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Secret Spring: Getting the Most Out Of D.C. This Season
April 23, 2013 | 9:00AM

Spring is finally upon us, D.C., and we couldn’t be more excited. Sure, the weather’s nice, but it also marks a return to some of our favorite little-known or oft-overlooked District spots and our favorite Secret D.C. activities. Because we love you and want you to have nice things, we’ve compiled some pro tips and underrated locations to make the most of your city this season–forget the Cherry Blossoms. It’s time to explore some catacombs.

From bizarre scavenger hunts to our favorite farmers markets and places to picnic, we’ve got you covered. Some of these picks were published previously, be it in our (Often) Unseen DC post or our Urban Picnic Guide, and some are absolutely new. All have been updated with handy Pro Moves that should make your spring dreams a reality in no time, so grab a fellow adventurer, put down that map (unless you’re in those aforementioned D.C. catacombs) and get ready to ring in spring.

(Gandalf quote/tone/demeanor not necessary but you’ll probably make more friends this way.)


  • The National Cathedral
    Head to the National Cathedral to explore acres of grounds, natural woods and beautiful gardens specifically designed to be “an urban oasis.” (Sounds fairly perfect, no?) The Bishops Garden alone features stone walls, herb gardens, a rose garden, two perennial borders, a Shadow House, a twelfth century arch and winding stone paths. If you’re feeling game, you can take a tour of the 333 steps up the central tower until you reach the bell ringing chamber at the very top. From April to October, you can even take a gargoyle tour that includes, you guessed it, the infamous Darth Vader sculpture.
    (via National Cathedral)
  • Jefferson Memorial/Tidal Basin
    While the Jefferson Memorial can easily fall prey to tourism (I mean, come on, who doesn’t love a good paddleboat outing now and again?), there are a number of hidden gems around the tidal basin to lay down that blanket and take in the scenery. If you’re driving or biking, try parking in the memorial’s lot (across the basin from the paddle boat docks). Take a seat on the grassy banks so you’ve got a view of not only the Jefferson memorial and the paddleboats but the Washington Monument as well. 
  • National Gallery of Art – Sculpture Garden (/Jazz in the Garden)
    Located in the 6.1-acre block adjacent to the West Building, the sculpture garden marks a perfect place to laze around and soak up spring. Take in canopy trees, flowering trees, shrubs, ground covers and perennials, not to mention a beautiful fountain and some very thoughtfully executed pieces of modern art; just be careful where you sit, as occasional spots of grass are part of the exhibits. Starting May 24, Jazz in the Garden adds a touch of class every Friday evening with live music, be it salsa, xylophone or Afrofunk.
  • The National Arboretum
    If you’ve never been, it’s time to trade in that D.C. v-card. If you have, spring is a great time to revisit. Not only can you get a sunny view of the American Acropolis–the Capitol Building’s original columns dating back to 1828–but all of your hikes through carefully curated local and international greenery will be met by fresh budding flowers. Did you know you can even take a Full Moon Hike or build your own bonsai? Did you even know the latter was something a person can even do? We didn’t think so.
  • Weird-Ass Sculpture Scavenger Hunt
    Believe it or not, D.C.’s got an insanely bizarre artistic side. Sure, you’ve seen the National Gallery, the Hirshhorn and The Phillips Collection, but what about the multiple oversized chair  sculptures (one in front of the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Georgetown, the other off of Martin Luther King Drive SE. in Old Anacostia)? Did you by any chance happen upon the Run-Over Fireman Monument in Glenwood Cemetery? What about the  Obscure Monument to Lobsterdom? Go on the prowl for some of the weirdest spots in the District and impress your date with arcane knowledge about your city. (Why no, the team behind the Women’s Titanic Memorial wasn’t full of psychics; Titanic just lifted the pose straight from this bizarre piece of stonework.) It’ll make you irresistible, WE SWEAR. Check out some more picks and weird-ass sculpture locations in our (Often) Unseen DC post.
  • Farmers Markets
    One of our favorite aspects of spring is the weather the food the flowers. OK, we admit it’s hard to choose even a favorite out of those three, though with D.C.’s bevy of farmers markets, you don’t have to. When you feel like perusing some local goods outdoors, try any one of the FreshFarm Markets that pop up around the city and all start in April or May. Choose between Dupont, Foggy Bottom, H Street NE, Penn Quarter or even by the White House for goods that were all manufactured or grown by the sellers themselves. Don’t forget the DC Meet Market, the monthly Logan Circle outdoor bazaar, which almost exclusively features local businesses, artists and designers.  If April showers keep you indoors, you can head to Union Market for some local fare and wares with everything from cocktails made with seasonal fruit syrups to juices and smoothies made on the spot with the freshest spring ingredients available.
  • Rock Creek Park
    If you’ve ever driven along GW Parkway you’ve probably been near dumbstruck to see so much nature still surrounding the city. From trees, creeks and amphitheatres to historic stone houses and mills, Rock Creek Park houses some of D.C.’s best scenery. Check out over 30 picnic locations featuring grass, tall trees, picnic tables, plus the occasional BBQ pit and shelter. This map tells you the picnic areas; the numbered blue circles are reservation sites and the numbered black circles are first come, first served areas. Settle down for a bite or take a seat on a rock and dip your toes into the cool creek on a hot day; you’ll feel like you’re discovering a new city altogether.


  • Rock Creek Park Horse Center
    Little do most people know that in the middle of our gorgeous park lies a public equestrian facility where you can get up close and personal with horses. Public trail rides run on the weekends (and some weekdays during the summer), last about an hour and will only cost you forty bones.  It’s an amazing way to decompress in the City while getting an “insider view” of Rock Creek Park.  But don’t expect to just show up and ride, you’ll have to make reservations well in advance.
  • Fort Reno Park (and Concert Series)
    OK, OK, so we know Fort Reno concerts are technically a summer series but we obviously have to mention that they start in June because they’re one of our favorite so-D.C. events that always signify warm weather. While you’re waiting (and because this is a spring guide, after all), you can still enjoy the beauty of Fort Reno Park sans live music–might we suggest bringing a phone or any other portable music device with you all the same? Fort Reno Park is located off the Tenleytown metro stop; just a few steps from civilization you’ll find one of the only spots in D.C. to witness a Civil War battle. The park also makes for a perfect spot to grab a bite and if you’re not in the mood to cook/schlepp picnic food with you, there’s a Whole Foods and a Chipotle right there. (So convenient.) Stroll the grounds and get a look at the fort itself–still standing since 1861.
  • Franklin Square
    Bordered by K Street NW, 13th Street NW, I Street NW and 14th Street NW

    Right in the heart of the city is Franklin Square (slightly less populous than McPherson though close in proximity). Here you can lounge by a statue of Ben Franklin, park it on a park bench, or (dare we say it) climb a tree. Is it legal? Probably not, but hey–this one’s for you, adventurers. Avoiding Mall treeclimbing for security reasons, climb one of Franklin Square’s options. If you’re feeling sassy, get granola bars and bananas; for added effect, throw bananas, shake branches and make monkey sounds–preferably targeting businessmen at lunchtime on a weekday.
  • Dumbarton Oaks
    We’ve all walked along Georgetown’s canal but what about its highest point? Stroll through gardens of stream, woodland, meadow, orchards, herbs, vegetables, arboretums, hillsides sprinkled with forsythia, an antique pool, and gorgeous walkways flanked by trees in bloom.
    (photo by Logan Donaldson)
  • New Holy Land of America
    We bet you never knew there were catacombs under D.C.–and even if you knew, smartypants, have you checked them out yet? They sit beneath a Franciscan Monastery, which, as you might have guessed, is real and functioning. They’ll take you on an actual pilgrimage to the Holy Land but if you’re looking to keep things local, they’ll also show you around the grounds, gardens, and even the replicas of Roman catacombs. (Creepy/awesome.)
  • Georgetown Aquaduct Bridge
     I know, I know… Georgetown, but trust me on this one.  It takes a little planning (and the right co-conspirator) to make it happen, but on those crisp spring nights when you’re not ready to say goodnight, even after the bars close there’s the Georgetown Aquaduct Bridge.  A little-known secluded spot that over looks the Potomac river, covered with graffiti and perfect for making out.  Just remember to have a six pack on hand, and well… the rest is up to you.


(Photo via our original story about web-show Orange Juice in Bishops Garden)

  • Get Your Hike On
    There’s nothing like welcoming spring with some breaths (and maybe some heavy panting) of fresh air. The District and surrounding areas offer some gorgeous views just a hop, skip and a jump outside of your geographic (and perhaps bodily) comfort zones. We recommend Great Falls Park, which overlooks the Potomac’s falls, and isn’t too far–just a quick 15 minutes from the capital. It also still resembles how our forefathers saw the DMV area while inhabiting it so it’s sort of like ringing in spring with a time machine. (There is obviously nothing cooler.)



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Recent Comments:
  • tito says:

    Gosh this was terrific. I moved from SoCal to DC 4 years ago, but, even though I’ve really endeavored to explore beyond the usual tourist stuff, I’ve only even HEARD OF about half the misadventures you ID. Great R&W Stephanie. cheers!