I am pleased to present a new Solo Travel Destination Post on Washington, DC. These posts are generally contributed by members of the Solo Travel Society on Facebook, but occasionally Janice and I write about destinations we have recently visited. Do you have a solo travel destination that you would like to recommend? Submit your description here, along with a few photos, and share it with fellow travelers!
Solo travel rating: 1 (1 is easiest, 3 is most difficult. Please see chart below)
Languages spoken: English
Reasons to Visit Washington, DC
I had been to DC before, but this trip was different. Where previous trips had been full of more typically touristy pursuits–a moonlight tour of the monuments (still among my favorite city tours of all time), a bus tour of the city–this trip involved experiencing things more like a local.
Although I didn't actually plan it this way, I spent two days completely indulging in my favorite things: food, drink, and art. And although the state of the Canadian dollar was absolutely working against me, I managed to do this trip fairly inexpensively. First, I stayed outside of the downtown area. The Springhill Suites Hotel in Alexandria is reasonably priced, has free parking, and is close to the Metro (the hotel provides a complimentary shuttle to the station). The rooms were perfect for me, as they have separate spaces for sleeping, relaxing on a sectional sofa, or working at a well-designed desk, as well as strong, free Wi-Fi. Free breakfast was included in the price of the room.
I wandered through the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden. In the center, there is a large skating rink. You can rent skates here and get some exercise or show off your best moves. There seemed to be a mixture of both tourists and locals taking advantage of the crisp air and sunshine the day that I visited. Twelve dollars gets you two hours admission, a locker to keep your belongings safe, and an additional $6 will get you a pair of skates to use. I was more interested in the art on this day but either way, you can warm up afterwards with a cappuccino at the Pavilion Cafe.
I experienced some amazing–and amazingly diverse–art exhibits in Washington. Down an alley off Barracks Row in the Eastern Market neighborhood was The Fridge, a combination of classroom, event venue, performance space, and art gallery focusing largely on street art. On this day, I took in “Sew Rad,” an exhibit by local artist, DECOY, made up of a series of quilts that had meaning well beyond their traditional purpose. At the Renwick Gallery, part of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, my timing could not have been better. Re-opening after two years of renovation, the gallery was hosting a show called “Wonder.” Would it be cheesy to say that it was wonderful? I can't help it – it was! Room after room showcased a different installation on that theme, along with a quote about the character of wonder. It reminded me of Janice's advice to Travel with the Wit of an Adult and the Wonder of a Child, and to allow yourself to experience things with that sense of wonder you had as a child. And I did exactly that.
Then, for something completely different, I went to see IMPLICIT BIAS: Seeing the Other: Seeing Our Self at the Joan Hisaoka Healing Arts Gallery at Smith Center. I spent about two hours in this one room, first absorbing the messages in the art, then sitting down at a computer to complete a test that is designed to uncover our unconscious biases. It was incredibly challenging, and provided (is still providing, in fact) much food for thought.
And speaking of food, there is no shortage of great places to eat in Washington. I can recommend lunch at Old Engine 12, a restaurant housed in an 1897 firehouse. Go ahead and order the smoked cheddar mac ‘n cheese, just do what I did: order a side of the grilled brussels sprouts. The virtuosity of the green vegetable negates the effect of the cheesy pasta. For a nice break between art exhibits, stop into Founding Farmers, a restaurant owned by the members of the North Dakota Farmers Union, and supplied by local family farms. It was named by Open Table, the restaurant reservation service, as one of the top restaurants in the country for solo diners, based on the number of people who book tables for one. I can't honestly say that I was treated any differently there than anywhere else, but I can tell you that the farm bread with brie, apples, honey, and onion jam is absolutely delicious.
As for drinks, I tried out two different spots: Jack Rose Dining Saloon and Cork Wine Bar. Jack Rose is famous for having the largest selection of whisky in the western hemisphere. Like a library or bookstore, they have a sliding ladder that staff climb up and down to retrieve bottles. You don't have to know anything about spirits to enjoy this place–the staff will help you select something according to your taste, and tell you everything you ever wanted to know. It's an education! I purposely arrived early for my reservation at Cork in order to have time to check out their store down the street, which boasts a wide array of wines, cheeses, meats, and condiments. If not for having to get through customs on the way home, some of those gorgeous items would have come with me. As a solo diner (er, drinker) Cork Wine Bar was great. My server was fun and attentive, made great suggestions, and we had an interesting chat about, of course, wine.
Washingtonians are a lucky bunch. Although my food and drink budget was a bit steep because of the exchange rate, I didn't pay a cent for anything else that I did in DC, other than my Uber rides. All of the 19 incredible museums and galleries of the Smithsonian Institution are free! It also doesn't hurt that you often feel like you're on the set of a political drama, as convoys of vehicles with security often drive by, or you notice big men standing outside the coffee shop wearing earpieces and scanning the crowd. I'm already looking forward to another solo weekend of soaking up art and wine in Washington, DC.
Solo Travel Destination Rating System
Safety – 2 (1 very safe, 2 safe in most areas, 3 be cautious at all times.)
Language – 1 (1 English is first language, 2 English speakers easy to find, 3 English speakers rare)
Navigation – 1 (1 easy to navigate by transit or car, 2 poor transit, car necessary, 3 not easy to get around)
Culture – 1 (1 Similar to North America or Western Europe, 2 Different from above but relaxed and easy, 3 Challenging)
Average Rating – 1 (1 is easiest, 3 is most difficult)