48 hours in Washington, D.C.


The intricate Friendship Arch in D.C.'s Chinatown was built in 1986 as a symbol of the close relationship between Beijing and Washington, D.C.

Special to The Sun
Published: Sunday, April 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, March 31, 2007 at 10:00 p.m.

Washington, D.C.: 48 hours and way too much to do. The city runs wide and deep in its variety of historical and cultural must-dos, far more than can be covered in a weekend trip.

So, how do you choose what to do on a weekend trip? Blend the following elements: the well-known, the little-visited, the touristy and the authentic local experience. Get off the Mall - rich though it is - and dive into D.C.'s neighborhoods. Discovering the hidden treasures of these areas will make you feel like a bit of an insider. Oh, and don't forget the food - D.C. is one of the nation's tastiest towns.

Saturday

9 a.m.: What better way to start the day than with quality baked goods? One of D.C.'s favorite sugar-butter-flour establishments is Firehook Bakery in Dupont Circle. Known for baking in small batches with quality ingredients, Firehook offers tasty pastries, muffins, breads and cookies, as well as a coffee bar for that morning jolt.

So, grab a cookie...er, bran muffin and stroll down Connecticut Avenue. You'll pass Kramerbooks (www.kramers.com), an independent bookstore known for its eclectic selection, and Beadazzled (www.beadazzled.net), a funky bead shop that smells of incense. Keep going, and the avenue will take you straight into the circle itself.

Though a little grungy around the periphery, the park's focal point is its historic fountain. Dedicated in 1921, it replaced a bronze statue of Admiral Samuel Francis duPont himself. The white marble fountain features three classical figures representing the sea, the stars and the wind. Benches ring the park and offer plenty of vantage points to take in the scene.

11 a.m.: And now the aforementioned well-known touristy bit: cherry blossoms. The craggy trees that ring the Tidal Basin burst in profusions of pale pink flowers, and falling blossoms collect on the ground like spring snow. Blooming typically peaks during the National Cherry Blossom Festival, from the end of March to April 15.

Festival activities include fireworks, a kite-flying day, a parade, a Japanese street carnival and cultural performances. Be prepared for crowds, though: according to the festival's website, www.nationalcherryblossomfestival.org, more than 1 million people visit each year to see the blossoms.

1 p.m.: After the bustle of the blossoms, recharge with the quintessential D.C. meal: the power lunch. There's no better place to do it than at Old Ebbitt Grill (www.ebbitt.com). Just steps from the White House, the Grill was originally founded in 1856, and in its various permutations, has played host to a laundry list of famous American politicians and leaders. The dark wood Victorian-style decor incorporates antiques and maintains the spirit of turn-of-the-century D.C. saloons. The menu includes meatloaf with mashed potatoes, grilled New York strip steak and jumbo lump crab cakes-in short, solid American fare with stiff drinks to boot. If you're in the mood for something traditional, try a platter of Ebbitt's raw oysters -they're a specialty.

3 p.m.: Cross the street and peer through the White House gates. After a few minutes you'll probably see black-clad, binocular-equipped figures on the roof looking right back at you. Skirt the usual contingent of ever-present protestors and walk across Pennsylvania Avenue to Lafayette Park, just north of the president's residence.

The park is full of old oaks and magnolias and has seen more than its share of historic events. The site has been at different times a graveyard, a slave market, a zoo and a racetrack, as well as the most fashionable place to live at the beginning of the 19th century. As a result, the park is lined with some of the city's most historic buildings, including Dolly Madison's house and the Stephen Decatur House. The Decatur House (www.decaturhouse.org) has been preserved as a museum and houses a large gift shop with an American history focus.

6 p.m.: Put on your party shoes and before the daylight fades, head to Chinatown to check out the "Friendship Arch," an ornate Chinese gate erected in 1986 to solidify the friendly relationship between Beijing and Washington, D.C. Located at Seventh and H Streets, NW, the gate is the largest of its kind in the world, according to Cultural Tourism D.C. (www.culturaltourismdc.org), and features intricate carvings, 272 painted dragons and gleaming gold details.

Though not as impressive as San Francisco's famous Chinatown, D.C.'s version still musters a few spice shops and bilingual signs for every neighborhood business, even McDonald's. The formerly seedy area is exploding with new hot spots, particularly in the realm of chic ethnic restaurants. From Jaleo's Spanish tapas to Café Atlantico's Nuevo Latino cuisine, Chinatown is bursting at the seams with pricey international ways to fill your belly.

One of the best is Zaytinya (www.zaytinya.com), which offers pan-Mediterranean cuisine in a swanky setting. A high ceiling and a wall of windows create airiness in the dining room, contrasting with the candle-lit bar and earthy Middle Eastern music. The food is served mezze-style (like tapas) and dabbles in Greek, Turkish and Lebanese cuisine, including spiced lamb loin, spanakopita, lemon-pomegranate fattoush and creamy hummus.

Post-dinner, it's party time. There's a lot to choose from, including two Irish pubs (Fado and the Irish Channel), dance clubs (Platinum and Avenue) and an upscale bowling alley, Lucky Strike Lanes.

Sunday

11 a.m.: So, perhaps you partied a little hard last night. It's OK - Georgetown's News Cafe© (www.newscafedc.com) understands. Serving brunch from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., the Italian restaurant features sweet and savory crepes, eggs Benedict and a variety of omelets. If you can get a seat in the mosaic room, do. A large skylight illuminates the space, and a myriad of tiny multi-colored tiles creates the feeling of a Mediterranean villa.

After a hearty breakfast, head across the street to the Old Stone House (www.nps.gov/olst), one of the oldest surviving buildings in the District. The house is maintained by the National Park Service and entrance is free. Behind the house, an English garden offers a respite from busy M Street, which is a mecca for shopping aficionados.

Before leaving Georgetown, walk to the waterfront. On the D.C. side of the Potomac, you'll see the Kennedy Center, and across the river, the high-rises of Rosslyn, Va. In the middle of the river is Roosevelt Island, an undeveloped piece of land that is crisscrossed with nature trails.

3 p.m.: Head across town to historic Eastern Market and pick up some farm-fresh produce or drool over the prime selection of meats and cheeses at the indoor stalls. The market was built in 1873 and has been operating continuously ever since, making it a National Historic Landmark. Street musicians and a flea market add to the bohemian atmosphere.

For a last pre-flight meal, try the Banana Cafe© (www.bananacafedc.com), a Cuban/Puerto Rican/Mexican amalgamation just two blocks from the Eastern Market metro stop. Colorful decor sets a festive tone, and the food (spicy ropa vieja and chimichangas) and drinks (mango margaritas and mojitos) back it up. If you have time, stick around until 5 p.m. - that's when the piano bar cranks up.

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