Weekending in Washington, D.C.: Getting Outdoorsy in the Nation’s Capital

The District is home to many under-the-radar green spaces.

visiting washington dc

The Glenstone art museum in nearby Potomac, Maryland. Phototgraph by Iwan Baan/Glenstone Museum

Last year, D.C. earned the number two slot in the Trust for Public Land’s ranking of park access in the 100 largest U.S. cities. That’s for good reason: Beyond the National Mall, the District is home to many under-the-radar green spaces and splashy waterfront developments (and, of course, a new administration).

Distance from Philly: 2.5 hours

Where to Stay: The centrally located Riggs hotel puts you in an ideal position for getting out into the city. While all the rooms are stylishly appointed, the four “First Lady” suites are (almost) too much to take after months of being cooped up at home. (The flower-filled Ida McKinley space takes the grandmillennial aesthetic to a delightful extreme.) Dining options include the first-floor brasserie (get the grilled octopus) and a seasonal outdoor rooftop that serves up gorgeous sunset views over the National Portrait Gallery. Rooms from $299.

What to Do: Ride a bike to the Kennedy Center (Riggs has free ones) to explore REACH, a newish (circa end-of-2019) arts and culture complex with an outdoor art garden featuring oversize sculptures and ample lawns for picnicking. If COVID guidelines permit, two must-visits are Hillwood and Glenstone. The former is the home of the late socialite Marjorie Merriweather Post; in June, Kristine Mays’s dancing sculptures will be showcased throughout its meticulously manicured grounds. The latter, a museum located 40 minutes outside the city, is a sustainable 300-acre oasis punctuated by pieces like Jeff Koons’s live-flower-filled Split-Rocker. (Take note: Reservations book weeks in advance.)

The Eating-and-Drinking Sitch: Navy Yard is blowing up with outdoor dining options. Head down in the a.m. for halvah honey lattes from Levantine cafe Yellow (best enjoyed at the nearby waterfront park), then spend a low-key afternoon sipping seltzers infused with fresh mango on the patio at Atlas Brew Works’ Half Street location. Come dinner, stroll over to Jackie for a refined meal. The 1960s-influenced bistro is headed up by executive chef Jerome Grant, formerly of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and tableside firepits will keep you warm on cool nights.

visiting washington dc

The seasonal pink lanterns brighten up CityCenterDC. Photograph courtesy CityCenterDC

Can’t-Miss List

1. Catch the “Georgetown Glow” exhibit
The free immersive light display has been rescheduled for April. Among the installations: Stephanie Mercedes’s The Weight of a Rainbow, which comes alive with soothing sounds in the presence of visitors.

2. Have a rooftop picnic at Union Market
Pick up a bite at the downstairs food hall, then spread out at Hi-Lawn, which serves juice-box cocktails from a shipping-container bar.

3. Split a bottle at Lulu’s Winegarden
The outdoor gardens are plant-filled and feature Southwestern decor. Order La Galoche beaujolais, a chillable red perfect for patio-sipping.

4. Shop at Steadfast Supply
Pick up a colorful card depicting that D.C. ’hood you explored all day.

5. Stroll through CityCenterDC
The seasonal pink lantern installation in Palmer Alley makes for the ultimate Instagram backdrop.

Published as “Get Outdoors in … Washington, D.C.” in the “Road Trip!” guide in the March 2021 issue of Philadelphia magazine.