Ceiling: The Avalon

The Avalon movie theater is D.C.’s answer to the Sistine Chapel, sans pope and full-frontal nudity. Inside the dome of the main auditorium, the winged gods Mercury and Cupid unfurl a reel of film across the sky — perhaps a prescient metaphor for media streaming. The scene, painted by Virginia-based artist Dana Westring in 1985, was touched up in 2010, so its glory is now at full force. Westring also did some murals for the Inn at Little Washington, in Washington, Va. These depict monkeys frolicking in human clothes. Mr. Westring, we love you. H.J.M.

The Avalon Theatre, 5612 Connecticut Ave. NW; 202-966-6000.

Museum (Free): National Gallery of Art

It’s two museums in one! The West Building — that’s the one with the dome — has your arty-art. You know, paintings of horses and the Virgin Mary. The East Building has your modern art, what with the monochromatic canvasses and black planks leaning on walls. (This is real. It’s a 1967 work by minimalist John McCracken, and it’s called “Black Plank.”) We’re particularly fond of the free movies. K.P.K.

1st: National Gallery of Art, 4th Street and Constitution Avenue NW; 202-737-4215. (Archives)
National Museum of American History, 1400 Constitution Ave. NW; 202-633-1000. (Smithsonian)
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Independence Avenue and 7th Street SW; 202-633-1000. (L’Enfant Plaza)

Film Festival: Screen on the Green

D.C. is getting more and more notice on the film-festival circuit, thanks to SilverDocs and Reel Affirmations. But the public has spoken, and this series of outdoor screenings, which takes over the Mall on Monday nights in the summer, shines brightest. Granted, none of the “real” festivals play the ’80s theme song of Screen on the Green sponsor HBO, which causes the audience to rise as one and dance. This is a time-honored ritual, not something we just made up to fill space. Yes, HBO had a theme song, before it got so self-important it just started playing static before every show. K.P.K.

1st: Screen on the Green.
Rosslyn Outdoor Film Festival.

Readings: Sixth & I Historic Synagogue

Since Sixth & I was rededicated in 2004 (the building started out as a synagogue in 1908, then was an African Methodist Episcopal church for several decades, and is now a working synagogue again), it’s become one of D.C.’s hippest venues for indie rock concerts and big-name author appearances. Tina Fey’s sold-out reading and Q&A in April was the see-and-be-seen nerd event of spring, and the calendar promises an equally compelling fall. Some of Sixth & I’s programs are co-hosted by Politics and Prose, which doesn’t have nearly as much room. Expect a swarm when novelist Jeffrey Eugenides reads on Oct. 31. S.M.

Sixth and I Synagogue, 600 I St. NW, 202-408-3100. (Gallery Place)

Arts Center: Artisphere

Artisphere has steadily built a reputation as the metro area’s most diverse cultural center since its opening a year ago. The 62,000-square-foot structure houses works from both local and internationally recognized artists; performance spaces (the WSC Avant Bard company is based here); a 4,000-square-foot dance floor; and the 220-seat Dome Theatre for films and concerts. Artisphere is open seven days a week and is a quick trek from D.C. over the Key Bridge, so you can feed your artistic soul after emptying your wallet in Georgetown. S.M.

Artisphere, 1101 Wilson Blvd., Arlington; 703-875-1100. (Rosslyn)

Cubs Pili and Damini are all that is good about pandas, foxes, kittens, raccoons, stuffed animals and earmuffs.

Zoo Animal: Red Panda Cubs

After Tai Shan returned to his native China in 2010, the National Zoo was left with a gaping hole in its panda inventory. Luckily, on a stormy night in June 2011, the zoo was blessed with the birth of two more panda cubs — red panda cubs, that is. Named Pili (“clap of thunder” in Chinese) and Damini (“lightning” in Nepalese), the twin sisters are high in cute — see for yourself on the zoo’s webcam at Nationalzoo.si.edu! — but short in stature (adults are only about the size of a house cat). K.A.

National Zoo, 3001 Connecticut Ave. NW; 202-633-4800. (Woodley Park)

Museum (Pay): Newseum

With 14 major galleries, 15 theaters, seven floors and a $450 million price tag, the Newseum didn’t come cheap. Admission — $21.95 for adults — doesn’t, either. But if there’s one thing Washingtonians will pay for, it’s a high-quality educational experience. Visitors with an interest in early broadsheets can get up close and personal with them; history buffs can examine ripped-from-the-headlines artifacts, including the largest display of the Berlin Wall outside of Germany. K.A.

1st: Newseum, 555 Pennsylvania Ave. NW; 888-639-7386. (Archives)
Corcoran Gallery of Art, 500 17th St. NW; 202-639-1700. (Farragut West)
National Building Museum, 401 F St. NW; 202-272-2448. (Judiciary Square)

Embassy: Turkish Embassy

The Embassy of Turkey surged to Washington’s cultural forefront this year with a series of jazz concerts honoring the late Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegun, sons of Turkey’s second ambassador to the U.S. and founders of Atlantic Records. Events celebrating Turkish history, architecture and art add to the allure. K.P.K.

1st: Turkey, 2525 Massachusetts Ave. NW; 202-612-6700.
Sweden, 2900 K St. NW; 202-467-2600. (Foggy Bottom)
3rd: Italy, 3000 Whitehaven St. NW; 202-612-4400.

Park: Rock Creek Park

On Oct. 15, our Best Park got best-ier with the reopening of Peirce Mill, the boxy stone structure at Tilden Street and Beach Drive NW. Volunteers raised more than $1 million to restore the water-powered grist mill to its original 1820s state. Take a free tour (there’s one this Saturday at 2 p.m.) to see this magnificent beast of gears and cogs produce flour without using electricity. The name is not a typo: That’s how Isaac Peirce spelled it, so the mill he built will remain an insult to the English language for perpetuity. H.J.M.

1st: Rock Creek Park, off Rock Creek Parkway. It’s hard to miss.
Theodore Roosevelt Island National Memorial, near Rosslyn; 703-289-2500. (Rosslyn)
Meridian Hill Park, bounded by 16th, Euclid, 15th and W streets NW; 202-895-6070. (U St.-Cardozo)

Landmark of Questionable Importance: Sam’s Park and Shop

In 1930, the up-and-coming D.C. suburb of Cleveland Park welcomed one of the nation’s first strip malls. Sam’s Park and Shop still stands, now an oasis of sprawl in a congested city neighborhood. For a few bucks or a validation stamp, the savvy car owner can enjoy such tenants as City Fitness, California Tortilla and Petco without the indignities of parallel parking. The name honors the late Samuel Gorlitz, founder of Federal Realty Investment Trust, which bought the property in the ’90s. H.J.M.

It is REALLY not that big a stretch to call this is a spaceship. It’s modern art! It’s whatever you want it to be.

Fake-Out for Small Kids When Air & Space Is Packed: The Hirshhorn

True story: One July weekday, when the line for the National Air and Space Museum spilled onto the street, this reporter had to either die of heatstroke or immediately find another source of flying machines for a 3-year-old boy. Salvation was next door, at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, where the artwork was easily repurposed as aliens, alien spacecraft and alien planets. The staff seemed thrilled that a child could appreciate modern art, albeit on a foundation of lies. H.J.M.

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Independence Avenue and 7th Street SW; 202-633-1000. (L’Enfant Plaza)

Sam’s Park and Shop, Connecticut Avenue and Ordway Street NW. (Cleveland Park)

Statues of Inspiring Women: Meridian Hill Park

Meridian Hill Park, though safer and cleaner then it’s been in decades, still attracts its share of drunk dudes. Yet it’s also a place to ponder girl power. Two particularly moving statues of women hide among the Beaux Arts urns and fountains: one of French warrior Joan of Arc astride a very muscular horse, another of a zaftig, allegorical half-nude called “Serenity.” Dreamy “Serenity” is a reminder to not sweat the small stuff; Joan, looking heavenward and brandishing the hilt of a sword (she used to have a whole one, but it’s long gone) makes you think, “You go, girl,” even if it’s just to an extra yoga class. Who knows? Maybe Hillary and Oprah will be here one day in marble or bronze. J.B.

Meridian Hill Park, bounded by 16th, Euclid, 15th and W streets NW; 202-895-6070. (U St.-Cardozo)

Vaguely Macabre Date Spot: Congressional Cemetery

If you’re the type who won’t let the heebie-jeebies get in the way of a good time, Capitol Hill’s historic Congressional Cemetery is the perfect afternoon date — assuming one’s love interest is willing. The 35-plus acre expanse is a celebration of people who made this fair city great, or at least memorable. Interred here are congressmen, a vice president (the un-Funkadelic George Clinton, who served under both Thomas Jefferson and James Madison) and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. There’s also Clyde Tolson, the man rumored to be Hoover’s lover, and Mary Hall, who ran Washington’s largest brothel in the 1830s. Visitors can take self-guided tours during daylight hours, and free docent-led tours run Saturdays at 11 a.m. from April through October. S.M.

Congressional Cemetery, 1801 E St. SE; 202-543-0539. (Potomac Ave.)

Annapolis: City Dock

It’s rare to find a place where past and present coexist as peacefully as City Dock, the hub of Annapolis’ historic district. Eighteenth-century buildings stand alongside the recently reopened Market House, which serves gelato, oysters (not at the same time — gross!) and other local specialties. Gape at the obscenely expensive boats anchored on a stretch of pier known as “Ego Alley.” (Everyone points and laughs when a huge yacht has to turn around in the small space.) The centerpiece is the Kunta Kinte-Alex Haley Memorial, where a statue of Haley honors both the “Roots” author and his ancestor, Kunta Kinte, who arrived in America in 1767 at City Dock. K.P.K.

City Dock, Main Street and Compromise Street, Annapolis, Md.

Eastern Shore: Hollywood Casino

Maryland voters legalized slot-machine gambling in 2008, and the state’s first casino — this one — opened in 2010. It has 1,500 one-armed bandits (alas, no table games) and a Las Vegas-style “Epic Buffet,” billed as “a never-ending parade of flavors.” You can’t bring minors, but, judging by the promotional photos on the website, Grandma probably wants to go. K.P.K

Hollywood Casino, 1201 Chesapeake Overlook Pkwy, Perryville, Md.; 410-378-8500.

Fredericksburg, Va.: Caroline Street

What once was a sleepy D.C. exurb has come into its own as half hip college town, half must-see Civil War destination. The heart of the city is Caroline Street, which lures visitors with near-incapacitating levels of quaint homes, shops and churches. Don’t miss the Hugh Mercer Apothecary Shop (1020 Caroline St.) and its unsettling living-history demonstration of 18th-century medical practices, or Goolrick’s Pharmacy (901 Caroline St.), a 1950s-style drugstore that serves the best milk shakes around. Civil War fans should start at the Visitor Center (706 Caroline St.). K.P.K.

Baltimore: 34th Street in Hampden

If visions of “The Wire” dance in your head when you imagine Christmas in Baltimore, you’ll be stunned by the wholesome — and hilarious — display created every year by residents along 34th Street in this hipster/working-class neighborhood. All of December, the blinding collection of lights, tacky tinsel and impressive homemade sculptures (including a gigantic hubcap Christmas tree) draw hordes of gawkers. Warm up with dinner at one of the charming restaurants along 36th Street, also known as “The Avenue.” V.H.

Museum for Kids: Newseum

The Newseum’s exhibits are interactive and kid-friendly. Plus, the film “I-Witness: A 4-D Time Travel Adventure” is a crowd-pleaser: hardly educational and reminiscent of a theme park attraction. K.A.

1st: Newseum, 555 Pennsylvania Ave. NW; 888-639-7386. (Archives)
National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, 14390 Air and Space Museum Parkway, Chantilly, Va.; 703-572-4118.
National Building Museum, 401 F St. NW; 202-272-2448. (Judiciary Square)

Children’s Clothing: Kid’s Closet

Any expectant parent would be happy with something from the Closet. The store, around since 1982, carries name-brand clothing sturdy enough to handle multiple spit-up/laundry cycles and learning toys so children can be intelligent and attractive. K.P.K.

1st: Kid’s Closet, 1226 Connecticut Ave. NW; 202-429-9247. (Dupont Circle)
Piccolo Piggies, 1533 Wisconsin Ave. NW; 202-333-0123.
Dawn Price Baby, 325 7th St. SE, 202-543-2920 (Eastern Market) and 3112 M St. NW, 202-333-3939.

Local Kids’ Band: Rocknoceros

It’s no longer news that children’s music doesn’t have to be terrible. Local performers Rocknoceros — NoVa natives Coach Cotton, Williebob and Boogie Woogie Bennie (not their real names) — are a powerhouse of poppy, educational rock. They perform regularly at Dulles Town Center (catch them Oct. 27) and Vienna’s Jammin’ Java. K.P.K.

By Katie Aberbach, Jennifer Barger, Vicky Hallett, Shauna Miller, Kristen Page-Kirby and Holly J. Morris