New Yorkers should feel right at home in D.C. for numerous reasons ranging from culture to points of interest to fine dining. You don’t need a car because Washington’s subway, the Metro, can get you to almost anywhere.
And you’ll want to go everywhere. There are unlimited sights to see, and many of the most popular attractions in Washington do not charge admission. The National Zoo, located in the city’s tony Adams Morgan neighborhood, attracts millions of visitors each year with its primate and big cats exhibits, and of course, the big draw: great pandas from China. The zoo is quite hilly so be prepared for strenuous exercise if you want to see everything.
One can spend weeks visiting all of the Smithsonian museums. My suggestion is to see the Museum of American History and the Natural History Museum first. The former places a lot of emphasis on pop culture. Among the displays are the ruby red slippers that Judy Garland wore in “The Wizard of Oz,” Fonzie’s leather jacket from “Happy Days,” and the chairs that Archie and Edith Bunker had in their fictional Rego Park living room in the classic ’70s TV comedy, “All In The Family.” The Natural History Museum, which just got a lot of play due to the recent release of the Ben Stiller film, “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian,” features numerous artifacts and fossils.
D.C. also offers some novel and intriguing private museums. The National Museum of Crime and Punishment chronicles the history of organized crime in the United States, with particular emphasis on such 1930s gangsters as Al Capone, John Dillinger, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, as well as nefarious serial killers like Charles Manson, John Wayne Gacy, Albert “The Boston Strangler” De Salvio and Ted Bundy.
Of particular interest to Queens residents are an exhibit on the late Howard Beach “Dapper Don,” John Gotti, and a 1992 letter from David “Son of Sam” Berkowitz to an old friend in which he reminisces about the fun nights they spent in taverns on Queens Boulevard. Fox Television’s popular “America’s Most Wanted” has its studio at the museum.
A block away from the Crime and Punishment Museum is the International Spy Museum, which looks at espionage from the time of Benedict Arnold through today. The museum has plentiful information about Allied spies behind the Axis lines in World War II and the CIA-KGB battles of the Cold War. It spares details about such American traitors as Aldrich Ames, Robert Hanssen and John Walker Lindh. On a lighter note, there’s a lot of pop culture too, including props from James Bond movies and TV shows like “Get Smart,” “The Man From UNCLE” and “The Avengers.”
As a journalist, I have to admit I’m partial to the Newseum, the first museum dedicated to the history of news reporting, from the early days of the Gutenberg printing press right up to the Internet. The current front pages of hundreds of daily newspapers are on display, as well as those capturing historic moments such as V-E Day, the JFK assassination, and Sept. 11. One wing is dedicated to photojournalism.
On the Newseum’s second floor, visitors are apprised that community newspapers are thriving while their daily counterparts are in financial trouble. It would be nice if there were a whole exhibit dedicated to community weeklies instead of just a pat on the back.
Arguably the most somber yet moving museum in the world is the National Holocaust Museum, which of course examines the hate-filled world of the Nazi empire that cost millions of Jews, gypsies, homosexuals and people who dared to stand up to the regime their lives. The June 10 murder of museum security guard Stephen Johns by an 88-year-old Nazi sympathizer is a reminder that hate is sadly very much alive, and of why the museum is an important one to visit.
Seeing the sights can make you hungry, and there’s no shortage of terrific dining experiences in D.C. For those on a budget, Nando’s Peri-Peri Restaurant has very tasty flame-grilled chicken and has quickly become a favorite of the business lunch crowd. If you want to see more of the capital while you dine, taking a three-hour Odyssey dinner cruise is one great way to spend an evening. You get to enjoy both a four-course meal and a trip on the scenic Potomac that flows from Georgetown to Alexandria, Va. Finally, the Juniper Restaurant at the Fairmont Hotel is renowned for its Sunday brunch as well as for its local seafood dishes such as Maryland crab cake.
The Fairmont Hotel is also a great place to stay. Located away from the downtown hustle and bustle in the beautiful West End district, home to lovely brownstones and several parks, the Fairmont is a just short walk from historic and hip Georgetown. The hotel also features a beautiful outdoor courtyard that has been used for many a wedding.
Washington is easy to get to via Amtrak — I recommend the Acela Express, which is quite cheap on weekends. There are also several bus carriers, such as Bolt, Megabus and DC Trails, which compete so fiercely that fares are frequently just $25 each way. For those in a hurry, both Delta and US Airways have hourly service from LaGuardia Airport, while JetBlue flies from Kennedy International Airport to Dulles Airport throughout the day.
For more information, go to destinationdc.com or call the Washington Visitors Bureau at (202) 789-7000.