New Yorkers should feel right at home in Washington DC for numerous reasons ranging from culture, points of interest, fine restaurants, to a first class mass transit system. You really don’t need a car because Washington’s subway, better known as the Metro, can get you to almost anywhere in the Beltway. The trains are clean, the service is frequent, and it only costs $1.35 during off-peak hours.
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 who want to view its primate and big cats exhibits, and of course, the big draw, the great pandas from China. The zoo is quite hilly so be prepared for strenuous exercise if you want to see everything here.
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 here 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 from the classic ‘70s CBS breakthrough TV comedy, “All In The Family.” The latter, which has just gotten a lot of play from the recently released sequel to the Ben Stiller film, NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM, features numerous artifacts and fossils.
There are some novel and intriguing privately owned museums as well. The Crime & Punishment Museum chronicles the history of organized crime in the United States, with particular emphasis on such 1930s gangsters as Al Capone, John Dillinger and Bonnie Parker & Clyde Barrow; to nefarious serial killers as Charles Manson, John Wayne Gacy, Albert “The Boston Strangler” De Salvio and Ted Bundy. Of interest to Queens residents is 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 that they spent in taverns on Queens Boulevard. Fox Television’s popular Saturday night show, “America’s Most Wanted,” has its studio here.
A block away from the Crime & Punishment Museum is the International Spy Museum which looks at the history of espionage from the time of Benedict Arnold right up to today. The Spy Museum has plentiful information about Allies spies behind the Axis lines in World War II, to the CIA-KGB battles during the Cold War. The museum spares no details about such American traitors as Aldrich Ames, Robert Hanssen and John Walker Lindh. On a lighter note, there is a lot of spy pop culture here including props from James Bond movies, as well as from such TV shows as “Get Smart,” “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” and “The Avengers.”
As a journalist, I have to admit that I am partial to the Newseum, the first museum dedicated to the history of news reporting, starting with the early days of the Gutenberg printing press right up to the Internet. The current front page of a daily newspaper from each American city is on display, as well as those capturing historic moments such as V-E Day, the JFK assassination, and 9/11. Photojournalism has a dedicated wing here as well.
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 was an exhibit dedicated to community weeklies instead of just getting a pat on the back.
The most somber, yet emotionally-moving, museum arguably 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, Roma (gypsies), homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Gentiles who dared to stand up to the Hitler regime and gave their lives. The June 10, 2009 rifle attack on the Holocaust Museum by 88 year-old Nazi sympathizer James von Brunn that killed heroic security guard Stephen Johns is a reminder that hate is sadly very much alive. Ironically von Brunn’s despicable action is a stark reminder of why everyone should make at least one visit here.
There is no shortage of terrific dining experiences in DC. 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. A great way to spend an evening is to take a three-hour Odyssey dinner cruise. You get to enjoy both a four-course meal and a trip on the scenic Potomac that sails 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 in the beautiful West End district that is home to lovely brownstones and several parks, and away from the DC hustle and bustle, the Fairmont is located near two Metro stops and is a short walk to hip Georgetown. There is also a beautiful outdoor courtyard in the center of the hotel that has been used for many a wedding.
Washington is easy to get to via Amtrak (I recommend taking the Acela Express which is quite cheap on weekends). There are also several bus carriers such as Bolt, Megabus and DC Trails that 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, while Forest Hills’ own JetBlue flies from JFK to Dulles Airport throughout the day.
For more information, log onto www.destinationdc.com or call the Washington Visitors Bureau at (202) 789-7000