5 Secretly Peaceful Places in Washington

Spring has sprung here in DC, and one of my favorite ways to relax and turn off my worries about everyday life is to find a quiet and beautiful place to explore.  Washington, DC is full of majestic memorials and green parks but they can often be so swarming with tourists that visiting becomes aggravating rather than peaceful.  So beyond the standard monuments, presidents’ homes and national parks in the area, here are a few peaceful places around the city that feel miles away from the stress of everyday life.  They may not exactly be a secret, but they are a bit off the beaten path.  

#1. The Hillwood Museum

Hillwood is an estate located near Rock Creek Park in Northwest DC that once belonged to Marjorie Merriweather Post (think the Honey Bunches of Oats fortune) and is truly a gem right smack in the middle of the city.  The mansion displays her collection of rare art and furniture from around the world.  But the real joy of Hillwood is exploring the surrounding estate.  There is a proper English garden, traditional Japanese water garden with waterfalls and stepping stones, a bright flower garden, and a chalet used to house rotating displays of art.  At $18 per adult ticket, it’s expensive compared to the free Smithsonian museums, but well worth the money. 


Learn more about Hillwood


#2. Glen Echo Park

Glen Echo is just a few miles outside of Washington in Montgomery County, MD.  At the turn of the 20th century, it was an amusement park with everything from bumper cars to an outdoor pool.  Glen Echo is now run by the National Park Service and currently serves as an arts community.  Walking through the park is a throwback to art deco architecture and you can take dance classes in the Spanish Ballroom, or pop in to a free art show featuring prominent and amateur artists.  It is a wonderful place to spend some time if photography is your hobby.  Plus, the historic carousel still runs from May-September for just $1.25 a ride.

Learn more about Glen Echo


#3. Franciscan Monastery

Did you even realize that Washington had a Franciscan Monestary?  We’re talking monks in belted brown robes, and all.  I only recently discovered it myself, and it’s beautiful.  Regardless of your religious inclination, this is a wonderful place to visit for some cultural and architectural enrichment.  On Mondays-Saturdays you can take a free tour of the monastery (the church interior) as well as the gardens as a walk-in or part of a guided tour.

Learn more about the Monastery


#4. U.S. Botanic Garden

The National Mall and its museums are often overcrowded with tourists, but right next the the Capitol building is the lesser-known U.S. Botanic Garden, a beautiful greenhouse and surrounding outdoor gardens filled with a plethora of plant species, exotic flowers, trees, etc.  The Botanic Garden is open everyday from 10am-5pm and admission is free. 

 Learn more about the U.S. Botanic Garden 


#5. National Park Seminary at Forest Glen

This place imparts the feeling of being in a fairy tale.  The National Park Seminary (near Silver Spring, MD) was a girls’ boarding school in the early 20th century and later became an annex to Walter Reed army hospital.  The seminary is unique because of the unique structures that were once part of the school campus including a Japanese pagoda, Swiss chalet, Dutch windmill, formal ballroom, and beautiful walking paths framed by greenery.  Many of the structures have been converted into private homes, but you can still take a guided walking tour around the grounds and enter some of the buildings.  Tours are the fourth Saturday each month for $5 per person.

Learn more about National Park Seminary 


(Images for this post are a combination of my own and Google images.  Visit these cool places and snap some pics of your own!)

Field Trip: “Food: Our Global Kitchen” Exhibit

For months, I’ve been seeing ads on Metro trains for an exhibit at the National Geographic Museum in Washington, DC called “Food: Our Global Kitchen.”  The posters described it as a farm to table experience which really piqued my interest.  Learning more about non-toxic food ingredients has made me more interested in where my food comes from and how it is grown, and I try to be a locavore whenever possible.

I had a great experience at NatGeo (despite a handful of rambunctious kids running around wiping their germy hands on all the interactive buttons, ick).  I thought the layout of the exhibit was really clever.  The “farm to table” effect involved taking the museum-goer through the full experience of food, winding us through displays on history and development of agriculture, to facts about food production and trade, to global cooking techniques.

The exhibit was sponsored by Whole Foods so I was curious how topics like organic produce, raising of livestock, and GMOs would be presented.  I assumed that it might be very biased but while all of these issues were mentioned throughout the exhibit, but I never felt it was one-sided or forced.  Because they are all issues that affect food production and consumption, it is important they are mentioned. But the visitor was left to draw his/her own conclusions.  Some highlights of the exhibit were:

  • Learning about cassavas — who knew they were such a staple of the human diet, or that they could grow to be as large as a person!  I’m not sure I’ve ever eaten one, but now it’s on my to-do list
  • A scale of heat rankings for peppers — I’ve seen comparisons like this before, but it was interesting to see it in person and see all the kinds I’ve tried (my experience stopped at about the third from the bottom with the jalapeno.  No thank-you, ghost pepper!)
  • A model scene of a historical food market in South America — very cool to see a life size re-creation of a market and all the different types of animals and produce considered exotic to me, but normal to a person in that time and place
  • A display of cookbooks from around the world, in all different languages — really makes you think that food is one of the few things that all humans have in common as a need.  We’re not so different after all!

One theme reiterated throughout the exhibit is the fact that humans are using more food resources that ever, and growing the food to feed all of us has very real environmental and health consequences for us.  The main take-away is that it is so important for each of us to understand where our food is coming from, and what exactly is in it.  In most cases, ignorance is bliss but with food, increased knowledge of what we eat, how and where it was grown, and how it was prepared, makes it more enjoyable and healthful in the end.

The exhibit is open until February 22 and tickets are $11 — well worth the price.  Hope you can check it out!