Field Trip

Let Washington's History Be Your Guide

Washington Walks guide Mary Anne Hoffman regales her audience with anecdotes during her walking tour of Embassy Row.
Washington Walks guide Mary Anne Hoffman regales her audience with anecdotes during her walking tour of Embassy Row. (Photos By Kevin Clark -- The Washington Post)
By Kathleen Hom
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 20, 2007

Amid blaring sirens, a roaring Harley and a band of protesters, a group of nearly two dozen is glued to Mary Anne Hoffman, a Washington Walks tour guide, as she spouts history facts. The weather is dreary and cold, but the participants are content to stroll down Embassy Row while the petite southern Virginia native amuses them with anecdotes of the neighborhood's famous residents, such as why Alice Roosevelt Longworth's front garden was full of poison ivy and how the Indonesian Embassy is connected to the Hope Diamond.

This weekend, tour company Washington Walks and other volunteer guides will offer tours as part of Cultural Tourism DC's third annual spring WalkingTown, DC event, which gives tourists and residents a good excuse to explore D.C. neighborhoods a skip away or way across town.

WalkingTown, DC is a two-day event, with 64 free tours of 18 D.C. neighborhoods. Most involve walking, but there are also a handful of bicycle, boat and Metro tours. All tours last one to 3 1/2 hours.

Cultural Tourism DC says the most popular tours explore the city's more well-known neighborhoods, such as Capitol Hill, Georgetown, Embassy Row and U Street.

"The wide range of walking tours is testament to the diverse culture and rich heritage . . . that makes Washington a fascinating place," says Carma Fauntleroy, Cultural Tourism DC's interim executive director.

Last spring, 3,000 people, mostly Washington area residents, participated, and Cultural Tourism DC has added 20 tours this year. (A one-day fall edition is set for Sept. 29.)

New highlights include Sunday's geology tour of Adams Morgan and Rock Creek Park from 1 to 4. "History Before History: The Geologic Story of Washington, D.C." will be led by Callan Bentley, a geology instructor at Northern Virginia Community College. Bentley says the two-mile walk will focus on "what the rocks can tell you about D.C. before it was the capital city."

Another new tour, on Saturday from 1:30 to 3:30, is "Within Sight of the White House: Hooker's Division and Murder Bay." The one-mile tour, which contains adult content, will be led by park ranger Michael Kelly and Heidi Dietze. It traces the history of the Federal Triangle neighborhood, from a slum filled with brothels to an enclave of neo-classical government buildings. "One finds an infinitely interesting human dynamic that can be developed through [the] study of neighborhoods," Kelly says.

The Corcoran College of Art and Design will offer three one-hour sketching and walking sessions Sunday called "Drawing Wisconsin." Participants (each group will be limited to 30) will follow an instructor along Wisconsin Avenue, making six sketching stops. "We love being in D.C. because of the nature of the design of the city; you have all these ready-made settings," says Richard Selden, the Corcoran's director of continuing education. "It's a distinctively visual city, and we're interested in getting people off the beaten track."

The sketching tours are for all ages, and advanced and beginning artists, and drawing materials are provided.

Teenagers (older than 13) may enjoy "Wild Washington: Animal Sculptures by Bike" on Sunday from 1 to about 4:30. The tour will be led by Carl Airhart, a retired teacher and now a guide for Bike the Sites tour company. The tour, based on the book "Wild Washington: Animal Sculptures A to Z," will cover about 12 miles. It begins with a walk through the National Zoo and ramps up with a ride through Rock Creek Park, Dupont Circle and the Mall. Participants can rent a bicycle for $20 from Bike the Sites; helmets are included. Airhart says the tour makes 40 stops (not every sculpture in the book is visited), including one of his favorites: the Neptune fountain with its turtles in front of the Library of Congress. And because there's street riding involved, buggies and trailers are not allowed.

Before lacing up your walking shoes and heading out, here are some tips:

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