Ok, let's start -- in NO particular order:
1. Ted's Bulletin. This place started on Capitol Hill, DC, but there's a new location downtown, around 14th St. NW. Three words: HOMEMADE POP TARTS. Really, why are you even still reading? Worth the visit. Obviously, the Capitol Hill location is more "local" customers, while 14th St. will be more touristy. They serve breakfast all day (yay!) and make some really excellent milkshakes (even adult ones).
2. The US Marine Corps Silent Drill Team gives FREE demonstrations of their skill and precision -- during the summer. The demonstration, along with music by the Marine Corps Band, takes place on Friday nights during the summer, at the historic Marine Corps Barracks located on 8th and I St. SE, the Marine Corps' oldest post. After the demonstration, along with performance by the skilled members of the US Marine Corps Band, you can go across 8th St. to one of the many bars, restaurants, or even FroYo places for rejuvenation. Again, this is during the SUMMER, but not a lot of visitors to DC know about this, so I included it. Here's the full story on the event.
3. Gravelly Point. Pay attention, parents of kids: This spot is located on the Mount Vernon Bike/Running trail, and also has a decent-sized parking lot. Basically, this spot is VERY close to DC National Airport, and the large/medium jets will land or take off right over your head. In particular, kids seem to love it. But even my teen daughter was impressed, and that's saying something.
The trick with Gravelly Point is this: It's usually a LOT more impressive when the planes LAND over your head, not take off. So here's what you do. If you're walking around in DC, put the major Mall monuments in this order:
US Capitol --- Washington Monument --- Lincoln.
So basically, your left shoulder is closest to the Capitol, and your right shoulder is closest to Lincoln. Look in the sky for planes. If the tail of the plane is closest to the CAPITOL (so, roughly speaking, the planes are passing left to right based on my little chart up there), the planes are taking off over peoples' heads at Gravelly Point (cool, but not as loud). If the tail of the plane is closest to Lincoln (so the planes are passing right to left on my little chart there), then the planes are LANDING over peoples' heads at Gravelly Point (Awesome!). It seems that the planes land over Gravelly Point starting in mid-afternoon, but that could be anecdotal, based on my times I've run through the area while training.
So -- look up in the sky on the Mall! Check your shoulders (i.e., don't be looking AT Lincoln, or looking AT the Capitol). Look at the planes. If they're landing in the "right to left" direction (roughly), then it's an easy Metro trip to National Airport, and a modest walk on the Mt. Vernon Trail.
Parking: If you drive, you'll park just SOUTH of Gravelly Point at the Daingerfield Island Marina. Again, free parking, and less than 2.5 miles from Gravelly Point, so an easy run there to watch the planes, and get a short shakeout run.
4. The National Zoo. Ok, while this isn't really an "insider" location, the tip I'm going to give you damn well is: Park "downhill." That means, bypass parking lots, A, B, and even C, and keep driving DOWN the hill to lots D and E. The result is that you'll walk uphill through the zoo to start your visit, but your legs (and your kids' legs) will be fresher then. When you're ready to leave, you'll have a much easier time getting to your car as you stroll downhill, not trudge back up. You're welcome.
5. Margialardo's Italian Deli: Want a REAL local's lunch, but you don't want to pay for the costs of The Palm, or Old Ebbitt Grill? Come by to my part of the hood (Eastern Capitol Hill). This place is as mom-and-pop as it gets. Generation after generation has run this sub shop. Forget lunching at the Mayflower hotel in the hopes of spotting Senator Snotnose who isn't interested in you anyway. Come here and support a shop, and get an uber-Italian meaty lunch sub. LOTS of people talk about Ben's Chili Bowl, but that's almost cliche at this point. THIS shop is for a true insider. Plus, at lunchtime, it's got a steady stream of cops, firemen, and other government workers coming in/out. You'll be quite safe. :) The downside is that they are not open weekends, and close around 3pm weekdays.
6. The front of the Newseum. Right at the corner of 6th and Pennsylvania Ave., NW. Sure, everyone is listing this on their "Must Visit" lists, but suppose you don't have the time for a visit? Come by here ANYWAY, and see part of it for free. The front of the Newseum, every morning, has a display of the front pages from newspapers in all 50 states, plus some "National" papers. It was amazing to stroll along these papers the day after we killed Osama Bin Laden, and it's also interesting to see how the different papers treat both national/local events. It's a short stop by here (it's just off the Mall, near the National Gallery of Art (and my work!), and definitely worth the visit. Oh! And it's right next to the (huge!) Canadian Embassy, so my friends to the north can stop in and touch their home soil.
7. That reminds me. My first job EVER in DC was with the Federal Election Commission, right at 999 E St. NW (so the corner of 10th and E, just down the street from Ford's Theater, and next to the DC Hard Rock Cafe). The first floor is open to the public, and the FEC treats public service VERY seriously. Walk in. Get FREE reports about who gives your congressional Representative or Senator money (both people and PACs). Do a ZIP CODE search (really) and see who in your neighborhood gave money to whom. All free. Have them send the results to your home address so you don't have to carry stuff in your luggage.
8. Yards Park. This is not far from Washington Nationals Stadium. It's basically a free splash park for the kiddies, and there's a good-sized lot with $5 parking nearby. More of a summer destination, but they have free concerts and movies in warm weather too. It's not known to a lot of visitors, but a nice destination.
Ok, so thanks to Donald Trump, #9 is closed. *blows raspberry*
10. The Einstein Memorial. This is known to some folks, but many miss it, even though it's not far from the National Mall. It's really well done, and has many little "did-you-know" points about it that make it worth the visit. It's not a huge walk from the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial
11. Don't kid me. If you're reading this blog, you're likely a runner or triathlete. But even if you're not, you love cupcakes. Admit it! Anyway, here on Capitol Hill in DC, we are home to a place you might be familiar with from "Cupcake Wars." It's called "The Sweet Lobby," and it will knock your (compression) socks off. They're in the "Barracks Row" area of 8th Street Southeast, and have a tiny little shop near the fire station. Pay them a visit and you can thank me later for this tip. You might have to run a few extra miles to pay for the visit, though!
12. One last tip. If you have the Washington Monument BEHIND you, and you face the U.S. Capitol, the Senate is on the left side. The House is on the right. If you have time, stop in either your Senator or Representative's office and see what they can do for you. If you're REALLY diligent, contact them ahead of time, and see if they can get you expedited access to some really popular tours, like the FBI HQ (10th and Penn), or maybe a Capitol Tour. If you foresee yourself coming to DC, do yourself a favor and contact their office(s). If they're up for re-election, they'll be particularly responsive to constituents.
By the way, lunch eateries frequented by Hill Staffers vary, but they're all pretty much on the other side of the Capitol, roughly at the top of the Hill. For many on the Senate side, you have the food court at Union Station. On the House side, you're really not that far from "Top Chef" contestant Spike's places: Good Stuff (burgers, fries, shakes), We, the Pizza (guess), and Bearnaise (higher-end, steak frites).
Ok, that's my list of "Insider spots" for visitors to Washington, DC. I hope you find time to at least see a couple of them while you visit!
And, finally, when it comes to escalators -- WALK ON THE LEFT, STAND ON THE RIGHT!