It would be an understatement to say it’s been a long winter. It’s felt like an eternal winter, and the snow on the first day of spring certainly didn’t make it seem like it was getting any better, but it feels like we’re FINALLY turning a corner. It’s becoming less and less terrifying to leave your apartment without more than three layers. There are birds (horribly annoying birds) tweeting and honking and squawking in the morning. We’re pretty sure it’s finally spring (real spring, not that first day of spring snow shit). In honor of the nice(ish) weather, we’ve compiled a list of unconventional and off the beaten path activities that will help you make the most of the season.
From creepy cemeteries to perfect picnic spots, we’ve got a little something for everyone. Some things were mentioned perviously in (Often) Unseen DC post, our Urban Picnic Guide, or our Hidden in Plain Sight series, or the older version of this post, while others are new. Either way, grab a buddy (or not!) and get out of your crummy apartment building. It’s time to bask in the greatness that is spring.
- 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. Plus, there are musical demonstrations, tours focused on spiritual reflections, and even a tour that features a traditional English tea at the end (there better be clotted cream and jam).
- 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 paddle boats but the Washington Monument as well. If you’re not into paddle boats we highly recommend you visit the Jefferson Memorial (and any other monument) at night. The crowds are minimal and everything looks cooler at midnight. Visiting at night can also transform a boring tourist-y event into a fun and romantic date.
- National Park Service
If you really feel like becoming one with nature, whip out your handy laptop or phone (yes, I know that sounds contradictory to what I just said) and check out the NPS’s very useful apps. Our parks are just chock full of cools events, tours, and reenactments. You could enlist in the Union Army in 1863. or go on a tour that is weirdly (or scandalously?) called FDR’s Wild Side. There are also cool things like ranger walking tours, dog walking tours, and lantern walks. So much walking. You’re gonna become so buff.
- 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. Jazz in the Garden starts in May and 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 or our Hidden In Plain Sight series.
- 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. 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.
- 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)
- Blossom Kite Festival
Alright, so the Blossom Kite Festival may not be a “secret” but that doesn’t mean you should miss out on it. Yes, it will probably be crowded, but seeing a mix of professionals and amateurs take their shot at filling the sky around the Washington Monument with awesome kites is a sight to behold. If you think just watching kites is boring (you’re wrong) there is also the Hot Tricks kite competition and the Rokkaku kite battle. I can’t think of anything cooler than watching kites fight. Not to mention, the cherry blossoms should be in full swing, so everything will look beautiful (just try not to stare at the heaps of trash left by tourists).
- Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center
Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum is undoubtedly cool. Everyone enjoys looking at rockets and astronaut gear and other space related stuff. What you might not know, is that Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, the National Air and Space Museum’s companion museum, is also just as cool (possibly even cooler if you really like planes). Located all the way out in Chantilly, Virginia, the Udvar-Hazy Center’s hangers are filled with thousands of incredible aviation antiques. Like the Enola Gay, which dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. The Center also houses newer planes, like the super stealthy Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird and the space shuttle Discovery. You can even watch restorations take place while you’re there. If you are at all interested in the history of aviation, or you just want to see Discovery, then it is definitely worth the road trip (I believe there is also a Five Guys near the museum, so make a day of it!).
- Congressional / Glenwood / St. Mary’s / Holy Rood / Rock Creek / Oak Hill / Mount Olivet Cemetery
Almost everyone has probably been to the Arlington Cemetery (if you haven’t you should definitely go, it is astoundingly sad), but DC proper has it’s own beautiful cemeteries that are worth exploring. The Congressional Cemetery is the most well known and is filled with famous politicians including J. Edgar Hoover, Stephen Pleasonton, and our very own Marion Barry. It’s absolutely steeped in history, but so are some of our other gorgeous cemeteries. the Glenwood Cemetery is full of touching statues, including a small girl in a rocking chair and a man with his Irish Setter. It is also the resting place of notable DC figures, including Amos Kendall, who founded Gallaudet University, Emmanual Leutze, who painted “Washington Crossing the Delaware”, and Everett Cooper, the first black president of the Policemen’s Association in D.C. Our city is full of cemetery’s, and if you’re a weirdo with an appreciation for that sort of thing (like me), then get out there and start exploring. Just remember to be respectful.
- Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
Everyone and their mother has visited the National Cathedral (which is spectacular, don’t get me wrong), but have you ever explored the Basilica and its grounds? Situated right next to the Catholic University of America, the Basilica is kind of breathtaking. Its Romanesque-Byzantine style architecture is impressive by itself, but it’s also the largest Roman Catholic church in North America and one of the ten largest churches in the entire world. That’s crazy. It also holds the largest collection of contemporary ecclesiastical art. It’s filled with intricate mosaics and complex stone sculptures. If you visit, definitely make sure you make your way down to the Crypt. It’s insanely beautiful.
- Baseball Season
Everyone loves going to baseball games. Even if you hate both the teams playing (or you hate sports in general), baseball games are fantastic excuses to get day drunk and eat all of the most horrible food you can find. Nationals Park is specifically awesome place to go see a game (although, maybe not as awesome as Camden Yards) because of the amazing food and booze options. There are DC classics like Ben’s Chili Bowl, fancier options like G Sandwich Shop by Mike Isabella, and everything in between (like Shake Shack). If booze is on the mind (and you’re at a baseball game, so it should be), there is Base Line Brews, Red Loft Bar, District Drafts and so much more. No matter what, you’re gonna have a good time. You just might not remember that good time.
- Outdoor Films
A computer full of movies and TV shows can make it difficult to leave your bed no matter how lovely it is outside. We’ve all been guilty of ignoring our friends (or the sunlight)for some more time with a horrible horror movie (or at least, I have), but with these awesome outdoor movie festivals, it’s easy to enjoy mindless entertainment while simultaneously enjoying the outdoors. You can check out last years Outdoor movie guide, for a little more information, but we highly recommend Screen on the Green (duh), Capitol Riverfront Outdoor Movies, and the Golden Cinema Series, but to be honest, they’re all pretty awesome.
- Outdoor Drinking
Spring is the perfect time to drink outdoors. It’s not too hot and it’s not too cold (although, we are down to drink no matter what the weather). Thankfully, there are a plethora of excellent outdoor drinking options in the District. From rooftops with scenic views like Ambar, Perry’s, and El Rey, to casual beer gardens like Dacha and Biergarten Haus. There’s enough fun (and by fun we mean booze) for everyone. You can use last years Outdoor Drinking Guide to lead you on the right path for now, but we will be updating it in April, so get excited.
- EU Openhouse
On May 9th the European Union Embassies are opening their doors for what basically becomes a really spread out block party. There’s music, food, and most importantly, tons of culture. Not to mention an exclusive sneak peak into a bunch of different embassies. It’s basically the cheapest European vacation you’ll ever take.
- 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.)