Our Guide to Washington, D.C., Part I
Part I of our D.C. guide is focused on National Park Service units in the Washington D.C. jurisdiction area; a few sites in Virginia and Maryland are included. You can visit these sites without a car, either by walking, using public transportation, or taking a quick taxi ride. The parks are in alphabetical order, which the NPS categorizes by the first letter of the park. At the end, we’ll share a great tip to make sure you find all the stamps for your Eastern National Parks Passport.
This is the home of African-American historian, author, and journalist Carter G. Woodson, also the founder of Black History Month. The house is currently under renovation and only open for special entry events; see the exterior and get a stamp at the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site.
Designed by the architecture firm Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill and landscape architect Dan Kiley, this walkway along Constitution Gardens Pond is a good place to have a picnic on the mall after touring the eastern or western portion and to enjoy the flowering gardens. Visit the memorial to the signers of the Declaration of Independence, featuring their signatures chiseled into granite blocks.
A tour of a lower level museum examines Lincoln's early political career and presidency, as well as the many attempts on his life. See where history changed course there and in the theatre, where a local actor will perform a period monologue detailing the evening of Lincoln's assassination. (In the evening, you can take in a world class play on the same stage.)
Enjoy a quiet and thought-provoking walk through a series of stone works and bronze statues that highlight the life and presidency of FDR. Our favorite tableau depicts Roosevelt with his much beloved Scottish Terrier, Fala.
Tour Cedar Hill, Frederick Douglass' home in his later years, after President Rutherford B. Hayes appointed him the U.S. Marshal of the District of Columbia. Reservations are vital, as they are the only way to see the interior of the house; otherwise the visitor center offers a film and interesting historical and interpretive exhibits on Douglass' speaking and writing as an abolitionist and ambassador.
Located on the west side of the mall, life-size stainless steel statues of soldiers hauntingly capture a platoon on patrol. Do not miss the memorial wall opposite that has the faces of people of all paths and trades, men and women, both home and abroad, civilian and soldier, who where involved in the war.
The giant seated statue of Lincoln is made of Georgia white marble—it humbles visitors, who are also surrounded by his words, inscribed on Indiana limestone. The structure pays homage to the Parthenon. The bottom of the memorial is actually an undercroft (fancy basement) and the NPS is looking to renovate and open it to tours and exhibits (it’s been closed since the 1940’s) for the 100th anniversary of the Memorial in 2022.
Nestled in Lady Bird Johnson Park, the grove features a stone monolith in tribute to LBJ and many easy walking paths with exquisite views of the Potomac and Washington, D.C. If driving to Arlington National Cemetery, the grove is right outside the entry gates.
This is the most recent addition to the NPS in Washington, and King emerges from a massive split stone; the central piece is a commanding sculpture of King looking ahead, the two remnants of the stone behind him are the seeming mountain of despair from which he emerged as "a stone of hope." Quotes from King encircle the primary statue, on a band of granite winding memorial and creating a dramatic, reflective, and inspiring moment.
Right now under renovation, this site preserves the home of a woman who accomplished so much for the burgeoning Civil Rights movement, including her work on Eleanor Roosevelt’s shadow cabinet. Bethune was profoundly influential, and learning more about her made us consider how much of our nation's history does not make it into a high school history textbook.
The Mall is the grand open area of the people, linking up so many of the NPS sites along with the multitudes of government buildings and the Smithsonian museums. National Kite Flying day in April and the 4th of July fireworks are especially fun and joyful times to be on the mall.
One of America’s most famous streets, Pennsylvania Avenue, is also a National Parks Service Unit. Also included in this unit is the Old Post Office Tower, with stunning views of Washington from atop the clocktower (until the Washington Memorial reopens in 2019, it’s the highest public lands accessible point in Washington.)
One of the oldest parks in the all of the NPS, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, this sprawling urban park preserves the land around D.C. and allows for great recreation opportunities, like hiking, cycling, boating, tennis, horseback riding, and concerts. The trails are superb.
A small island in the Potomac, this island is home to a 17-foot statue of the 26th President. The trails are quite accessible and a great way to quickly escape from the heavy traffic and crowds of people in DC.
The famous domed memorial to Jefferson features a grand brass statue in the rotunda. A great place to stop and reflect when walking in the eastern part, around the Tidal Basin.
The memorial, designed by Maya Lin, has been at the forefront of American thoughts, tears and remembrance since it’s dedication in 1982. Though the names of the dead or missing are listed by year, a ranger or volunteer can help you locate a specific person’s name on the wall.
The obelisk stands tall at 555 feet high and is a place where visitors tend to linger to recharge. Unfortunately, due to damage in the 2011 earthquake, it is currently under repair and not open to the public until 2019.
The actual house is only available for scheduled tours submitted well in advance through your member of Congress (international visitors must go through their embassy) though the adjacent visitor center in the nearby U.S. Dept. of Commerce building is marvelous and tells the history of this storied home and its varied inhabitants. The gift shop is superb and the book selection on US history substantial.
This is still in the proposal stage, a much larger memorial possible in the future. Until then, the statue of General Pershing is what stands.
A starkly sobering and exclamatory memorial to the world’s largest fought war, the scale of the conflict is quite apparent in the grand design and the details of this memorial. Each state and territory is represented with a laurel wreath of peace.
Here's a fantastic tip to make sure you find all the stamps for your Eastern National Parks Passport! If you forget a stamp or don’t want to wait on a line, you can get nearly all the stamps for the parks mentioned here at Washington Memorial bookstore! It’s a small nondescript building due east of the memorial, inside there is a collection of multitudes of parks stamps. A real time saver!