IF YOU'RE LIKE many Washingtonians, you rarely venture out of your neighborhood. You stick to what is familiar. I know I do. I tend to eat, shop and socialize within a one- or two-mile radius of my home.
Occasionally though, I wonder whether I'm missing out on all this city has to offer. I'd like to explore other neighborhoods but don't know where to start or what to look for once I get there.
For people like me and anyone else whose interest in the District lies beyond the monuments and museums on the Mall, Cultural Tourism DC has created WalkingTown DC, a fun and informative way to discover Washington.
The event is a full day of walking tours -- and a few bike tours -- in neighborhoods throughout the District. The first WalkingTown DC was held over two days in the spring and was so well received -- almost 3,000 participated -- that the nonprofit group decided to hold another in the fall, making it one day rather than two.
On Saturday, the organization will offer 26 free walking tours and two bike tours of D.C. neighborhoods, including Brookland, Shaw, Embassy Row, Kenilworth, Georgetown and Chevy Chase.
"The goal of the event is to get people to neighborhoods that they don't typically go to, even folks that live in the neighborhood, to learn a little bit about the history that they don't know now," said Reshma Sinanan, the group's assistant director of tourism initiatives. "They live there, they go shopping there, they eat there but don't really know the history, the meat of the neighborhood."
The tours start at 8:30 a.m. and run through 7 p.m. Some are led by professional guides, others by community leaders. Savvy walkers can devise a strategy to hit as many tours as possible, but the problem for some people will be choosing which ones to take.
Sinanan has put together a slate of tours designed to touch on many facets of Washington's rich heritage. Whether you are looking for where Tony Award winner Pearl Bailey, author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and Nobel Prize winner Ralph Bunche called home (see the Brookland tours at 9, 11 or 3) or want to know more about the influence of German American architect Adolf Cluss on Washington (see "Cluss, Downtown and the Redbrick City" tour at 10) or are curious about where J. Edgar Hoover and John Philip Sousa are buried (see the Congressional Cemetery tour at 11), there's plenty to see.
Cultural Tourism DC highlights Anacostia and its riverfront by offering six tours of the area -- two by bike. Stanley Jackson, deputy mayor for planning and economic development, leads a 11/2-hour tour exploring Hillsdale and Old Anacostia. Carl Cole, a fifth-generation Washingtonian and Anacostia Waterfront Corp. board member, shares his knowledge about the development of the area in his two-hour tour, "Down by the River: Walk the Anacostia Waterfront and Poplar Point." "The River and the Ridge" tour, presented by the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, is a 26-mile bike ride that travels the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail, Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and the Anacostia neighborhoods. For those looking for a less hilly ride, Dan Tangherlini, director of the D.C. Department of Transportation, conducts "Anacostia by Bike," an 11-mile bike tour along the Anacostia River that takes in Anacostia Park, RFK Stadium and the Seafarers Yacht Club.
Georgetown is known for its shops and restaurants along M Street and Wisconsin Avenue NW, but there is much more to the neighborhood than trendy boutiques and contemporary cuisine. A two-hour tour, led by professional guides from Washington Walks, a walking tour company in the District, examines the community's vibrant history.
"We dispel the notion that it's always been an enclave of wealthy, well-connected political types," said Carolyn Crouch, president of Washington Walks.
Civil War buffs can tour Fort Stevens in a one-hour walk led by Rock Creek Park Ranger Ron Harvey. Union soldiers thwarted a Confederate attack at the fort, Washington's only battlefield site of the war.
Fans of Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway and Dizzy Gillespie can learn more about these musicians on "Before Harlem, There Was U Street." The two-hour walk, led by professional guides, explores the District's "Black Broadway."
In a nod to Hispanic Heritage Month, the Cultural Institute of Mexico in Northwest offers a one-hour tour in Spanish. Learn about the history of the mansion that was the Mexican Embassy and residence of its ambassador until 1990. The tour also includes the exhibition "Mirrors: Contemporary Mexican Artists in the United States." (See story, Page XX.)
John Olinger, chairman of the Rainbow History Project, directs a 11/2-hour tour, "Capitol Hill: More Than 50 Years of Gay, Lesbian, Bi-sexual and Transgender History," about the role Capitol Hill played in developing the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities in Washington.
For families with children ages 4 to 9, three walks are designed specifically with kids in mind: "In Fala's Footsteps," "Goodnight, Mr. Lincoln" and "Lafayette Park: The White House Un-tour." Led by professional guides, these tours engage children with props, activities, stories and scavenger hunts. "In Fala's Footsteps" is a one-hour tour of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial from the perspective of the 32nd president's dog. "Goodnight, Mr. Lincoln" is a one-hour tour of the Lincoln Memorial that examines the 16th president's life as a child, including what his pajamas were like. The one-hour "White House Un-Tour" in Lafayette Square provides a glimpse of life inside 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. throughout the years.
"It's a very nice way for a family to experience these sites," Crouch said. "Everything is pitched to children, but parents always learn something."
Tours are held rain or shine, so plan for the weather. Many tours are Metro accessible, which means you can leave the car at home. If you can't make Saturday's event, another WalkingTown DC is scheduled for April 22-23.
"This is a way for people to get out and explore neighborhoods in Washington," said Angela Fox, executive director of Cultural Tourism DC, "in many cases, neighborhoods they've never been to or didn't know about or didn't know that they had changed so dramatically."
WALKINGTOWN DC -- Saturday 8:30 through 7. Free. 202-661-7581. Reservations required for bike tours. To reserve "The River and the Ridge" tour, call 202-628-2500. For the "Anacostia by Bike" tour, call 202-661-7581. For a complete list of tours and times, visit www.Cultural