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:
- The architecture
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.