My Solo Escape to Washington DC // Monuments, Museums & M Street

My Solo Escape to Washington DC // Monuments, Museums & M Street

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As I made my way to the train station in downtown Charlottesville, Virginia I was notably relaxed. Despite all my travels over the years, air and road travel still gives me some level of anxiety – either waiting in an endlessly snaking security line or attempting to sit calmly in the nightmarish traffic that plagues 95. It all amounts to a lot of uncertainty and time. As the train chugged slowly to the platform at 8:52AM, I found the opposite to be true and simply climbed aboard less than five minutes after arriving at the Amtrak station.

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While I’ve ridden rail services extensively in Europe, this was my first experience aboard a stateside train. I knew the drill though and instinctively made my way to the cafe car. As the train slowly eased out of the station, I unpacked my things and grabbed a hot coffee. The goal for my morning ride was to catch up on client work and photo editing, though I didn’t properly account for one massive distraction: the rolling Virginia countryside on the other side of the glass.

As the train made brief stops in Culpepper then Manassas the topography undulated then flattened as we chugged northeast. Nearing DC, chatter picked up in the cafe car as travelers anticipated de-boarding, myself included. A jovial dad shared that he was taking his sons to New York City for the first time, his boys could barely tear themselves from the glass to pass along beaming smiles. What an adventure they were on! But the truth was, I was on my an adventure too!

From 2008 – 2013 Washington DC was home. As a resident I joined hundreds of thousands to watch Obama’s inauguration on the National Mall, I’d given directions to many, many tourists seeking the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum, and I’d daydreamed about a healthy blend of career success and lottery winnings in order to buy my own row house in Georgetown.

For my solo getaway back to my old hometown my mission was a simple trifecta of museums, monuments and a long M street stroll. Two and a half hours after boarding, the train pulled into Union Station. I permitted myself a few lazy swirls in the center of massive lobby to appreciate the grand space then headed down to Louisiana Ave on foot en route to the National Gallery of Art.

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I spent the afternoon in the gallery with a vivacious guide named Molly from MuseumHack. The MuseumHack mission is to replace the boring and monotone associations we have of art history with captivating backstories of the artists and their painted subjects. It was so much fun, I’d definitely recommend their tours to museum lovers AND loathers alike.

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Afterwards I roamed the pantheon-inspired domed rotunda in the center hall while workers prepared the space for a major gala that evening. I drooled over the flowers and dismissed myself, half-pretending that my invite was lost in the mail.

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The following day I logged a hefty amount of time on foot. In the morning I took a long stroll around the National Monument, down the Reflecting Pool, a slight detour to the Vietnam War Memorial, and finally concluded at the Lincoln Memorial. DC’s monuments are conveniently near one another but have never cease to surprise me with their scale and expanse. Good walking shoes are critical!

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Recalling my own middle school class field trip to DC, I had to laugh as I witnessed the school groups collide at Lincoln’s feet. The magnitude of the monument is humbling and inspiring but for some, it’s a great excuse to joke and play outside of classroom!

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I grabbed an Uber and beelined it to Georgetown. A self-proclaimed taco-afficiando, I ducked in Chaia for lunch – an up-and-coming “farm-to-taco” establishment along the canal just behind Patagonia. Woah my yum! Try the mushroom taco when you go!

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With the needed sustenance was acquired, I followed my daydream through the backstreets of Georgetown to witness the epic showdown of some of the prettiest row houses in the world. Oh yes, 3 million won’t even get you in the door of most, but we can all dream can’t we?

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I followed my lens to Tudor Place, a historic home and estate on 31st Street. Wandering through the lush property gardens, I did what any basic millennial would do: sipped on a Starbucks latte and took a selfie!

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My time in the city wrapped up just as I was finding it’s rhythm. Washington DC has so much to offer visitors – families, groups, or solo travelers, like me. Back at Union Station a few days later, my transfer home was swift and efficient. Traveling independently allows more than just relaxing by a huge window with a evolving landscape but a chance to learn, roam and adventure!

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Considering planning a solo journey? So much more than just a means for transit, traveling with Amtrak is a travel experience, in and of itself. The Crescent Line dashes across the US daily from New Orleans to New York City. My leg from Charlottesville, Virginia to Washington DC can be as little as $25 each way – equivalent to 8 Chaia tacos OR half a day in a DC parking garage.

Many thanks Amtrak collaborating with me on this project. In exchange for sharing my story I was given complimentary train tickets. Per usual however, I only share properties, tours and experiences that I’d recommend to my nearest and dearest and (of course!) always share my honest opinions. Instead of wasting my time and yours on negative reviews I simply do not share them on this space.
  • I love all your photos.

  • I have my eye on those cheap Iceland to DC flights, one weekend there wasn’t enough!

    • oh girl, I’d say the same about Reykjavik – though I’ve only ever visited by way of your wonderful stories and photos!

  • DC has such a special place in my heart! (1) because we visited countless times when we were growing up, I have an aunt that lives in Virginia! (2) because my husband proposed in the steps of the WWII Memorial during a little weekend getaway in 2011!! Your featured photo totally took me back to that wonderful memory. <3

    But I have never really gone outside the Mall to explore! I think maybe a drive through Georgetown at most. Definitely need to check that off the bucket list, once we move stateside. My husband and I are hoping he gets stationed in Quantico at some point in his career, making trips to DC a breeze! 🙂

    What a fun solo trip!

    • okay, so how sweet is it that your hubby proposed on the steps of the WW2 memorial – I’d love to see pics of that!!

      I totally know what you mean about seeing the main sites and not much of the city itself, I think I could say the same about NYC. I went back recently and only stayed in Brooklyn and it was amazing… I was like “now I love this city so much more” to experience it more like a local and less like a tourist!

  • Kari Guastella

    When I was little we lived in Falls Church and my dad would take me into DC every Tuesday to go to a museum, then we’d get an ice cream cone on our way home.

  • No matter how many times I got to DC it never gets old and I always find something new to do 🙂

    • seriously – I’d actually never been to the national gallery of art before and am totally kicking myself for it. on that note, I still haven’t been to the top of the washington monument and am slightly embarrassed about it.

  • Veena

    Definitely have a photo of myself posing in front of that dude in the pink silk suit from a spring break trip to DC in 2004. It remains one of my best imitations to this day.

    • ha, so which dude in the pink silk suit? I went back through all the pictures and I’m not sure I understand… not to mention, pink silk suit is quite the combo!

  • In 2010 I was in DC for a friend’s wedding at George Washington’s River Farm. (Such a gorgeous place!) But since the main event for the weekend was the wedding, I hardly saw any of DC. I have wanted to go back ever since. Judging by your pretty pictures, I’m thinking I need to make that return trip in the spring. DC looks lovely in bloom!

    • Oh man, I’ve never even heard of Washington’s River Farm (though I’m not surprised… after looking at the DC TripAdvisor page for the first time recently I was embarrassed by how much I missed while I was a resident), but I bet it’s so beautiful! I have to agree with you 100% on DC in bloom, she (he?) sure is a beauty! DC summers can be ROUGH with humidity so spring/fall is prime time for a visit!

      PS thanks for the “cutest ad ever” comment… you made Stuart and my day! ;D

  • What a fun trip! I haven’t been to DC in ages and your stroll around Georgetown has me looking up Amtrak tickets from Richmond.

    PS, you popped up in my Facebook’s “People You Might Know” this morning…we have two mutual friends! ha!

    • no kidding! who are our mutual friends? i guess i shouldn’t be surprised because virginia is such a small place, isn’t it?

      I’ll actually be in your neck of the woods tomorrow! apparently there’s a big Earth day festival going on!

      • Yes! I may make my way down there myself. There’s also a huge street art festival happening in Manchester, so I’m torn on which way to go.

        I guess you maybe went to school with a few of my Roanoke friends? Brandon S and Sarah S (I hate to put their full names out here publicly!)

  • It looks like you had lots of fun! I wish I could travel to the US. But living in Hong Kong now, US is on the other side of the world!! Way to far, ahah

  • Ahh This reminds me of when I was in DC over the winter! Such a beautiful city with so much history!
    Jabeen x

    • yes! so the ridiculous thing is that even as a resident for 5 years I barely scratched the surface on all the great things to see and do! DC winter’s can be brutal so hopefully you had mild weather during your visit!

  • A Day Away

    I love your post, especially all of your photos of the gorgeous DC houses! I recently went to D.C. too but I missed chaia – which looks incredible!

    • ha, sooo one day we’ll have to buy our own Georgetown row house so we can go to Chaia whenever we please, right? 😀 DC is so gorgeous, especially in the Spring, I’m glad I was able to get up there! where did you visit during your time there?

      • A Day Away

        oh, absolutely. I was a little all over the place, but my favorites were definitely the Renwick, National Portrait Gallery, and just walking around in general/walking around Embassy Row. I also learned that The Kennedy Center has free performances every night, so I saw a fantastic international jazz singer while watching the sun set over the Potomac!

  • Your solo trip & train travel sounds wonderful! I love DC and it looks like you chose a perfect time of year to visit! Looking forward to taking an Amtrak train around the country next time I’m in the States!

    • that’s a brilliant idea, Mere! so they actually do these incredible long-haul rail services across the country that sound so amazing. for example, you can take the train from Chicago to San Fran up through the rockies, it’s actually really reasonable and comfortable (with 4 star dining and everything!).. safe to say, I’m dying to go!

  • I love train travel. Always have. So i can really appreciate your images in the beginning. Of course yout photo journey to Washington DC leaves no stone unturned. I visited back in 2005 and these images brought back lots of wonderful memories.

    • thanks so much for the kind words, Mersad! I’m so glad I could provide a quick (well, there’s almost 50 pictures in this post… so maybe not all that quick) escape back to dear old DC. 😀

  • We’re so glad you “stumbled upon” us, Margo, on that weirdly windy afternoon. (See clouds behind your excellent picture of the house — eerie but cool!) Thanks for the neat pictures. As the most “European,” and oldest, part of D.C., Georgetown remains a draw for history lovers from Virginia and elsewhere, many of whom make their way to us. Here’s our site for those wanting to visit online or in person:

  • emilygrapes

    I’m always amazed at how you find new places to eat and different tour buisnesses.. so many great new things, beyond the “same ol’ same ol'”!!