DC Free Date Ideas

Following up on the list I created for London Free Date Ideas, I crafted a list of some unique things to fo in the District. Let’s face it, DC is expensive, we enjoy paying 10% sales tax and $4 for a single taco. Lots of people get stumped on free things to do beyond going to Smithsonian Museums and cherry blossoms at the monuments so hopefully, this list can help you out.

*A side note on this is that it is not unreasonable to expect both parties on a date to foot the bill. However, I really do see the value in the desire to treat someone to a good time. I don’t think it is at all unequal or sexist to feel this way. Also, it goes without saying that these suggestions are not limited to dates–they can include platonic dates, family visits, solo adventures, whatever your heart tells you!*

1. Museums, there are more museums out there than the Smithsonian’s it’s true I promise! However, starting with the gems so generously run by the government my favorites that are a little lesser known and might woo a potential interest are the Hirshhorn, Sackler Gallery, Renwick, and the National Building Museum.  Currently, Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors exhibition is about to open at the Hirshhorn and it is going to be an incredible interactive exhibit. Beyond the Smithsonians are the donation based private collections and gardens that can be tricky to find but worth the research. I recently just learned about the Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens which can dazzle with their manicured, beautiful landscaping and quirky art collection. The Phillips Collection also likes to sprinkle surprise free days throughout the year so keep alert for those.

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2. Art Galleries, on top of all the museums and art collections, commercial art galleries can be a great place to score some free food, wine, and see not priceless but very pricey works of art. You and your date can pretend to peruse for your humble DC shack which can add to all the fun. Some great galleries that consistently hold receptions are Longview Gallery, Morton Fine Art, Foundry Gallery and Transformer.

3. Franciscan Monastery, way out in Brookland, not Brooklyn (see entire post here), is the Franciscan Monastery. You can meander through the beautiful buildings and wooded gardens for hours. The roses are absolutely beautiful when in bloom and the monastery is so serene and peaceful. It is the perfect location for a calm stroll.

4.  Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, while out in Brookland make it a catholic themed date and head to the basilica which boasts a less humble gorgeous church with a very interesting crypt free for exploring underneath.

5. Washington National Cathedral, I know these three locales are feeling very religious for dates I think most people are comfortable absorbing beautiful architecture and buildings rich in history. Even though I am not Christian, I find churches very spiritual and impressive in their holy stature. Nearer to downtown resides the National Cathedral, a gothic inspired cathedral that really rounds out the entire church tour of the District. It is best to catch the cathedral at sunrise or sunset because the arches cast the most beautiful shadows on the small passageways.You can splurlge on a cup of coffee at the Open City at the National Cathedral and wonder around the petite Bishop’s Garden.

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6. National Arboretum, this not-so-obscure spot is classic first date material. There is just enough nature, history, and bonsai serenity. The arboretum can get crowded on the weekends so try to pick a weekday to visit or arrive nice and early. The fields and paths are perfect for ambling and the columns from the original capitol building are especially photogenic when the wildflowers are in bloom in front of them. For an arboretum, there is not an overly impressive amount of tree species but the bonsai collection is quite divine.

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7. Capitol Tour, as I mentioned in my previous date guide there is nothing wrong with geeking out a little bit when going out, in fact, it’s highly encouraged. You can make arrangments with your state’s representative to go on a guided tour of the capitol with a political savvy intern and see the impressive Capitol in all it’s splendor A capitol tour is a nice alternative to the tired old stroll around the mall–looking at monuments you and your friend have probably visited on numerous occasions.

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8. Meridian Hill Park, one of my favorite parks in DC is a great place to have a picnic or rendezvous. The fountains (when on) are spectacular. There are so many nooks and crannies to explore and intimate places to find around the park. Meridian Hill is also a hotspot for dog watching and who doesn’t love a cute pup to cuddle with?

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9. Roosevelt IsIland, a naturally romantic spot and a romatic nature spot. Roosevelt Island is a hidden gem that is great for trail runs and walks. You can access it via a jaunt along the waterfront and over the Key Bridge or by weaving past the Kennedy Center. The Georgetown Waterfront way is more picturesque but there is something a little thrilling about the narrow walkway on the Memorial Bridge. There are so many cool views of DC and Rosslyn that you can’t get from anywhere else and the dense thicket of trees makes you feel for a moment that you have escaped the slabs of marble and concrete that envelope DC. Bring a snack and sit on the wooden boardwalk in warm weather for an added bonus.

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10. Thrifting at Georgia Avenue Thrift Shop, not entirely, but always free to look is some antiquing and thrifting. Georgia Avenue has racks and racks of clothes that are perfect for a little game of dress up and laughs about bad fashion over the decades. You might also venture to the back to see what odds and ends are for sale including random bits of furniture, parts of china sets, lamp shades and other wonderful artifacts. Try hunting for the strangest items you can find or relics of childhood–these are great conversation starters.

11. Union Market Sampling, it’s like going to a farmer’s market that you can enjoy year round. Union market has dozens of vendors (68 to be exact)  hawking their food and wares each day and offering up tasty samples of everything from olive oil to chocolate and soap to cheese. There are so many interesting things to try and it’s a great spot for intriguing people watching. It is quite possible if you hit the sampling right to not spend any money and get a decent meal in, or at least get some creative ideas for your own cooking. Union Market makes for a colorful culinary adventure and they market also has pop-up events such as live music or painting classes.

12. Dolcezza Factory Tour, like gelato? Enjoy seeing the mechanics behind how food is made? Crave fresh made soft serve? Well all your dreams can come true with a tour of the Dolcezza Gelato Factory. Located right behind Union Market, the factory holds tours on the weekend so you can make the most of your NoMa adventure and do Union Market sampling in the morning and gelato in the afternoon. It’s always a treat to have those cool how it’s made moments and witness them with someone else who has a sweet tooth or is an avid fan of production processes.

13. Brewery Tours, since I am from Boulder, the land of microbreweries I can’t say that DC is a beer town but the District is no slouch when it comes to having enough breweries for a create your own brewery tour. My favorites are 3 Stars, Right Proper and DC Brau. 3 Stars has beautiful large format beers in a cute small space with bright exposed lightbulbs and a no-frills atmosphere. Tours are Saturday at 2pm, 3pm, & 4pmTours and are free and open to the public c with valid 21+ ID. Right Proper has a very great date spot in their Brew Pub and Kitchen in Shaw but you can go see where the magic happens for free at their Brookland Production House and Tasting Room. Tours of the brewery are offered on Saturdays and Sundays at 2pm, 4pm, and 6pm and are completely free with tastes. They describe their tasting space so aptly that I am going to leave the quote to them, “our tasting room offers a view of the brewery in a cozy space filled with reclaimed cherry wood and a slightly disturbing chalk art mural.” Who can say no to disturbing chalk art? It is sure to make anyone at least more interested in you. Tour of DC Brau (not my favorite beer but local and fun) are free and on Saturday at 1, 2. 3 and 4pm. Their brewery space is awesome and filled with great merch, decals and has rotating guest food trucks in the back.

14. Congressional Cemetery, it may sound morbid to go to a cemetery on a date but I actually find graveyards so peaceful and relaxing. You can have your own Harold and Maude moment while learning about some interesting history. The grounds are very well-maintained and sometimes they host movie nights with spooky classics. For a first date or excursion best to visit in the day time but if you want to go at dawn or dusk that adds to the mystery and quiet solemness.

15. Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, see full post here. The Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens are a rare nature retreat within the city limits. When the lilypads are in bloom, the swampy wetlands are incredible. The gardens show an adventurous, sensitive side all wrapped into one.

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Guest Post from Jesse Hartman: The food we missed in Amsterdam

The travel posts return after a long hiatus. Back with my brother, Jesse Hartman taking a quick trip to  Amsterdam from Tel Aviv, his current home base. He really did the food game right so visit my post here and combine for a complete travel plan for the proper Dutch culinary and cultural experience.

A cut-rate round-trip flight on Turkey’s finest offering, Air Pegasus, served as the perfect backdrop for a quick trip to Amsterdam, and the craziness departing from Ben Gurion Airport complimented the journey nicely. Shortly after learning that my roommate Aaron and myself would not be on the same first leg from Tel Aviv (though we were reunited in Istanbul several hours later), a wildly irresponsible fry cook at Burger Ranch decided it would be a good idea to start a grease fire in Terminal 3, delaying Aaron’s flight to dangerously close to missing the final leg from Turkey. With that behind us, along with a decent döner we landed and sped off to our hotel in the heart of Amsterdam.

Arriving around 11:30pm would usually pose challenges, but a quick check in and we were off to our first coffeeshop and food encounters. A quick disclaimer: I’m not going to sit here and bore you good reader with perpetual pot talk, nor would foul up a very nice blog, so it happened, joints were smoked, let’s move on. Just a 10-minute walk from our rooms was Burger Bar, part of a small chain that stays open until 3am! I went for the Angus burger topped with cheddar, mushrooms and jalepano, and of course their house sauce, complimented very nicely with a side of fries, that would be the first of many consumed throughout the trip.

Our first full day began with a quest to find a golden-brown holy grail of street food: the stroopwafel. A stroopwafel is basically a honey and syrup sandwich with two freshly griddled waffle cones as the bread. We strode over to Lanskroon Bakery where Aaron housed a normal offering and I sampled the coffee caramel version. On the back of the near diabetic shock and a pleasant cappuccino, we head off to Vondelpark for lounging and enjoying the mid-spring sun. Around the corner is Peperwortel, a small deli-like storefront with prepared foods that the cashier kindly heated for us. We enjoyed quiche, lasagna and some chicken wings on the side of the café, deliciously refueling for our next trek and a trek it most certainly was. At the end of the half-hour wind through the canals and beautiful architecture, we arrive at Brouwerij ‘TJ, a local beer maker housed in an old windmill. We each imbibed a flight and I thought the Columbus Amber Ale was the pick of the 5 from an interesting brewery that offers only beers that are unfiltered and unpasteurized and several organic options as well. After the beer, it was on to Skek, a cozy student-run bar, for amazing bitterballen (fried mince-meat croquettes) and delightful live music. The final nightcap was a stumble to the hilariously named Manneken Pis from Flemish-style fries, where Aaron went with a more classic sauce choice and I opted to combining saté and curry sauce.

Our middle day got off to another fantastic culinary start as we walked to Winkel Café for the best apple pie in Amsterdam. I had been on my first trip, but it was no less tasty the second time. Heading to Winkel put us in the hip and slightly less mainstream Jordaan neighborhood, where we each spent a wise 5 euros to spend some time at the Tulip Museum. After a quick and humorous discussion with a museum employee, Aaron and I were convinced to take a decently lengthy 90 minute trip out to Keukenhof, one of Europe’s largest flower gardens. Of course, we had to get properly supplied and quickly found ‘t Kuyltji, for one of the better sandwiches I’ve had the good fortune of tasting. Along the way, FEBO catches my eye- a Dutch fast-food takeaway shop where for a two-euro coin you open the display case and chow down on a small kroket or hamburger. Once at the gardens, we dove into our sandwiches. Aaron sprung for the pastrami and cheese, and I decided on the prime rib: Salty, simple and delicious, as well as filling for coming in a smaller portion. Upon our return, it’s another trip to Manneken for an afternoon snack of fries before some down time back at the room.

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On a recommendation from other American friends from Netanya, we attempted to go to Café de Klos for ribs, but were rudely greeted at the door. Look, I understand 90-minute waits happen, but at least tell us where to stand or get a drink or take our name down… This setback turns into an excellent turnaround as we decided on Sampurna for rijstaffel, an Indonesian cuisine consisting of several small plates fired out at us in almost overwhelming fashion. Roasted meats, fresh vegetables and different styles of peanut sauces all merged perfectly together as we plucked them off the hot plate. The evening only went up as we went to Bourbon Street for live jazz, highlighted by a superb rendition of “Get Down on It”. Some late-night pool and foosball back at the hotel was in order before recharging for our final day.

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With a pretty glaring hole in my food plans for a final breakfast, Aaron came through in the clutch by finding Omlegg, a small restaurant about 10 minutes walk away. After a quick wait, we ducked inside just before the drizzle outside turned into something more ominous. An omelet for Aaron and a croissant-egg sandwich for me and we were off to the Albert Cuypmarket, a large open-air farmers’ market brimming with food options and tchotchkes. I go in for a 3-euro open-faced smoked herring sandwich, which truly was one of my favorite foods of the whole trip and both of us couldn’t resist another crack at a stroopwafel. After a final burger at The Butcher, which honestly wasn’t spectacular- I thought Burger Bar was better, we head to the museums with a cold, gray day serving as the perfect motivation to do just that. We explored the Dutch arm of St. Petersburg’s famed Hermitage Museum and caught an exhibit on Spanish masters, including El Greco, Velasquez and De Goya. From there, it was on to the beautiful Jewish History Museum at the former site of the Great Synagogue and then to Amersterdam’s Museum of Modern Art which had bizarre monochromatic canvases side-by-side with more famous names such as Van Gogh and Mondrian.

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One final stop at Winkel and another perfectly convenient train ride and we arrived back at the airport to return home. It was a splendid trip; Amsterdam truly has a little bit for everyone. A few stones remain unturned; I’ve still yet to see the Van Gogh Museum or the Anne Frank House, and perhaps I can return again some time. Meanwhile I’ll have to settle for dreams of stroopwafel and street herring as I await my next traveling adventure.

Flower or Fiction?

This past weekend for my last couple days in Boulder I had been dying to go to the Chihuly Glass Exhibit at the Denver Botanical Gardens. I have been a fan of Dale Chihuly’s amazing glass blowing since I saw an exhibition of his in Sacramento in 2002 and subsequent exhibition at the De Young Museum in San Francisco and permanent installment in the Bellagio Hotel.

The Denver Botanical Gardens was my fist time seeing the glass sculptures incorporated into the natural landscape. The pieces fit so beautifully with the flora and fauna that it was sometimes hard to tell weather you were gazing at a plant or stalk of Chihuly glass. Seeing the gardens in bloom accentuated the flowers because you could see that every shade of the glass matched the surrounding growth. The two water installments were beyond gorgeous with the old carved wooden boats contrasting the light and modern glass. The reflection of the glass in the pools of water was also stunning, as it added to the natural fluidity of the glass. Our attempt had been to see the gardens at the gloaming period so we could see them transition from light to dark. We saw a few pieces lit up but came a bit to early to stay for the overall effect. I have heard it is magical so if you take a trip down to the gardens I strongly encourage you to go around 7 o’clock.

But enough talk, words cannot really do the Chihuly exhibit justice so I’ll highlight a few photographs from the gardens that should inspire a visit. The glass will remain in the gardens until November 30th so make sure to check it out if you are in Denver.

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