Whether you’re a political junkie or simply exasperated at this point in an election year, a trip to the nation’s capital could rejuvenate your spirits. Rent a bike and let the historical aura and the fall foliage envelop you as you pedal from one memorial to the next on the National Mall. Or head to the National Zoo for the three‑night Boo at the Zoo event this month. With museums galore, the city is a tourist’s heaven and friendly for families, but it’s also a youthful, lively place where the median age is 33.
The Smithsonian Institution has 19 museums and galleries, including the recently opened African American History and Culture Museum. An often-overlooked gem is the National Postal Museum, across the street from Union Station. From the vast stamp gallery to a mail coach, rail car, and old airplanes, it’s full of interactive exhibits and lessons in Postal Service history. And it’s never crowded, even in heavy tourist season. The serenity and impact of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial cannot be captured in photos. The memorial’s four sections represent Roosevelt’s four terms, and his famous quotes are engraved on walls surrounding water features and sculptures of FDR and wife Eleanor. Also at the Tidal Basin is the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, which opened in 2011 and features a 30-foot statue of King carved into the Stone of Hope. The 450-foot Inscription Wall highlights 14 inspirational excerpts from his speeches and writings.
A museum cafe might not seem like a top dining destination, but Mitsitam Native Foods Cafe at the National Museum of the American Indian is not the typical museum food stop. The self-serve restaurant defies expectations with gourmet food from indigenous people throughout the Western hemisphere, such as Sunflower Crusted Lake Trout ($21) or Chilled Green Corn Soup ($5). The cafe has its own cookbook and has been called the best dining option on the Mall by The New York Times. Ristorante i Ricchi is a D.C. institution, earning accolades for more than 20 years. Try the “Burned Fingers” grilled lamb chops with lemon and rosemary marinade ($35). For casual food from a city landmark since 1958, head to Ben’s Chili Bowl for a chili burger ($6) or the healthier vegetarian chili ($5).
With ad slogans such as “unapologetically luxurious,” The Watergate Hotel pokes fun at its history. Enjoy its marble bathrooms and private balconies overlooking the Potomac River ($355 and up). For a historic stay on Capitol Hill, check out Eastern Market Suites ($250 to $340), an 1890 Victorian home with hardwood floors and modern appliances.
FUN FACT As of 2013, residents of Washington, D.C., consume more wine than those of any state in the union.
NEARBY Take a boat or a lovely drive to Mount Vernon. Tour George Washington’s estate ($10 to $20) and enjoy special events each month. Fall Harvest Family Days, Fall Wine Festival and Sunset Tour, and Trick-or-Treating are on tap for October.
GETTING THERE Several airlines fly to Dulles, Reagan, and Baltimore airports from John Wayne, with a connection. For a nonstop flight, depart from LAX.