Roosevelt Island is one of D.C.’s best-kept secrets. (Photo: National Geographic Creative / Alamy Stock Photo)
Washington has its share of secrets, political or otherwise. So, it should come as no surprise that it has secrets of the natural, awe-inspiring kind and the funky, street-level variety. These are the places locals like to go to walk it out, reflect and connect with what’s uniquely D.C.
U.S. National Arboretum
The U.S. National Arboretum encompasses 446 acres of bucolic bliss: picture fragrant meadowland on a classic Greek landscape complete with Corinthian columns (removed from the Capitol in the 1950s). Nine miles of trails beckon hikers (there’s even a convenient tram), but the best way to explore is by bicycle. Roll freely through the National Grove of State Trees for up-close views of a California giant sequoia or Indiana tulip tree. A map guides you to your own home state’s tree. Don’t forget to reserve a spot on the Full Moon Hike. This 4-mile trek provides unreal landscape vistas bathed in silvery moonlight.
Three miles west of downtown, explore a fitting memorial to America’s 26th president. Theodore Roosevelt Island floats in the Potomac River, its 88.5 acres transformed from forgotten farmland to tranquil wilderness in the 1930s. Roosevelt Island is a bike-and-car-free island, offering miles of excellent D.C. trails and boardwalks that the passionate conservationist would have adored. The staccato of woodpeckers and throaty heron calls echo as you take the 1.5-mile Swamp Trail through beautiful woodland and cattail-studded marsh. Lose track of time as you witness abundant birds and wildlife and pause for excellent views of Kennedy Center and Georgetown University across the river.
Give yourself points if you find your way to The Fridge, a D.C. hidden gem. Half the fun is locating this secret space that celebrates street art in all its funky brilliance. Open daily, it’s on 8th Street SE (Barracks Row), tucked down the alley between Belga Café and Senart’s Oyster & Chop House in historic Eastern Market. Spot the colorful creations adorning its cinderblock walls and you’ll know you’ve arrived. Indoor and outdoor activities abound here, and aside from edgy art presentations, the gallery is home to Beltway Poetry Slam Team. You can catch their poignant original performances on the last Tuesday of each month.
The Spanish Steps
Stroll north up 22nd Street NW in the Kalorama neighborhood, and just before you hit S Street NW, a charming staircase ascends before you. Constructed in 1911, the Spanish Steps, as they’re known, were fashioned after their namesake in Rome’s Piazza di Spagna. The series of steps and terraces sweep up and curve around either side of an elegant lion-head fountain. Lean on the decorative balustrade for lovely views of Embassy Row. Pick up handmade gelato at Dolcezza on Connecticut Avenue, and sit on the steps to savor it while people-watching from your perch on this secret treasure.