Normally, I like traveling to new places, getting a taste of a different culture perhaps, or stepping into someone else's shoes. So when I found out that I had won another free trip, this time to Washington, DC, I couldn't help but laugh a little. DC isn't in any way new to Kristen and I: we both grew up in Northern Virginia, and then after college we lived just outside the city for several more years. But still, I couldn't turn down free airfare for two, a king-sized bed at the DoubleTree by Hilton, and four nights in a central DC location.
No matter how well you think you know a city, there is always more to discover. They're in a constant state of change. Rising chefs open new restaurants, galleries cycle through new exhibits, neighborhoods are revitalized. I was excited to put myself in the shoes of a tourist in a city I thought I had already figured out. What haven't I done here? Where haven't I been? My goal: do as many new things as I could think of, while minimizing my exposure to the familiar.
In true tourist fashion, we were without a car and completely reliant upon public transportation. Instead of taking the metro system to get around, we opted for the recently-installed Capital Bikeshare, which has tons of convenient locations all over the city. Riding right in the thick of it above ground, all the while getting exercise, was refreshing and arguably more fun than the alternatives. We rode all over town, visiting neighborhoods I'd never been to before, including the up-and-coming Southeast Waterfront. It was here, over numerous beers at the impressive new microbrewery Bluejacket, that I realized how much the city was changing and that visiting DC (or any city, for that matter) would never get old.
My long list of restaurants, ranging from classic to brand new, has continued growing even after we moved away from DC; this trip gave me the chance to start crossing them off. We finally popped into Old Ebbitt Grill, the city's oldest saloon and a place where 19th century presidents would go for a drink (it's a short walk from the White House). Newer ones like DGS Delicatessen, Daikaya, Le Diplomate and Doi Moi were walkable from our hotel and delivered memorable meals. One of the eateries high on our list was a new one we'd been hearing about called Rose's Luxury on Barracks Row. We ordered most of the menu with Kristen's parents and were floored at just about everything: the food, the service, and the space itself. It was pretty cool when a couple days later Bon Appetit named it the best new restaurant in the country. (Note: If you go, get in line before 4:45pm.)
A few times, though, we did slip back into our old ways. We couldn't help taking a look at the National Portrait Gallery's American Cool exhibit, and when we rode too close to the National Gallery of Art we were drawn in like bugs to a lightbulb to check out new exhibits for Wyeth, Cassatt and Degas. We didn't feel guilty at all wandering through part of their permanent collection, for old time's sake.
At the end of our stay, we ventured into rural Virginia to The Inn at Little Washington for our best anniversary dinner to date. Consistently rated as the top restaurant in the DC area, the Inn (which also has 25 rooms) serves up world-class, seasonal tasting menus that are surprising, delightful, and super duper tasty. We were by far the youngest patrons in the restaurant, probably owing to how rough it is on the budget, but we relished every bite throughout our four-hour meal.
By staying in a hotel and biking around (sometimes aimlessly), we were able to see the city from an outsider's perspective. Instead of a guidebook, we were armed with a personal list of things-to-do, and we managed to go to about 15 different restaurants, bars, museums, monuments and parks that we'd never seen before. Plus, we got to meet up with lots of friends and family along the way. It turns out, being a tourist in your hometown can be just as exciting as being a tourist elsewhere.