Making Our Way in Washington, D.C.

April 17, 2020

I haven’t been to Washington, D.C. since I was in junior high, so I was very excited to return for a long weekend for the Dad 2.0 Summit, an annual conference of bloggers, podcasters, entrepreneurs. I was lucky to tap into this community of creatives while still finding time to enjoy the city.

I was fortunate to receive an Oren Miller scholarship to cover my conference and travel costs; it’s named for an active member of the Dad 2.0 community who passed away from lung cancer in 2015. Aaron from Small Steps Are Giant Leaps tipped me off to the scholarship.

So here we go…

I arrived on a bright blue but very windy day at Reagan Washington National Airport and caught the Metro to the Smithsonian station…

…then walked to the luxurious Mandarin Oriental hotel where the conference was being held. In addition to winning one of the scholarships, I was doubly lucky to win a deluxe suite upgrade. My roomie Mike from Ontario and I got to live in style for a couple nights!

I arrived early on Thursday morning, with the goal of exploring a while before the conference started that evening. I did a search for coffee shops near the hotel and found a Blue Bottle Coffee in the District Wharf. It was an awkward walk to get to the wharf, with the area dominated by roads and not sidewalks, but I still took solace for a while with a cappuccino and a pain au chocolat in the glass-walled shop.

And oh look… there was a District Doughnut right next door…

After regrouping at the hotel, I struck out with Aaron to explore museums lining the National Mall. First stop: the National Air & Space Museum.

The museum is currently under construction, so some items are off display or re-arranged. But you can still see many of the greatest hits: the Spirit of St. Louis, the Bell X1, an unused Apollo moon lander, John Glenn’s Friendship 7 spacecraft, and a variety of spacecraft, satellites, planes, and rockets.

As expected, Ohio get some solid representation, from the Wright brothers’ original 1903 flyer to Neil Armstrong’s Apollo 11 moon landing suit.

After Air & Space, we strolled north across the Mall, glimpsing the Capitol, and heading to the National Gallery of Art. We briefly visited the main building, then followed the underground tunnel to see Multiverse, a light installation that moves up and down the tunnel.

We popped out on the other side where we visited more of the collections, admiring some iconic presidential portraits and other work.

And then we took a jaunt to the National Museum of Natural History, admiring animals, dinosaur skeletons, and many other exhibitions.

The incredible thing is – if you didn’t know it – is that almost all of these museums are FREE. They’re wonderful resources for art, science, space, technology, history, and more. Note, too, that you do need a valid ID to enter then, and very soon, because they are federal buildings, you’ll need a Real ID.

Our walk took us around the Washington Monument, which looked gorgeous against the late winter blue skies. It was also very windy that day, so the flags snapped and whipped against the poles.

That night, after the opening conference sessions, Aaron took me to U Street to visit a DC icon: Ben’s Chili Bowl.

THIS IS MY KIND OF PLACE. I love these spots, the ones that are neighborhood landmarks, the places that have weathered decades of change and still consistently serve filling comfort fare. Getting to visit a place like Ben’s truly gives you the pulse of a destination.

Ben’s is a family-run affair, open since 1958 and serving chili, hot dogs, burgers. I ordered their signature, the Chili Half Smoke, a grilled sausage served on a toasted bun with mustard, onions, and house chili. Perfect late night eats.

The next day’s adventures were largely focused on conference sessions, but we did start the day with breakfast at Founding Farmers, a quick wander through Foggy Bottom, a stop for more coffee at La Colombe. Later that evening I caught up my with good friend Terry, who I’ve known since college, for beers at the excellent Bluejacket in the re-developed Navy Yard.

We finished out the night with a group from the conference at Ted’s Bulletin, a modern diner that lets you feast on all your favorites: pot pie, meatloaf, fried chicken, burgers, and (ohhhh yeah), breakfast served all day.

On Aaron’s advice, I stopped by their front bakery counter and picked up Ted’s Tarts, homemade poptarts that proved to be an amazing breakfast the next day.

Much of Saturday, the last full day of the conference, was spent in sessions. Fortunately, I had a big break in the afternoon, and the weather was again chilly but clear, so I struck out across the Mall, passing the Art Gallery, the FBI, Department of Justice, to visit the National Portrait Gallery.

I spent an hour-and-a-half there, but could have made a full day of it. Modern and contemporary art, classical pieces, sculpture, paintings, installations, video.

My favorite was the Presidential Gallery, starting with President Obama’s recent portrait by Kehinde Wiley.

And there are plenty more discoveries. I didn’t know that Norman Rockwell did Nixon’s portrait, for instance. Or that there are life casts of Lincoln’s face.

Another favorite included these monstrous portraits of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, painted in the early 1870s. We visited this very spot last summer. The point where these painters were standing, with views up the canyon, is now called Artist Point.

Other wanderings took me through the modern section, to see Michelle Obama’s new portrait by Amy Sherald. Right next to it is a stunning photograph of Toni Morrison.

My stroll took back took me past Ford’s Theatre, the Petersen House across the street (also known as “the House Where Lincoln Died”), and a breakfast joint that’s sure to be on my next trip: Lincoln’s Waffle Shop.

I looped down Pennsylvania Avenue past the Treasury building and around the White House. Aside from my personal feelings about the house’s current residents, and understanding that security is always an issue, I was frustrated that you couldn’t get any closer to really see the building. My photo above is the closest you can get (aside from booking a tour).

That evening Aaron and I hit up another DC icon, the Old Ebbitt Grill, close to the White House and the Treasury. The restaurant was completely packed, room after room of long, back-lit bars, dark wood, artfully painted ceilings. While we waited for a table, we first grabbed cocktails, then enjoyed oysters (the house specialty) and the Chicken #1 sandwich.

After dinner we strolled through the cold and wind to the western portion of the Mall, skirting the Washington Monument and visiting the WWII Memorial, the Korean War Vets Memorial (the figures are positioned to look like soldiers on patrol – it looks particularly haunting at night), and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.

And then we mounted the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, reading his words inscribed on the wall, standing where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

It was a sobering but beautiful sight to end the evening and the full conference. I loved the community of Dad 2.0, the chance to learn more about blogging and get new ideas, and especially to explore a new destination, with an eye towards bringing our boys back here soon.

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FOOD + TRAVEL WRITER

I go by Dr. Breakfast, but in addition to restaurants and recipes, I write about family travel, breweries and distilleries, the arts, outdoor fun, and so much more.

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