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Presenting Your Survival Guide to DC

23 Apr

cover of -ebook

I’m so excited to announce the So You’re New to DC e-book!

The e-book has updated, expanded and new information, including 27 ways to meet people in DC (with tons of links), transportation essentials, a neighborhoods chart where I asked friends to give their insights, annual events and more.

The e-book is targeted toward people in their twenties and thirties (since that’s the age range that I’ve lived in DC). That’s not to say that people outside of that age range wouldn’t get anything out of the e-book, but I want to be clear that it doesn’t include advice on topics like buying a house (I focus on renting), school districts, etc. I also decided not to include topics that could be easily found elsewhere, like the region’s restaurants. I wanted to focus on things that either wouldn’t be easy to find info on or that you wouldn’t even know you should Google.

It’s been a labor of love, and I hope you like it!

A Quintessential DC Fall

3 Oct

Hosting a pumpkin carving party is a great way to start turning coworkers and acquaintances into friends.

With so many fun DC area events centered around fall, it’s just a shame that there’s only one month to take advantage of them.

Pumpkin Patches
People in DC, especially those with kids, love their pumpkin patches. And what’s not to love? Pumpkins, cider, corn mazes, hay rides, etc.

Cox Farms in Centreville, VA, is the most popular, so be prepared for crowds, especially if you go on a weekend. Also, they say that a pumpkin is included with the cost of admission, but it’ll be one that’s too small to carve, and those that are bigger are generally overpriced, so I suggest buying them elsewhere.

Other festivals include, but are not limited to Butler’s Orchard in Germantown, MD, Sharp’s at Waterford Farm in Howard County, MD, and Burke’s Nursery and Garden Centre in Burke, VA.

Enjoy Fall Colors
Many people head to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to enjoy fall colors. Hiking Old Rag is one of the most popular activities; it takes roughly four and six hours and reveals some gorgeous views. Make note, however, that it can get extremely crowded, so I suggest setting your alarm clock and heading there early. Last fall I had to wait in a line for 45 minutes (that’s not a typo) at the top of the trail to go through a narrow portion. Also, have some cash to pay a nominal parking fee. For those less active-inclined, cruising Skyline Drive is a nice alternative.

A closer and less crowded option is Brookside Botanical Gardens in Wheaton, MD. It’s gorgeous, peaceful and free. And, of course, there’s always the National Arboretum, which is a great place to explore by bike.

Scary Stuff
Nearby amusement parks create a shoulder season by offering Halloween-themed events. Six Flags in Maryland has Fright Fest and King’s Dominion in Virginia promotes its Halloween Haunt.

The National Zoo has its annual Boo at the Zoo, which is a trick-or-treating event. It costs $30 for non-FONZ members.

There’s plenty of haunted houses, hayrides and trails throughout the region. A couple options include Markoff’s Haunted Forest in Poolesville, MD, and Bennett’s Curse in Jessup, MD.

Celebrating Halloween
DC’s Halloween bar hop called Nightmare on M Street is really popular. A true rooky mistake is to go to M Street in Georgetown for this event, as it’s actually in Dupont. And be ready for some serious crowds and long lines at the bars.

Professionals in the City will also be hosting it’s annual Halloween party, Mayhem and Madness, at K Street Lounge.

Shout Out: Brush N Blush

8 Aug

My friend Mike brushing and blushing.

Last week as part of a work “retreat” I went to Blush N Brush in Georgetown. I’d put it in the same category as pottery painting places, except in this instance you select a specific painting and the instructor goes through the steps to recreate the painting. We were a private class, and so we looked at the website ahead of time and picked out what we wanted to do, but if you go to one of their regularly scheduled classes, you can check out their calendar to see which painting is being taught. (Apparently landscapes are most popular, particularly those that look similar to famous paintings, which is good to note because classes do sell out.)

The “blush” part comes in because you are encouraged to drink wine while you paint. In fact, they give you a complimentary wine glass and soon will have wine at the store to purchase. The whole atmosphere is very relaxed, and you’re encouraged to change up the painting however you want (though I tried to copy it as closely as possible).

There are paintings that take 2 hours and others that take 3; we did a 2-hour painting and, I tell ya, the time FLEW by. In fact, I wasn’t able to totally complete my painting, but perhaps I was putting too much emphasis on “blush” and not enough on “brush.” (They do offer a Finishing Touches class the first Saturday of every month for slow pokes like me.) The price for a 2-hour class is $50 and for a 3-hour class it’s $60. You might notice on the calendar that many classes are sold out; I suspect that’s a result of a recent Groupon promotion.

Okay, so mine's not EXACTLY like the original, but I tried.

I personally think Blush N Brush would be the ideal first date—you’d have an activity to focus on that would make periodic silences less awkward, but you would also be able to talk and bond over the experience. It’d also be great to go with friends or even by yourself (which, according to the instructor, isn’t uncommon).

Blush N Brush is located at 3210 Grace Street, really close to the main drag on M Street,  in a building basement. It’s a decent walk from Foggy Bottom Metro or street parking shouldn’t be too bad depending on when you go and if you’re willing to walk a few blocks.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do with my painting. I was hoping I’d be proud enough of it to hang it up in my house, which I’m not, but I also like it too much to throw it away. Perhaps I’ll save it for Christmas and give it to an unsuspecting family member … we’ll see!

The whole ball of wax … and then some

12 Jul

Presidents! Lots of them!

How many boyfriends would spend a Saturday night taking pictures of their girlfriend standing next to life-size wax figures of all 44 presidents? At least one! God bless him.

I geek out on presidents and so when I found out about the new exhibit at Madame Tussauds featuring a figure of every single one, I knew I had to go. I got a Groupon, got busy, and it eventually expired. I called and asked if it could be extended to which the cheery sounding English chap replied, “Absolutely not!” But lucky for me I buy a large cheese pizza for $5.99 every Monday evening for dinner from Jerry’s Subs & Pizza, because it was there that I saw a buy-one-get-one free coupon, and my mission was back on.

Madame Tussauds is at the corner of 10th and F Street in Northwest—just a pleasant skip from Metro Center. It’s open 365 days a year from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturdays.

Previous to hearing about the presidents exhibit, I had been a little weirded out by the wax museum, but it turns out there’s nothing to be afraid of. Madame Tussauds is, in fact, a very well done museum. I will say that some of the figures are better than others. Several of the female figures in particular seemed to be not quite right. But overall, they looked pretty darn accurate to me.

A wax version of Britney Spears doing her thang.

If you’re going to go, you really need to cheese it up, or else you shouldn’t have bothered because that’s the whole point. If you don’t have at least five silly photos of yourself interacting with the wax people by the time you leave, then I’d deem your visit a failure. And make sure you watch the short video about how they make the figures—it’s interesting.

I was pleasantly surprised by the reasonable crowd. I can get overwhelmed, but I found the number of people manageable. What was weird though was that it always seemed like there were more people in the room than there actually were. That sounds dumb, but it really is a strange feeling when you’re there.

Tickets cost TWENTY-ONE DOLLARS. I know, pricey. But you really don’t need to ever pay full price. Besides the Jerry’s deal, you can get 15% off by booking online and currently has tickets for $10 if you buy them at least one day in advance.

There were plenty of other figures besides the presidents but, to be honest, they didn’t interest me much. Though I have to admit, seeing George Clooney did put my heart a bit aflutter.

Off the Tourist Track: Science Museum

8 Jul

In summer the area’s popular museums swell with people to the point where virtually all enjoyment is lost. You shuffle along, waiting to take a peek at an exhibit before being elbowed out of the way by tourists wearing matching tie-dye T-shirts. But you don’t have to forgo museums until February, you just need to look beyond the Smithsonian.

The Marian Koshland Science Museum of the National Academy of Sciences, for instance, is perfect for a summer visit. Opened in 2004, the museum is at 525 E Street, NW, and it’s really, really small. But the exhibits, though a bit depressing (infectious disease and global warming are two topics explored) are really well done. And they have interactive components … my favorite!

I visited a couple Saturdays ago and I only saw five other visitors during the hour I was there. The highlight of the visit, for me, was learning about the future of energy-saving light bulbs from a docent. That may not sound very exciting but the volunteer had a well-planned display table and, because it wasn’t busy, he was able to spend a lot of time with my boyfriend and me.

After our visit we went to an early dinner and then to a movie at E-Street Cinema. I must say, it was a lovely way to spend a Saturday!

The Science Museum is open 10 to 5 every day except Tuesdays (when it’s closed). Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for students.

Off the Tourist Track: Roosevelt Island

26 Jun

Summer is a great time for DC residents to explore new places around town since the most well-known spots are inundated with tourists. And on a nice day, might I suggest Roosevelt Island in the Potomac River. The small island is accessible only from the northbound lanes of the George Washington Memorial Parkway (there’s a big ole sign right before the turnoff). You could also take Metro and get off at Rosslyn, but it would be a decent walk.

The island is flat with a couple of trails, one of which goes around the entire perimeter. There are a few nice places to stop, and you can see Georgetown from one vantage point. And there’s a fair amount of wildlife to be seen. If you’re looking for solitude, this isn’t the place to go. It’s a popular spot with runners and people walking their dogs. But it’s the perfect thing to do if you only have a few hours and want to be outside. In the center of the island is an impressive statue of Teddy himself with several fountains.

There’s a not-too-large parking lot for the island, and if it’s a nice afternoon on a weekend, you will probably have to wait to park. But people are constantly coming and going, so you shouldn’t have to wait too long. Bikes aren’t allowed onto the island itself, but there’s a bike rack right before the footbridge to go to the island.

If you like tours, you’re in luck, as ranger tours are offered. Also good to note, there’s, strangely enough, bathrooms with European-style toilets.

Beyond the Cineplex: DC movie theaters

17 Jun

AFI Silver Theatre © Kate Mereand on Creative Commons

There’s no shortage of AMC and Regal movie complexes in the DC area, but there’s also quite a few lovely smaller chain and independent theaters too that show both mainstream movies and more artsy fartsy stuff. I thought I’d highlight a few of them.

West End Cinema: This theater opened its doors in October, taking over space that had also been a theater but closed in 2003. Located on 23rd Street between M and N, it’s tucked away in an office building and can be easy to miss. Foggy Bottom is the closest metro station but Dupont Circle isn’t too far either. You can park on the street or in one of the garages in the area, but this could be a pain depending on when you go. There are three small theaters within West End that show independent, foreign and documentary films. Of note: they have a full bar!

AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center: This 1938 restored movie house reopened in 2003 and is a filmophile’s dream. It hosts several annual events including a documentary film festival, will sometimes show classic films and occasionally has guest appearances. Parking is pretty easy thanks to several garages close by; it’s also two blocks from the Silver Spring Metro station. And did I mention they serve beer and wine?

Avalon Theatre: Avalon isn’t only independently run, but it’s a non-profit. Located at 5612 Connecticut Avenue, NW in the Friendship Heights/Chevy Chase area, it’s been operating since 1923 and shows mostly independent films. The theater is about a 15 minute walk from the Friendship Heights Metro, and street parking is available (but give yourself time to find a spot).

E-Street Cinema: Owned by Landmark Theatres, the largest art house movie theater chain in the country, E-Street is located on E Street (duh) between 10th and 11th in Penn Quarter. The theater opened in 2004 and has eight screens. A couple of E-streets theaters have amazingly few rows of seats, but I find that charming. In addition to independent films, E-Street also shows more mainstream flicks. Parking in that area can be a pain, so I’d recommend taking Metro—it’s only one block from Metro Center. What makes this one of my favorite theaters in DC is a) It’s a great location and b) there are very few kids or teenagers and c) they have cups and a pitcher of water to which you can help yourself. Like Silver Theatre, they  serve beer and wine.

Bethesda Row Cinema: Opened in 2002, this theater is also owned by Landmark and also has eight screens. Parking in this area is usually manageable, and it’s within walking distance of the Bethesda Metro station.

Ten Ways to Kill an Hour in Dupont Circle

23 Mar

The 50-room mansion that is now the Embassy of Indonesia was once home to the owners of the Hope Diamond. © Josh Carolina at Creative Commons

The other day my coworker’s husband left her waiting in Dupont Circle for an hour; this clever post was the result.

I think inevitably, at some point while everyone is living in DC, you find yourself with an hour to kill—before meeting friends for happy hour, or a date, or before a book club meeting or something like that. But you don’t want to spend any money.

10. From the circle, walk northwest along Mass Ave. and look at different embassy buildings. (Print out an embassy walking tour map to be able to ID them). The Indonesian Embassy is one of my favorite buildings in the whole city.

9. Watch the guys playing chess at the tables on the east side of the Circle.

8. Browse used books at Second Story Books at 20th and P. Or, go to Kramerbooks, pretend to browse, but really watch people who met on meet up for the first time on their blind dates.

7. General people watching. The best spots, I think, are the circle itself, outside the Metro station or in the lobby of the Mayflower Hotel on Connecticut Ave.

6. Watch the coveyor belt coat the doughnuts at Krispie Kreme with glaze. It’s awesome and disgusting all at the same time!

5. Walk over to Whole Foods at 15th and P and sample free fruit, cheese, crackers, dips, etc.

4. Watch the dogs playing at the overpriced dog park at 17th and R Streets.

3. Watch people playing basketball or soccer at Stead Park at 17th and P.

2. Visit Palace Florist at 19th and N to see if your name is on the chalkboard. Every day they pick a new name, and if yours is on the board, show your ID to get a free flower.

1. Check out the Nat Geo Museum at 17th and M. Some of the exhibits are free, and it’s open til 5 p.m daily.

Shout Out: National Building Museum

14 Mar

Completed in 1887. They just don't make buidlings like they used to.

When I talk about the National Building Museum, I’m always surprised by how many DC area residents either don’t know that it exists or haven’t been. I think that’s such a shame because it’s one of my favorite museums. I’m not an architecture buff or anything, but the exhibits they come up with are always so well done and often surprisingly interesting. For example, I loved the exhibit on parking garages, which I would not have expected.

Though not on the National Mall, the Building Museum is really convenient—about a block from the Verizon Center and literally across the street from the Judiciary Square Metro Station (Red Line). Parking on the weekends can be tough, but it’s doable if you’re willing to drive around awhile and park several blocks away.

Even if there weren’t any exhibits, the museum’s building is, fittingly, interesting enough to warrant a visit. Its Corinthian columns (among the largest indoor columns in the world), indoor fountain and decorative work are truly stunning. Originally built for the Pension Bureau, the building has served a variety of purposes—even hosting several Presidential Inaugural Balls—before becoming a museum. My boyfriend thinks it would make a great apartment building, but I’m not sure why he’s advocating that idea since there’s no way we’d be able to afford living there if it was.

One of my favorite things about the museum is that, even on weekends, it’s not filled with tourists. It’s clear that a large portion of visitors are local. And the museum is particularly popular with parents who have young kids because there are lots for them to do and a big open space for them to run around in.

The museum’s free though occasionally certain exhibits have a small entrance free. Currently, for example, you can pay $5 to see the LEGO Architecture exhibit.  I also highly recommend the free tours that docents lead.  This past weekend I took the Washington: Symbol and City tour which, as an area resident, I found particularly interesting. Yay knowledge!

Neighborhood 101: Capitol Hill

23 Jan

Crowds can get intense at the bustling Eastern Market. © Daniel Lobo on Creative Commons

This residential and densely populated historic neighborhood is located east of the Capitol Building. It has some of the most unique row house architecture in the city.

Getting there: Capitol Hill is a large neighborhood and there are several Metro stop options: Capitol South and Eastern Market on the Blue and Orange lines as well as Union Station on the Red line. Regarding parking, I’ve never had a problem finding street parking a few blocks from where I’m going.

Hot Spots:


  • Eastern Market – Going to this large, fresh food public market is, in my opinion, the perfect Sunday afternoon. It’s got a nice neighborhood vibe and you can find lots of locally grown food. A fire severely damaged the market’s building in 2007, but it reopened in 2009.
  • The Flea Market – If you go to Eastern Market, make sure to stop at the Flea Market, which hosts 100 exhibitors.

Fun Fact:
According to Wikipedia, about a third of all Members of Congress live on Capitol Hill when they’re in DC.