Sorry, tourists: The Washington Monument is still closed.
Of course, that shouldn't come as a surprise. The landmark obelisk at the center of the Mall has been shuttered more than it has been open in recent years. Damage from the August 2011 earthquake caused the monument to remain closed until May 2014. Two years later, persistent problems with the elevator to the 500-foot observation deck forced the monument to close again. It's scheduled to reopen in spring 2019.
Until then, the best views of Washington come from the Old Post Office Tower in the heart of downtown — only the Washington Monument and the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception are taller than the Post Office Tower, which has an observation deck 270 feet above street level.
The historic Old Post Office became the Trump International Hotel in September 2016, following more than two years of renovation. But as part of the deal that the General Services Administration made with the Trump Organization, the tower was kept open to the public with no admission charge, still staffed and maintained by the National Park Service. (One concession: Visitors now enter through a separate lower-level door at the rear of the hotel, next to the Starbucks off 12th Street NW. It feels like a service entrance, allowing camera-toting tourists to reach the top without mingling with the five-star hotel's guests.)
The tower reopened to the public last year, and the experience is slightly different. After wandering down a hallway filled with historic photographs of Pennsylvania Avenue and the Post Office — and a stretch trumpeting the hotel's makeover of the building — guests take the first of two minute-long elevator rides to the observation deck. Thankfully, nothing about the unobstructed views of the city has changed. Helpful signs under each of the windows point out landmarks in the distance, although locals should recognize the FBI headquarters, Arlington House and Washington National Cathedral without the prompts.
How far you can see depends on the weather, but on a recent clear day, it was easy to observe trucks crossing the Wilson Bridge, which is seven miles to the south. One important thing to remember: Only the southern side of the building is closed to the elements — the other three sides have thin vertical wires instead of windows. If it's a cold, windy or rainy day, you'll feel it, but that's a small price to pay for enjoying this vantage point.
Old Post Office Tower, 1100 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. (Entrance on 12th Street NW). Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, with last entry at 4:30 p.m. Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas. Free.