Around Town: Things to Do in Washington DC

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If you have never been to Washington DC, the 254th ACS National Meeting & Exposition will be a great opportunity for you to explore free access to museums, memorials, and famous landmarks at the cornerstone of US history. The Constitution of the United States originally granted the federal government 10 square miles of land to control directly. A series of compromises lead to the selection of the area that became Washington, which is now the only city in America that answers directly to the feds. (Yes, this occasionally causes some conflict.)

While you’re at the national meeting, here are some tips on getting around DC and things to do while you’re in town.

Bring a map

The layout of DC was designed in 1791 by Pierre Charles L’Enfant, who started with a beautifully simplistic grid of north-south streets (named numerically) and lettered east-west streets (named alphabetically). He then added wider diagonal avenues and traffic circles, as was the fashion of the day, before anyone conceived of over 600,000 people living in a city.

The resulting layout can be baffling to modern tourists (and some locals), so keep your map handy!

Don’t look for J St.

While it is widely claimed that L’Enfant held a grudge against then-Chief Justice John Jay that led to the omission, the truth is much more mundane. In the 18th century, the letters I and J looked very similar and were often used interchangeably. Having both I and J streets would have been confusing, so J was dropped.

Getting around

Washington, DC, is a walking city. It is relatively flat, and it is hard to go more than a block without seeing something interesting.

Here are some other ways to get around if you’d rather not be on foot:

ACS Shuttles are free and get you to the Convention Center and official ACS hotels.

Bike: DC’s bikeshare has over 300 bike stations all over the city. You can sign up for one trip, 24 hours, 3 days, or more.

Bus: With over 11,000 stops in the DC metro area, the DC Circulator ($1.00), and MetroBus ($1.75) can get you just about anywhere.

Subway: The MetroRail system is easy to use and is a straight route to many of the area’s landmarks. You’ll need a SmartTrip® card to get both in an out of the subway, as fares are based on how far you travel.

Taxis, Uber, and Lyft can take you anywhere but will be pricier than the other transportation options.

Sights to see

Memorials

The beauty of the memorials and their park-like surroundings make it easy to forget that they are tributes to some of our nation’s greatest influences, as well as the men and women who died protecting us. For visitors who lost loved ones in the wars, they can be an overwhelming experience.

It is well worth  a trip down to the National Mall to see the Lincoln Memorial, the Albert Einstein Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Reflecting Pool, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, the DC War Memorial, the Memorial to the 56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence, the World War II Memorial, and the Washington Monument.

On the western end of the Mall, head south around the Tidal Basin to see the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, the George Mason Memorial, and the Thomas Jefferson Memorial.

Abraham Lincoln Memorial on the west end of the National Mall
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Museums

DC has a plethora of free and inexpensive museums for every interest. The Smithsonian Institution has 19 museums and a zoo, and they’re all free!

Here’s what you can find on the National Mall:

  • African American History and Culture
  • African Art
  • Air and Space
  • American History
  • American Indian Museum
  • Arts and Industries
  • Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
  • National Gallery of Art
  • Natural History
  • Smithsonian Castle
National Museum of the American Indian, 4th Street and Independence Avenue, SW
Smithsonian Institution

Visit the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution at the National Archives. Just north of the National Mall is the National Portrait Gallery. The National Zoo is located in the Woodley Park area. The best way to get there is via metro rail. Take the Red line to the Woodley Park/Zoo station.

Other great museums that come at price include these (in order of closest proximity to the Convention Center):

  • National Museum of Women in the Arts ($10)
  • Madam Tussaud’s ($17.60+)
  • International Spy Museum ($14.95-$28.95)
  • Newseum ($22.46 with valid college ID)
  • National Geographic Museum ($15.00)
  • United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (FREE)

If you’re looking for something unexpected, obscure, or just plain weird, check out Atlas Obscura.

Plan ahead

Tours of the White House and the Capital must be arranged through your representative, but you are welcome to stroll around the grounds or stop by the visitor centers. Visiting the Supreme Court is less restrictive, but your options vary depending on whether the Court is in session.

The popular Museum of African American History and Culture issues timed-entry passes to visitors in order to manage the crowds. Advance passes are snatched up months in advance, but you can get same-day and walk-up passes.

DC is also home to more than 175 embassies, ambassador’s residences, and cultural centers. Visit the Washington DC Embassies page for more information on how to get your international fix.

Cheap Eats

DC’s wide variety of food trucks is a great source of cheap eats. You can also try one of these options:

Smoked & Stacked ($)
1239 9th St NW
Hearty breakfast & lunch sandwiches

All-Purpose Pizzeria ($$)
1250 9th St NW
Rustic-modern artisanal pizzas, antipasti, & more

The Dabney ($$)
122 Blagden Alley NW
Mid-Atlantic cuisine in a rustic atmosphere

SUNdeVICH ($)
1314 9th St NW
Counter-serve shop for creative sandwiches

Chercher Ethiopian Res-taurant & Mart ($)
1334 9th St NW
Ethiopian dishes, includ-ing vegetarian options

Beau Thai ($$)
1550 7th St NW A
Traditional Thai, plus specialty cocktails & vegan options

Busboys and Poets ($$)

1025 5th St NW
Art, culture, and politics mix at this combination bookstore-coffeeshop-restaurant

&pizza ($)
705 H St NW
Local, creative pizzeria chain