Free Recession Buster Getaway: Washington, D.C.
We know you love Milwaukee. We do, too. Sometimes, though, it's good to get on plane and head out of town.
And we're happy to help. This summer and fall, OnMilwaukee.com is teaming up with AirTran Airways to offer six free "Recession Buster Getaways." Every two weeks, we'll preview a great destination, report on some of the bars, restaurants, shops and events that make them unique.
All you have to do is read our guide, then write your own Readers Blog about why you deserve a trip. If we pick your submission as the best, we'll give you a pair of roundtrip tickets, a brand new netbook and a little cash to buy in-flight Wi-Fi.
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Penning an article about visiting the nation's capital is either the easiest or most difficult assignment a travel writer can take. Of the six cities OnMilwaukee.com is showcasing for this series, Washington sports the biggest tourist infrastructure, and subsequently, the most diverse options for how to enjoy a long weekend.
Of course, that means that volumes upon volumes have already been written about what to see and do in three days in D.C., and having lived there from 1992-96, in many ways, I could write this preview on recollection alone. After all, if you've never been to Washington, you should see the Smithsonian Museums, tour the Capitol and get your picture taken in front of the White House. But writing that article and doing the things that I did with every friend who visited me back in college would be too easy -- and it wouldn't offer anything you couldn't find in a $9.95 guidebook.
So, for my recent trip to Washington, I leaned heavily on four of my friends who still call the D.C. area their home; guys who get a kick out of being tourists in their own town, but also have sniffed out some off-the-beaten track spots inside and outside the Beltway to have a good time and grab a great meal. And that's what this article is: a look at the lesser-known attractions and some of the newer draws that go beyond a Samantha Brown weekend getaway show on the Travel Channel.
When you're in D.C., do hit those A-List attractions, but if you have time, take a look at these highlights, too.
Different, but the Same
Wandering the streets of downtown Washington feels a little like a dream to me. It's been a surprising 13 years since I left Pierre L'Enfant's Baroque-inspired planned city and moved to Milwaukee -- but so much in the heart of the District looks exactly the same. Sure, there are more Starbucks than when I left, but Union Station to Foggy Bottom to Georgetown (now easier to traverse with a $1 bus called the Circulator) feels eerily familiar. What's different is the upscale creep and sprawl that has blossomed out of the downtown core.
Yes, you can still accidentally wander into bad neighborhoods, but you'll have to walk much farther now to find them. For example, an area on the edge of Capitol Hill, where I once interned and felt uncomfortable walking after dark, is now yet another well-to-do neighborhood. New developments like National Harbor, which is D.C.'s equivalent of Bayshore Town Center, have sprung up on the other side of the Potomac River. It's safe to say that 15 years ago, there would be no chance that Disney would've picked this location for a small, planned theme park.
A New Neighbor
Even though I was forewarned, I found myself surprised the most by the area the city turned into Nationals Park, the stadium that hosts the worst-in-baseball Nats. Apparently, the District claimed eminent domain over an entire neighborhood on the banks of the Anacostia River, razed it and built a ballpark in its place that's actually a green-certified building. Surrounding the stadium are condos ("Get in now for the low $600s!") and a planned entertainment zone like what you see an hour away at Camden Yards in Baltimore.
Interestingly, none of these bars and restaurants is built yet, so for now, all the outside-the-park fun is housed at a tented parking lot beyond center field called "The Bullpen." It's pretty neat, actually, with live bands warming up the fans and a free cornhole "court" providing a diversion from the attached Budweiser beer garden (no Miller products here, unfortunately, but the ballpark serves Miller and Bud).
The stadium itself is somewhat different than Milwaukee's Miller Park -- above and beyond the lack of an unnecessary retractable roof in steamy D.C. It's quite spacious, actually, with more open views of the field from the concourse than what we're used to. It's not an especially pretty building, cast in grays and whites designed to reflect Washington's official buildings, and unless you're in the upper deck, the view from the seats is primarily of parking garages and office buildings. From up top, though, you can see the Capitol in the distance, and the field is boxed in in a way that makes it feel small and intimate even though it really isn't.
I also noticed the park's amazing scoreboard, which broadcast replays in crystal-clear HD. Apparently, Miller Park will get something like this soon; trust me, fans will love it. What few Brewers fans in attendance -- I saw Yount, Braun and Sheets jerseys -- won't be as amused by is the team's ripoff of the racing sausages: the racing presidents. Fans get into it -- for some reason, Teddy Roosevelt never wins -- but it feels cheap and artificial, sadly, like most of the aspects of this new park and the relocated Expos team that has yet to build any real traditions (aside from losing).
You can get to the park a number of different ways. We took a free shuttle that leaves from the parking lot of dilapidated RFK Stadium (now home only to the local MLS franchise, D.C. United). For all the rigmarole, the bus still left us quite far from Nationals Park.
Oddly, the parking structures and lots remain empty, and for all the many benefits of a downtown stadium, I was reminded of the incredible convenience you get by having a stadium located in a place like Miller Park. Getting to the game by Metro, D.C.'s subway system, is probably the better bet -- the city built a new entrance to the Navy Yard subway station just a block from the center field gate.
Food options are plenty at the ballpark, with expensive D.C. prices making a Nationals game a more costly destination than a Brewers outing -- though, shoot me for saying this, the Nats offer much more diverse cuisine choices than the Brewers.
Local vendors also have a presence, which was a great excuse for me to order my first "half smoke, all the way" from famed chili dog restaurant, Ben's Chili Bowl. Time constraints prevented me from visiting the actual restaurant, which recently hosted President Obama, but this D.C. tradition is the real deal: a grilled sausage -- half pork and half beef -- smothered in onions, shredded cheese, chili and nacho cheese sauce. Believe it or not, it's even better than it sounds.
Culinary Cliches and Delicious Diversions
Speaking of meals, we made a point to visit a few restaurants that tourists would have a hard time spotting without the help of a local. But first, we dined at Georgetown's Martin's Tavern, 1264 Wisconsin Ave. NW, a classic bar and grill that Kennedy used to frequent. In a sea of high-priced pubs and retail shops, Martin's was actually reasonable, with solid comfort food and a mix of locals and tourists. It was crowded on a Friday night, yet we were still seated quickly in a restaurant that could rest on its laurels -- but doesn't.
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Sorry N22 metrobus is no more. Eliminated end of June. Just take the greenline or walk or cab it from capital south to the game.
Hi...just left DC after 15 years. Hit U Street for various food/drink options: The Saloon, the original Ben's, Ooohs and Aahs and Dukem. You also have to mention the 9:30 club. Hit Adams Morgan for general drunken revelry, ethnic food and great falafel. If you want still gritty DC with some character and fun bars (Rock n Roll Hotel, Argonaut, Red and Black), you have to hit H Street NE... definitely one of those places you avoided in the mid 90s.
Andy, I remember walking through that sketchy area right off the Capitol about 20 years ago. The first time I ever saw people actually sleeping in trees. Also, The Old Post Office had some pretty unbalanced people around it. One cool place to visit that doesn't get much press (especially as part of the Smithsonian) is The National Portrait Gallery. There's some cool stuff in there and, if I recall correctly, it's in the same building as The American Art Museum.
To get to nats park, get off the orange line at capital south, walk up the block to the hawk 'n dove (Packer Bar) or tune inn. Get your drink on, catch the N22 bus right in front which will take you right to Nats park. Second option is take the green line to SE waterfront, get a bite to eat at the fish docks (floating barges that sell seafood). Try the crab soup. Walk to nats park. Also check out the national cathedral, it's free. Take the red line to tenleytown, get on any 30 bus going south, get off when you see the cathedral. When your done, get on any 30 bus going south, get off in Georgetown. U street and Adams Morgan has some cool bars too.
Agreed that the racing presidents are yet another sausage race ripoff, but I'm pretty sure the reason that Teddy never wins is that, in the view of many presidential historians, while Teddy was a well-respected president, he is not really in the same stratosphere as the 3 he shares Mt. Rushmore with, putting him there was an interesting decision, and therefore he has no business beating, say, George Washington in a race. Kind of amusing.
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