Off the Tourist Track: Roosevelt Island

26 Jun

Summer is a great time for DC residents to explore new places around town since the most well-known spots are inundated with tourists. And on a nice day, might I suggest Roosevelt Island in the Potomac River. The small island is accessible only from the northbound lanes of the George Washington Memorial Parkway (there’s a big ole sign right before the turnoff). You could also take Metro and get off at Rosslyn, but it would be a decent walk.

The island is flat with a couple of trails, one of which goes around the entire perimeter. There are a few nice places to stop, and you can see Georgetown from one vantage point. And there’s a fair amount of wildlife to be seen. If you’re looking for solitude, this isn’t the place to go. It’s a popular spot with runners and people walking their dogs. But it’s the perfect thing to do if you only have a few hours and want to be outside. In the center of the island is an impressive statue of Teddy himself with several fountains.

There’s a not-too-large parking lot for the island, and if it’s a nice afternoon on a weekend, you will probably have to wait to park. But people are constantly coming and going, so you shouldn’t have to wait too long. Bikes aren’t allowed onto the island itself, but there’s a bike rack right before the footbridge to go to the island.

If you like tours, you’re in luck, as ranger tours are offered. Also good to note, there’s, strangely enough, bathrooms with European-style toilets.

Beyond the Cineplex: DC movie theaters

17 Jun

AFI Silver Theatre © Kate Mereand on Creative Commons

There’s no shortage of AMC and Regal movie complexes in the DC area, but there’s also quite a few lovely smaller chain and independent theaters too that show both mainstream movies and more artsy fartsy stuff. I thought I’d highlight a few of them.

West End Cinema: This theater opened its doors in October, taking over space that had also been a theater but closed in 2003. Located on 23rd Street between M and N, it’s tucked away in an office building and can be easy to miss. Foggy Bottom is the closest metro station but Dupont Circle isn’t too far either. You can park on the street or in one of the garages in the area, but this could be a pain depending on when you go. There are three small theaters within West End that show independent, foreign and documentary films. Of note: they have a full bar!

AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center: This 1938 restored movie house reopened in 2003 and is a filmophile’s dream. It hosts several annual events including a documentary film festival, will sometimes show classic films and occasionally has guest appearances. Parking is pretty easy thanks to several garages close by; it’s also two blocks from the Silver Spring Metro station. And did I mention they serve beer and wine?

Avalon Theatre: Avalon isn’t only independently run, but it’s a non-profit. Located at 5612 Connecticut Avenue, NW in the Friendship Heights/Chevy Chase area, it’s been operating since 1923 and shows mostly independent films. The theater is about a 15 minute walk from the Friendship Heights Metro, and street parking is available (but give yourself time to find a spot).

E-Street Cinema: Owned by Landmark Theatres, the largest art house movie theater chain in the country, E-Street is located on E Street (duh) between 10th and 11th in Penn Quarter. The theater opened in 2004 and has eight screens. A couple of E-streets theaters have amazingly few rows of seats, but I find that charming. In addition to independent films, E-Street also shows more mainstream flicks. Parking in that area can be a pain, so I’d recommend taking Metro—it’s only one block from Metro Center. What makes this one of my favorite theaters in DC is a) It’s a great location and b) there are very few kids or teenagers and c) they have cups and a pitcher of water to which you can help yourself. Like Silver Theatre, they  serve beer and wine.

Bethesda Row Cinema: Opened in 2002, this theater is also owned by Landmark and also has eight screens. Parking in this area is usually manageable, and it’s within walking distance of the Bethesda Metro station.

Friends You Haven’t Met: Try an uncommon sport, part II

7 Jun

My post last December on unusual sports continues to get visits, and so I thought I’d add a few more suggestions to the mix.

Paddle boarding: I feel like the popularity of paddle boarding came out of nowhere! If you’ve been curious to try this new trend, you’re in luck as the Potomac River is a great place to learn. Valley Mill Kayak School now offers lessons.

Fencing: Believe it or not, the world’s largest fencing school is in Springfield. Virginia Academy of Fencing offers Olympic Sport Fencing or, if you really want to geek out, you can take a Historical Swordmanship class.

Clay Target Shooting: If you’re unlike me, then you’ve always wanted to try clay target shooting. Well, turns out Prince George’s County is just the place! There are classes, leagues and tournaments.

Sculling: I actually know a couple people who have taken sculling lessons at the Thompson Boat Center and had really good experiences. I’d be interested except that class starts at 6:15 … A.M! I imagine though, that being on the water that early in the morning is a pretty great way to start the day.

Ten tips for eating steamed crabs

30 May

© Wpopp on Creative Commons

Eating blue crabs is an integral part of Maryland’s culture. And for my mother it approaches the level of religious event. So I thought I’d pick her brain (pun intended) for some newbie tips.

10.  Everyone has their own method for picking steamed crabs.  Everyone thinks their method is the best.  Let a couple of people show you how to pick and then develop your own best method.

9.  Do not expect to get up from the table with a clean shirt,  so don’t dress to impress when going to a crab feast.

8.  Get your beverages lined up before you sit down ( at least one frosty cold beer is essential)…. once your get your hands all messy you are not going to want to get up to get something to drink.  Depending on the spice factor of your crabs you may need several beverages.  If you are drinking soda an extra glass of ice at the ready is helpful.

7.  A roll of paper towels must be on the table.  You need a knife and a crab mallet.  Some people like a sharp knife, but a dinner knife works great because you can dig the meat out of the claws and eat it right off of the knife.

6.  A bucket or trashcan at your side for the shells helps keep your picking space tidy.  You can dispose of your shells after each crab is picked.

5.  The size of the crabs you get affects the picking experience.  Large crabs are costly but are easier to pick and have more meat so you will need to pick fewer of them.  If you are going for the full blown crab picking experience mediums are cheaper and keep you in your seat stuffing your face with small bits of delectable tastes for an extended period of time.  For some this also extends the drinking experience.

4. Go to the bathroom before you sit down.  As with getting something to drink… you will not want to get up to go once your hands are coated with crab spice.

3.  Restaurant vs. home.  Eating crabs in a restaurant or crab house means you have no stinky mess to clean up and someone else can keep the beverages flowing.  Sometimes that is okay.  But for a full fledged experience you have to eat them at home with family and friends…. and preferably cook them yourself.  At home you do have to deal with the mess afterward, but you can take your time eating…. even take a break, digest a little and come back later.  The atmosphere is more relaxing and if you have small kids it is definitely a plus to do the feasting at home.  And if you have leftovers cold crabs are also a delight.

2. Don’t smash the claws.  Although everyone has their own method it is essential that you not follow the example of people who smash the claws.  Place the blade of your knife of the claw, tap gently with the mallet until a single crack appears in the claw.  You can then snap the claw into two pieces and extract the meat without a lot of little pieces of shell.

1.  Some people provide corn on the cob, burgers and hot dogs or even fried chicken at a crab feast.  These are fast fillers… eat at the risk of dimishing your crab gusto.  And don’t forget that after a crab feast you will need to top things off with something sweet.  Ice cream is a traditional favorite.

Delmarva Beach Basics, Part II: Where to go

26 May

Rehoboth Beach

There are multiple beach towns in Delmarva, but which to choose?

Rehoboth Beach, DE
One of the best known resort towns, Rehoboth has it all: a nice boardwalk, shops and salons, a movie theater and probably the best (though pricey) restaurants. It’s also well-known for its large gay population. Parking near the beach can be a nightmare, so staying at a place within walking distance to the beach is ideal.

Hot Spot: The Tanger outlets! Delaware has no sales tax, ya know. There are four separate—though close together—outdoor outlet malls that people flock to, especially on rainy days.

Dewey Beach, DE
Dewey is right next to Rehoboth and known for being a party town. Lots of young people and lots of bars. It’s pretty astonishing to me that a town as small as Dewey—year round population is 300—could have enough drama to fill a TV show.

Hot Spot: All the bars in Dewey seem pretty popular, but Dogfish Head in particular is always hoppin’.

Bethany Beach, DE
About 15 minutes down Route 1 is the next beach town, Bethany, which is known as a quiet family resort. There’s a nice boardwalk that often has entertainment on the small outdoor stage. The beach can get intensely crowded, so you’ll probably want to set up shop early.

Hot Spot: The Fat Tuna Grill is technically in Millville, but that’s basically Bethany so I’m going to put it anyway. It’s a couple miles from the beach and popular with locals. If you’re lucky, you’ll visit on a karaoke night!

Fenwick Island, DE
Another 10 minutes down the coast and you’ll arrive at Fenwick Island, with about 380 year-round residents. I really like Fenwick’s beaches because they’re less crowded but be warned, you have to pay to park at some of them. Interestingly, Fenwick isn’t an island but a narrow peninsula.

Hot Spot: Warren Station is a great family restaurant.

Ocean City, MD
Next to laid-back Fenwick is the intense, high-rise ridden Ocean City. And, I swear, it must be the mini-golf capital of the world (actually, I just Googled mini-golf capital of the world and it’s Myrtle Beach). The boardwalk is huge, has roller coasters and water rides and attracts all types of people. There’s also a (kind of crappy) movie theater in case of a rainy day.

Hot Spot: Day or night, the answer is undoubtedly Seacrets.

Delmarva Beach Basics, Part I: To and From

20 May

The Chesapeake Bay Bridge

Leading up to Memorial Day, I’ve decided to do a few posts about visiting Delmarva beaches. My parents live there, and I lived there for a year after college, so I think I have some good advice on the matter. First up: Getting there.

There is exactly one way to get to all beaches: The Bay Bridge. This can pose some problems when you and every other DC area resident is driving across the bridge simultaneously. The traffic, particularly on three-day weekends in the summer, can be terrible/awful/horrendous/sob-inducing. For that reason, it’s important to plan ahead. Leave as early as possible if you can. Or really, really late. And I urge you to have an E-Z Pass.

Luckily, the toll is only charged crossing the bridge going east, and it’s $2.50. You might want to consider subscribing to the Email Alerts, and I recommend always calling Bay Span right before you drive to or from the beach (877-BAYSPAN) though I have been sitting in traffic on the bridge when BaySpan said there was no delay, so it’s not perfect.

If you don’t have a car, you’re in luck because the DC2NY bus has JUST started a route from Dupont and Union Station to Rehoboth and Dewey. There used to be the RehoBus that went from DC to Rehoboth, but it didn’t run often and it doesn’t seem to be operation anymore. So this new bus route is great news!

A quintessential DC summer

11 May

A view of the Potomac from Jack's Boathouse. © AgnosticPreachersKid on Creative Commons

Despite the god-awful humidity, I love summers in DC. Patio dining, bare feet in fountains, picnics – pure bliss. And every year there are several activities that I eagerly await. Here they are!

Jack’s Boathouse: Nothing says summer in DC like taking a kayak or canoe on the Potomac River. Jack’s, located in Georgetown, can get crazy busy, so it’s best to try to go on off-peak hours (aka early or late in the day). I took my dad last Father’s Day, and we had a grand ole time. What’s more, they didn’t charge us for the extra time we were out, which my dad, forever the penny pincher, was over the moon about. Be warned though, Jack’s has very limited parking, so you’ll have to do street or garage parking (or walk from Foggy Bottom Metro).

Outdoor movies: There’s no shortage of outdoor movie festivals in DC. Screen on the Green, which takes place on Monday nights on the Mall, is probably the most popular. A year or two ago, the festival almost lost its funding, but there was an uproar and it was saved (though I’m not sure 2011 has been 100 percent confirmed yet). I’m particularly fond of Rosslyn’s Outdoor Film Festival, which always has a theme—this year it’s “SNL in the Movies.” Please note you’re technically not allowed to bring alcohol and, if you’re caught, you’ll have to throw it out. DCist lists a few other festivals around the city.

Jazz in the Sculpture Garden: My most favorite! Every Friday night in the summer, The National Gallery of Art holds Jazz in the Sculpture Garden, a free event from 5 to 8:30. On a nice night, people come in droves. It’s best to come as early as possible if you want to get a good spot—you will literally not be able to see a blade of grass once the night gets going—it gets that crowded. You’re not allowed to bring alcohol to the event (though you’ll notice some people do on the down low) but you can buy pitchers of sangria, which I highly recommend. The draw of the event isn’t really the jazz at all, in fact, you can often hardly hear it. It’s just about being in DC, being with friends and being kinda drunk.

Wolf Trap: This performing arts center in Vienna is, interestingly, also a national park. The outdoor venue is gorgeous, and if you can’t afford a covered seat, lawn tickets are pretty inexpensive. I suggest arriving early and having dinner and wine at one of the picnic tables.

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