Reenactor soldiers at Gettsyburg
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5 places in DC to visit away from the Mall

Washington DC has a lot of great attractions. I have visited several times over the last few years and have never run out things to see and do. However, during my last trip to DC, I ventured off the Capitol Mall for a few stops. Here are five places in DC to visit away from the Mall.

Pentagon 9-11 Memorial

The Pentagon is the largest administrative office in the world. As we took a nighttime Monument tour, our guide told us it has its own police and fire force and two postal zip codes. Seriously big. I’ve driven past the Pentagon before but never went in the gates. I actually never knew there was a memorial there until our driver pulled in.

Pentagon Memorial places in DC to visit away from the Mall
Places in DC to visit away from the Mall: Pentagon

What it is

The memorial is on the west side of the building, the side that the American Airlines flight 77 crashed into on September 11, 2001, at 9:43 in the morning. The memorial is made up of benche, one for each of the 184 people who was killed on the flight and in the Pentagon. The designer placed many symbolic details throughout the memorial.

Each bench is engraved with the name of the person who died. The benches are long like a wing and point one direction if the person was on the plane and another if they were in the building. They are ordered by the age of the victim and spaced evenly according to age. This means that the first few benches are slightly apart from the others because the victims were children.

Where it is

The Pentagon building is located in Virginia, just across the Potomac River from Washington DC. You can get there on the Metro.

Why you should go

I was very moved by this memorial. It was the most unexpected place I visited on the trip and I’m so glad we ended up there. If you have ever been to the Oklahoma City Memorial, this was very similar.

Arlington Cemetery

Arlington is the most famous cemetery in the United States. It is the final resting place of roughly 400,000 men and women and their family members who served our country.

Graves at Arlington places in DC to visit away from the Mall
Places in DC to visit away from the Mall: Arlington

What it is

I’ve been to Arlington before but I’ve never opted to take the shuttle bus tour until this trip. I learned so many interesting facts from this tour and recommend you take it when you visit. Arlington’s original land was owned by George Washington’s step grandson. He left the land to his daughter who lived there with her husband, none other than Robert E. Lee (Head General for the Confederacy in the Civil War.. Crazy, right?

The cemetery is huge and organized into sections. Most gravestones are uniform, with engraved white markers. They allowed different markers for a while so you’ll see a variety, but to me the most impressive sections only have the rows of white.

Where it is

Arlington national cemetery is located in Arlington county, Virginia, close to the Pentagon. It is very close though downtown DC.

Why you should go

For family reasons, this cemetery means a lot to me. But even without that, these are hallowed grounds for any American.

We timed our visit to watch the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This gray marble monument holds the remains of unidentified soldiers from World Wars 1, 2 and Korea. It pays tribute to all servicemen who have died without their remains being identified. A member of the 3rd Cavalry of the US Army stands guard in front of the tomb 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

During the changing of the guard, one servicemen approaches the soldier on duty and relieves him of his duty while a supervising officer makes sure the new soldier meets the standard and knows his orders. Once the soldier takes over he paces 21 steps, turns, adjusts his rifle and marches back.

Changing of the Guard at Arlington places in DC to visit away from the Mall
Changing of the Guard at Arlington

Mt. Vernon

When George Washington wasn’t living at the White House, he lived on a farm called Mt. Vernon in Virginia. George Washington’s Mt. Vernon (it’s full name) is a popular destination for tourists and dignitaries. The night before we arrived, the President of the U.S. hosted a dinner for the President of the France.

Mt. Vernon places in DC to visit away from the Mall
Places in DC to visit away from the Mall: Mt. Vernon

What it is

Mt. Vernon was in the Washington family for some time and George became the owner in 1761. He added several floors and wings to the original house (although it still isn’t that big). The property is very pretty and there are gardens, orchards and fields around. George was big into farming and he used the 500 acres well.

Visitors to Mt. Vernon can tour the grounds and see how life was back in the late 1700s. You can take a peek into the kitchen, laundry house, and visitor’s servant’s quarters among other buildings. The piece de resistance, though, is the house. Conservationists and historians work hard to make this look just like it did back in the day, matching wallpaper and paint to what they think it would be like after extensive reviews with a microscope. Most of the furniture is what the Washington’s used and you can see their writing desks and the bed where George passed away.

There is a nice museum on the property and as we toured through we learned a lot about George’s life. Oh yeah, we also saw his dentures. It turns out that the story of them being made of wood is a myth; they were made of cow and human bone and metal. We couldn’t figure out how they stayed in. I’m guessing Fixident wasn’t a thing back then…

Where it is

Mt. Vernon is located on the banks of the Potomac river near Alexandria, Virginia. Nowadays, ol’ George could have just commuted into D.C. as it isn’t that long of a drive, maybe 30 minutes or so. You can get there via the bus and a Metro, but we just drove on over.

Why you should go

Washington ties Lincoln for the most popular president ever, and Mt. Vernon is a shrine to this man. My view of him is that he was humble and low key (not sure if that’s right but I hope so). He probably would have been mortified to know he has demi-god status at this place, but oh well. If you like yourself some GW, visit Mt. Vernon and you won’t be disappointed.

National Harbor

In 2008, some real estate investors decided to build a gi-normous conference center 20 miles south of Washington D.C. More investors followed suit and today National Harbor is a happening place to go to eat, shop and visit.

National Harbor places in DC to visit away from the Mall
Places in DC to visit away from the Mall: National Harbor

What it is

We stayed at the Gaylord National Resort, along with what felt like enough people to man a mid-sized city. Just outside the hotel there are several blocks full of shopping stores and restaurants. On Saturday night, we were turned away from several food establishments because the wait list was over an hour.

If you aren’t into eating or shopping (as if!), you could entertain yourself with people watching, watching a giant outdoor jumbo screen TV, or taking a spin on the lit-up ferris wheel.

Where it is

National Harbor is kind of a pain to get to, unless you drive. We caught Ubers back and forth to the city (usually around $25). Public transportation exists, but you’d have to Metro, then bus, then shuttle to get there.

Why you should go

This is a strange little suburb of Washington D.C. But it is kind of fun because it is like a getaway. You can visit it if you are tired of all those dang monuments and historical markers when you visit DC.

Gettysburg

Gettysburg is a small town in south central Pennsylvania. No one would probably have heard of it, had it not been for an important battle 1863 that changed the course of the Civil War…United States…world as we know it.

Reenactor soldiers at Gettsyburg places in DC to visit away from the Mall
Places in DC to visit away from the Mall: Gettysburg

What it is

Gettysburg itself is a a little town with Civil War buildings sprouting up all over. The real reason to visit this area, though, is the Gettysburg National Military Park. The National Park service manages the battlefield, which is very large (you drive around an auto tour to see different skirmish areas). The Gettysburg Foundation runs the museum and theater where visitors learn all about the history of this battle.

We visited on a weekend during the busy months, which meant we were able to see two different regiments of Civil War reenactors do their things. Our demonstrations taught us how soldiers loaded their rifles, aimed and fired. I gotta say, war would have been terrifying. During the early wars of the Civil War, men still stood in lines, pointed guns at the enemy, who was standing in lines shooting at them. I have no idea how they didn’t duck and cover.

The battlefield is really pretty. Historians have studied pictures taken right after the fight and have tried to turn the land back to what it was in 1863. There are open spaces, hills and orchards. It must have been really peaceful until almost two hundred thousand men converged there and left three days later, without 45,000 men who were killed or wounded.

About four months after the battle, President Lincoln visited the area and dedicated the Gettysburg National Cemetery on Cemetery Hill. It was here that he gave a short talk, forever immortalized as the Gettysburg Address.

Where it is

We rented a car at National Harbor and drove about two hours to get to Pennsylvania. You can probably find an organized tour from D.C. if you really wanted to visit the battlefield without driving.

Why you should go

Most people have heard of the Gettysburg Address. It is really cool to visit the place where such an inspiring message was shared. The battle must have been horrific, with three days of scrappy fighting. General Pickett made his famous charge at this battlefield (unsuccessfully). Robert E. Lee almost pulled off a victory that could have changed history. Even if you never paid attention in history class during school, I think you’ll find things that resonate with you at this battlefield.

Conclusion

If you have been to our nation’s capital many times and have visited the Smithsonians more times than you can remember, it might be time for you to branch out and check out  places in DC to visit away from the Mall.

places in DC to visit away from the Mall
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