So you've seen the U.S. Capitol, the Lincoln Memorial and all of Washington's well-known symbols of freedom and power. You've tasted astronaut ice cream at the Smithsonian and communed with the Old Masters at the National Gallery of Art. Now it's time to experience Washington beyond the monuments - the neighborhoods where Washingtonians go for shopping, nightlife and top-notch theater, and the museums that offer a more intimate look at historic figures.
Here are a few of our favorite Washington-area attractions that are located off the National Mall:
The National Zoo
Located between Connecticut Ave. and Rock Creek Park in the city's Woodley Park neighborhood, the zoo is one of the city's perennial top tourist attractions, and the arrival of the new pandas is sure to draw a steady stream of visitors for years to come.
Dupont Circle Neighborhood
If you like art, shopping and people-watching, visit Dupont Circle, located just north of downtown D.C. on Metrorail's Red Line. The neighborhood wraps around a small, well-worn traffic circle where chess players, students, bike couriers, office workers and others hang out. At least 22 art galleries, including the world-renowned Phillips collection, are located nearby. Dupont Circle is also known for its restaurants, coffee shops and specialty boutiques, including many businesses that cater to the neighborhood's large concentration of gay residents and visitors.
Frederick Douglass National Historic Site
Located in the Anacostia section of the city, this national historic site offers an intimate look into the life of Frederick Douglass, a former slave who became an influential abolitionist, orator and statesman. A 12-minute video provides an overview of Douglass's life. A tour of his former home includes glimpses at his library and everyday life. Be sure to enjoy the great view of the city from the front of Douglass's stately Victorian house.
Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens
This 12-acre National Park, located in Northeast Washington, provides a steamy and dreamy summer oasis. In the 1920s, local residents used to come here on Sundays to parade in their Sunday best. Though the park isn't so popular these days, thousands of lotuses, waterlilies and other aquatic plants still bloom in the park's ponds during the summer. A trail leads to the Anacostia River, where herons and other birds can be seen. Combine it with a trip to the nearby National Arboretum.
National Museum of Health and Medicine
Prepare to be grossed out. Dedicated to the history of health and medicine, the National Museum of Health and Medicine has items seldom seen in museums, including a real lung that was blackened after years of tobacco usage. Only here can you touch a brain that is coated in a flexible plastic substance. History buffs will be fascinated by the Civil War artifacts such as the bullet that killed President Lincoln. Not recommended for the squeamish or for people on first dates.
National Museum of Women in the Arts
Art lovers know that Washington has some of the best museums in the world, and unlike their European counterparts, most of them have free admission. The National Museum of Women in the Arts is the only museum in the world that is solely dedicated to showcasing the achievements of women artists. Artists in the permanent collection include Mary Cassatt, Georgia O'Keeffe, Frieda Kahlo and dozens of lesser-known but equally fascinating artists. After visiting the museum, you might begin to wonder why these accomplished artists aren't more widely known.
Washington has one of the best theater scenes in the nation. The best place to buy day-of-performance discount tickets for area productions is at this half-price outlet, located in the Old Post Office at 11th and Pennsylvania Ave., NW. More than 60 arts organizations, including the Kennedy Center and the National Theatre, participate in this Cultural Alliance of Greater Washington service. Don't overlook this area's cutting-edge theatres such as Signature, Studio and Woolly Mammoth. While you're at the Old Post Office, take an elevator ride to the top of the 315-high clock tower and enjoy the view.
U Street/Cardozo Neighborhood
From the 1920s to the late 1950s, the Shaw/U Street area was known for its jazz and blues scene. Social changes led to the decline of the neighborhood but it's popular once again, with a slew of specialty stores and nightclubs. Walk along U Street and you'll find everything from funky used clothes to a yuppie hardware store to smoky jazz joints.
Located 14 miles upriver from Washington, D.C., Great Falls National Park is known for both its stunning beauty and its historic significance as the site of the historic Patowmack canal. Great Falls is officially located in Virginia, but visitors can also see the falls from Maryland's C&O Canal National Historical Park. The Virginia side offers postcard-worthy views of the park's turbulent Potomac River waterfalls and both Great Falls and the C&O National Historical Park offer miles of well-marked hiking trails. Other activities include horseback-riding trails, rock climbing, kayaking (not recommended for beginners) and fishing.
C&O Canal National Historic Park
-- Sheila Walsh