Just walking about Penn Quarter yields all sorts of little pleasures: the trompe l'oeil mural on the back wall of the Romanesque National Bank Building at Seventh and Pennsylvania; the two-story-high gyroscope on the east side of the National Academy of Sciences building; and the 1882 Temperance Fountain at Seventh Street and Pennsylvania Avenue -- which, ironically, stood for many years in front of the turreted Apex Liquor store. According to its sign, St. Patrick's Catholic Church at 619 10th St. is the oldest church in the "Federal City" (i.e., outside "George Towne"), established in 1792.

If you prefer more organized touring, there are three interlocking historical trails, each taking about an hour to walk, that point out lesser-known sites related to the city's experiences during the Civil War and later civil rights campaigns. The trails are marked by street signs with trail maps, photos and anecdotes, and each of the loops begins near a Metro station. The East Loop can be picked up outside the Judiciary Square station at F Street between Fourth and Fifth streets; the Center Loop at the Archives/Navy Memorial Station at Seventh Street and Pennsylvania Avenue; and the West Loop at the Metro Center exit at 13th and G streets. A companion book, "Civil War to Civil Rights: Downtown Heritage Trails" is available at the National Building Museum and area bookstores or online from Cultural Tourism DC at www.culturaltourismdc.org.

-- Eve Zibart