And a Phone Shall Lead You

There are so many reasons to listen to free cell phone or podcast tours without physically doing said tours. Perhaps your workout playlist needs a little gravitas, or your New Year’s resolution is to stop fulfilling your emotional needs with 1-900 numbers. The beauty of call-in jaunts is that even dumbphones can handle them, as the sole requirement is that a device have buttons. We “went” on these two D.C. excursions and, thanks to unlimited weekend minutes, plan to hit the Grand Canyon (928-225-2907) next.

Before you set off on any phone tour, visit the attraction’s website for instructions on how to follow along.

Embassy Row

A brisk Cokie Roberts guides listeners up Massachusetts Avenue from Dupont Circle to the U.S. Naval Observatory on a journey full of “so that’s what that is!” revelations. As in, “So that’s what the Society of Cincinnati is” (a fraternal organization founded by Revolutionary War officers) or, “So that’s what that skinny building at Mass and Florida is!” (the Estonian Embassy). There are 40 stops, each with one to two minutes of audio.

202-595-1841 or download the podcast. (Use Stuffit Expander to unzip the file on a Mac. Double-clicking won’t work.)

Civil War to Civil Rights

Cultural Tourism DC’s tour of downtown (three 45-minute recordings) is led by NPR correspondent Korva Coleman, whose voice is buttered sunshine. Korva issues idiot-proof instructions like “walk up to it” and “now turn around.” She’s backed by useful snippets of aural history, such as a protest song sung in 1951 at what was a Hecht’s department store (the building at 7th and F streets NW) with a segregated lunch counter. The similar “City Within a City” tour covers U Street NW, also with Korva.

Three More to Try

Congressional Cemetery: 202-747-3474, tour info. (phone only)

Luce Foundation Center at the American Art Museum: 202-595-1852, tour info and downloads. (phone and podcast)

Rock Creek Park: 202-730-9307, tour info. (phone only)

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