight late, like 3am. There is no one there. It's a near religion experience. And free. And safe (security around). Best way to see them.
posted by stbalbach at 9:59 PM on June 13, 2014

grew up in a small New England town

Ben's Chili Bowl and other U Street establishments as well as Adams Morgan.
posted by stbalbach at 10:25 PM on June 13, 2014

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