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A cheap, but up-close, view of the District, including sights of Georgetown, the Sherman Monument, and the White House.
Photograph courtesy of Shutterstock

Why you might roll your eyes:

It's a ride on a Metrobus. Not everyone's idea of a fun time.

Why you'll love it:

The 30N and 30S buses (formerly the 36 and 32 routes) are among the most unique rides you'll take across DC. It's about a 13-mile course from one end of the city to the other, giving a DIY tour of the District.

Grab a window seat at the Friendship Heights end of the line. As you sail down Wisconsin Avenue and turn onto Pennsylvania, the anthropology of the city comes alive- you'll spy boutique shoppers in Georgetown, students scurrying through Foggy Bottom, downtown office workers. It's a chance to see the people who make up our city in action- the caterer precariously walking a steaming silver bowl outside a swank hotel, the Street Sense vendors, kids tossing snowballs beneath the William Tecumseh Sherman Monument on 15th Street.

You can spot sightseeing locales on the ride, too. The Washington Monument hovers in the background for a few moments as the bus heads toward Penn Quarter, and there's a broadside view of the White House before that near H Street, Northwest. But it's really a chance to finally see the things you may only have heard of- that hidden gem of a deli on Capitol Hill everyone talks about, that leafy park you always meant to visit. If you want to explore a little more, you can always pull the cord and hop off.

Skinny Capitol Hill rowhouses transition into yards and single-family homes as the bus crosses the river into Anacostia. It's a world many Washingtonians don't frequent but an integral part of the tour, as the bus comes full circle from one city border to the other. The terminus of the 90-minute journey is at either the Naylor Road or the Southern Avenue Metro station. The whole ride might not be as structured or historically informational as a professional tour, but it's a truer perspective of our city. Plus, it's a lot cheaper.

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Posted at 02:55 PM/ET, 03/01/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
The cathedral boasts the highest views in the whole city.
Photograph by Brooks Kraft/Corbis

Why you might roll your eyes:

You've been to cathedrals in Europeand compared with them, Washington's century-old cathedral may not seem like a big deal.

Why you'll love it:

At 333 steps to the top, the cathedral's central tower is worth every step. Because it starts out at 676 feet above sea level, it's the highest viewpoint in the Districta perch that affords sweeping vistas of the entire city and far into Maryland and Virginia. The 45-minute climb is a chance to see defining architectural features such as the cathedral's gargoyles, not to mention some of its better-kept secrets, like a collection of empty Champagne bottles left between 1959 and 2000 by stonemasons celebrating New Year's. But here's the rub: The tour has been offered only sporadically since the August 2011 earthquake, and tickets always go quickly.

3101 Wisconsin Ave., NW; 202-537-6200.

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Posted at 02:45 PM/ET, 03/01/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Kite-building stations, Japanese kite battles, trick-flying exhibitions, and more.
Photograph courtesy of Shutterstock

Why you might roll your eyes:

You've got bad memories, as a kid, of running along with string trailing and hoping the wind would catch your kite and send it skyward. More often than not, the kite bounced along the ground and fell flat like a pancake.

Why you'll love it:

It's an amazing spectacle to see thousands of kaleidoscopic kites at the Blossom Kite Festival, this year on March 28. The event, on the Mall near the Washington Monument, features kite-building stations, Japanese kite battles, and trick-flying exhibitions. It draws the best kite flyers from around the world, some of whom offer tips in the Family Field- so bring or buy a kite. Reliable spring winds help make flying more of a breeze. You'll feel like a kid again- kid who can now fly a kite.

For more information, see nationalcherryblossomfestival.org and click on "events."

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Posted at 02:38 PM/ET, 03/01/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Only in DC can you experience serious pyrotechnics with the Washington Monument in view.
Photograph courtesy of Shutterstock

Why you might roll your eyes:

Going to the Mall to see the fireworks is a hassle, with the security checkpoints, the hours-long wait once you've staked out a spot, the lack of cell service thanks to the concentration of people, and the horrifically crowded Metro ride home.

Why you'll love it:

There's a reason the crowds are huge- the National Park Service puts on a great show, and the thrill of watching the pyrotechnics with the Washington Monument in sight is an only-in-DC experience.

Where else to watch: Want a fairly close view but don't want to fight your way to the Mall? You could pick a spot along the Mount Vernon Trail in Arlington, which offers plenty of space to set up a picnic plus stellar vistas across the river. Or rent a canoe or kayak from the Key Bridge Boathouse and paddle toward the monuments for crowd-free viewing. (Reservations open about a month ahead and sell out quickly.) Yet another option: Head to the Iwo Jima memorial in Rosslyn. You'll still have to go through checkpoints, but the crowds tend to be smaller and the views are excellent—you see the Washington Monument, the Capitol, and the Lincoln Memorial from one vantage point.

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Posted at 02:23 PM/ET, 03/01/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Get face time with a 9,000-pound animal.

Why you might roll your eyes:

Elephants weigh about 9,000 pounds, so if you've been to the National Zoo, they're kinda hard to miss. Do you really need to pay for a tour?

Why you'll love it:

That private tour of the Elephant Trails—offered Wednesdays and Sundays—includes the barn, normally not open to visitors. It lasts 75 minutes and is limited to ten people, so you can get face time with not only the pachyderms but also their keepers, the type of folks who'll cheerfully stick an arm where the sun don't shine when the occasion calls for it. Tickets, $40 per adult, benefit zoo-education and elephant-enrichment programs.

3001 Connecticut Ave., NW; 202-633-3057.

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Posted at 02:17 PM/ET, 03/01/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Only 15 miles from DC, Great Falls is a place for kayaking, hiking, and other outdoor activities.
Photograph courtesy of Shutterstock

Why you might roll your eyes:

The hikes are fun, and seeing the falls is cool, but the line of cars to get into Virginia's Great Falls Park on nice days can be ridiculously long.

Why you'll love it:

No doubt you've seen the falls from one of the easily reached overlooks on the Maryland and Virginia sides of the Potomac River. (Our advice on nice days: Get there early.) But have you seen them from below? When you're on the water, the thundering torrents bring home the power of the Potomac as it drops over the rocky falls and pushes through the sheer cliffs of the Mather Gorge. While expertise is needed to kayak up toward the falls from downriverthis is a spot where some Olympians trainthe thrilling rapids can be enjoyed by anyone on a four-hour guided rafting trip with Potomac Paddle Sports ($125). The company also offers kayaking lessons for those who want to challenge the river on their own.

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Posted at 02:05 PM/ET, 03/01/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Walk through sites that established this country, without a History Channel documentary to guide you.
Photograph by Flickr user Pablo Sanchez

Why you might roll your eyes:

You read all about the Civil War in high school, you watched Ken Burns's nine-part masterwork on the subject, and with 150th-anniversary commemorations of some part of the war occurring over the past four years, you've had your fill.

Why youll love it:

Walking the battlefields is a singularly powerful experience. Throughout the Mid-Atlantic and South, there are untold places where the Union and Confederate armies fought, skirmished, or otherwise antagonized each other. Yet only within an easy drive of Washington will you find three of the most significant battlefields of that terrible conflict. In June of 1861, the two armies clashed for the first time at Manassas, where 4,700 casualties dashed the romanticized view of war both sides held. A year later at Antietam, Yankees and Rebels fought the first major battle on Union soil, which soaked up the blood of more than 20,000 killed or wounded. It remains the single bloodiest day of combat in American history. In 1863, another 51,000 were killed or wounded at Gettysburg, which was also the war's turning point. Memorials and tours at these hallowed grounds sear into consciousness the dreadful price paid to keep the United States alive.

For more, go to nps.gov/index.htm, click on "find a park," and search for a battlefield.

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Posted at 01:42 PM/ET, 03/01/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
An 18-mile stretch to tour D.C. and its surrounding areas.
Photograph by Flickr user Leo Boudreau.

Why you might roll your eyes:

A popular trail, it can be combat biking on nice weekends.

Why you'll love it:

Washington has lots of great biking options, but where else can you pedal past views of the country's most majestic monuments? You could walk or jog, but a bike allows you to cover more ground: The 18-mile trail stretches from Theodore Roosevelt Island to George Washington's Mount Vernon. Much of it hugs the Potomac, so you get views of the river as well as of the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument. The path from Old Town to Mount Vernon is calmer, with scenery that includes the cattails and birds of Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve. To avoid crowds, bike on a weekday or early on a weekend morning.

For more, go to nps.gov and search for Mount Vernon Trail.

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Posted at 01:18 PM/ET, 03/01/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Take a mini cruise and then tour George Washington's old stomping grounds.
Photograph by Flicker user TRiver.

Why you might roll your eyes:

A sightseeing cruise on the Potomac combined with a tour of George Washington's Mount Vernon has "tourist" written all over it.

Why you'll love it:

Even if you've been to Mount Vernon, you've probably never arrived by boat. Spring through fall, Spirit Cruises runs trips from the Southwest DC waterfront, while Potomac Riverboat Company schedules excursions from Old Town Alexandria and National Harbor. Consider it two tours in one: You get time on the water, then a few hours on land to explore the former presidential house and farm. And honestly—when's the last time you were at Mount Vernon or out on the Potomac?

Boat tickets, including admission to Mount Vernon, cost $45.95 for an adult round trip from DC, $42 from Alexandria and National Harbor, with lower prices for children. 3200 Mount Vernon Memorial Hwy., Mount Vernon; 703-780-2000; see mountvernon.org for more information.

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Posted at 01:08 PM/ET, 03/01/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Hike under the moonlight with the guidance of the US National Arboretum staff.
Photograph by Flickr user MASilva.

Why you might roll your eyes:

Hiking in the dark sounds dangerous—and how will you see the forest or the trees?

Why you'll love it:

The 412-acre plant-and-flower preserve looks lovely in the daytime, but during full-moon toursoffered a few nights a monthit takes on a mysterious, otherworldly glow. Sign up early for the popular two-hour group hikes, which trek past meadows, woods, and a ghostly group of circa-1828 Corinthian columns that once graced the US Capitol. As your eyes adjust to the dark, your other senses get sharper, adding to the experience. "I became really attuned to soundwater rushing, an owl hooting," says Capitol Hill's Jeff Miller, who took a trip last year.

Tours take place three nights a month in the early evening around a full moon (except in July and August) and cost $22 a person; see usna.usda.gov for more information or to book.

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Posted at 01:02 PM/ET, 03/01/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()