Off the Beaten Path in DC

David Hatef

After a couple of trips to DC, odds are you have seen the National Mall, visited one or more Smithsonian museums and laid eyes on the White House. If you call Washington home, the likelihood that you’ve crossed a number of popular activities off your list increases; if you’re looking for something unique beyond the top sights, turn to this list for the top five off-the-beaten-path things to do in DC.


Just beside Reagan National Airport, you’ll find a grassy patch that you can drive, run, walk or bike to (Mount Vernon Trail gets you there) and just sit and watch the planes fly overhead. As you enjoy the scenery on the banks of the Potomac River, feel the earth shake and the roar of plane engines breathtakingly close just overhead. Bring friends, family, a picnic or a bottle of wine and enjoy a sunny afternoon plane-spotting at Gravelly Point Park. 


While you may have heard of the gargoyle-shaped like Darth Vader on the outside of the Washington National Cathedral or simply visited the grand church in Northwest DC, this is not your average place of worship. Take a trip to the crypt where Woodrow Wilson’s tomb and Helen Keller’s ashes are housed to prove it. To get there, take the stairs down to the lower level restrooms and gift shop. On your way to the store, stop in St. Joseph’s Chapel to experience the tomb and the only mural in the entire Cathedral.


On an island in the middle of the Potomac River, between Virginia and DC, you’ll find a wilderness preserve dedicated to avid conservationist and our 26th president, Theodore Roosevelt. Drive to the parking lot off the George Washington Parkway and walk or bike your way through the trails to the tranquility this wooded island provides.


If you’ve seen his monument but are interested in where he retreated to beat the heat and get away from the craziness of politics in the city, take time to explore Lincoln’s Cottage in northern DC near Petworth and Park View. The president came here to enjoy seclusion and focus on writing the Emancipation Proclamation as well as to protect his family from danger during the Civil War. Deemed a “Home for Brave Ideas,” Lincoln’s cottage provides a bit of inspiration and an off the beaten path history away from the hordes of tourists. 


While the Air and Space Museum and the Museum of Natural History tend to get all the attention, the Phillips Collection in Dupont Circle is a must-see for art lovers as well as for those just looking to escape the crowds and experience some culture. As the nation’s oldest modern art museum, the Phillips Collection is filled with over 4,000 works including famous pieces by iconic artists like Renoir, Gaugin and Matisse.


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