When you were born in Washington 70 years ago and have lived in the city, or near it, all your life, then your Five Favorite Places — recommendations to those who may be in town for the Major League Baseball All-Star Game — are not going to be a few trendy restaurants that’ll be out of favor and disappear in five years. Those five places are going to mean a lot more to you than the latest glaze on the roast duck confit.
In fact, most of those places are going to be more than one distinct spot — more like chunks of town that evoke a nexus of warm feelings, vivid experiences and fascinating places that all adhere to one general easy-walking area.
You may not like these places. I love them.
Go to the Library of Congress. There are three huge adjacent buildings. Go to the Jefferson Building. That’s the big gorgeous one with the verdigris dome.
The library has 883 miles of shelving. Forget ’em. The library’s great hall may be the most breathtaking architectural and artistic space in the city. There’s lot of competition. But I got your attention. My father did pen-and-ink drawings of Washington for 50 years as a hobby, like the U.S. Capitol under snow. But he considered the great hall the most beautiful subject. See the immense main reading room, too. Your IQ may go up 20 points! It just makes my respect for intelligence, the pursuit of hard-earned knowledge, go up 20 percent.
After you have taken one of the tours, which may give you ideas for parts of the library you want to explore, treat yourself to a visit to the Folger Shakespeare Library, half a block away.
There are free docent-led tours of the entire Folger several times a day with no reservations. It’s a chance to learn more about the person who may have understood human nature better than anyone who’s lived so far.
Next, let’s go to Nationals Park, site of the All-Star Game.
If you have tickets to any of the three days of festivities there, that’s great. But if you don’t, that’s almost as good. Go in the morning, or at sunset on a non-game day, to stroll along the two miles of the Anacostia Riverwalk from the park to the Navy Yard. A dozen years ago, this was Washington’s Desolation Row. Now, there are sailboats on a river that has been transformed, parks with sculptures, fountains with children playing, more than a dozen restaurants, and neighborhoods where light-industrial parking lots for hundreds of cement trucks once were a blight.
My favorite D.C. neighborhood, and I have lived or worked in several and seen them all, is funky, diverse and yet almost-never-changing Adams Morgan. Don’t drive. Parking is a misery. Cab or Uber. Then just wander around. In one of the world’s most international cities, this is where you’ll see the greatest variety. If you see 15 restaurants, they may feature 15 cuisines. Bet the bagels at So’s Your Mom are still outstanding.
For years, my wife and I loved the rooftop at Perry’s, a sushi restaurant that, in its high ceilinged main dining room, had a huge movie screen where “Godzilla” ran continuously, but never with sound. Silent destruction. Godzilla is gone. The Drag Sunday Brunch, according to experts in the genre, one of the best anywhere, remains. No reservations for the rooftop. Doesn’t matter. Get up there at sundown or don’t.
From Adams Morgan it’s just a manageable walk to the world-class National Zoo. Like about 49 percent of everything that’s best in D.C., it was created and is run by the Smithsonian.
From the back windows of some Adams Morgan apartments, you could hear the big cats roaring at night in summer. Everybody adores the pandas. So I always went everywhere else. The walk through the aviary is spirit-lifting, but I preferred the Great Ape House.
I loved to visit “Gorilla Gorilla” best. For that to be your official zoological name on your zoo room, you’ve got to be one tough dignified character. I’d take my young son there in his perambulator so we could all look at one another awhile. Come on, how can that be a bad influence?
The next spot is almost a personal secret: the National Arboretum .
I grew up in Northeast Washington, very familiar with alleys. The National Arboretum is 446 acres of amazing natural beauty that sometimes — except when its zillion azaleas are all out at once in April — seems almost empty and unknown. Gardens, every kind of flower and tree, displays (bonsai), trails. You can simply drive your car in the main entrance at 3501 New York Ave. NE, as I did many times to relax, or spend hours studying with nobody anywhere in sight — as if you were 100 miles from a city.
If, just for physical beauty, I had a choice of visiting the Augusta National Golf Club (where I’ve covered the Masters) for a couple of hours or driving around the arboretum, which is about the same acreage, I’d pick the arboretum, because its range of specimens, on a massive scale, has so much more variety. Maybe I’m exaggerating a bit because the place was such a refuge from the city life when I was younger, but go anyway, you’ll still be glad.
My last favorite, and also an under-visited attraction relative to all of Washington’s Mandatory Monuments, is the most physically imposing building in the entire city: Washington National Cathedral .
Just because the world sometimes thinks Washington has lost its soul doesn’t mean you’ve lost yours. The cathedral’s stained-glass magnificence and towering vault surpass the interior drama of the U.S. Capitol building. I’ve never seen a cathedral in Europe that topped it — by much.
Like some of my other favorites, the cathedral is part of a package of pleasures. Don’t miss the Cathedral Close and the peaceful reflective Bishop’s Garden, designed, like most of the rest of the grounds, by Frederick Law Olmsted Jr.
With your spirits raised, go shopping or eating — by walking (downhill) or driving along Wisconsin Avenue toward Georgetown. I could tell you which restaurant my wife and I went to the night I proposed long ago. But I won’t. Can’t give away all the secrets.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorectly referred to the daily 45-minute tours at the Library of Congress. The library is closed on Sundays, and the tours are an hour long. This version has been updated.