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DC Activities (Things to do in D.C. on the cheap)

SniperGuySniperGuy SniperGuyGamingRegistered User regular
edited December 2011 in Help / Advice Forum
In January, the girlfriend and I are venturing up to DC for about 4 days. We've planned to see the traditional things like the monuments and the Smithsonian and such, but I'm sure there's tons of cool stuff we'd miss otherwise. We're also trying to go as cheaply as possible, so avoid things that are expensive. So! What neat cheap things can we do in DC? We're both fairly geeky and I'm a huge history buff, her less so. We're also trying to get around sans car as much as possible, taking the metro into the city proper and back out to our hotel. Tips and tricks and such?

SniperGuy on

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    lonelyahavalonelyahava Call me Ahava ~~She/Her~~ Move to New ZealandRegistered User regular
    well january might be a bit of a strange time, but the national zoo is free.

    and there's a bat cave.

    smithsonian definitely. The metro is easy enough to get around and the walking isn't bad. Was down there 2 januarys ago, and had a good enough time.

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    CyberJackalCyberJackal Registered User regular
    There's two big things to consider about visiting the monuments in January. First, it's likely to be pretty cold. Second, it's A LOT of walking. I think most people don't have a good appreciation of how much distance you can cover walking the monuments. To go from the Smithsonian metro, to the Lincoln/Washington/War memorials, then swing around the Tidal Basin to the FDR and Jefferson memorials, and back to the metro is all together well over 3 miles. I know you're trying to keep a budget here, but I really think you might want to look into the possibility of a tour bus. Or alternatively, if the weather isn't too terrible, maybe bicycles? I've never used it myself, but there's this service called "Capital Bikeshare" that has stations all over the city. Something to look into. If neither is a possibility, then make sure you bring comfortable shoes and warm clothing.

    Outside of that, you really shouldn't have to pay a dime for entertainment. There are tons of public museums and such that have no admission fees, and there's no way you're getting through them all in four days. There are museums of art, history, and science, so unless you two get sick of museums entirely you should be good. And even if you do, like lonely said the zoo has no admission fee. Also, there's the Botanic Garden on the Mall, which is really nice (though small).

    There's a couple of places that I feel are a bit neglected that I think you might want to check out. First is the National Archives, which holds the original copies of the Constitution, Declaration of Independence, and other documents (you can skip the rest of the exhibitions there IMO). Second is the Library of Congress, which is a really spectacular building. Try to attend the guided tour for that (check the schedule, they don't do many), because there's a lot of symbolism in there which you may not recognize yourself.

    One last thing to consider is if you plan on visiting a place that wouldn't let people wander freely about (such as the Capitol, for instance), you should definitely research what the requirements for getting tickets are and get there early for your visit.

    Hope you have a nice trip and the weather isn't too lousy.

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    Modern ManModern Man Registered User regular
    edited December 2011
    The awesome thing about DC is that pretty much all of the museums are free, except for the privately-run ones like the Spy Museum and the Newseum. If you're here for just 4 days, you probably don't have all that much time to branch out from the traditional museum+monument tourist itinerary.

    If you do have time and want a change of pace from indoors stuff, Roosevelt island is a good location for a short (hour or so) outdoor hike. It's in a location that gives you a great view of the Potomac, is easily accessible from the Rosslyn Metro stop and is also walkable to Georgetown (which is also a good place to go for a walk and look at all the historic houses populated by the DC gentry).

    Edit: Capital Bikeshare is a great way to get around. They offer 3 day membership for $15/person which gives you access to more than 100 stations, most of which are in the downtown area of DC. It's a great service for tourists.

    http://www.capitalbikeshare.com/

    Modern Man on
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    SniperGuySniperGuy SniperGuyGaming Registered User regular
    Yeah that bikeshare thing sounds like a great idea. I definitely want to go see the Constitution and Declaration and such, so I'm hoping we can get that in. May skip the Zoo though, we're from Memphis which has a pretty fantastic zoo on it's own. But definitely an option. Thanks for the suggestions so far!

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    ChanusChanus Harbinger of the Spicy Rooster Apocalypse The Flames of a Thousand Collapsed StarsRegistered User regular
    I've had many nice full days of just wandering around and visiting museums and government buildings and such (like the Library of Congress and the National Archives and such). The Metro Day Pass is entirely worth it if you're only going to be there for the day (or a couple days) and opens up the range of what you can see.

    Allegedly a voice of reason.
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    SammyFSammyF Registered User regular
    edited December 2011
    While it's not unbearable, Georgetown is one of the more difficult parts of the city to get around since you have to either cross the river or hike to Foggy Bottom to get a metro, and the traffic on Wisconsin and M streets is bad enough that even a bus takes a while, and forget doing your own car and parking. Even as a former resident of the neighborhood, I don't generally recommend it for general tourism unless you have a hankering to do some window shopping or you're desperate to see G-town's campus because the logistical nightmare of the surface streets makes it a giant time-suck.

    If you're going to be doing the Smithsonian thing and you're there over the weekend, I'd suggest swinging by Eastern Market for brunch. There are some smaller, non-chain restaurants that are reasonably priced and have good food near the historic market; my wife and I both give big thumbs-up recommendations to Montmarte in particular. We'd stroll down there every weekend for brunch during our first year living on the Hill. She's a big fan of their Eggs Benedict, and I'd usually have their panini. The omelettes can be hit-or-miss, sometimes they're overcooked, and they claim they have a special quiche of the day, but it is always Quiche Lorraine and it's not particularly special. If you go with the panini, the Eggs Benedict, the crepes or the mussels, however, you shouldn't be disappointed.

    Eastern Market's on the blue/orange line a few stops down from the various stops along the national mall, and it's also accessible by foot from the Capitol Building by heading southeast along Pennsylvania Ave.

    Something else on the mall that's fun to do (for me anyway) is to go by the Sculpture Garden adjacent to the natural history museum. The national parks service builds an ice skating rink over the fountain at the center of the park every winter. Prices are reasonable, though the skates aren't the highest quality, so wear thicker socks for a little extra padding.

    Oh! Oh! The absolute best thing to do for free in the city though is the National Zoo. The big cats are brought in for their daily feeding around 4:30 PM, and the tigers and lions both know it, so they get super-active and very vocal in the 15-20 minutes preceding meal time. My wife and I will park out by their enclosure and watch them pace eagerly while roaring for their keeper to hurry along with the food. Check to make sure feeding times haven't changed the day before you go to ensure you don't miss it. The zoo's nearest to the Cleveland Park metro stop on the Red Line. Admission is free, but parking isn't if you choose to drive.

    Edit: Also, find out what's going on at the Kennedy Center while you're there. Performances in the Opera House or the Orchestra House can be pricey, but they have something free daily in at least one venue.

    SammyF on
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    DarkewolfeDarkewolfe Registered User regular
    SniperGuy wrote:
    Yeah that bikeshare thing sounds like a great idea. I definitely want to go see the Constitution and Declaration and such, so I'm hoping we can get that in. May skip the Zoo though, we're from Memphis which has a pretty fantastic zoo on it's own. But definitely an option. Thanks for the suggestions so far!

    As someone who has lived in Memphis and DC, the zoo is MUCH better in DC. That said, if you're not huge on zoos you can safely skip it.

    I wouldn't bother going to Georgetown if you're trying to keep it cheap. The architecture is great if you're driving, the food is good but expensive and there are nice shops, but there's nothing cheap.

    Consider finding a way out to the National Cathedral if you can. It's an interesting place. Similarly, if you had a day where you had access to a car or a friend with a car, look into the National Arboretum.

    Catch the Sculpture Garden if you can find one of the times when they have live music there, it can be a pleasure.

    Send your Congressman and Senators an e-mail, even if you don't like them, and say that you're coming into town and would love a tour. Many of the offices will give tours of the Capitol to any constituents that ask for them, and will sometimes meet with you, depending on their schedule and how close to the election it is.

    Also, consider going to Arlington Cemetery. It can be mind-boggling to people who haven't seen it in person when you realize how many people really are buried there. Time it to catch the changing of the guard at the tomb of the unknown if you do go.

    What is this I don't even.
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    zepherinzepherin Russian warship, go fuck yourself Registered User regular
    I rather like the spy museum. Even though it costs monies, but things on the cheap.

    Here is a decent list
    http://washington.org/visiting/browse-dc/attractions/100-free-things-to-do

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    ChopperDaveChopperDave Registered User regular
    edited December 2011
    If you're looking to do a nice-ish dinner without breaking the bank, check out Matchbox in Chinatown (a hop and a skip away from the Smithsonian). Aside from the drink menu (which is overpriced), everything there is super reasonably-priced for what you're getting, and the pizza and burgers are both great. They also do a good brunch. My girlfriend and I have both treated our parents to dinner there when we wanted to feel semi-sophisticated without blowing too much money :D

    Also, take the yellow/green line out to U Street and get a chili half-smoke from Ben's Chili Bowl. It's a goddamned institution. Also cheap, delicious, and pretty filling. And they just opened a bar next door! U Street is a pretty cool area in general, lots of good restaurants and music venues and coffee shops and such.

    I'd recommend hopping onto both Groupon and Livingsocial and checking out their instant deals for DC. A lot of restaurants and museums have deals up on those websites, so it can be a good way to get a discounts around town. Be aware of happy hour discounts, too -- there was this one wine bar in my old neighborhood (Van Ness) that had happy hour prices AND half-off wine bottles on Mondays, meaning I could get a full bottle of wine and a meal for under 15 bucks. Pizza Paradiso (in Dupont and Georgetown) does half-off all beers and $10 for any pizza on the menu on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, as long as you sit at the bar -- which admittedly can be pretty hard! In general you'll find that a ton of awesome restaurants do great happy hour menus like these, so if you find a place that has a Groupon AND a happy hour menu you're totally set.

    ChopperDave on
    3DS code: 3007-8077-4055
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    lonelyahavalonelyahava Call me Ahava ~~She/Her~~ Move to New ZealandRegistered User regular
    Darkewolfe wrote:
    SniperGuy wrote:
    Yeah that bikeshare thing sounds like a great idea. I definitely want to go see the Constitution and Declaration and such, so I'm hoping we can get that in. May skip the Zoo though, we're from Memphis which has a pretty fantastic zoo on it's own. But definitely an option. Thanks for the suggestions so far!

    As someone who has lived in Memphis and DC, the zoo is MUCH better in DC. That said, if you're not huge on zoos you can safely skip it.

    I wouldn't bother going to Georgetown if you're trying to keep it cheap. The architecture is great if you're driving, the food is good but expensive and there are nice shops, but there's nothing cheap.

    Consider finding a way out to the National Cathedral if you can. It's an interesting place. Similarly, if you had a day where you had access to a car or a friend with a car, look into the National Arboretum.

    Catch the Sculpture Garden if you can find one of the times when they have live music there, it can be a pleasure.

    Send your Congressman and Senators an e-mail, even if you don't like them, and say that you're coming into town and would love a tour. Many of the offices will give tours of the Capitol to any constituents that ask for them, and will sometimes meet with you, depending on their schedule and how close to the election it is.

    Also, consider going to Arlington Cemetery. It can be mind-boggling to people who haven't seen it in person when you realize how many people really are buried there. Time it to catch the changing of the guard at the tomb of the unknown if you do go.


    Even if your senator/congressman won't get you a tour, consider going on the free tour anyways. Security is tight, obviously, but if you have any real inkling towards politics it is like... whoa. Seriously. Giddy as a schoolgirl I was.

    Arlington is definitely a huge thing. If you can go, go. Seriously. There aren't many words to describe it.

    Smithsonian is fantastic. I'm partial to the American Indian museum myself, but Air & Space and Natural History are also incredibly awesome.

    National Archives are pretty neat. Oh, and the Korean War Memorial at night. Intense.

    And the walking, man whoever mentioned that is not kidding. I didn't make it over to FDR or Jefferson last time.

    There is so so very much to do in DC. even if you just get off at a random stop and wander around (I got off at foggy bottom, i think, and walked to the Lincoln Memorial. Past the State Dept and everything)

    OH! The White House! The tour is not necessarily something amazing, but it's amazing. It's hard to describe. Growing up so close to DC, the White house tour and everything left me a bit jaded, but I would imagine that (again) if you're into government etc, then the WH tour is actually pretty freaking awesome.

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    SniperGuySniperGuy SniperGuyGaming Registered User regular
    Wait, they still do White House tours? We would totally do that, but I thought after 9/11 they had cut down on those. I would love to do that. We've both toured the Capitol already in separate school trips and stuff, so we'll probably avoid that one.

    Thanks for the food suggestions as well, I love finding local places to eat whenever I travel so those tips are greatly appreciated.

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    143999143999 Tellin' ya not askin' ya, not pleadin' with yaRegistered User regular
    SniperGuy wrote:
    Wait, they still do White House tours? We would totally do that, but I thought after 9/11 they had cut down on those. I would love to do that. We've both toured the Capitol already in separate school trips and stuff, so we'll probably avoid that one.

    Thanks for the food suggestions as well, I love finding local places to eat whenever I travel so those tips are greatly appreciated.

    White House tours were next to impossible to get into with the kind of lead time you're talking about when I went to DC a couple of years ago. Good luck.

    8aVThp6.png
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    zepherinzepherin Russian warship, go fuck yourself Registered User regular
    143999 wrote:
    SniperGuy wrote:
    Wait, they still do White House tours? We would totally do that, but I thought after 9/11 they had cut down on those. I would love to do that. We've both toured the Capitol already in separate school trips and stuff, so we'll probably avoid that one.

    Thanks for the food suggestions as well, I love finding local places to eat whenever I travel so those tips are greatly appreciated.

    White House tours were next to impossible to get into with the kind of lead time you're talking about when I went to DC a couple of years ago. Good luck.
    You have to schedule them in advance, but it isn't too bad.
    http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/tours-and-events

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    SaraLunaSaraLuna Registered User regular
    edited December 2011
    If you want to go up into the Washington Monument, you need to go to the website and reserve tickets for it now.
    I think its worth doing a walk around after dark to see the Lincoln/Washington/WWII ones lit up, but you'll want to visit the others during the day. (Depending on how tightly you want to schedule, it's neat to watch the sunset from the Jefferson, then by the time you're back to the mall it's just getting dark)

    All of the museums on the mall are excellent. From my recent trip, I'd say the American History was my favorite (and I was expecting it to be my least) followed by the Natural History and National Art Gallery. (this exhibit was amazing, but sadly it closes next week.) The Air & Space museum is pretty cool, especially if you love planes, but parts of it are pretty dated. (def check out the temporary 'Art of Nasa' gallery if its still up though) Since you're taking a car, you need to drive to the Udvar-Hazy center, it's a hangar at the Dulles airport CHOCK FULL of cool aircraft, including a space shuttle. Not getting to go there is the one thing I regret from my trip.

    You seemed reluctant already, but I'm gonna recommend avoiding the National Zoo. It's small, cramped and there are a billion people and kids. Many of the major exhibits are closed for remodeling. The only remarkable thing there are the Giant Panda, which were a bitch to even catch a slight glimpse of.

    For eats, I highly recommend Shake Shack in dupont circle. Maybe it's because I hadn't ate anything in ten hours, maybe it's because I had walked about 15 miles, but they had one of the best burgers I'd ever had in my life. The shake was pretty good too.

    You might have hotel room already reserved, plus having the car would be harder, but staying at hostellers intl is super cheap and pretty nice.

    edit: oh, IDK if you're a coffee junkie, but every goddamned starbucks in the city closes at 4 or 5. sucks if you need an afternoon boost or a place to charge your phone for a few minutes

    SaraLuna on
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    PeccaviPeccavi Registered User regular
    The Washington Monument is still closed, unfortunately.

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    ChopperDaveChopperDave Registered User regular
    edited December 2011
    For eats, I highly recommend Shake Shack in dupont circle. Maybe it's because I hadn't ate anything in ten hours, maybe it's because I had walked about 15 miles, but they had one of the best burgers I'd ever had in my life. The shake was pretty good too.

    Shake Shack's pretty good for burgers, and the shakes are awesome, but a little overpriced. Dupont's got a lot of other great stuff that are cheaper and less crowded (usually). Nando's Peri-Peri (Portuguese), Pizza Paradiso (pizza), BGR (burgers), and Julia's Empanadas are all pretty great. If you can swing it, the Tabard Inn has one of the most unbelievable brunch menus I've ever seen (and is reasonably priced to boot!), but everybody in DC knows it -- the one time my girlfriend and I got a Sunday brunch reservation there I had to do it three weeks in advance. They're usually better about lunch, though, so you might give that a shot.

    But if you're really trying to save money and happen to be in the Dupont Area, check out the Karma Kitchen. It's an all-volunteer-staffed Indian joint where you can order whatever you want and then pay whatever you want. It's kind of like the Humble Indie Bundle, but with food. You get what you pay for, but I love the concept. Don't be a dick and leave them spare change if you go there, though :P

    Man, you guys are making me miss DC.

    ChopperDave on
    3DS code: 3007-8077-4055
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    zepherinzepherin Russian warship, go fuck yourself Registered User regular
    Peccavi wrote:
    The Washington Monument is still closed, unfortunately.
    To be fair they got funds to fix it as part of the recent DOD funding bill, but they haven't started yet.

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    CyberJackalCyberJackal Registered User regular
    A few more thoughts:

    - In regards to my earlier suggestion to look into a tour bus, Groupon currently has a deal going on for tour bus tickets.

    - Keep in mind that just about every museum and many other attractions close around 5pm (including the zoo).

    - If you can find the time, the Udvar-Hazy center is a fantastic place to visit. You should know, however, that admission may be free but parking is not. And getting there without a car is prohibitively difficult.

    - You'll notice when you're visiting museums on the mall that there will not be any places to eat within eyeshot (unless you count snack carts). Plan on having to walk a fair amount or ride the metro to get some food.

    One possible exception to this is the cafe in the American Indian Museum, which I have actually heard good things about though I've never been there myself.

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    lonelyahavalonelyahava Call me Ahava ~~She/Her~~ Move to New ZealandRegistered User regular
    ohman. the cafe at the american indian museum is fantastic.

    prices aren't really that bad, there is TONS of choices from every region/tribal area of the country and the food is actually really good. like, really good.

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    3lwap03lwap0 Registered User regular
    zepherin wrote:
    I rather like the spy museum. Even though it costs monies, but things on the cheap.

    It's not free, but the spy museum is pretty rad. They have an interactive tour I highly recommend. I got talked into it, and balked at the price, but you get your monies worth, and it's good fun.

    If you're near the White House, I also recommend Old Ebbitt's Grill. The place is packed with rare Americana, and is very reasonably priced food (also damn delicious). It's about a 5 minute walk from the White House too. If you're on the mall, The National Gallery of Art is really good. Everyone else has made great suggestions too - and an all day metro pass is 7 bucks, and the best money you'll spend. Bike share is great too, but given that it'll be January, you might get some wicked wind chill form bike riding. It'll be cold.

    They have iPhone and Android apps for the DC metro, get them, they're great and even tell when you trains are boarding or are expected to arrive.

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    BagginsesBagginses __BANNED USERS regular
    Anyone got ideas for Ethiopian eating? I'm probably looking at lunch, but I might be able to do dinner, depending on what the GF's family (I'm visiting them in Fairfax) is doing. So far, the internets have steered me toward Madjet, Zenebech Injera, and Lalibela. I'm pretty sure I'll be avoiding raw meat if I go to Zenebech Injera.

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    3lwap03lwap0 Registered User regular
    Bagginses wrote:
    Anyone got ideas for Ethiopian eating? I'm probably looking at lunch, but I might be able to do dinner, depending on what the GF's family (I'm visiting them in Fairfax) is doing. So far, the internets have steered me toward Madjet, Zenebech Injera, and Lalibela. I'm pretty sure I'll be avoiding raw meat if I go to Zenebech Injera.

    Dukem is usually pretty good. The one in Baltimore is really good, or at least I liked it.

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    BagginsesBagginses __BANNED USERS regular
    3lwap0 wrote:
    Bagginses wrote:
    Anyone got ideas for Ethiopian eating? I'm probably looking at lunch, but I might be able to do dinner, depending on what the GF's family (I'm visiting them in Fairfax) is doing. So far, the internets have steered me toward Madjet, Zenebech Injera, and Lalibela. I'm pretty sure I'll be avoiding raw meat if I go to Zenebech Injera.

    Dukem is usually pretty good. The one in Baltimore is really good, or at least I liked it.

    I was a little bit put off them by this review:
    Let's put it this way. Dukem is like PF Chang's, it's classy, it's clean, it's somewhere you can take a date, but it's a little bit removed from what Ethiopian food is really about.

    That's probably not clear enough...how about this?....

    Some people say that the dirtier a Chinese restaurant is the more authentic the food. Or how about this, the less Chinese people you see in a Chinese restaurant the less authentic the food. Yeah, this place of those of those; there were a ton of non-Ethiopians in this place.

    I ate here a couple of times and the place was bumping like a TGIFriday's -- what with the song and dancing and traditional Ethiopian clothing. The food was good, I mean, they couldn't open multiple PF Chang's if the food was bad. But there are better places.

    Do you think it's inaccurate?

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    DarkewolfeDarkewolfe Registered User regular
    Dukem isn't my favorite. There's actually a corridor of Ethiopian restaurants:

    http://www.yelp.com/search?cflt=ethiopian&find_loc=U+Street+Corridor,+Washington,+DC

    What is this I don't even.
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    useless4useless4 Registered User regular
    good news. jan will be warmer then average. we have been having light jacket to no jacket weather during the days up here.

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    ThroThro pgroome@penny-arcade.com Registered User regular
    Bagginses wrote:
    Anyone got ideas for Ethiopian eating? I'm probably looking at lunch, but I might be able to do dinner, depending on what the GF's family (I'm visiting them in Fairfax) is doing. So far, the internets have steered me toward Madjet, Zenebech Injera, and Lalibela. I'm pretty sure I'll be avoiding raw meat if I go to Zenebech Injera.

    Don't go out for real Ethiopian unless you have 4 hours to kill. I don't know if it's part of the culture or because it's always just one little old lady in the back cooking everything herself, but it will take forever compared to other places.

    Did anyone mention Five Guys or Hellburger yet and I missed it? These are cheap-ish eats that should be mentioned (if you like a good burger).

    Someone did say Nando's, which is good (and also not far from The Mall). If you like that kind of thing there are a ton of cheap and delicious Peruvian Chicken places. If you wind up in Arlington (by accident, no one goes there on purpose) consider checking out Pollo Rico (no longer cash only!).
    - If you can find the time, the Udvar-Hazy center is a fantastic place to visit. You should know, however, that admission may be free but parking is not. And getting there without a car is prohibitively difficult.

    http://www.nasm.si.edu/udvarhazy/ <- go here. I tell everyone going to DC to check it out. Yeah, it's out of the way (near Dulles, so if you don't have a car it will be tricky). Also it costs $10 to park. However, if you ever wondered where they put the stuff that was to big for the main Air and Space museum, this is that place.

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    3lwap03lwap0 Registered User regular
    Bagginses wrote:
    3lwap0 wrote:
    Bagginses wrote:
    Anyone got ideas for Ethiopian eating? I'm probably looking at lunch, but I might be able to do dinner, depending on what the GF's family (I'm visiting them in Fairfax) is doing. So far, the internets have steered me toward Madjet, Zenebech Injera, and Lalibela. I'm pretty sure I'll be avoiding raw meat if I go to Zenebech Injera.

    Dukem is usually pretty good. The one in Baltimore is really good, or at least I liked it.

    I was a little bit put off them by this review:
    Let's put it this way. Dukem is like PF Chang's, it's classy, it's clean, it's somewhere you can take a date, but it's a little bit removed from what Ethiopian food is really about.

    That's probably not clear enough...how about this?....

    Some people say that the dirtier a Chinese restaurant is the more authentic the food. Or how about this, the less Chinese people you see in a Chinese restaurant the less authentic the food. Yeah, this place of those of those; there were a ton of non-Ethiopians in this place.

    I ate here a couple of times and the place was bumping like a TGIFriday's -- what with the song and dancing and traditional Ethiopian clothing. The food was good, I mean, they couldn't open multiple PF Chang's if the food was bad. But there are better places.

    Do you think it's inaccurate?

    My experience is entirely based off of the the one just north of it in Baltimore, which I did enjoy. Short of hoping on a plane and flying to Ethiopia, I'm not sure how 'authentic' it can get. Heck, most American Chinese food isn't what they really eat in China.

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