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Monday, July 20, 2015

Not-so-obvious Things to Do in Washington DC

If you live in the DC area, you'll probably grow up as a kid thinking that DC is one of the most boring cities in the world, a city that fades in comparison to the broadway, glamour, and soothing (at least to me) noisiness that is New York City, or the breathless ocean views and palm tree lined streets that are the major cities of California. I too was one of these kids. I'd say the culprit for giving me such a run-down impression of Washington DC was the constant school field-tripping as a young student living near the district. Every year, we would have a field trip to the National Mall, and we would visit the same museums every time. Field trip after field trip of squatting inside overly crowded museums as we would scrawl the answers to our field trip assignments onto flimsy papers, my view of DC was limited at a very young age.
Having had such a lackluster impression of DC for so much of my life, I consider myself lucky that I realized (soon enough, I hope) how awesome the nation's capital really is. I interned at the DC VA Medical Center for a group of GWU researchers over the summer before senior year, and I had a tooootallllly awesome (note the sarcasm- I'm not to the "omg DC is actually hella cool" part of the story yet) commute there that took about two hours. I had to take a bus to the metro station, then take the metro station and change lines until I got to my final station, from where I had to take a shuttle to the actual medical campus. Imagine this with jam-packed metro cars every day during rush hour, with Mr. Old Guy's sweaty armpit in your face because you're too short and he's holding onto the bar near the ceiling of the car for balance because it's so crowded that there's nowhere to sit. Also imagine the sweat running down your leg because there's a dress code at work so you have to wear long pants even though its 95 degrees and the sun's rays are pounding you. Nevertheless, taking the metro and having to navigate around DC gave me a look into the hidden beauties of the city. I was forced to trek through sections of the city I had never been to before, whether it was because I needed to get my work permit, or because I simply needed something to eat. Sometimes when my friend and I got off work early, we would take the metro to random places in DC and just shop. Now, I see DC as far more than the National Mall or a bunch of museums, and I see the metro as a kind of savior instead of a panic-inducing human sweat machine.

So, long talk aside, to the tourists coming to DC who want even more to do after seeing the major attractions, and to the disenchanted DC suburb residents who just want something new to do, here's a list of some of the most fun things to do in DC that are sadly not as well known.

1. Georgetown

Ok- Georgetown is probably still considered "well-known" and is on most people's radars, but it's still worth mentioning. Some of my friends hadn't been to Georgetown before this year, which personally shocked me. Georgetown is a hip neighborhood of DC with a bunch of shopping to do and places to eat. There's also the waterfront at Georgetown, a perfect place to find some chill after indulging in food and/or shopping 'til you drop.

2. Smithsonian American Art Museum

The Smithsonian American Art Museum is one of the more low-key museums out there, and it's rarely been crowded when I've visited, which surprises me because it's probably my favorite museum in DC. Not only do they have a wide range of art, but the layout and architecture of the museum itself are their own kind of artistic masterpieces.

3. Union Market

If you've ever been to Chelsea Market in NYC or just want a relaxed space with a humble selection of food and ample seating available for a great afternoon, Union Market is the place. It's not extremely big, but there are a variety of food vendors available, and you can get a hearty main meal (or a sampling of many small dishes) and also some dessert if you feel like it too.

4. Shopping around Metro Center and Gallery Place Chinatown

This isn't really an official "thing to do," but there are a handful of shops for the typical young adult around the Metro Center station in DC. Some of the stores around this area are Forever 21, Zara, H&M, Anthropologie, J. Crew, and American Apparel. Also nearby are a smattering of restaurants, including Co Co. Sala, an interesting place where all the dishes have something chocolate inspired, even the salads. Just a short walk away is DC's Chinatown, which isn't really much of a Chinatown (except for the arch), but is a bustling part of the city anyway, with a few major shops here as well. I'd suggest visiting this area during the holiday season, when DC's Downtown Holiday Market comes to Chinatown and shopping is a must.

5. Union Station

Union Station is a major center for DC transportation, with a metro station and train station operating out of it, but the station itself is a bit of a hidden gem. The architecture is fantastic, and there are also a few floors of shops available and a generous helping of places to eat.

This list is obviously not exhaustive, but all of these places are ones that I have truly enjoyed visiting in DC. Since these places are what I'd consider the "not-so-obvious,"and because this list was meant more for those who are already familiar with DC, I didn't include most of the major attractions on the list. However, places like the Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial are definitely a must if you haven't visited DC before. With that said, go out and explore- don't be an elementary school suburban kiddo who hasn't yet seen the wonders of DC!

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