5 Reasons To Visit Washington DC

This week, I just traveled to my nation’s capital for the very first time.  Despite traversing most of East Asia, I have yet to explore much of my own country–in fact, my trip to DC was only the second time in my entire life I set foot on the East Coast.

Although I was only there a mere five days, I have to say that I enjoyed the city immensely… and here’s why:

  1. The architecture

This is what 90% of the US West Coast looks like

The West Coast is ugly.  I’m sorry, it’s the truth.  Much of the American west looks post-apocalyptic with its vast swaths of deserts, strip malls, and architecture that makes a Soviet commune look beautiful.  There are few, if any places in the west where one can take a city stroll and honestly say it’s charming.

DC, on the other hand, blew me away.  When I was walking near the International Trade Commission (ITC) building, I had to pinch and remind myself that I wasn’t in Europe.  Many of the homes in DC are reminiscent of London and Europe.  The government buildings are epic and grandiose, beautiful colonial townhouses line the streets of DC, and old cathedrals still dot many of DC’s famous neighborhoods.

It’s a pleasure to stroll through DC (if the weather is nice) because the city and its buildings are hundreds of years old and thus are rich with history.  Europe rubbed off on the east coast–and it shows.

2. The Monuments

WWII Memorial

The national mall is an 2 mile (or 3 km) long stretch of road in the heart of DC that begins with the Capitol, is middle-marked by the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and ends with the Abraham Lincoln Memorial.  Aside from these major landmarks, the national mall also encompasses the Vietnam War Memorial, Korean War Memorial, Thomas Jefferson Memorial, the World War II memorial, and more.  All of them are beautiful or heart wrenching and, as an American, a must see.

There are still dozens (if not hundreds) of monuments and landmarks to explore outside of the national mall, but unfortunately I didn’t have time to do so.

3. The museums are FREE

Freedom–the statue that was placed atop the capitol during the Civil War

Did I mention that the Smithsonian and all 19 of its museums are free?  FREE.  These are some of the best museums in the country and they are complimentary to the public.   This perk alone makes the trip to DC worth it.

4. Convenient and affordable public transportation

Most of my blogs contain at least one or two sentences about my abhorrence for driving in the U.S. and our lack of public transportation.   LA traffic almost made me lose my sanity.

DC, on the other hand, has Beijing level quality of public transit.  The Metro is expansive and frequent (and fairly inexpensive).  Buses are everywhere.  Hell, even uber and lyft are half the price of California.  The compact size of DC also makes it easily walkable.

In DC, you don’t need a car.  At all.

And to me, that’s glorious.

5. History

I took AP US History in high school.  It was one of my favorite classes and I passed it with flying colors.   I used to think US history was boring, but after the enlightenment of this course I was convinced that our history was anything but dull.

It was amazing to go to the capitol building and imagine the forefathers and later presidents meeting there to discuss and delegate future law to shape this country.  As a history geek, I was giddy to see the original constitution and bill of rights in person.  At the national archives, I literally spent ten minutes gazing in awe at the magna carta (they hold one of the four original copies).  Even outside of the museums, just walking around proves to be a worthwhile historical tour.  In DC every corner, every home, every alley, every monument, every building… they all hold a story crucial to the making of the United States, and in that simple fact I am truly humbled to be in the city’s presence.

Dome inside of the Capitol Building with Washington Fresco

I told my American friend I saw the constitution, and she said she probably wouldn’t really care to see it.  It made me sad.  Yes, the constitution is just a piece of paper–but it represents a set of ideals that not only changed the US, but democracies around the world.

History is important.  More and more Americans are forgetting US history and the principles it stands for.  We need to learn it, remember it, and honor it.

DC Afterthoughts

I was a bit hesitant to go to the East Coast because of my dad.  My father is originally from Boston, but he said he fled to the West to escape the high-pressure, cold-weather, upfront attitudes of his east coast brethren.  After spending a few days in DC, I can see his point.

However, DC felt somewhat like China.  People didn’t wear fake smiles and pretend nice–they were real.  Perhaps for some, they were too real (few people asked how my day was going or smiled, I often received a grunt as a greeting); but for me, it was refreshing.  It was nice to have genuine interaction without the sugary smiles and platitude greetings I often find in Utah and California.

DC wasn’t perfect.  Crime is high, although improving.  Gentrification is on the rise.  Going out to eat was god-awful expensive, where food (and rent) prices are reaching San Francisco levels of insanity.  Food, sadly, was not as good as Southern California (but honestly, if SoCal does anything right it’s food).  DC can also feel a little stuffy since everyone is running around in a suit trying to look important.  The tension of the city is palpable–basically, you can feel the desperation and passion of everyone trying to move up in the world.

Despite the drawbacks, DC is definitely worth the visit.  DC is so easy to get in and get around I don’t even need to write any tips.  If you speak even minimal English, you’re good to go.  Just head to the national mall and surrounding area and you’re set for DAYS.  Honestly, it’s probably the easiest city for a foreigner to travel in.

And personally, I think DC is a mandatory trip for all Americans.

8 thoughts on “5 Reasons To Visit Washington DC

  1. autumnashbough says:

    Thanks for taking me back to my old hood! Yeah, the whole purpose of the classical architecture was to intimidate — or at least compete — with European powers.

    The older a neighborhood is, the more charming. Or that’s how I feel. Add in lots of greenery, and it’s beautiful. Definitely not SoCal’s thing. The bad thing about all the greenery is the bugs that come with it, but looks like you missed those!

    I’m gonna argue with you on the food, though. Aside from Mexican or Dim Sum, DC crushes LA. Seriously. Best Indian is in Fall Church, best Thai in Northwest, and great Ethiopian everywhere. I should have given you a list of recs!

    • rubymary says:
      Profile photo of rubymary

      Yeah I heard DC summers are nasty (hot and humid!) but hey, at least it’s good for your skin (or so I hear).

      I should have gotten rec from you! We tried some Asian food in DC but it was meh. A lot of new hipster joints popping up that are so-so good and expensive. Argh. Too much Acai-bowl-sushi-burrito-quinoa-salad type stuff around. Bahhh!

      You should proud of your home! I loved DC a lot, it was basically everything I imagined it would be (including the stress and pressure haha).

  2. Todd says:

    wow, what an awesome post and pictures. I went to DC many years ago in the 80s as a dumb kid, not as informed and interested as I am now, actually we all went together as a group, stayed in some crap hotel, I didnt even know what we were looking at, except the Iwo Jima memorial and the Smithsonian. I would love to go back and really look at it hard, like you did and take it all in. There was an Amtrack we took to get back. In those days, there were beggars and homeless everyhere, and the mall area as run down with lots of trash in the water. Great to see they have improved it. In those days, the “wall” as a big attraction. Your spot on about the strip malls etc Lots of tatoo and massage parlors, check cashing, bingo, and other sprawl in almost every city I been too.

    • rubymary says:
      Profile photo of rubymary

      Yeah the national mall is super clean and nice now… I’m glad it’s improved!

      The amtrak is also still running and, to my surprise, it was really clean and timely. Kind of took me back to Japan.

      Are you originally from the east or west coast?

      • Todd says:

        lived on both sides and in between. I was on the scene when the big shopping malls just started to come out then I guess mega stores then took that over,
        but absent when the urban decay and strip malls began to take over. Dont know the real reason for it maybe it was “white flight”? But things really went downhill fast. Its eird because if you back up you could remember in those same strip malls really nice dept stores that carried nice items, then they went out, then another crap store came, then they went out, then the tatoo, recycle shops and others took it over.

  3. TonyJ2 says:

    Mary, yes Veronica and I also loved Washington. There were school kids everywhere, but very well organised and interested in the places around them.

    We did gather that each school in the US is sponsored or supported to visit DC. I wonder if that is actually is the case.

    • rubymary says:
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      When I went to DC this time around there were also busloads of students. The US school system does not sponsor trips there in general, but I think most schools on the East Coast make the trip to DC since it’s fairly close. None of my friends on the West coast went to DC for a field trip growing up, except maybe one or two in really posh private schools (and even then, the trip is probably optional).

      Anyway, I enjoyed it. I don’t know about bringing 10-12 year old students there (can’t really appreciate it that young), but I think students studying high school US history would definitely benefit from taking a vacation out there.

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