Washington DC –the fascinating city we call our capital– can be seen from a number of perspectives. It’s the seat of our government and the official residence of the president of the United States. It’s home to the U.S. Capitol, the Supreme Court, the National Archives, the Smithsonian Institute, and a great number of prestigious museums. It’s the place where our nation’s greatest presidents are honored and the soldiers who fought our wars are remembered. This extraordinary city is also where hundreds of thousand of people live their ordinary lives, and millions of visitors come every year to see the most iconic sites of our country. Last week I’ve spent three perfect days in Washington DC.
After a six hour flight from Los Angeles and a 40-minute ride from Dullas International airport, we drop our bags at Harborside Hotel, in National Harbor. This recently renovated property has an ideal location for many of the attractions in the area: just steps away from the MGM National Harbor, Tanger Outlets and Old Town Alexandria.
By the time we settle, it’s already 5 o’clock. Time for dinner and some evening fun in Washington, DC. A short 15-minute ride in our rented Hyundai takes us to downtown, where we park at the Lincoln Square garage.
Dinner at Central Michel Richard, on Pennsylvania Avenue, is the perfect place to start our evening. This modern French bistro opened by the late chef Michel Richard is the recipient of some prestigious honors and awards. For the past three years, Central has been under the command of David Deshaies, a young executive chef who spent the last 16 years cooking with his legendary mentor.
Bread at Central is fantastic. Not the bread that tastes warmed over, but crusty and near-weightless, almost good enough for a meal in itself. The French onion soup is as it should be – a rich meaty broth with gooey cheese – delicious. The Duck Leg Confit with Chestnut “Risotto” lives up to the hype too: crispy, crunchy and juicy, yet not greasy.
From here, it’s only a block up the street to Ford’s Theater, where we step back in time to watch Arthur Miller’s play “Death of a Salesman.” The historic theater will always be remembered as the site where President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. Draped with the American Flag, the presidential box lies empty – a somber reminder of that sad day in April, 1865. The exhibitions downstairs go into the assassination plot and the hunt for the conspirators afterwards. There is also a lot of information about Lincoln’s life and presidency. Draped with the American flag, the presidential box lies empty – a somber reminder of that sad day in April, 1865.
Draped with the American flag, the presidential box lies empty – a somber reminder of that sad day in April, 1865.
I wake up to the smell of freshly brewed coffee. It seems my husband has already figured out the espresso machine in our room. Mmmm… it’s Illy coffee! We decide to spend the morning visiting the National Harbor, since it’s only minutes away from our hotel.
The land on which the National Harbor was developed was previously Salubria Plantation, built in 1827 by Dr. John H. Bayne. When the plantation house burned down in 1981, the land was offered for sale and purchased by the Peterson Companies who began developing the National Harbor project in the late 1990s.
This scenic 300 acres waterfront development along the Potomac River holds dozens of shops, eateries and hotels and a lot of water-focused entertainment. There is a soar 180 feet Ferris wheel, gondola cars that take people around, kayaks and standup paddle boards for rent, and even a water-taxi service on the Potomac to Georgetown and Alexandria, Virginia. The landscaping, layout and lighting are beautiful, with many styles of public art.
Lunch is at Fiorella Italian Kitchen, an upmarket pie-and-pasta-slinger with a bright, farmhouse-style interior. We choose some homemade sausage with Burrata Mozzarella, roasted peppers and onion. They are delicious!
In the afternoon, we head towards Mount Vernon Estate, the home of the first president of the United States – George Washington. On the way to Mount Vernon, we stop in Alexandria for an hour. Not enough to see the many attractions in Alexandria’s beautiful old town.
We arrive at Mount Vernon pretty late, but at least there are not so many visitors today. We stroll through the beautiful gardens of the old tobacco plantation, making our way to the main house.
The 21-room mansion overlooking the Potomac River seems even more beautiful in the afternoon light. We zigzag alongside colored walls and elegant furnishings as the guide shares insights about Washington’s life and the difficult time he had holding the nation together. Seeing the president’s deathbed is chilling. The issue of slavery isn’t glossed over, although upon his death in 1799 George Washington freed all his 123 slaves.
At Washington’s tomb it’s a somber atmosphere. The brief legend inscribed on a stone tablet over the brick burial vault reads:
‘Within This Enclosure Rest the Remains of Gen. George Washington.’
Behind the heavy iron gate are two marble sarcophagi, one inscribed “Washington,” the other “Martha, Consort of Washington.”
Leaving Mount Vernon behind, we head back to DC for dinner. Georgetown’s river waterfront is home to tons of great restaurants with patio seating, but it’s Sunday night and we can’t find any seats outside. We are being seated at Maxime, a French bistro inspired by the French Revolution – think vintage wooden accents and Marie Antoinette wall art. The Boeuf Bourguignon slow cooked in red wine, herbs and garlic melts in my mouth. “Dessert? How about some caramel Crème Brule?” I’m now so full that I can barely walk. Luckily, the car is parked nearby.
Back in National Harbor, we stop at the waterfront to admire the sunset. At McCormick & Schmick’s people enjoy dinner and drinks outside on the patio. We step in for one more glass of Prosecco. I don’t really need another drink, just a reason to linger around this beautiful area a little longer.
We start our third day in DC the way it seems all Washingtonians begin their days: standing in line for coffee. We are at Paul’s, on Pennsylvania Avenue, a family owned French bakery that has been in business for more than 100 years. The glass counter to my left tempts me with a mouthwatering display of pastries, varying from croissants, Danishes, fruit tarts and sandwiches.
The aroma of the freshly baked bread fills up the air of the small seating area decorated with the turn of the century pictures and artifacts. From the corner of my eye I notice the thick-crusted breads piled up like a pyramid on top of the counter. It’s hard to resist not to buy a whole loaf of bread, one of each of the delicious pastries, but I manage to get away with only a tuna sandwich and an apricot tart. My stomach feels too full, so I wash my guilt with a double Espresso.
Fueled up, we leave behind the French bakery passing by the U.S. Navy Memorial. Across the street, right in front of the Archives building, we notice the hop-on-hop-off trolley stop. It’s one of those bright and warm autumn days, just perfect for a city tour, so we hop on the bus and go straight to the upper platform.
The double-decker bus takes us by most of the iconic buildings in the city (Union Station, U.S. Capitol, Air and Space Museum, White House, Ford’s Theatre, the Smithsonian Institute), Washington Monument, Arlington Cemetery and the memorials.
At Lincoln Memorial we get off to take a few pictures. This is one of my favorite memorials in DC. From his chair up on the pedestal, Abraham Lincoln seems to be gazing at the towering obelisk of the Washington Monument across the pool. It’s an awesome sight to behold.
From his chair up on the pedestal, Abraham Lincoln seems to be gazing at the towering obelisk of the Washington Monument across the pool.
Back in downtown area, we skip lunch to attend a noon concert at the Church of the Epiphany. Washington Bach Consort conducted by Matthew Dirst is playing Bach’s Prelude & Fugue and Cantata BWV 100. I’m grateful for the break in our busy day and for the divine music.
It’s a 5-minute cab ride up to the International Spy Museum on 800 F Street NW. The museum is extremely entertaining, taking you through a great array of gadgets and disguises used by spies throughout history. There are intriguing stories of espionage, video “briefings” from former intelligence officers, audio-visual programs and Cold War tales and anecdotes.
Unfortunately we don’t have time to enter the ‘Operation Spy mission,’ but we promise ourselves to return and complete that someday.
Our 3-day weekend is almost gone. We step in and ask for a table at the Old Ebbitt Grill. It seems like the perfect place for an early dinner before heading to the airport. The tavern-style restaurant is Washington’s oldest eatery and displays a priceless collection of antiques and memorabilia. There are antique gas chandeliers in the Main Dining Room and plush leather banquettes and wicker captain’s chairs.
Old Ebbitt’s love affair with society’s most prominent dates back to its founding in 1856, when presidents Ulysses S. Grant, Andrew Johnson, and Theodore Roosevelt supposedly used to frequent the bar. In modern times, Old Ebbitt still remains a popular meeting spot for politicians, journalists and celebrities. Food is always delicious at Old Ebbitt Grill, and a good value for the money.
As the plane takes off, I sit back reflecting on our trip. I think we had three perfect days in Washington DC.