Free museums, cherry blossoms, and more

[Editor’s Note: We continue to offer travel ideas to our readers, but realize that COVID-19 has the nation self-isolating and/or sheltering in place. Once the pandemic is over and travel is safe, Washington, D.C. offers an amazing experience for visitors — rich with history of our nation, the center of our government and has a plethora of monuments and museums to enjoy. For those who will venture to the capitol beforehand, the outdoor options can offer some respite from being hold up indoors. Also, there might be some virtual tours. Check with each resource for information.]

It’s always a great time to visit or revisit Washington, D.C. — or DMV as the locals call it (the District, Maryland, and Virginia). Winter ended March 1 and spring is about to arrive which, of course, means cherry blossoms. There’s so much to do —  and much of it free.

WHAT TO DO

Smithsonian museums are all free and include:

The United States Botanical Garden (100 Maryland Ave. SW) has a great orchid display and an outdoors area which highlights the plants of the mid-Atlantic region. The Conservatory also has displays including world deserts and rare and endangered plants.

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National Museum of the American Indian

Across the street is the National Museum of the American Indian. Try the Northwest herb salmon in the Café. Learn about treaties between the U.S. and American Indian nations, the great Inka road, the native peoples of the Chesapeake Bay region, and more. The new National Native American Veterans Memorial is slated to have its dedication and opening on Nov. 11. It honors the service of Native Americans, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians in the U.S. Armed Forces.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture is another must (Constitution Ave. between 14th and 15th). Reservations required on weekends. Learn about Nat Turner’s bible, and Harriet Tubman’s hymnal. See a slave cabin from South Carolina plantation, a guard tower from the Angola prison, and Michael Jackson’s fedora.

The Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery (8th and F. St. NW) features special exhibits. Some of them have been: Storied Women of the Civil War Era, One Life (Una Vida): Marian Anderson, Picturing the American Buffalo, Chura Obata: American Modern and The Struggle for Justice.

Meet the locals for a run or walk at DC Frontrunners. They meet Saturdays for a run or walk up Rock Park to the Zoo. Or bring your swim suit and swim with the DCAC masters swimmers.

NIGHTLIFE

It’s two-for-one happy hour at the always-packed Number Nine (1435 P St. NW) until 9 p.m. every day.

The nearby Trade on 14th Street (1401 14th St.) is also a lot of fun. They had a drag performer the night I was there.

The Green Lantern (1305 Green Ct. NW) also has special events.

WHERE TO EAT

Sweetgreen is my favorite fast casual restaurant. There’s one on P St. near 14th.  (1461 P St.) Try the fish taco salad.

Compass Coffee across from the Verizon Center offers great coffee and more. They have a few other locations around town.

The Streets Market at 1224 Massachusetts Ave. (near the Comfort Inn) has great food and libations to go.

WHERE TO STAY

I always stay at the Comfort Inn on 13th Street (1201 13th St. NW). Great rates and handy to the nightlife. Ask manager David Brooks for a special association rate. The rooms ending in 11 are  the quietest while those ending in 03 have the best views.

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The nearby Washington Plaza Hotel is also affordable and close to the action.

My conference was at the Renaissance at 999 9th St. which is very nice as well. The new fashionable outdoor upscale mall is across the street as is the new Conrad Hotel.

GETTING THERE

I flew into Baltimore airport (BWI) and hopped on the MARC train to D.C. It’s a bit of a hike. Returning I took American out of Reagan Airport (DCA) — just a 20-minute Metro from D.C.

D.C. has a great subway system, the Metro. The Circulator buses are also very handy. In any event, you will not need nor want a car for your trip. The drivers are rude and honk at everyone and everything. It’s annoying.

TRAVEL TIPS

The Washington Blade is your guide to what’s going on in the area. They recently celebrated their 50th Anniversary and is an America resource for LGBTQ political news. They also have an LA edition.  Pick up a copy Friday around town or read them on line.  The Metro Weekly also has ideas for nightlife.

D.C. is arguably one of the gayest, if not the gayest, cities in America — if not the world. The guys and gals are hot, so the people watching alone is compelling. You may even run into a famous politician or one of their staffers.

It is also one of the most walkable and transit-friendly cities. Hotels are expensive if there is a convention in town or during the Cherry Blossom Festival (as well as during the week). Otherwise you can usually find a deal.

Bill Malcolm’s syndicated LGBTQ value travel column appears in publications and online from North Carolina to California. He does this is a hobby. His full-time job is with a non-profit in D.C. He lives in Indianapolis, Ind. He received no compensation of any kind for this visit.

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