Lesser Known – But No Less Cool
Beyond the normal tourist traps are some of the lesser known exhibits. What makes these items so nice is most of them are interactive (and indoors). These are the top five I visited.
- Bureau of Printing & Engraving (BPE) – These are the good folks who print the US Paper Currency (the US Mint does the coins). The BPE offers tours of the facility where you can actually watch money being made. From single dollars all the way up to thousand dollar bills – there are millions of dollars ‘visible’ at any given time during the tour. You get to watch the raw paper flow through several cutting machines and pass through to a number of layers of ink (security measures stamped into each bill are not shown). The only thing that would have made this perfect was the ability to take pictures or video. Free – but reservations required.
- Air & Space Museum – For every kid who has ever built a model airplane – this place is like a dream come true. Deep with history and interactive displays, the Smithsonian Institute manages both the downtown DC and Virginia locations. I visited the DC location, which has no less that 20 full size airplanes suspended from the ceiling – many of which you can walk through. Everything from one of the Wright Brothers original airplanes, WWII jets actually used in combat, a real 1960s TWA airplane, and the Space Shuttle. Free, no reservation needed.
- International Spy Museum – As the name implies, this museum is based on the international spy trade – whether government sponsored or corporate (espionage). In house documentary style theater, lie detector tests, and James Bond gadgets – this place has it all. Unfortunately – no cameras are allowed. Hourly and $15-$30 per person.
- Newseum – Interactive museum whose sole purpose is to chronicle those who make the news and those who report it. It included archived newspapers and video from around the world from as far back as the 1800s. You can even have them film you delivering the news on location either on the Capital steps, a stadium, or the White House. $20 – cameras/video okay.
- Pentagon Memorial – Though you can’t actually take a tour of the Pentagon itself, you can visit the Pentagon Memorial on the Southwest corner of the building. The memorial is a striking yet somber tribute to the military and civilian personnel lost during the 9/11 attacks. The memorial is essentially a series of illuminated art benches with the names of the 184 people killed. Warning – taking pictures of ‘anything’ around the Pentagon except for the memorial itself will get you a visit from the Pentagon police. I had to spend 5 minutes convincing one of the officers not to confiscate my video film after shooting the pentagon walls. Free and open 24/7 – Take the Blue or Yellow line to the Pentagon Station.
While DC has not been known for food, there are a few standout places. According to population statistics, DC has the highest percentage of East African immigrants in the country – Ethiopians in particular. As such, there are a number of excellent Ethiopian restaurants – several lumped together around U Street. In short, Ethiopian food is relatively spicy food and is served in a manner encouraging you to eat with your fingers. You use a special type of bread called Injera to pick up the meats & vegetables from your plate. I tried Dukem and was more or less happy with their offerings.
Although not really a port city, the proximity to Baltimore and the Virginia coast line makes it close enough to get fresh fish without driving an hour to the coast. One popular seafood restaurant is Phillips Seafood in downtown DC. The restaurant is simultaneously a huge seafood buffet (everything you can think of) and a conventional sit down restaurant. Is also fairly expensive – but the lobster buckets for two (two large lobsters, 2lb snow crabs, shrimp, clams, mussels, potatoes & corn for $90) is the best I’ve seen in a while.
Next up – the Bethesda Crab House for some Blue Crab. I learned something here – which is the way you’ve seen people eat Blue Crab in the movies (a la beat it with a hammer) is actually the worst way to eat them. Beating the crab crushes all of the bones in the process – requiring hours picking them out of the meat. Thanks to YouTube, I learned the correct way to eat these suckers – and it was the best crab ever!!!
Last but not least – Ben Chili Bowl. Actually a historic location in Washington, DC – I never miss a chance to get a half-smoke (sausage) with chili whenever I’m in DC. Not as inexpensive as they used to be – nevertheless some very good eating. They even have vegetarian sausage and dogs if that’s your thing. Get There!!
I like DC – both the environment and the people. In the 80s, it was one of the most violent cities in the country but due to gentrification and better living standards (government is largest employer and is hiring) – the city has become a wonderful place to visit. Be sure to visit a number of areas I didn’t cover in this write-up – including the Georgetown area, Jazz clubs on U Street, Howard University and if you have the time – a Wizards or Redskins game.