homeprev issuesexecpublic affairspub forumSTAFF

2000 Annual Meeting: August 12-16, 2000

Off the Beaten Path: Advice from Local Sociologists About What To See In DC

by Carla B. Howery
Deputy Executive Officer

Maybe it is true that to find the good places to eat, ask a cab driver-in DC, you would surely find the good Ethiopian restaurants that way, and there are many, most in proximity to the ASA convention hotels. Asking local sociologists is another strategy to get some tips of less known places, sites, and experiences.

Most people in DC have a lot of house-guests and develop strategies to point them in the right direction to enjoy the city, while we still go to work and school.

At my house, we even have "the tourist umbrella" which we give to guests and assure them we won't be upset if it is lost on the Metro (and, to date it keeps returning) as well as the "tourist packet" of phone numbers, Metro maps, and itineraries.

Recently I enjoyed a visit of six relatives from Minneapolis, most of whom had not been to DC before. Their 3-day weekend visit challenged me to craft what I thought would be a good "Taste of DC" for them and, whether it was apparent to them or not, I developed four themes I wanted our touristing to imbue:

  • DC is an old city with a lot of history (including Maryland and Virginia), especially if you come from the midwest or west and had "colony envy." (Some would joke that DC is still a colony.)

  • DC is a beautiful city, with Pierre L'Enfant as its architect. With some notable exceptions (e.g. the HUD and FBI buildings) the architecture of both federal and private sector buildings is quite lovely and preservation of buildings is highly prized.

  • DC is an Afro-centric city, with African-Americans comprising more than † of its residents and setting the cultural tone.

  • DC is the nation's capital - a political city - and that reality makes it a one-of-a-kind city in the U.S.

    Sociologists will jump the chance to pursue these themes, and an additional one:

  • There are many sociologists in Washington, DC, doing very interesting work, in the academy, in the federal government, in the non-profit and private sector. The ASA tours will expose ASA visitors to many of these venues.

    Here are some other recommendations from locals of things you can do in a morning or afternoon, on public transportation, when you've need a break from convention life.

    Explore the National Cathedral (Episcopal) which is the largest gothic structure in North America. Docents give terrific tours, the building and grounds are restful and inspiring, the gift shop is unique, and you can do your own stone rubbings. The Cathedral is one of the highest points in the city and affords a great view. You can get there by subway and bus or cab, or as part of the Old Town Trolley (OTT) Tour. The National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception (Catholic) in northeast DC (red line; Catholic University stop) is a spectacular building with tours and free music, as well as services.

    The Frederick Douglass House and Museum will give you a wonderful exposure to his life and times and African-American history in DC located at 320 A Street NE (the telephone number is (202) 544-6130). Closer to the Hilton, take a robust walk (or subway: green line: Shaw/U street) around the intersection of 14th Street and U Street NW. This is a neighborhood in transition, but historically it was the epicenter for African American art and culture, music and clubs, where Duke Ellington played and Lena Horne sang. Some of the original buildings are there and some of the new clubs opening up are exciting! Have lunch at a Washington classic, Ben's Chili Bowl. While on U Street, find the intersection with 10th Street to view a new memorial to African-American Civil War veterans.

    The "14th Street corridor" (roughly from P to T streets NW) was the site of the riots of 1968, after the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. The area is only now being rebuilt, commercially, after thirty years of boarded up buildings. The DC government built one of its office buildings as an anchor for development. This street is also home to great "off Broadway" theater, especially at the Source, (at 1835 14th Street NW, and the number is (202) 462-1073); Studio (1333 P Street NW, telephone: (202) 332-3300), and Wooly Mammoth Theatres (located at 1401 Church Street NW, (202) 393-3939). These small, avant garde production companies always are fascinating ­ take a chance! And get half price tickets at TICKETPLACE at the Old Post Office building (Pennsylvania and 12 Street NW, (202) 289-4224) This building, which houses the National Endowment for the Humanities, affords a great view of DC from its bell tour (and saves you the wait in line for the same view from the Washington Monument). It has a good food court, too.

    Spend your afternoon as a "culture vulture" at the Kennedy Center. Take the subway (blue line; Foggy Bottom) and then the free shuttle bus that will drop you at the door. Aim for a 3:00 arrival to take the well-done tour of the private reception rooms and of the artwork donated in honor of President Kennedy. Then have a snack or drink on the rooftop café and gaze out over the Potomac River, to look at the city, Georgetown, and Virginia, and a good windowpeek at the Watergate. At 6:00 p.m. each day, there is free entertainment on the Millennium Stage. You may want to see if there are any standing room or half price tickets for a current performance.

    Tour the Washington Post at 15th and L (subway: red line, Farragut North) and get a view of the open newsroom where Woodward and Bernstein wrote (the former still does) and news is made. 1150 15th Street NW, (202) 334-6000

    Walk from the Hilton Hotel to 21st and R Streets NW to take in the Phillips Museum, a private museum collection largely of impressionists and modern art. The Museum used to be the private home of Duncan and Marjorie Phillips, so you can get a taste of how the other half lived in the first part of the last century. There are many small galleries in this area, especially good is the Washington Printmakers Gallery on R. After art, stop at Teaism (Connecticut Avenue and R) for tea, of course, and oriental snacks. If you have more time, stop by the The Textile Museum (2320 S Street NW, (202) 667-0441) and the Woodrow Wilson-a fellow social scientist-House and Museum (2340 S Street NW, (202) 387-4062), all in a great neighborhood with historic houses. Visit the historic Christian Heurich House at New Hampshire Ave and 19th Street NW and/or buy a take out lunch and sit in their garden.

    Visit the National Geographic (subway: red line, Farragut North or OTT, or a robust walk from Hilton Hotel) which is free and always has great exhibits and an excellent gift shop.

    The ASA Executive Office will be on a tour, but add the nearby National Museum for Women in the Arts. It is in a wonderful building with good permanent collections and always an interesting new exhibit (near Metro center subway stop).

    A quick subway ride (blue or orange line; Rosslyn stop) will take you to the Newseum, an interactive museum on media, very interesting for older children and adults.

    Georgetown (via a cab or walking from Foggy Bottom metro) is a wonderful place to eat and stroll. Go in daylight to see Dumbarton Oaks gardens and museum, the houses built in the 1700s, and to walk along the C & O canal. There are (free) summer concerts on the canal. Be sure to walk around at night when you can see into the quaint houses! [thanks to Ruth Wallace]

    And speaking of concerts, there is an outdoor band concert just about every night in the summer by one of the military bands. They put on an outstanding program, usually of classical selections, but always to include some patriotic pieces (John Phillips Sousa marches by the Marine Band, for instance) with the Capital, or Jefferson Memorial in the background. Take your own picnic from the good take-out places along Connecticut Avenue (e.g., Marvelous Market) and see if the hearts of cynical sociologists can be stirred by the strains of Sousa.

    Among the usual tourist spots, here are some hints. Go to Constitution Avenue late in the day, starting with a visit to the National Academy of Sciences and some quiet time at the statue of Albert Einstein. Then, as night falls, walk around the Washington Monument, then along the reflecting pool to the Vietnam Memorial. It is best seen at night and is a very moving experience, as is the Korean Memorial nearby. End the walk with a climb up the stairs of the Lincoln Memorial.

    The garden behind the Smithsonian castle is well kept in the summer and a good place to sit down and rest after pounding the hard floors of museums. Don't miss the African and Asian Museums in the set of Smithsonian offerings (all free). Smart tourists also buy tickets early in the day for the Imax Theater and end the day sitting in a plus chair watching 3-D beauty in the Air and Space Museum. If you are looking for a place to eat that tourists do not visit, try the Castle's Commons Room, which has a good buffet in a glorious room. Give yourself a spin on the merry-go-round on the Mall nearby. (Thanks to Joyce Kozuch)

    Take the red line to Judiciary Square to visit the National Building Museum, which has rotating exhibits in a lovely space. It was formerly called the Pension Building, as workers issued pensions to war veterans during the Civil War and thereafter. Across the street is the General Accounting Office, in which many sociologist work along side with financial auditors! You will be within walking distance of Chinatown for a good meal.

    Another good museum-food combo is the National Postal Museum, right across the street from Union Station (subway: red line; Union Station) (202) 357-2991 or The museum has great exhibits and hands-on activities for kids, and you can buy stamps. Either eat at the Capitol City Brewhouse or at Union Station, but look around the Station in any case.

    Three other museums that tourists typically miss are: National Museum of Health and Medical (6900 Georgia Avenue NW at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, (202) 782-2200 or ), which was established in the Civil War and gives you a peek down the halls of medical history; Meridian International Center, which works with museums, embassies, and other institutions to present quality international exhibitions, shown at the White-Meyer Galleries, 1624 Crescent Place, NW (202) 939-5568; and The Octagon, the Museum of the American Architectural Foundation (1799 New York Avenue NW (202) 638-3221).

    One of the best tours is of the Madison Building of the Library of Congress, across the street from the Capital. You can use the Library while you are there and some quiet time in the reading room may put life back in the body.

    ASA will offer many neighborhood tours, including one of the immediate Adams-Morgan area. But to get out into a neighborhood, hop on the subway (orange line; Clarendon stop) and dine at any ethnic restaurant in this terrific and diverse section of Arlington, VA. The neighborhood is known as "Little Vietnam," but also has Greek, Moroccan, Japanese, Southern, and more to choose from. (Thanks to Joyce Kozuch) This might be a good finale to an afternoon visit to the National Science Foundation (Ballston stop) a bit farther out into Virginia.

    Another great neighborhood to visit is Cleveland Park (subway: red line; Cleveland Park). Go west on any of the side streets (Newark, Ordway, Porter) and walk the neighborhoods of liberal Democrats. Go to Van Ness, gaze at the INTELSAT building, visit the offices of the Fulbright Commission there, and then roam through the streets up the hill to look upon all the new embassies being built there, including Israel (an oldie), and some new architectural styles. Conclude with a trip through the University of the District of Columbia. (Thanks Bill D'Antonio)

    Washington has many great bookstores (beyond the franchises) and several are near the hotel. On Connecticut Avenue above Dupont Circle, you can walk to the Mystery Bookstore, Lambda Rising (gay and lesbian), and Kramerbooks and Café. Farther out (north) on Connecticut Avenue, look for Politics and Prose (5015 Connecticut Avenue NW, (202) 364-1919). Co-owner Carla Cohen is familially-connected with sociologist Frank Furstenberg and her store has a good socio-political collection. (Thanks to Felice Levine)

    The Friday edition of the Post (available on line at includes the Weekend section, with lots of detailed ideas about what is happening in Washington. Enjoy!