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Washington’s Hidden Gems
Comments () | Published March 22, 2010


Hold your breath . . . through a silent precision drill by the United States Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon, a 24-man rifle platoon that executes calculated and polished routines. The best time to catch the squad is during an evening parade held Friday at 8:45 (arrive no later than 8), May through August at the Marine Barracks at Eighth and I streets, Southeast, or during Tuesday Sunset Parades, 7 pm at the US Marine Corps War Memorial (a.k.a. the Iwo Jima memorial) in Arlington.

Take refuge on a secluded island . . . as you stroll the 2½ miles of woodsy trails that loop around tranquil Theodore Roosevelt Island. Native Americans used the 89-acre island in the Potomac River as a makeshift fishing camp, but today the only full-time residents in the national park are deer, turkeys, foxes, eagles, and a statue of our 26th President. Accessible from the northbound lanes of the George Washington Memorial Parkway.

Float on a lazy river . . . looking for cranes, hawks, and herons as you glide by in a tube. The Harpers Ferry area, where the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers meet, offers many tubing options, from flat-water trips for kids and families to adventurous whitewater rides with Class I, II, and III rapids. Several tour operators are based near Harpers Ferry, including River Riders (800-326-7238) and River & Trail Outfitters (888-446-7529).

Look skyward . . . at pirouetting airplanes and helicopters in the three-day Joint Service Open House air show, held each May at Andrews Air Force Base. The Blue Angels or Thunderbirds wow spectators with their sky-mastering tricks. There’s also a traditional parachute jump commemorating D-Day, and historic planes are parked on the tarmac for visitors to discover.

Sail the Chesapeake Bay . . . aboard a skipjack, a historic sloop-rigged oyster-dredging vessel that’s the state boat of Maryland. Fewer than 50 skipjacks survive today, and some—like Captain Wade Murphy’s Rebecca T. Ruark, the oldest working skipjack on the Bay (410-829-3976)—are available for charter. Another operator is Captain Ed Farley, who sails the H.M. Krentz (410-745-6080).

Get up early . . . to see the gorgeous waterlilies at Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens, where morning is the best time for flower viewing (the gardens open at 7), with lily pads dotting the marsh along the Anacostia River. Waterlilies start blooming in late May, and some offer changing blossoms through mid-August. 1550 Anacostia Ave., NE, between Douglas and Ponds sts.; 202-426-6905.

Find a golden-winged warbler . . . on one of the DC Audubon Society’s bird-watching expeditions. The group has documented sightings of as many as 101 species in the area in a single day. Every January, volunteers walk along the C&O Canal, from Georgetown to Cumberland, and count all the birds. A $20 annual membership gets you invited to all the Washington-area trips. 202-547-2355.

Get swarmed by butterflies . . . at the “Wings of Fancy” exhibit at Brookside Gardens in Wheaton Regional Park. Every year from May through mid-September, a hundred species of butterflies fly freely throughout the enclosed conservatory, landing on your shoulder one moment (don’t swat!), whirring by to check out the various nectar plants the next. 1800 Glenallan Ave., Wheaton; 301-962-1400.

Get subterranean . . . at Virginia’s Luray Caverns, one of those places you know are there but maybe haven’t managed to get to. Just west of Luray, it’s the most popular cave in the eastern US—a maze of stalactites, stalagmites, ten-story ceilings, and mirrored pools. Don’t leave without hiking to the cave’s most famous attraction and listening to the hum of the Great Stalacpipe Organ. 540-743-6551.

Stop and smell the Hyacinths . . . at the Mary Livingston Ripley Garden, a horticulturist’s mecca with hundreds of plants in flower beds and ornate hanging baskets, a cherub-topped fountain, and cast-iron benches. The curved garden is tucked between the Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries Building and Hirshhorn Museum, so it’s often overshadowed by the two imposing buildings. But this Mall oasis, which almost became a parking lot, is a year-round treasure.

Hear the rustle of wings . . . at the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Cambridge, Maryland. It’s open all year from dawn to dusk, but from late October through early February, tens of thousands of geese and ducks stop here on their way south. The marshland is home to a breeding population of American bald eagles. 2145 Key Wallace Dr., Cambridge; 410-228-2677.

Hear cannons roar . . .as you watch the Civil War’s epic battles reenacted throughout Virginia—from the Battles of Spotsylvania on May 22 and 23 (9010 Old Battlefield Blvd., Spotsylvania; 540-507-7090; to the First Battle of Bull Run, commemorated at Manassas National Battlefield Park on July 17 and 18 with military demonstrations and encampments of Union and Confederate troops (6511 Sudley Rd., Manassas; 703-361-1339). Check for more listings.

Spot a heron . . . from the boardwalk observation tower at Huntley Meadows Park. The 1,425-acre Fairfax County wetland is home to more than 200 species of birds as well as forests, wildflower meadows, and a two-mile trail. Carved into Huntley Meadows by an offshoot of the Potomac, it also offers prime viewing of wildlife. 3701 Lockheed Blvd., Alexandria; 703-768-2525.

Walk among bluebells . . . at Bull Run Regional Park, which has the largest stretch of Virginia bluebells on the East Coast. In early April, just before leaves emerge on the trees, the bluebells soak up sunlight from the forest floors. Once temperatures rise, the spectacular woodland flower is in peak bloom for about two weeks. A 1½-mile Bluebell Walk takes place April 18. 7700 Bull Run Dr., Centreville; 703-631-0550.

Search out J. Edgar Hoover . . . along with John Philip Sousa, photographer Mathew Brady, and dozens of political leaders at Congressional Cemetery. The graveyard—also a popular dog park—goes back to 1807, predating Arlington Cemetery as a final resting spot for luminaries, from a Vice President to a silent-screen star. On November 6, the US Marine Corps Band marks Sousa’s birthday with a concert at his grave. 1801 E St., SE; 202-543-0539.

Get starstruck . . . in Rock Creek Park, where you can peer through telescopes to see stars and planets with the National Capital Astronomers. The free program is held one Saturday a month, April through November—the first is April 18—shortly after sunset. Gather at the field just south of Military and Glover roads, Northwest. 202-895-6070.


Brush up on your McEwan . . . at the PEN/Faulkner Reading Series. Held at the Folger Shakespeare Library, the evening program draws luminaries such as Susan Orlean, George Saunders, Ian McEwan, and Walter Mosley—and that’s just this spring’s lineup. Authors read excerpts from their work, answer questions, and sign books. 201 E. Capitol St., SE; 202-898-9063.

See fancy footwork . . . at GALA Hispanic Theatre’s annual Fuego Flamenco Festival, which features exhilarating flamenco dancers and musicians straight from Madrid. The festival, which takes place each fall, is presented in collaboration with the Embassy of Spain. This year’s will be November 19 through December 5. 3333 14th St., NW; 202-234-7174.  


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Posted at 12:00 AM/ET, 03/22/2010 RSS | Print | Permalink | Comments () | Articles