Friday Question of the Day – What’s Your Favorite “off-the-beaten-path” Activity in DC? (Reader Request)

Photo of ‘the stingrays and fish in the Amazonia House’ by PoPville flickr user Lauren PM

“Dear PoP,

What are some different, off-the-beaten-path, or other things to do in DC other than the usual monuments or museums? list can include free, paid, tours, restaurants, delis, wineries in the area, etc.”

Wow that’s a general question! But I like it. I like it because one person’s “off the beaten path” activity my be obvious to some but not to all. So I hope this will be a good repository for the fun not so obvious things to do around town. So the picture I chose above may seem obvious to some – the National Zoo is not exactly off the beaten path but I know tons of people who’ve never visited the Amazonia House – which is my favorite part of the zoo. Back in July ’09 we also had a general discussion of fun things to do – but I’d say we’re do for a refresh.

So for the Friday Question of the Day – let’s say – what are your top three not so obvious favorite things to do/eat/see in DC?

I’ll say Franciscan Monastery in Brookland, Capital City Market in Near Northeast and Deli City Restaurant is located at 2200 Bladensburg Road NE.

What are your top 3 favorite “off the beaten path” activities in the DC area?

124 Comment

  • The Arboretum in Northeast.

    • Anyone know a good way to bike there from the Northwest or Northeast Branch trail? I’m pretty sure it’s just a couple of miles from one of those trails but I haven’t tried to find it yet.

      • As far as I know, there is no direct bike trail access. you will have to navigate down onto Bladensburg road at some point if you’re coming from north or the south or Montana if you’re coming off the branch trail.

        • Bladensburg Road is very close to the trail. I’m just wondering which way on Bladensburg to go when I get off the trail, and how far to go. I should look at a map.

      • I just biked there from the NW last weekend, and found a really nice route. I’d recommend going south on the MBT to north on West Virginia. Turned on 17th then to Montana. It was a MUCH nicer ride than bladensburg or NY Ave

        • I don’t live in the city, but I do live a half mile from a trail that connects to the Northeast Branch and Anacostia trails. Looks like I can easily get to Bladensburg Road from the Anacostia Trail and follow that to the Arboretum.

        • A little confused about this route – how did you connect from the MBT to West Virginia? Via Florida?

      • Right now there is not a direct link from a bike trail to the Arboretum. As mentioned in this thread coming down Montana and Bladensburg Roads are a good alternative to New York Ave. I would definitely recommended using the R Street Gate (2400 R St. NE) rather than the NY Ave gate on a bike.

        Friends of the National Arboretum is currently working to have a bridge built from the Kenilworth’s River Trail.

  • Lazy evening sunset on the Miss Ann (hope she comes back to DC from drydock inspection someday soon).

  • Cedar Hill, Frederick Douglass’ house in Historic Anacostia.

    Kennilworth Aquatic Gardens, near the Deanwood Metro, especially when the lilies are in bloom.

    Fort Stevens and Battlground National Cemetary in Brightwood.

    • when are the lilies in bloom?

    • ditto on Kennilworth, but I like the lotus blossoms.

      On your way there, stop at Miss Charlotte’s Crab Cakes, which are incredibly yummy, on Minnesota Ave. So are the collard greens. Though I now see that it’s closed. bummer.

  • Kenilworth aquatic gardens

    • saf

      OK, limiting it to three makes this tough. Some of mine are listed above already though.

      I like cemeteries – Congressional, Rock Creek, Oak Hill, Holy Rood, Mount Olivet… there are a lot more

      I like movies, which makes staying in the city tough, but the Avalon is great, and the Silver isn’t THAT far out.

      Albert Einstein is the best place to take tourists, followed closely by the FDR memorial. And the Building Museum.

      • +1 for the Avalon. THE BEST theater in DC. Beating the uptown because you can drink beer and wine during the movies. Also because it is a nonprofit theater you dont have to sit through all the god aweful commercials and army recruitment ads they have at other theaters. The only problem with The Avalon is they dont always get the best movies but they did have True Grit. Also right down the street from it is Potomac Video. The best video store in DC. For those of you who still enjoy browsing 1000’s of cult and old school horror movies.

      • +1 for the Silver Theater. Best theater in the region.

  • Kenilworth aquatic gardens when the lotuses are blooming definitely agree!

  • SW Waterfront Fish Market…only popular with locals, and something my visitors are always impressed by.

    • I entirely agree! We often stop at the Fish Market after a day of touring the city to buy a few dozen crabs. We love spending the evening sitting on the deck with our out-of-town visitors drinking beer and picking crabs.

  • Dragon boating on the Anacostia, listening to the drummers in Meridian Hill Park, looking at Game Fish at the Renwick.

    • dragon boating?

      • Outside of personal favorites already mentioned (Franciscan Monastery, National Arboretum, Drum Circle at Meridian Hill Park, Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens), I’d add:

        Horseback riding in Rock Creek Park, walking the labyrinth at the National Cathedral (last Tues of every month)and DC Roller girls events at the DC armory.

      • It’s a paddling sport of Chinese descent and a great way to see great blue herons, cormorants, turtles, and the occasional bald eagle all on and around the river. Check out:

  • national harbor
    sequoia in georgetown

  • Crushing darts in SPCY
    Dominating Gtown Scene
    Crushing Excel spreadsheets

  • The Renwick Gallery aka the Smithsonian Folk Art Museum. It’s on the well beaten path of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue but almost everyone, tourists and locals, overlook this fantastic gallery. Two words, Ghost Clock.

  • Outside the French Ambassador’s residence and all surrounding nearby streets make for a great stroll.


    Goodies Deli and Psycho Park.

  • Hiking Roosevelt Island.
    Cycling to Mt. Vernon, but stopping in the park right before it and watching the glistening water on the Potomac.
    Billy Goat Trail.
    Drum circle a meridian (or at leas the fountains on a sunny day)
    Rock Creek Park/Beach Drive.

  • andy

    My three favorites: Rocklands, Rock Creek Cemetery, and the Franciscan Monastery.

    But, to add to the great list of places to visit suggested above, three other great ideas I have not yet tried myself:

    1. Fort McNair/Twilight Tattoo (how else do you get into this place?)

    2. Lincoln’s Cottage (how else do you get into the Armed Forces Retirement Home?)

    3. Carter Barron for any event.

  • playing dodgebullet on 4th and R. new games every nice. winner gets crack

  • -the exorcist stairs in georgetown
    -flip-it bakery theres one in nw (Georgia ave in petworth) and one in ne (on bladensburg)
    -wasabi sushi 1 block from the faragutt north metro) it’s a katon style sushi bar where the food is on a convaer belt and rotates through and you pick your plates based on price designated by color theres also a menu just in case you want something else

    • binntp

      I second the Flip It bakery. I love going there on a weekend afternoon and enjoying a nice slice of cake.

      Dumbarton Oaks is a fave of mine, too–both the museum and the grounds.

  • the maine ave fish market aka the wharf in sw

  • Baltimore

    • -1000

      Seriously, ugh, I hate Baltimore–the armpit of the Northeast. While you are at it, why not take people to Wilmington DE for another depressing, dangerous town.

      • parts of Baltimore are actually kind of awesome. don’t be such a downer.

      • Spoken like someone who has never really been to Baltimore. So many great things to do, great restaurants. The JFX farmers market, blue moon for pancakes, walk around Hampton. It’s great for a weekend out of uptight DC.

        • Also, Fells Point, Lexington Market, 8X10 Club, Artscape, Visionary Art Museum, Fort McHenry.

        • It’s Hampden. Hampton is a ways south of here.

          This native Baltimoron will add:

          – Canton (almost unrecognizable from 20 years ago, but a fun place to stroll around)
          – Federal Hill antique shops and the market, lots of great restaurants
          – Fort McHenry
          – Walters Art Gallery (worth the drive all by itself)
          – Gunpowder state park just north of the city

          The list goes on. If all you’ve ever seen of Baltimore is the touristy Inner Harbor and the surrounding downtown business district, then yeah, I guess it sucks. If my only impression of DC was walking down K St from 22nd to 10th I would think it sucked, too.

      • baltimore is awesome. the kinetic sculpture race is this weekend. nothing that interesting or creative takes place in dc (without it turning into a major ‘scene’) and they have huge city-wide events like that multiple times a year.

      • Baltimore is a great place to visit — living there may be another story, but I’m not qualified to address that. Everything that everybody said in its defense. Plus, being a fan of neither team, I nonetheless would much rather go to a Ravens game than a Redskins game (downtown of a big city vs. Landover … pretty easy call in my book).

    • Heck yeah–Baltimore is a great place to spend a day. Culcha, dining, history–all completely walkable. Obviously some of you haven’t been in years.

  • Acoustic blues jam Saturday afternoons at the “barberhop.” (used to be in NE DC, now it’s in Riverdale)

    Concerts at Carter Barron (although I have to admit I’m usually only there once a year, during Labor Day weekend.)

  • Following the cops around my neighborhood when they bust someone. Who wants to wait for “Cops” on Saturday night when it’s commercial free right in your own back yard! I use the police scanner iphone app for the full commentary.
    Its great when there are four or five of us gathered. The arrestee must feel famous.

  • Kayaking in Anacostia (Bladensburg Park)
    Tidal Basin
    the old Observatory at the Vice President’s home

  • I don’t know why my previous post was deleted, but I’ll try again. Acoustic blues jams Saturdays at the Archie Edwards Blues Heritage Foundation “barbershop.” Maybe we’re not allowed to post urls here, so check out acousticblues dot com.

  • The site of the capitol ruins in Rock Creek Park down the path from the horse stables near the Nature Center off Military Rd.

    The heavy sandstone and marble pieces that originate from the rebuilding of the Capitol after the war of 1812 are protected from being stolen by virtue of being in the middle of the park.

    • I know that the ruins are near the nature center, but how exactly does one find them? Interested in checking it out.

      • From the horse stables, the path to the ruins runs mostly south and slightly east. Chances are good that you may find someone around the stables to give you guidance.

      • They are behind the Maintenance Yard. From the M.Yard parking lot you can walk along the fence line on the west side of the yard. At the end of the fence turn left; It’s like Community Forklift in the woods

  • Cantina Marina

    • +100
      So far I’m 0-2. My first though was National Arboretum, and second was Cantina Marina

  • Historic Congressional Cemetery in SE

  • bureau of engraving and printing tour

  • I love going to the silent drill platoon at 8th and I (and not just because I’m married to a Marine). It’s absolutely amazing to see them perform and in DC, they do it every Friday in season. Go on the Friday of Memorial Day for a performance with more meaning, but any time you go, it’s great.

    • How do you get tickets?

      • You can also call an office on the Hill for them – they have a few in the USMC offices there. AND you can just wait for them to fill the seats and they backfill with those waiting – which is a perfect thing to do if you are in the neighborhood and don’t mind waiting. Then you don’t have to sit on the benches for that time!

        The performance at Iwo is great, but the history at the Barracks makes the 8th and I performance more special – the Commandant’s house is gorgeous when they light it up at night.

    • They also do it Tuesday evenings during summer at the Iwo Jima memorial (just across the Roosevelt bridge in Arlington)

  • anonymouse_dianne

    The gargoyle tour at the National Cathedral. Can you find Darth Vader?

    The boating party at the Phillips followed by treats at Teaism. All day brunch at Teaism at Gallery Place.

    Dunbarton Oaks in Georgetown.

  • Brookside Gardens in Wheaton!! SO beautiful & Free!!

    • Seconding Brookside Gardens and also Dumbarton Oaks – both beautiful places!

      Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens is great when the water lilies are blooming, but also when the irises are (right now!).

  • -Kayaking, BBQing, and hiking around Fletcher’s Cove (bonus points for the creepy tunnel you have to drive through the access the potomac side):

    -Bishop’s Garden at National Cathedral (they’re having their annual Flower Mart this weekend! (

    -Grotto at the Summerhouse on the Capital grounds:

  • Brown’s Caribbean Bakery Ga Ave.
    My kids love the Postal Museum (Union station)

  • I love:
    -Roosevelt Island, especially in the early morning watching the kayak races
    -Fishmarket in SW
    -Frugalista shopping then eating pupusas or peruvian chicken in mt. pleasant

  • Biking along the north branch of the Anacostia, including a lake, and the dueling grounds.

    Shopping trip to the basement of Rodman’s grocery store on Wisconsin.

    Cultural events at The ARC in Congress Heights. Small theater with great seats, great shows at good prices, enthusiastic audiences.

  • pablo .raw

    Definitively the Drum Circle at Meridian Hill/Malcom X park; and I have a feeling that Kenilworth aquatic gardens is going to become a favorite place this summer…

  • Early morning Bluebucks pancakes at Eastern Market lunch counter, then strolling through the neighborhood (sometimes they have free guided tours). Eden Center. Bangkok 54 for some very good Thai Food. Fort Dupont Ice Rink

  • Roosevelt Island is a treasure and they’re building a new monument worthy of the man (Teddy)

    Lincoln Cottage is a reminder of old Washington in the midst of new.

    Fredrick Douglass home in SE has the most breathtaking view of the city.

    I used to love to take visitors to the top of the unassuming Hotel Washington to have a relaxing drink and watch the sunset. I haven’t been to the new W, but I suspect it doesn’t have the same charm.

    • The update is quite nice – no more of that translucent plastic obfuscating the view – and the look is generally cleaner. However, it’s now very VIP-ish in its feel. You know the drill: ropes to the elevator, guys in suits and earpieces directing people, etc, and you’ll be hard pressed to get a spot to sit (all reserved for bottle service or parties) once it gets to be cocktail or happy hour. But, still recommended if you want a nice view of the mall and downtown.

      • For a place with a great view that’s more low-key, the rotating sky bar at the DoubleTree Hotel is a nice place to grab drinks and enjoy the view, especially with out-of-town guests. Unfortunately it’s in Crystal City, but its location keeps it from being swamped with people.

    • The W has turned it into a South Beach style lounge. It’s not the same at all, but the food and service are much better. Good place for a girl’s night out or a birthday round of drinks. No longer a good place to ‘drop by’ without a reservation, and you end up at Old Emmitt.

  • Most of mine has already been said, but I’ll add President Lincoln’s Summer Cottage to the mix. (Not totally off-the-beaten-path for those of you who live nearby, but also not something every tourist runs to.)

  • Films (free!) at the Freer Gallery and at the National Gallery.

  • Skeet/trap shooting . . . there are a couple of parks nearby in MD that will give you a safety intro, and rent you everything you need for pretty cheap. Pull.

    • There are also a couple of indoor gun ranges in the area. The ones I’ve been to are in Odenton and Upper Marlboro. I think there might be one in Rockville.

    • I don’t want to get political, but the NRA range (35 minute drive from DC) is great, safe, and cheap.

      • yes, the NRA Range is good. it is in Fairfax. I am not sure if they require a membership though.

        “On Target” in Odenton MD is very good as well.

        MSAR in upper marlboro is not as freindly, especially on the weekends – don’t go there unless you know what you are doing.

        the one in rockville is unreasonably expensive.

        • Yes, the Rockville range is crazy overpriced. Blue Ridge Arsenal in Chantilly [not too far from Dulles] is a great range for beginners. Friendly & non-intimidating staff, good first-timer classes and you can rent a wide range of target or semi-auto pistols for use at their indoor range:

          The NRA range is definitely the nicest in the area, so if you have a friend to give you the basics & bring the hardware its the best spot, but you need to go with someone who knows their sh|t.

  • The Kreeger Museum in the Palisades, the city’s most overlooked art museum and it’s in a house designed by Philip Johnson.

  • If you have a car, Sandy Point State Park. If you’re heading that way, drive across the Bay Bridge and check out some places east of the Bay.

    The Chesapeake Bay Wine Festival is next Saturday and Sunday, and it’s right across the bridge.

  • DC Sail’s Wednesday Night Social Sails.

    $10 to go sailing after work starting May 18!

  • I always take visitors to Meridian Hill Park and to see jazz at Bohemian Caverns. And a play at Woolly Mammoth or Studio Theatre if one is playing…

  • 1) The “Fort” Parks- there are hidden but well maintained trails all over DC in practically every neighborhood that suggest you are in the middle of the country, not the city. (Beyond just Rock Creek, of course). No other city has this.

    2) Hillwood, Dumbarton Oaks, and Tudor House

    3) Fletcher’s boat house off the canal. Rent a canoe or kayak!

    4) Franciscan Monastary

    5) National Arboretum

  • picnic out on hanes point
    watching planes land right over your head at gravely point
    walking ghost tour in old town

  • The Hillwood Museum in upper NW. Worth it for the gardens alone.

    Anacostia Community Museum.

    The Circle Fort Trail. Runs from far NE, near Minnesota Ave metro, all the way down to the Anacostia museum, about 8 miles. Beautiful hike–there are large sections where you’d never know you’re in a major city.

    George Washington Masonic Memorial in Alexandria. Fantastic view of the entire area from the upstairs observation deck, and fun creepy masonic art.

  • Thanks for asking this PoP. I am thoroughly enjoying the ideas today. Here are a few more: Ching Ching Cha on a weekday, Union Station East Hall jewelry counters, the WWI monument.

  • Postal Museum. Surprisingly interesting.

  • So many favorite off the beaten path places in DC! Here are a few…
    1. Botanic Garden on the Mall
    2. View from Old Post Office Tower
    3. C & O Canal trail
    4. Community gardens in DC
    Check out the Peabody garden and the one in Rock Creek Park
    5. Kenilworth as mentioned by others
    6. Brazil exhibit at the National Zoo
    7. Drum circle at Malcolm X Park for sure
    8. U St. fleamarket
    9. Takoma Park farmers market
    10. Of course Eastern market (but not so off the beaten path)

  • Since most people have mentioned places, here are a few activity ideas (I don’t know if they qualify as off the beaten path, but they’re not the run-of-the-mill touristy stuff either).
    Embassy open houses every spring
    Free neighborhood walking Tours (spring and fall)
    Film festivals at the AFI in silver spring (silverdocs, Latin american film festival)
    Cheese classes at the Cheesetique (technically in VA and not DC, but worth the trip)
    Fete de la Musique at the French embassy (June)
    Phillips after 5

  • The hillside behind Howard law school (it has an official name — good sledding in winter)

    Gingerbread Victorian houses in Cleveland Park and Takoma park.

    Historic Greenbelt

  • Hard to choose top 3, but I’d have to say Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, brunch at the National Gallery of Art, and SpaWorld!

  • When does the drum circle in meridian hill/malcolm x park start up again? Or has it already started for this spring?

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