D.C. has places to see...

...and be seen.

These are 14 spots where you can escape.

Some of our favorite places to sit, to think, to relax, to recharge.

In Washington, it can be difficult to power down. Even if you don’t work in politics, there’s always something happening that you have to pay attention to, or there’s another date or play date to plan. But there are times — and especially times like now — when the healthiest, most important thing you can do is escape, even if it’s just for a few moments.

The District has enough places to see and be seen. These are some of our favorite places to be alone: to sit, to think, to get lost in nature, to escape. They’re all in the city proper — some are even located right in the middle of everything — but they offer enough seclusion that you can find some respite from daily life, for as long as you need.

The Kogod Courtyard

Since opening in 2007 under a new glass-and-steel roof that undulates beneath the blue sky like gently rippling water, the renovated courtyard of the Old Patent Office Building, home to two Smithsonian museums, has become a magnet for visitors looking for a quiet place to have lunch or chill with a glass of happy hour wine. Despite its popularity as an event space — for concerts, dance performances and the like — the courtyard is best known as a spot where you can feel alone in a crowd. There’s just something about the hushed acoustics of the space, in which the murmur of nearby conversations rise and fall without intruding on your thoughts, that feels like a private sanctuary. — Michael O’Sullivan

Find it here: Inside the National Portrait Gallery and Smithsonian American Art Museum, Eighth and F streets NW.

Summerhouse

(Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

Just outside the shadow of the Capitol, tucked into a corner of its sprawling front lawn, is a secret hideout: a small, hexagon-shaped building called the Summerhouse. The hobbit-like structure, which features nearly two dozen stone seats, provides shelter from the elements — and from the sensory-overload trappings of a busy tourist area. The fountain in the center generates a soothing soundtrack, enhancing the tranquil spirit of the place. Landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, whom Congress tasked with improving the Capitol Grounds in 1874, designed the Summerhouse in response to complaints that visitors couldn’t find a place to rest as they trekked around the Capitol. More than 100 years later, it still fills that need. — Angela Haupt

Find it here: West Front Lawn of the U.S. Capitol, off Northwest Drive.

Adams Memorial at Rock Creek Cemetery

(Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

By their nature, cemeteries are places for quiet reflection. But the Adams Memorial in Rock Creek Cemetery invites even deeper contemplation. A dense copse of trees surrounds a small plaza, screening it from acres of graves. On one side is a circular granite bench, facing a statue of a mysterious shrouded figure, known only as “Grief,” sculpted by Augustus Saint-Gaudens. As a piece of art, it is celebrated enough that a copy sits in the Smithsonian American Art Museum. But the overall effect is much more: Commissioned by writer Henry Adams after his wife Marian’s suicide, the isolated spot remains a haunting and enigmatic place to sit, and think. — Fritz Hahn

Find it here: Section E of the cemetery, Rock Creek Church Road and Webster Street NW.

The front porch of the Frederick Douglass house

Cedar Hill, as Frederick Douglass named the house he lived in from 1877 until his death in 1895, sits atop one of the highest hills in Anacostia. Eighty-five brick steps lead the way to the historic home — and the remoteness that comes with the elevation. Though it’s open for tours by reservation, there’s little foot traffic, even on a weekend afternoon. The wide front porch, guarded by four stately pillars, is an ideal place to sit and take in the home’s most striking attribute: its unparalleled view. The District, Maryland and Virginia roll out across the skyline, an impressive cityscape punctuated by the Washington Monument and U.S. Capitol. The panorama is framed by the trees that stretch high on the sloping grounds, some dating from Douglass’s time at the house. — Angela Haupt

Find it here: 1411 W St. SE.

Rapids Bridge

(Marlena Sloss/The Washington Post)

The most romantic and dreamy location in Rock Creek Park , that 1,700-acre dagger of green space that cuts into D.C.’s rigid street plan, is the Rapids Bridge. Standing in the middle of this pedestrian-only footbridge, built by the National Park Service in the 1930s, you can enjoy an “anywhere but Washington” view: Look downstream, look upstream, pause and think about the water washing over rocks that are hundreds of millions of years old, shaded by tall trees. Visit on a weekday afternoon, or on a weekend when Beach Drive is closed, and the rushing water and the feeling of being surrounded by elemental forces is the self-care that urban dwellers require. — Fritz Hahn

Find it here: Off of Beach Drive NW in Rock Creek Park.

The Spanish Steps

(Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

The Spanish Steps north of Dupont Circle share a nickname with the famous baroque steps of Rome, and if you squint, you could maybe, possibly see a resemblance. What they do share is functionality. The hill between S Street and Decatur Place NW is, according to the National Register of Historic Places, “one of the area’s most dramatic grade changes.” A road would be too steep for the slope. This graceful, curving staircase is not. What’s most surprising about these Spanish Steps is coming upon them: How out-of-place they feel, with a lion’s head fountain and planted terraces right in the middle of a quiet Kalorama side street, as if they were the sole surviving traces of a landscaped, Meridian Hill-like park. Even on weekends, the only company you might have sitting on the steps is a couple posing for engagement photos — which is probably the way the neighbors like it. — Fritz Hahn

Find it here: 1725 22nd St. NW.

The mezzanine level of the U.S. Botanic Garden

A vacation awaits you at the U.S. Botanic Garden; step inside the tropical rainforest and you’re greeted with the sweet scent of lush plant life — and a thick blanket of humidity. Climb the stairs in the corner to the catwalk-like mezzanine level, where a scattering of benches overlook the jungle canopy. Green vines spill over the balcony railings, blocking whoever’s upstairs from public view. The sunlight that pours through the atrium windows adds to the pleasant warmth, and chirping birds hum in the background as puffs of mist envelop the area. Is this the District, or the Caribbean? Here, you can forget, at least for a spell. — Angela Haupt

Find it here: 100 Maryland Ave. SW.

Francis A. Gregory Library

(Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

Like most libraries, this Southeast outpost is a welcoming sanctuary where the public can reliably expect quiet. But the stunning, glass-sheathed Francis A. Gregory Library is otherwise in a league of its own. David Adjaye, the architect behind the National Museum of African American History and Culture, designed the building, and it’s a study in geometric contrasts. There are diamond-shaped windows; playful colors, like a pink ceiling; and a tranquil outdoor terrace where the library borders forested parkland. Claim one of the fluorescent armchairs in the rear corner of the first floor, the part of the building that’s farthest away from the busy street and affords the best view of the woods, and curl up with a book or your thoughts. — Angela Haupt

Find it here: 3660 Alabama Ave. SE.

Garden at the Old Stone House

(Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

Tucked between a Vietnamese restaurant and a trendy clothing store on Georgetown’s main drag, the ever-bustling M Street NW, is the oldest standing building in the District. The Old Stone House was built in 1765, and the National Park Service opened it to the public in 1960. There’s a charming English garden behind a white picket fence, and the almost always unoccupied benches offer an ideal place to pause. Find a spot in the back, where you’re surrounded by flowering plants and trees. It’s like relaxing in someone’s well-manicured — and deserted — backyard, worlds away from the buzzing city. — Angela Haupt

Find it here: 3051 M St. NW.

The Watergate Steps

In the early 20th century, world leaders frequently traveled by ship. So when Washington’s Commission of Fine Arts approved plans for the Memorial Bridge in 1923, the proposal included a pier and a dramatic set of ceremonial marble steps leading to the Lincoln Memorial, perfect for welcoming a visiting head of state. The advent of air travel, however, rendered them useless for diplomatic arrivals. They were the site of summer concerts and firework displays from the 1930s through the ’60s, with musicians playing on an anchored barge. The scene is more prosaic now, with CrossFitters running up and down the 40 rows of steps in the morning, and traffic whizzing past at rush hour. But at the right time, these all-but-forgotten set of marble bleachers, with views of the river, Memorial Bridge and Arlington Cemetery, feel like a trip to a past Washington. — Fritz Hahn

Find it here: Ohio Drive SW, between the Lincoln Memorial and Potomac River.

The Kennedy Booth

(Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)


Booth No. 1 at Martin’s Tavern is the most singular restaurant seat in Washington. The table has a hard wooden bench only on one side, meaning the diner (or two skinny diners) sitting at “the rumble seat” is essentially facing a worn, nicked-up partition. From this seat, tucked inside the front door of the Georgetown restaurant, the occupant has a view of the bar and the dining room, but the one-sided arrangement makes a strong, unspoken request to be left alone. Perhaps that’s why the booth was favored by celebrated Georgetown resident John F. Kennedy, who is said to have preferred sitting here after church, and was observed writing his inaugural address on a yellow legal pad over breakfasts. Did JFK get the inspiration to “Ask not what your country can do for you” on this bench? No one knows. But if you want to get some work done, or just enjoy a burger in solitude, “the Kennedy Booth” still delivers. — Fritz Hahn

Find it here: The booth closest to the entrance at Martin’s Tavern, 1264 Wisconsin Ave. NW.

The gardens at the Franciscan Monastery

(Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)


Think of the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land as the original biblical theme park: The gardens of the Brookland monastery, founded at the end of the 19th century, were designed to give Americans a way to see the holiest sights of the Holy Land — the Tomb of the Virgin Mary, the Chapel of the Ascension, the Grotto of Gethsemane — without the arduous journey. It remains a place for prayer, but even if you’re not the most religious, there’s a peace and stillness to be found along the paths that wind through the woods or in the benches arranged before a replica of the Grotto at Lourdes. — Fritz Hahn

Find it here: 1400 Quincy St. NE.

Moongate Garden

Tucked behind the Smithsonian Castle, where it’s shielded from the bustle of the Mall, the Enid A. Haupt Garden already feels like a refuge in one of the city’s busiest stretches. But it’s this garden-within-a-garden where you’ll find the most peace. Entering the Moongate Garden requires walking through one of two nine-foot-tall pink granite “moongates,” which resemble keyholes to another world. Once you pass through, the atmosphere relaxes: The centerpiece of the garden, which is based on the design of the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, is a large, square pond with a disc-shaped island at its center. In the spring, pink blossoms add a splash of joyous color. Screened from the rest of the Haupt gardens by shrubs and trees, two other moongates — this time turned on their sides — offer a chance for rest and contemplation, while listening to the fountain, or admiring the afternoon sun’s glow on the Castle. — Fritz Hahn

Find it here: Inside the Enid A. Haupt Garden, Independence Avenue and L’Enfant Plaza SW.

The Lerner Room

(Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)

There’s only one outward-facing window on the upper floors of the Hirshhorn, and it’s a doozy. The panoramic aperture — which interrupts the Brutalist facade of the doughnut-shaped museum like the visor of a medieval helmet — looks out from a third-floor gallery that has one of the most impressive views of Washington. Take a load off your feet on one of the comfy couches and gaze north upon the National Museum of Natural History, the National Archives and the National Gallery of Art. There’s not much else to distract you; just five black rectangles painted in ink directly on the walls: a conceptual work by the Cuban artist Reynier Leyva Novo. Think of it as the Hirshhorn’s answer to the Phillips Collection’s Rothko Room. — Michael O’Sullivan

Find it here: Third floor of the Hirshhorn Museum, Seventh Street and Independence Avenue SW.

Credits

Editing by Camille Kilgore; Design by Joanne Lee; Photo editing by Thomas Simonetti.

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