Back in February, I wrote about 10 fun ways to experience DC, with ideas to help you see the city from a different perspective. The nation's capital offers so many opportunities to explore food, art and culture throughout the city, not to mention all the free Smithsonian museums and historic monuments. Even though I’ve spent a lot of time in DC over the years, I’m always excited when I discover a new place to see or activity that I haven’t tried yet. Several weeks ago, my daughter and I went on a food and street art adventure, visiting a few neighborhoods that we previously hadn't spent much time in. Here’s what we discovered, along with a few unique tour ideas for the next time you are visiting DC.
1. Check out a Local Food Market. I’ve been downtown so many times, yet had never heard much about Union Market. I was surprised to learn that the market has quite a story. Historians date the market back to 1871, when Centre Market was opened to the public. Originally centrally located between the White House and the Capitol Building, in 1931, the building was torn down so that the National Archives could be built. Union Terminal Market took its place, but once again in 1962, the market was closed, due to the city ban on the sale of eggs and meat outdoors. The year 1967 brought a new indoor market, and that same building has evolved into the present day Union Market.
We visited Union Market on a recent Sunday, and as expected, it was packed! Outside were picnic style tables, along with two ping pong tables, and people of all ages. Inside, we found over 30 food vendors, so we had to wander around a bit before we decided what to try. I tried to follow my own advice of eating from the place with the longest line (in this case, TaKorean - known for Asian style tacos), but the line was just a bit too long and the market had so many other delicious choices. My daughter and I enjoyed Shrimp ‘N Grits with an amazing tomato butter sauce at Puddin’, deep fried tequenos at Arepa Zone (think Venezuelan fried cheese sticks) and washed everything down with a healthy smoothie from South Block. Expect crowds on the weekend, with popular food items at some vendors sold out by late morning.
2. Search for Street Art. If you wander around DC off the National Mall, you’ll probably be surprised at all the street art. Some of it stems from the formation of MuralsDC in 2007, which was created to help revitalize communities by replacing graffiti and encouraging community engagement. To date, they count 65 murals in 44 neighborhoods scattered throughout DC.
There has been a lot of local publicity recently about the new mural that was unveiled outside of the iconic Ben’s Chili Bowl, so my daughter and I decided to go check it out. Known as The Torch, the new mural highlights a number of DC legends, like Barack & Michelle Obama, and recently deceased popular local newscaster Jim Vance, along with cultural icons & sports figures like Prince and Muhammad Ali. The mural was done by artist Aniekan Udofia with Mia Duvalia, and in a short time has become quite the hotspot for photographers. Unfortunately for us, we were just too stuffed from Union Market to try the food at Ben's Chili Bowl, so we’ll save that for another time.
Another nearby mural worth seeing is the Living Timeline: Paul Robeson, which captures the life of this world famous civil rights activist, singer and actor. If you don’t have a car, you can take the Metro to U Street and you’ll find quite a bit of art in a 3 or 4 block radius around Ben’s Chili Bowl. Check out the MuralsDC website, where you can learn more about the artists involved and use the mural locator to find some amazing creations.
3. Take a Unique Guided Tour. Did you know Georgetown has a haunted past? Do you want to learn more about the night Abraham Lincoln was assassinated? Taking a guided tour is one way to get the inside story and this fall I plan to try some of the unique offerings by Free Tours by Foot, like the Eastern Market History & Pastries Tour or the Ghosts of Georgetown Tour. The walking tours are name your own price, which can be a great cost-saver for families. There are a few exceptions, like the Ghosts of Georgetown, considered a specialty tour, but I think the $20 fee seems low compared to most other guided tours I’ve been on. Advanced reservations are required, and you can find the complete schedule on-line. I’m looking forward to taking the Ghost of Georgetown Tour sometime soon. Free Tours by Foot offers tours in select cities nationwide.
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