Washington, DC is one of my favorite places to visit as evidenced by the many trips we’ve taken to the capital city (you can read about some of our past trips to DC here). However, we’d never been for the 4th of July. As big fans of our nation’s birthday (which also happens to be the day before my birthday), we decided 2019 was the year to have a very American 4th of July. We spent a fantastic four days in the capital city and there truly is nothing like a DC Independence Day. However, it was extremely hot and in the future, we will most likely return to visiting when the weather is a little more pleasant.
We stayed with our good friends Katie and Cullan at their place near Union Station. Since we had our son with us, but didn’t bring our car seat, we used the metro most of the weekend (or walked when we could) to get around the city. It could not have been more convenient to stay so close to the Red Line which has easy access to many popular stops like Dupont Circle and Woodley Park (the zoo stop). We could also get to the transfer stations at Gallery Place and Metro Center which will get you to most of the other tourist destinations on the Gray and Green lines.
We arrived on a Wednesday morning and our first stop was Union Market for lunch. We’d actually been to Union Market on a previous DC trip and I remarked that I hoped to return to try more things. Some of the food stalls had changed since our last visit, but we recognized several. We shared several items so we could try more and ended up with a trio of Korean tacos from TaKorean tacos, a pastrami sandwich from Harvey’s Market, and an Ethiopian bowl from Gorsha Ethiopian. We ended our meal with a small cup of ice cream from Trickling Springs Creamery.
At TaKorean, you can get one taco of each type of meat (chicken, steak, and pork) topped with slaws and sauces. I asked them to make them however they thought was best. My favorite was easily the pork – it was very flavorful and the meat was perfectly cooked. At Gorsha, we shared the Gorsha bowl, with chicken, peas, beans, and carrots over turmeric rice. The flavors were really strong and it was a unique meal, but it maybe wasn’t the best choice on such a hot day since it was a bit spicy.
After lunch, we headed for the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The nearly three-year-old museum is still difficult to get into because of its popularity, but we were able to obtain walk-up entry (available Mon – Fri from 1 p.m. until close March to August and from 10 a.m. until close September to February). If you visit on a Saturday or Sunday or before the walk-up entry time, you must obtain a timed-entry pass (it is strongly encouraged that you do this in advance).
The museum was excellent and very well done. It aims to highlight the contributions of African Americans to our country and does this wonderfully. The main exhibition is on the bottom floor and gives a history of blacks in the United States, beginning from the slave trade and arrival in the United States all the way through the present day. It’s really inspiring to read about those who fought slavery and later segregation and to see how much has been accomplished in the last 60 years.
I also enjoyed the exhibit on African American athletes, which highlighted some of the most barrier-crushing athletes in all sports. I learned a lot about athletes with whom I was previously familiar and unfamiliar. I would also have liked to see the exhibit on musicians, but we’d already been at the museum for a few hours with a toddler and decided we’d seen all we could. One final highlight of the museum is the Sweet Home Cafe. Unfortunately we were already full from our big lunch at Union Market, or I would have loved to eat at the cafe which highlights traditional African American food from the South, North, West, and Creole region. We walked in to get milk for my son and everything looked beautiful and delicious.
At this point, we met up with our friends and got ready for dinner. We walked to Chupacabra for a casual Mexican dinner of chips and guacamole, quesadillas, tacos, and arepas. I had a Cuban Lechon Delicioso (mojo roasted pulled pork) quesadilla that was excellent. The guacamole was a hit for everyone, especially my son!
The next day was the 4th of July and we had a big day planned with highlights of baseball and fireworks. We walked to Union Kitchen Grocery for breakfast sandwiches and iced coffee before heading to Nationals Park for the Nationals game. We’ve been to a few major league baseball stadiums and this one was right up there with my favorites. We had seats behind first base, although because it was such a hot, sunny day, we moved up several rows into the shade for most of the game. The ballpark has great food options, a kids playground, a green space, and a garden, and many more amenities. Also, several people who saw us walking around with our son very kindly told us about a the Kennedy Room, one of the ballpark conference rooms, where we could cool off in the A/C and still watch the game on TVs which gave us all a welcome reprieve from the heat.
After the game, we had burgers, salad, watermelon, and flag cake with our friends and listened to the President’s 4th of July speech. We really enjoyed seeing the flyovers happen from their building and then seeing them on television. It was really special to be near something so historic. After the speech, we walked to the National Mall to find space to watch the fireworks. The show was incredible – I’ve never seen quite so many fireworks in the sky! Unfortunately, about 10-15 minutes into the 35 minute show, a cloud of smoke from the fireworks obscured the rest of the show so we walked home.
The next day was my birthday! We started the day with Starbucks (free birthday drink!) and breakfast at Le Pain Meridian in nearby Union Station before walking to the National Postal Museum, one of the Smithsonians that we hadn’t previously visited. I was really impressed with the museum, and also enjoyed that it was smaller and a bit more manageable than some of the other large museums (I am the first to admit that I can suffer from “museum fatigue”). We especially enjoyed the more interactive parts of the museum like creating our own (not usable) stamp, starting a stamp collection, seeing how mail travels to different parts of the country, and viewing the various transportation methods the USPS has used over its history.
Once we’d made it through the museum, we returned to our friend’s building for some pool time before meeting them at Pizzeria Paradiso for dinner. I had forgotten, but we’d actually eaten at the Georgetown location of Pizzeria Paradiso previously! This time we visited the Dupont Circle location. We all thoroughly enjoyed the delicious, Neopolitan-style thin crust wood-fired pizza. Pizza is one of my favorite foods, and also happens to be a hit with my son, so it was a great choice for a casual Friday birthday dinner!
Alex and Katie very kindly arranged a birthday cake for me from Milk Bar. I’ve been reading about Milk Bar for years and after watching the Netflix Chef’s Table on Christina Tosi, I had really been wanting to try it! We ordered the strawberry lemon cake and it was amazing. Katie also picked up a few other treats for us to try like Milk Bar Pie, Birthday Cake Truffles, and the soft-serve. It was all delicious, but the cake was my favorite. We are going to Las Vegas soon and I can’t wait to sample a few more treats there! I’m thinking cookies will be on the menu this time…
Our last day in DC, we met up with one of my best friends, Meryl, and her husband and son at the National Zoo. We had previously visited during the holidays for Zoo Lights, but had never been during the day. Many of the animals were sleeping or sheltering from the heat, but we enjoyed some of the indoor enclosures for primates, reptiles, amphibians, and small mammals. Our son especially loved seeing the sand cat – it was definitely his favorite sighting! Also, one of the best parts of the zoo is that it’s free, as are all of the Smithsonian museums in Washington, DC.
On our way back, picked up lunch from Nando’s and Farmbird, two fast casual chicken-based restaurants on H Street, to eat while we packed up for our trip home. Nando’s has peri-peri chicken, which is a South African dish that is flame-grilled with peri-peri chilis for out-of-this-world flavor. I tried it in a green salad with heirloom tomatoes, grilled halloumi cheese (one of my favorites!), and grilled corn. I only wish there was a location near me so I could eat the salad regularly. Everyone else got grilled chicken plates at Farmbird. The menu involves choosing your cut of chicken, sauce, and a side over rice. It was also a delicious meal (I tried a few bites!).
Our flight home was delayed so we made one last pitstop to Gravelly Point Park to watch the planes land at Reagan Airport. It was a beautiful day and a lot of people were out enjoying the sunshine. Our son loved pointing out the planes that came so low over our heads.
Once it was time to go, we said goodbye to Katie and Cullan and made our way home. It was yet another great visit to our country’s capital city and we can’t wait for the next trip (although we hope it will be cooler next time)!