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Meridian Hill Park
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30 essential places to visit in D.C. right now

From lesser-known museums to some of the region’s finest parks

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Meridian Hill Park
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There are parts of Washington, D.C. that tourists never visit and, more often than not, never even know about. Are they worth visiting, though? Heck yeah.

Below, Curbed compiled 30 must-see locations in the District that are less on the touristy side (the Washington Monument, the White House, etc.) and more about what makes D.C. home for more than 700,000 people. These sites give you an up-close look at the nation's capital, its landscape, and its residents—beyond what visitors normally see. Happy hunting.

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Rock Creek Park

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At more than 1,700 acres, Rock Creek Park is more than twice the size of New York’s Central Park. It’s also one of America’s oldest city parks, established in 1890 by Congress. Enjoy the shade and the streams, and keep an eye out for woodland creatures.

An area in Rock Creek Park in Washington D.C. There is a body of water and a bridge is spanning over the body of water. There are trees surrounding the area. Shutterstock

Washington National Cathedral

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Even if you’re not religious or spiritual, you can still appreciate how ornate and immense the National Cathedral is. It’s the fourth-tallest structure in D.C., the sixth-largest cathedral in the world. and the second-largest cathedral in the U.S. It also has a Darth Vader sculpture on the top of its west tower.

The exterior of the Washington National Cathedral. The facade is tan and there are elaborately designed towers. Getty Images/iStockphoto

Smithsonian’s National Zoo

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At no cost, you can see pandas nearly every day of the year. The National Zoo is one of the oldest zoos in the U.S., and it houses a variety of species including cheetahs, elephants, and apes. The zoo also hosts events for humans of all ages, like ZooLights and Brew at the Zoo.

A panda sleeps on a rock at Smithsonian’s National Zoo. Getty Images/iStockphoto

Dumbarton House

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The historic Dumbarton House was repaired and reprogrammed from October 2016 to June 2017. Now reopened, the charming Federal building boasts architecture, decorative furniture, paintings, textiles, silver, and ceramics, all dating back to the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

The exterior of the Dumbarton House. The facade is red brick with white columns and a chimney. CQ-Roll Call,Inc.

Theodore Roosevelt Island

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You can relax or hike at Theodore Roosevelt Island, a living memorial to America’s 26th president located on the Potomac River. The car-free island is somewhat secluded and is great to view from a kayak or canoe.

An area on Theodore Roosevelt Island in Washington D.C. There is a courtyard surrounded by trees. In the courtyard is a monument with a statue of a man. Getty Images/iStockphoto

Anderson House

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When this mansion was constructed in 1905 as the winter residence of a U.S. diplomat, it was known as one of the city's most fashionable. The 50-room home offered a walled garden, tennis court, and three-story carriage house. Presidents William H. Taft and Calvin Coolidge were regular visitors. The property later reopened as a house museum in 1939.

The interior of the Anderson House in Washington D.C. The walls have heavy tapestries with art hanging. There are multiple chandeliers. The floor is patterned and tiled. The Washington Post/Getty Images

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

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You don't need to cough up too much money to enjoy a performance at the Kennedy Center, the nation’s living memorial to President John F. Kennedy. Though big-ticket shows can carry a hefty price, the center offers free performances daily at the Millennium Stage, no tickets required. The center is set to expand in 2019.

The exterior of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The facade is white and there are trees in front. Getty Images

The Phillips Collection

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The Phillips Collection is a must-see for art lovers. In 1921, this Dupont Circle museum became the first museum of modern art in the U.S. Inside, you can find works from artists like Renoir, Rothko, and Monet.

The interior of the Phillips Collection in Washington D.C. There are works of art hanging on the wall and an arched doorway. The Washington Post/Getty Images

Meridian Hill Park

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At the southern end of Columbia Heights, Meridian Hill Park—also known as Malcolm X Park—is a sight to behold. During the warmer months, the park offers a serene escape from the city with a tranquil waterfall and a regular drum circle. In the winter, it’s a great place to have a snowball fight.

An aerial view of Meridian Hill Park in Washington D.C. There is a fountain surrounded by a path and trees. In the distance is a large building. Shutterstock

Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

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This basilica in Brookland is the largest Catholic church in North America, one of the ten largest churches in the world, and the tallest habitable building in D.C. Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, among other luminaries, have visited the church.

The exterior of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. The facade is ivory with a tower and a domed roof. Getty Images/iStockphoto

Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America

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In Brookland, the public can discover this oasis of peace, home to a thriving Franciscan community. Guests are able to walk in for a tour, but groups of six or more require a reservation.

The exterior of the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America. The facade is ivory with a blue roof and columns. Getty Images/iStockphoto

National Museum of Women in the Arts

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Welcome to the only major museum in the world solely dedicated to women and their artwork. With approximately 4,500 works in the museum by over 1,000 women artists, visitors can learn a lot about significant artists like Mary Cassatt, Frida Kahlo, and Joana Vasconcelos.

The exterior of the National Museum of Women in the Arts. The facade is glass. Getty Images

Gravelly Point

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Technically this park is located in Arlington, Virginia, but it's worth the bike ride or jog to go see. Prepare yourself a picnic and enjoy views of the District. Expect some noise, though: The park is right faces the runway of Reagan National Airport, so expect a plane to rush overhead every few minutes.

A person lounges in a chair in a large grassy field as an airplane flies overhead. In the distance are trees. Getty Images

National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden

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Adjacent to the West Building of the National Gallery of Art, a 6.1-acre block hosts a sculpture garden, a cafe, and a fountain used as an ice-skating rink in the winter. Touching the sculptures is forbidden, as is riding a bicycle or skateboard.

A portion of the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden. There is a large metal abstract sculpture on a grassy lawn. Getty Images

U.S. Botanic Garden

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Near the U.S. Capitol, you can walk inside one of the oldest continually operating botanic gardens in North America. The garden features rare and endangered plants as well as roses, orchids, and fruit. Located outside is the Bartholdi Fountain, an elegant cast iron structure that stands 30 feet tall and weighs more than 15 tons. It was designed by Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, the French sculptor behind the Statue of Liberty.

A fountain and greenhouse at the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington D.C. Getty Images/iStockphoto

Culture House

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Housed in a colorful former church, Culture House—formerly known as Blind Whino—is a nonprofit arts club and event space featuring exhibits, events, live performances, and artist workshops. It showcases some of the coolest local art in D.C.

The exterior of the Blind Whino Culture House in Washington D.C. The facade has a colorful mural painted on it. The Washington Post/Getty Images

The Yards Park

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This park is relatively recent to the District and quite fun to visit. Along with several retail and restaurant options nearby, you can also enjoy the view of the Anacostia River, dip your toes in the pool, and have a picnic on the grass. Be sure to take a stroll along the award-winning, 200-foot pedestrian bridge.

Circular arches on a bridge in Yards Park in Washington D.C. Getty Images/iStockphoto

Shakespeare Theatre Company (Multiple Locations)

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Each year, this award-winning company puts on myriad comedies and tragedies, by more playwrights than just the Bard. The group was formed in 1970 and operates both Sidney Harman Hall (610 F Street NW) and the Lansburgh Theatre (450 7th Street NW).

The exterior of the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington D.C. The facade is glass with many windows. Getty Images

Eastern Market

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In addition to fresh meats, cheeses, and produce, you can also find handmade items sold at Eastern Market, in Capitol Hill. At its flea market, jewelry, vintage records, and furniture abound.

The exterior of Eastern Market in Washington D.C. The facade is red with arched windows and doors. Shutterstock

Union Market

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This unique food market in Northeast offers over 40 vendors as well as an Angelika Pop-Up with specialty film programming. Expect all sorts of events hosted at the market, including food festivals, yoga, and movie screenings.

The exterior of Union Market in Washington D.C. There is a parking lot in front. The Washington Post/Getty Images

Atlas Performing Arts Center

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When this site opened in 1938, it was one of the city’s earliest movie theaters. But during the 1968 civil unrest that rocked D.C., the site was damaged and closed. It reopened in 2006 as a vibrant performing arts space on H Street NE.

The exterior of the Atlas Performing Arts Center in Washington D.C. People are walking up to the theater. The Washington Post/Getty Images

National Arboretum

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The 446-acre arboretum hosts the columns that originally supported the U.S. Capitol building’s old East Portico. The site also features a major center of botanical research as well as a 390-year-old bonsai tree that survived an atomic bomb. What a great place to see foliage!

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Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens

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Managed by the National Park Service, this 700-acres site is perfect for scenic, quiet walks removed from city life. Expect an array of rare waterlilies and lotuses in addition to Kenilworth Marsh—the District’s only remaining tidal marsh.

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Anacostia Park

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Relax by the water, exercise at the fitness station, skate at the skating pavilion. There's so much to do at Anacostia Park, and it's all for free. Spanning over 1,200 acres, this is one of D.C.’s biggest parks, so you can easily find a place to unwind without having to worry about crowds.

National Park Service

Hillwood Estate, Museum, & Gardens

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Built in the 1920s, this 25-acre estate allows visitors to get an inside look at the former home of cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post. The former mansion houses a collection of imperial Russian and 18th-century French decorative art. Outside, there are green spaces that include a rose garden and a Japanese-influenced garden.

A body of water surrounded by rocks and trees. CQ-Roll Call,Inc.

Frederick Douglass National Historic Site

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Situated on a hill in Historic Anacostia, the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site preserves the home the abolitionist icon occupied while living in D.C. Tours usually last about 1.5 hours and happen regularly. The site also offers one of the city’s greatest views of the National Mall and downtown.

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President Lincoln's Cottage

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Among other historic homes in the District, Lincoln’s Cottage, located east of Petworth on the grounds of the Old Soldiers’ Home, stands out for its tranquil setting. The home, where Lincoln lived for more than a quarter of his presidency, hosts tours and events, including weddings.

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Entertainment & Sports Arena

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Opened in Southeast on the St. Elizabeths East Campus last year, this events and concert venue is becoming more of a destination for cultural activities east of the Anacostia River. It also serves as a practice arena for the Washington Wizards and home court for the Washington Mystics.

The interior of a sports arena in Washington D.C. The Washington Post/Getty Images

Capital One Arena

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During the fall, be sure to check out a Washington Wizards or Washington Capitals home game at Capital One Arena, located in Penn Quarter across from the National Portrait Gallery. There are a few concerts and other events scheduled at the arena as well.

A sports and entertainment arena sponsored by Capital One. The facade is made of glass. NBAE via Getty Images

Georgetown Waterfront

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Before it gets too cold, have a picnic or go for a jog or walk along the Georgetown Waterfront. It’s a peaceful place for pedestrians and you can admire the Francis Scott Key Bridge from the walkway.

A young woman looks at out a river, where a person is kayaking. There is a large, arched bridge in the background. Getty Images/iStockphoto

Rock Creek Park

An area in Rock Creek Park in Washington D.C. There is a body of water and a bridge is spanning over the body of water. There are trees surrounding the area. Shutterstock

At more than 1,700 acres, Rock Creek Park is more than twice the size of New York’s Central Park. It’s also one of America’s oldest city parks, established in 1890 by Congress. Enjoy the shade and the streams, and keep an eye out for woodland creatures.

An area in Rock Creek Park in Washington D.C. There is a body of water and a bridge is spanning over the body of water. There are trees surrounding the area. Shutterstock

Washington National Cathedral

The exterior of the Washington National Cathedral. The facade is tan and there are elaborately designed towers. Getty Images/iStockphoto

Even if you’re not religious or spiritual, you can still appreciate how ornate and immense the National Cathedral is. It’s the fourth-tallest structure in D.C., the sixth-largest cathedral in the world. and the second-largest cathedral in the U.S. It also has a Darth Vader sculpture on the top of its west tower.

The exterior of the Washington National Cathedral. The facade is tan and there are elaborately designed towers. Getty Images/iStockphoto

Smithsonian’s National Zoo

A panda sleeps on a rock at Smithsonian’s National Zoo. Getty Images/iStockphoto

At no cost, you can see pandas nearly every day of the year. The National Zoo is one of the oldest zoos in the U.S., and it houses a variety of species including cheetahs, elephants, and apes. The zoo also hosts events for humans of all ages, like ZooLights and Brew at the Zoo.

A panda sleeps on a rock at Smithsonian’s National Zoo. Getty Images/iStockphoto

Dumbarton House

The exterior of the Dumbarton House. The facade is red brick with white columns and a chimney. CQ-Roll Call,Inc.

The historic Dumbarton House was repaired and reprogrammed from October 2016 to June 2017. Now reopened, the charming Federal building boasts architecture, decorative furniture, paintings, textiles, silver, and ceramics, all dating back to the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

The exterior of the Dumbarton House. The facade is red brick with white columns and a chimney. CQ-Roll Call,Inc.

Theodore Roosevelt Island

An area on Theodore Roosevelt Island in Washington D.C. There is a courtyard surrounded by trees. In the courtyard is a monument with a statue of a man. Getty Images/iStockphoto

You can relax or hike at Theodore Roosevelt Island, a living memorial to America’s 26th president located on the Potomac River. The car-free island is somewhat secluded and is great to view from a kayak or canoe.