8 Wellness Things to do in Washington, DC

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by Monica Frim

Washington, D.C. is an urban walker’s paradise with monuments, parks, riverside trails and lush, open spaces that coexist in harmony with business and government buildings. In an ongoing gentrification process that took root years ago, former seedy enclaves have given way to chic boutiques, trendy international restaurants and open-air cafes that cater to bureaucrats, ordinary citizens and tourists alike. I’ve lived here two years now and constantly marvel at how enriched I feel for having made this dynamic city my home.

Here are eight wellness things to do in Washington, D.C., that will make you feel like a local:

1. Jog, walk, run or bicycle along the National Mall. This is not a shopping center but a tree-lined, open-area national park with monuments and museums in the heart of Washington, D. C. The Mall stretches for three kilometres (1.9 miles) along Constitution and Independence Avenues, from the U.S. Capitol Building at its eastern end to the Lincoln Memorial at its western terminus. In the center of the Mall, the George Washington Monument, the tallest structure in the capital, provides stunning views of the city when open. (The monument was closed indefinitely for assessments and repairs after the earthquake of August 2011). The Mall also hosts many major festivals, sporting events, protests, rallies as well as thousands of small-group activities each year.

2. Take a fitness class. Washington is known for upscale services where even the gyms cater to a gentrified clientele. A favorite is Vida Fitness at the Verizon Center next to the Gallery Place Metro Station. This luxury facility offers an upscale hair salon and smoothie bar along with yoga classes, Pilates, kickboxing, group cycling, martial arts, physical therapy and aquatic exercise programs. But for a heavy-duty rush, nothing beats the Vida Boot Camp, a heart- challenging indoor/outdoor workout that incorporates calisthenics with sprints up and down the marble outdoor stairs of the city’s historical monuments. Afterwards you can melt off your aches, pains and stresses in the Zen spa with its myriad pools and Japanese soaking tubs.

3. Eat a cupcake. Yes. Really! So you’re trying to lose weight but your sweet tooth is trumping your willpower. No need to suffer in unrequited cravings. Georgetown Cupcakes has come up with a 50-calorie mini carrot cupcake that will satisfy your need for dessert without busting your diet. But you need to order a minimum of two dozen (you can freeze them) and in advance. Georgetown Cupcakes also sells gluten-free cupcakes by advance order. Go on, allow yourself a rare treat. And if it’s rare enough, you can up the calorie count with a regular gourmet cupcake next time. For bigger cupcakes, head for Baked and Wired a few blocks away. The company also bakes quiches, scones, pies, muffins and a variety of breakfast breads and coffee cakes. All-natural, gluten-free, nut-free or vegan cupcakes can also be ordered online from Free For All Cupcakes, a company in Fairfax Virginia that delivers to Washington and other cities in the D.C. area.

4. Take a walking tour of one of more of Washington’s many museums. It would take months to visit all of the city’s amazing museums and art galleries. The Smithsonian Institution alone comprises 17 museums and galleries in Washington (with two more in New York), most within walking distance of each other and with free admission. More than 137 million artefacts, art works and specimens make up the collections, the largest in the National Museum of Natural History. Other favorites are the African Art Museum, Air and Space Museum, American Art Museum, American History Museum, Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Portrait Gallery and Smithsonian Gardens. But if you don’t mind shelling out a few dollars in admission costs, the Newseum next to the Embassy of Canada, is a high-tech attraction that beguiles with historical news lore and interactive displays. And don’t miss the Spy Museum, where you can crawl along ceiling vents and try your hand at espionage and disguise.

5. Soak in the calming sight of the cherry blossoms. Walk around the Tidal Pool, Washington’s cherry blossom hotspot, and paint the town pink. Every year, around the first week of April visitors and local denizens engage in a camera-clicking celebration of the 3,000 cherry blossom trees that Tokyo bestowed upon Washington in 1912. This year’s centenary celebration will last five weeks—until April 27 with special guests, performances and select exhibitions. And while you’re in a frolicking mood, check out the waterside megalo-marble monuments that commemorate significant eras and leaders: the Vietnam War, Korean War, World War II, and memorials to Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt and Martin Luther King. They’re right in the thick of the cherry trees. 

6. Walk , cycle or kayak along the Chesapeake and Ohio (C & O) Canal. You can go as far as you like along this easy, mostly clay and crushed stone, 185-mile long former towpath. From its start in Washington’s tony Georgetown district to its end in Cumberland, Maryland, the path remains virtually unbroken for walkers and cyclists. Kayakers will have about 22 miles of easy paddling between Georgetown and Violettes Lock but the heavy-duty, dangerous white water stuff is farther inland on the adjacent Potomac River. You can rent kayaks at Jack’s Boathouse, Thompson Boat Center or Fletcher’s Boat House. Thompson and Fletcher’s also rent bicycles.

7. Kayak the Potomac River. Although placid near the city, the Potomac River turns violent between Great Falls and Chain Bridge. If you’re up for a white water challenge, many schools, outfitters and paddling organizations offer day trips and overnight expeditions to destinations in Washington, Maryland and Virginia. Liquid Adventures Kayak School offers both private and group lessons for kids and adults with weekend and week-long trips beyond the Potomac. For sea and whitewater kayaking classes as well as day trips in and around D.C., check out the Potomac Kayaking Company. And for kayak clubs and associations, contact Blue Ridge Voyageurs, a group of experienced whitewater enthusiasts, or the Chesapeake Paddlers Association, which also offers lessons, trips and special events.

8. Golf on an island. Okay, so East Potomac Park is an artificial island that rises to only 10 feet, but its the largest island in Washington, D.C., rife with cherry trees and its crowning glory, the Jefferson Memorial. The East Potomac Golf Course and Driving Range takes up two-thirds of the island and offers very good red and white courses for beginners with just enough challenges to keep the game interesting. But the real drawing card is playing under monuments amidst spectacular scenery. The fact that the island is connected to the mainland by bridges, and can be reached on foot, by bicycle (you can rent these at Capital Bikeshare stations throughout the city) or by car with plenty of room for parking, just sweetens an already sweet and competitively- priced deal.

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Monica Frim is a resident of Washington and an international diplomatic correspondent for Diplomatic Connections, a Washington-based news, social and event network that serves diplomats with a bi-monthly magazine, web site, and events that connect the diplomatic community with the business world.  Monica has lived in Austria, England, Canada and the United States and travelled to more than 70 countries. You can connect with her at monicafrim@comcast.net