© 2012; 2003 Connecting: Solo Travel Network & Anthony Porco. Information
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Washington DC – Riding the Red Line – A Solo Travel Report

By Anthony Porco

So you've seen the White House, the Smithsonian, Capitol Hill, the Pentagon; now you want to get away from the typical tourist scene. Try sightseeing via the Metro subway's Red Line.

One of five Metrorail lines operated by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, the Red Line is well-connected to the most popular attractions and to other sites that you will have almost to yourself.

Start at Dupont Circle

The Dupont Circle roundabout is a good place to start exploring. You might even want to stay in this neighborhood, which is situated in the northwest quadrant of the city. Here you find a broad choice of accommodations, from funky B&B's to the Washington Hilton.

To orient yourself, take note of the Red Line's two exits: the "Dupont Circle" exit is on the circle's south side, and the "Q Street" exit is on its namesake street, which crosses Connecticut Avenue just north of the circle.

The Dupont area has a reputation as the gay section of DC, but you don't have to be gay to appreciate it; you just have to be anyone who likes a diverse selection of restaurants, night spots, quaint side streets, museums, galleries, and every kind of shopping imaginable.

If you are gay, or just want to learn more about gay culture, begin the tour at Lambda Rising, the groundbreaking gay and lesbian bookstore, at 1625 Connecticut Avenue, across the street from the Q Street exit.

Or, make a left off the escalator, walk one block to 21st Street, and head straight for the star of the neighborhood, the Phillips Collection art museum.

Like the Smithsonian, the Phillips Collection has incredible treasures, most notably Renoir's Luncheon at the Boating Party and Jacob Lawrence's paintings of the great African-American migration. Unlike the Smithsonian, it is well off the tourist track, and is mostly frequented by locals.

After a few hours at the Phillips, use whatever energy you still have to walk across Q (to your right after you exit the museum) and see one of the newest memorials in Washington, a bronze of Mohandas Gandhi. Appropriately, an office of the Indian embassy is nearby, in the same block as the Phillips.

Walk back across Q with the museum on your left and take the next right to Hillyer Place, a quaint and quiet side street lined with brick town houses that leads back to Connecticut Avenue and Dupont Circle.

From there, the Red Line continues north into the suburbs or south into the city. This tour heads north on a train labeled "Shady Grove." The next Metro stop north of Dupont has the rather ponderous name of Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan.

Adams Morgan

DC's Adams Morgan neighborhood is several blocks from the Metro Station. Look for Connecticut Avenue to the left of the Allfirst Bank and proceed to Calvert Street, take a left and walk to 18th Street, then bear right and continue to Adams Morgan's heart at 18th and Columbia Road NW. Colorful Adams Morgan Neighborhood

The heart of the Latino community, Adams Morgan has specialty shops, used bookstores, art galleries, nightclubs, bars, and restaurants serving almost every American and international flavor, including the best Ethiopian food west of Addis Ababa.

As you stroll this lively district marked by 19th and early 20th century row houses and apartment buildings, watch for numerous colorful murals painted by local artists.

Cleveland Park to the Zoo

Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan is the best station to use coming back from the Zoo, but not going because it's an uphill walk from the station to the entrance. Instead, get off at the next stop, Cleveland Park – it's a level walk from there.

The 163-acre Smithsonian National Zoological Park is home to more than 5,800 animal – mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and invertebrates.

You could really fill a day and evening at the Zoo if you combine a visit with one of numerous fun and educational events hosted by the Zoo – including occasional free evening lectures.

Rock Creek Park

Next stop along the Red Line after Cleveland Park is Van Ness-UDC. This busy, somewhat faceless area is often called "Van Mess" by frustrated locals, but it's a good place to access DC's best natural resource, Rock Creek Park a rustic green space following the creek on its way to the Potomac River.

In fine weather you could spend days in here cycling and hiking/walking the trails, visiting historic monuments, and attending talks and nature walks led by the National Park Service. Picnic areas and tennis courts are scattered throughout the park. An equestrian center runs trail rides and offers riding lessons, and there is an inexpensive public golf course. Outdoor theater productions are held at the Carter Barron Amphitheatre on summer evenings. To make the most of your time, plan your visit around activities of interest. You'll need a map and schedules. (see If You Go).

Safe for Solo Travel

Although Rock Creek Park is considered relatively safe during daylight, solo walkers are advised to stick to the busier trails, or try to join up with a guided group walk.

From the Van Ness-UDC station, exit on the east side of Connecticut Avenue (a right turn at the top of the escalator), ascend a second escalator, turn around to your left, then keep going two blocks and make a left on Tilden Street. Continue three blocks to the park.

On the way, science fiction fans should watch for the Intelsat office, on the opposite side of Connecticut as you head toward Tilden.  It resembles a cross between an old Art Deco office building and a space station.

Rock Creek Park continues for miles north and south of this location.

At Beach Drive and Tilden you find Peirce Mill, a functioning grain mill that is one of the park's significant cultural assets. Rangers give talks about the history of the mill and Rock Creek Park.

Bicyclists and hikers can pick up the park's main drag, Beach Drive, busy with traffic on weekdays but closed to motor vehicles on weekends.

The Rock Creek Nature Center and Planetarium offers guided nature walks and hands-on exhibits. Red Line's Friendship Heights Metro (right on the Maryland State line) is the closest to the Nature Center. From there, take the E-2 or the E-3 bus to the intersection of Glover and Military Road. Get off, look to your left and follow the trail up to the Nature Center.

Shops and Eats

Shoppers, take note that the Friendship Heights station is surrounded with upscale retail places, especially Mazza Gallerie, a ritzy mall just north of the stop.

Like ethnic restaurants?

Get off after three more stops, at the Bethesda Metro.  At the top of the cavernous escalator, walk straight ahead up the stairs and past the modern sculpture to your left.  You will be at the busy intersection of Wisconsin Avenue (which is called Rockville Pike in Maryland) and Old Georgetown Road.  Make a left here and walk several blocks to Cordell Avenue, the heart of the legendary Bethesda restaurant district.

Almost every cuisine you can imagine is here, somewhere. My personal favorite is Faryab, the Afghani place at 4917 Cordell. To get there, make a right on Cordell at the intersection with Old Georgetown – the restaurant is about half a block down on the left. The best meat dish is quabili palow, succulent slices of lamb on a bed of rice, raisins, and sweet carrots.

Literary types might want to keep riding to the Rockville stop, which happens to be near the grave site of F Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.  Leaving the station, make a left and walk across the parking and bus stop areas.  Make a left on the large, busy street in front of you (Rockville Pike) and walk two blocks on the same side of the street.  The grave is in the cemetery to your left, on the same side of the street, next to a modern church. The tombstone is hard to find (I have tried to find it and failed), but if you go this far on the Metro to see it, you probably have plenty of patience.

If You Go to Washington, DC

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