As D.C.’s famous cherry blossom blooms peaked this spring, coronavirus shut down the city for locals and tourists. Now, after months of lockdown and more than 600 deaths reported in the city, D.C. is beginning to reopen, and visitors are trickling back.
With many of D.C.’s marquee points of interest still closed, a trip to the nation’s capital won’t be the same as one before the pandemic. But some say that’s not a reason to defer a visit (for healthy individuals who follow proper pandemic precautions).
“To tell you the truth, I do think it’s a good time [to visit],” says Austin Graff, who wrote By The Way’s City Guide to D.C.
Graff says that with a fraction of the tourists around, some of the city’s best monuments are even more enjoyable. And with fewer businesses open, he’s also felt encouraged to explore parts of town he had previously overlooked.
Visiting town during the pandemic does come with restrictions. On July 27, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser issued an order requiring people traveling to D.C. for nonessential activities to self-quarantine for 14 days if they’re coming from a high-risk state.
Those who are unsure about their coronavirus status or who don’t feel well should stay home. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that “travel increases your chance of getting and spreading covid-19.”
Where you can stay
A trip to D.C. will require some planning, particularly when it comes to overnight accommodations.
“The key thing is that not every hotel is open,” says Elliott Ferguson, chief executive of Destination DC, the city’s destination marketing organization. He’s living in a hotel for six months while his family’s home is under renovation.
Ferguson recommends going to the Destination DC website, individual hotel websites or double-checking with Airbnb listings to see what’s available. He also says to check that coronavirus health and safety protocols are in place before booking.
“By going to the website for Hilton or Airbnb or Marriott or any of the chains, they’re giving you specific, detailed information as to what their cleanliness procedures are, as well as expectations for those visitors,” says Ferguson.
What you can do
While Washington navigates its reopening, Destination DC is keeping a running list of what’s open to the public. Most museums are closed for now, but not all. The National Gallery of Art has reopened its west building for those who can snag free, timed tickets.
Fortunately, D.C. is a city of attractions still enticing to visitors even if they’re technically closed.
“D. C. has got a lot to see in terms of architecture, memorials,” says Adam Plescia, owner of Custom Tours of DC. “Those are open and outside, so they’re safe places.”
The city’s tour operators are shifting their itineraries to fit the times. Maribeth Oakes of the Guild of Professional Tour Guides of Washington D.C. says some guides are experimenting with virtual tours or focusing on tours of historic homes.
“D.C. has got so many great neighborhoods,” Oakes says. “We’re seeing folks who are developing tours that are much more neighborhood-oriented.”
Plescia recently took a family on a private tour of the city’s iconic Black history sites, including U Street, Howard University and Black Lives Matter Plaza.
Graff and his family have been taking advantage of outdoor activities, including jogging along the less crowded National Mall and exploring the city’s trails, such as the 3.1-mile Glover-Archbold Trail. After living near the Fort Circle Park Hiker-Biker Trail for three years, Graff finally visited it for the first time this summer.
“It hits three or four Civil War defenses of D.C., and is one continuous path for miles and miles,” Graff says. “I see a lot of locals doing that, where it’s like, ‘Let’s just find the hikes within our city.’ There’s tons of them.”
Graff also feels like locals are having the chance to reclaim tourist hot spots, like the very visited front of the Lincoln Memorial and less-visited back of the Lincoln Memorial.
“Now if you go back there, you will probably have it entirely to yourself for a long time,” Graff says. “You’ll see locals reading there, and some people will sneak in wine in Nalgene bottles. And now you’re guaranteed a seat because there’s just fewer people there.”
What you can eat
In addition to offering takeout, some restaurants and bars around town have opened sidewalk cafes or summer gardens. According to the mayor’s office, the city has issued more than 500 “Streatery” registrations.
Graff is a fan of the outdoor dining options at Union Market, H Street Corridor, Barracks Row and the Brig beer garden, and he avoids 14th Street because there seems to be less social distancing.
Visitors can also grab food to go and picnic at one of D.C.’s many green spaces. Graff recommends takeout from Chloe in Navy Yard, Pearl’s Bagels in Mount Vernon Square and Manna Dosirak in Kingman Park.
To keep things easy, Graff suggests grabbing a hoagie from Mangialardo’s, “then walk just a few blocks north to Lincoln Park and sit on the benches and enjoy the nature,” he says. “It’s a big park, so there’s safe distance.”
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