Ask the Expert: Hirshhorn’s Melissa Chiu

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden fountain
(©Robert Lyle Bolton/Flickr, Creative Commons) Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

It’s hard to miss Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. Gordon Bunshaft’s modernist doughnut-shaped design stands out from the Smithsonian’s other traditional buildings along the National Mall. In front of the Hirshhorn, another attention-grabbing sight: a smiling boulder crushing a 1992 Dodge Spirit, Jimmie Durham’s whimsical 11,000-pound sculpture.

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

Jimmie Durham sculpture

Credit for such head-turning acquisitions? Melissa Chiu, the museum’s executive director, who took the helm of the storied Smithsonian site in 2014. Since then, the Australian native has painted with a broad brush, bringing crowd-pleasing pieces like Durham’s but also Instagrammable immersive exhibitions by Icelandic performance artist Ragnar Kjartansson and Japanese pop artist Yayoi Kusama.

Chiu recently spoke with us about her job—arguably one of the coolest in D.C.— how she plans to top recent shows and what she loves about her adopted city.

Melissa Chiu

What’s the best part about your job?

It’s my great privilege to be able to communicate through exhibitions, to create programs that give voice to the most innovative and compelling artists from around the world.

The Hirshhorn recently showed works by Ragnar Kjartansson and Yayoi Kusama, which were huge hits. How are you going to top those exhibitions?

I encourage everyone not to miss our exhibitions by Ai Weiwei, Yoko Ono, Markus Lüpertz and Nicolas Party. They are very different artists, but each asks profound questions about our history and culture. After that, just wait and see!

Yayoi Kusama's "Obliteration Room"

Khartansson’s and Kusama’s works seem to show you have a playful spirit. How do you decide which artists to exhibit?

We’re always interested in artists who have something to say about the times in which we live. Sometimes this can have a playful approach—sometimes it has an entirely different sentiment.

Who’s your favorite artist, living or dead, and why?

I actually don’t have favorites. With each artist I encounter, I look for an individuality that pushes them to create with such conviction.

How would you describe D.C.’s art scene?

It’s very much an art scene defined by museums, especially national art museums—the National Gallery of Art—East and West buildings—the Smithsonian American Art Museum, National Portrait Gallery, and of course the Hirshhorn, the national museum of modern art. But it also has this fascinating creative pulse that’s reflected in artist projects throughout the city.

National Gallery of Art

As an Australian, what do you love about your adopted city, D.C.?

It’s a great place to live. The people are brilliant, and in the spring, there is no city more beautiful.

Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens

Can you recommend an off-the-beaten-path spot for great art in the city?

Transformer on P St. NW is an artist-run space, very much like where I started in Sydney. We collaborated with them to present a night of performance art on the Hirshhorn’s plaza, which was magical. Their gallery continues to surprise and delight.

Where are you going next, and what are you going to do there?

I’m going to Kassel, Germany, to see Documenta, a contemporary art exhibition that happens every five years and features experimental art.

If you could wake up anywhere tomorrow, where would you be?

Chiang Mai, Thailand

The envelope-pushing museum director’s take on art, travel and her adopted hometown.

A Taste of Summer at the Eastern Shore

Quaint towns, fresh seafood, family sailing—it's all just 90 minutes from D.C.
Steakhouse on the river
Talbot County on Maryland's Eastern Shore (©Mark Sandlin/Talbot County Tourism)

For many Washingtonians, summer begins the moment their car tires touch the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. On the western side of the bridge lie reminders of work and school-year schedules. On the other end of the 4.3-mile span, the rural Eastern Shore beckons with sailboats, gracious Victorian homes and lazy vacation days, where the only pressing thing on the to-do list is deciding which seafood restaurant to try each day.

Although “Eastern Shore” can refer to a broad area encompassing several counties and the entire east side of the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, my family and I focus on Talbot County—which was formally established in 1661—for a weekend day trip. There, just an hour-and-a-half drive from D.C., we can experience a microcosm of what makes the Eastern Shore a quintessential summer getaway.

Of course, a successful family trip involves some compromise. OK, a lot of compromise. I want to stop at the Saturday farmers market in the town of Easton, the commercial hub of Talbot—pronounced TALL-but—County. My husband would like nothing better than to nurse a cold craft beer at Eastern Shore Brewing in St. Michaels. My three kids—ages 11, 7 and 4—want to head directly to the water.

It’s a hot, humid day so we all eventually agree: water. We drive to St. Michaels, past cute boutiques along Talbot Street before reaching the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. At the dock of the waterside open-air site, we board a working skipjack, the H.M. Krentz, for a two-hour sail on the bay captained by Ed Farley.

Lighthouse at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum

Captain Farley has been harvesting oysters here during the fall/winter season for 45 years. A few years back, he also began offering leisure cruises during the summer tourist season.

With a dapper white moustache and an easygoing manner, he is a wealth of information about the history and current state of Chesapeake Bay oystering. You wouldn’t know it from the ubiquity of the crab on Maryland bumper stickers and logos, but oysters were the state’s claim to fame in the late 19th century and well into the mid-20th.

Farley explains that disease devastated the oyster beds in 1983. Thanks to harvest management, oyster reef restoration and disease prevention measures, the bivalves have made a comeback, but not yet to pre-1983 levels.

Back on land, we explore the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, which is full of hands-on exhibits and historic boats. We climb to the top of the 1879 lighthouse that used to sit in the Hooper Strait, and we peer into a stove pot to see the type of fare lighthouse keepers once ate—boiled potatoes and biscuits, by the looks of it. We pause to watch conservators restore an 1889 bugeye—a predecessor to the skipjack.

Lunch is at buzzing Ava’s Pizzeria, where I order a refreshing salad of arugula, goat cheese, strawberries and candied walnuts, and the kids share a thin-crust cheese pizza and a juicy chicken parmesan. Just down the street at 30-year-old Justine’s ice cream parlor, we sit on chairs on the sidewalk and lick scoops of mint chocolate chip, pistachio, caramel crunch and cookies n’ cream. Justine’s also whips up shakes in flavors from creamsicle to key lime. An employee comes out and gives us a bottle of water.

“It’s hot out today,” he explained. “We’re all family.”

One of many choices for ice cream in Talbot County

I wonder, isn’t it time for some shopping yet? But the kids are adamant: more water, please, so we get back on the road toward the Oxford-Bellevue car ferry. Along the way, we stop at Rise Up Coffee Roasters, a drive-up kiosk in a strip mall parking lot offering strong espressos and smoothies.

As we pull onto the ferry for the 20-minute crossing of the Tred Avon River, I try to tell the kids that this may be America’s oldest privately owned ferry route. But they’re too busy jumping up and down in excitement that our minivan is actually on a boat. My youngest stands at the front of the ferry and does her best Jack-and-Rose-on-the-Titanic impression, arms spread out, wind whipping her curly hair. “My heart will go on!” she exclaims.

Oxford-Bellevue car ferry

Oxford is another typically quiet and quaint Eastern Shore town with more cute stores I can’t browse through, including an indie bookshop—Mystery Loves Company Booksellers—and a new home store—Yacht and Home—as well as another classic ice cream shop, Scottish Highland Creamery. A new park trail is perfect for walking and biking.

In the end, we all agree that there’s only one way to conclude our Eastern Shore getaway: sitting by the bay eating seafood. We head back to St. Michaels, where we belly up to wooden picnic tables at Crab Claw. My husband and I dig into half a dozen blue crabs spiced with Old Bay, while the kids chow down on crab cakes, hush puppies and corn on the cob.

Steamed blue crab

Yup, tastes like summer. 

How to Instagram D.C. Like a Nat Geo Photographer

Washington Monument For a fresh take on the Washington Monument, try photographing people interacting with the iconic site.

Even though the spring cherry blossoms around the Tidal Basin may arguably be D.C.’s most iconic scene, National Geographic photographer Daniel Westergren isn’t a fan.

“It’s very beautiful, but quite a circus with people and photographers everywhere,” he said.

Instead, Westergren heads to the Lincoln Memorial at sunrise any other time of the year for the type of memorable shot that has attracted almost 23,000 followers—and counting—to his Instagram feed (@danwestergren).

“First the sky turns blue, then the rising sun sends a ray of orange light into the memorial, making rectangles on the wall behind Abe Lincoln’s statue,” he said. “It only lasts for a few minutes, but it’s quite something to see, and adds color to the photos.”

Look for Good Light and New Angles

The longtime photo director for National Geographic Traveler magazine, Westergren now works as a freelance photographer and photo workshop leader. He said one of the most common mistakes people make when shooting in D.C. —as in other places—is not understanding the importance of good light.

“If you’re willing to get up early, or be out taking pictures when most people are eating dinner, you’ll find never-ending great photo ops.”

Lincoln Memorial

Another main challenge for shutterbugs is creating fresh images of Washington’s well-known monuments and memorials.

“They are so good-looking that most photographers just stand in front of them and take a picture,” said Westergren.

“That’s a good start, but to really utilize them, use the sites as a background and photograph people interacting with them, your family or just random strangers. I always joke with D.C. workshop participants that if I want a picture of the Lincoln Memorial, I can just pull a penny out of my pocket. So do something to make your photo your own.”

Also a National Geographic Traveler photographer and workshop leader, Krista Rossow—33.9k Instagram followers, @kristarossow—suggests looking “for angles and situations that are unusual. Instead of a straight-on shot of the Washington Monument, maybe photograph its reflection in the Vietnam Veterans Memorial or shoot through all the flags at its base.”

Wait for It

Great snaps also require patience to see what events unfold around you, from parades to protests.

“You never know what activity will be happening on the National Mall,” Rossow said. “Some weekends there will be veterans who are visiting the World War II Memorial for the first time, and seeing people walk up and thank these men and women for their service can turn into powerful photographs. Other times there will be people crawling backwards up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial doing intense physical training courses. And if you hang around long enough, you’ll usually see a wedding proposal!”

Westergren likes how on most Saturday mornings there are crews scrubbing the wall of the Vietnam memorial.

“It really brings the importance of this site into perspective,” he said.

Go Off the Beaten Path

Once you’ve Instagrammed from the main D.C. landmarks, it’s time to head to less touristy places. Rossow suggests exploring different neighborhoods to see what they turn up: the brick townhouses of Georgetown, the bustling stalls of Eastern Market, the street art of Shaw.

“In the daytime, I love photographing riders coming out of the Metro at the north Dupont Circle station,” she said, “and at twilight, I like to play with long exposures to get the traffic around Dupont Circle to turn into colorful blurs.”

Eastern Market

Westergren recommends going even farther afield.

“Head up the Potomac River a few miles to Great Falls. It’s an amazing site very close to the capital city. It’s probably best photographed from the Virginia side, because you can get closer to the water.”

Then, Snap Away

Ultimately, both photographers agree that Washington is simply super photogenic, period.

“The reason I like photographing in D.C. is the same as the reason I liked living in D.C.,” said Rossow, who moved away four years ago but returns often. “There is so much to see and do. D.C. has it all: the iconic memorials and buildings, off-the-beaten-track gems, vibrant neighborhoods, diverse architecture and lush green spaces.”

Memorial Bridge

And it’s a city that can even win over skeptics. After years of avoiding the cherry blossom madness, Westergren found himself turning into a petal promoter when he agreed to create a portrait of a friend among the blooms. That led to another friend commissioning a portrait there, too. Then the following day, Westergren conducted a live video photo workshop for Nat Geo Travel from the Tidal Basin.

“So basically I visited the Tidal Basin at 5:30 am three times in four days.”

For more inspiration, visit the National Geographic Museum and see upcoming D.C. photo workshops here.

Wow your social media followers with these tips from the image-savvy pros.

The Game of Thrones Pop Up Bar Is Taking D.C. by Storm [Slideshow]

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Game of Thrones pop up bar Washington D.C.
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Game of Thrones pop up bar Washington D.C.

Drink Company and Ommegang Brewery transformed the space of three bars into the 3,000-square-foot fantasyland. Guests can wander from the North, find their house banner in the Red Keep and visit The House of Black and White. The plaster faces are those of the Drink Company employees, family and friends. 

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Game of Thrones pop up bar Washington D.C.

Drinks are inspired by settings and characters like "The North Remembers," served in a horn and made with scotch, Cointreau, Falernum, and Coconut and Pineapple Gomme.

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Game of Thrones pop up bar Washington D.C.

"Dracarys" are concocted from Two James Dr. Bird Jamaican Rum, Oloroso, Orgeat, pineapple, lemon and salt.

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Game of Thrones pop up bar Washington D.C.

Some cocktails, like "What is Dead May Never Die" and "The Lannisters Send Their Regards," are served up with a soundtrack from the show.

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Game of Thrones pop up bar Washington D.C.

The official Game of Thrones Beer, Ommegang Brewery's Bend the Knee, is on draft at the bar.

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Game of Thrones pop up bar Washington D.C.

Take a seat on the Iron Throne and don't forget to take pictures for bragging rights.

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Game of Thrones pop up bar Washington D.C.

Costumes are encouraged, but don't bring weapons of any kind—not even toys.

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Game of Thrones pop up bar Washington D.C.

The Strong Oaks Woodshop created a custom piece so you can snap a pic of yourself as the flayed man in the Red Keep.

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Game of Thrones pop up bar Washington D.C.

Lines are long. We recommend going on a weekday and arriving early—before 6:30 pm—or late—after 9:30 pm—for the shortest wait. 

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Game of Thrones pop up bar Washington D.C.

Artists Andrew Herndon and local muralist Andrew Funk brought dragons to life in the dragon hall.

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Game of Thrones pop up bar Washington D.C.

One of the dragons even breathes "fire." (We love a well-placed fog machine.)

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Game of Thrones pop up bar Washington D.C.

"This pub is our love letter to the Seven Kingdoms," Angie Featherston, Drink Company CEO, wrote in a news release. 

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Game of Thrones pop up bar Washington D.C.

Featherston and Derek Brown own Drink Company, the business that operated Mockingbird Hill, Eat the Rich and Southern Efficiency—the bars that are now the GoT pub—in addition to the Columbia Room, twice nominated for a James Beard Award.

The Game of Thrones pop up bar has arrived in Washington, D.C. and it looks amazing. The 3,000-square-foot bar opened June 21 and it'll be open until Aug. 27, closing early on Sundays so everyone can go home and catch the latest episode.

All photos ©Farrah Skeiky, Dim Sum Media 

Talking All Things D.C. With Loews Madison Concierge Milan Koviljac

Milan Koviljac, concierge at the Loews Madison Hotel, recommends the Lincoln Memorial as one of the top spots to watch the fireworks in Washington D.C.
(©Chris Favero/Flickr, Creative Commons) Milan Koviljac, concierge at the Loews Madison Hotel, recommends the Lincoln Memorial as one of the top spots to watch the fireworks in Washington D.C.

Where caught up with Milan Koviljac to talk D.C. local secrets and Koviljac's career at the Loews Madison.

Tell me about yourself! How did you get started in the concierge profession?

When I arrived in Washington, D.C. I met several concierges who worked at the Carlton Hotel (now the St. Regis), in addition to some who opened the Ritz-Carlton in Washington, D.C. One of them was Michael High, chief concierge at the Dupont Hotel. Talking and learning from some of the concierge friends I made gave me a huge desire to become a concierge.

My first hotel was Carlyle Suites at Dupont, where I started working in 2000, but my first exclusive concierge job was at the Hamilton Crowne Plaza, part of IHG, affiliated with the Willard InterContinental, where I met Sandor Subert, who is still concierge there. I started working at the Loews Madison Hotel in 2013.

What’s one of D.C.’s best-kept secrets you’d recommend to your guests?

Sundays at the Meridian Hill Park. The best time is through spring and fall, when thousands of locals spread out on its lawns. There’s an amazing mix of all ages, all races and all lifestyles, celebrating through music, dance, sports or just lying around reading. In my opinion, the best parts are the rhythms and dancers around its famous Drum Circle.

What do you think is the most challenging aspect of being a concierge?

Such an important, international and expensive city as Washington, D.C. has demanding guests with very high expectations. A true concierge can assist, pamper and meet them. True hoteliers can see the importance of having a well-connected, well-informed and knowledgeable hotel lobby concierge at the guest’s disposal.

For a guest looking for a night on the town or wanting to celebrate a special occasion, what would you recommend?

I personally prefer Eighteenth Street Lounge, a long-running, very “D.C.” lounge, with a mix of sophistication, cosmopolitanism and “cool” with a big “C.” There are rotating and resident DJs, live music, varied and diverse patrons and it’s within close proximity to my hotel. Celebrating a special occasion can also be done in one of many amazing restaurants in D.C.

You’re very active on Instagram, which shows you love taking pictures. If a visitor wants to capture the perfect selfie, where’s the best photo-op in D.C.?

In front of the U.S. CapitolWashington Monument or Lincoln Memorial, or one of D.C.'s many murals.

What’s the most unusual request you’ve received from a guest?

This is a tough one...Well, tickets for a U2 concert on the day of the show. A bottle of rare Grgich wine that’s impossible to find in the stores—order it from Sherry's Wine & Spirits. But, honestly, in our profession, there are no unusual requests. Concierges are highly trained to “create the magic,” so any request—easy or challenging—is an opportunity to do so. 

What do you love most about D.C.?

Its architectural beauty. Washington’s architecture is stunning and imposing. And although D.C. is conservative on the surface, underneath it is very liberal and open. Also, you can find bicycles everywhere in the city, and I love that! D.C. is a very green city with so many big trees that are old and beautiful.

What do you love most about being a concierge?

The dynamics. I love sharing my knowledge with people in need and I feel excited when I can make a change. Also, when I don’t know something, I am always excited to learn something new.

What stops should be on every visitor’s “bucket list” when they come to the DMV?

The White House, U.S. Capitol, National Mall and Arlington National Cemetery. These never change.

U.S. Capitol Building

Where’s the best spot in the D.C. area to watch the fireworks?

Anywhere by the water, such as the Tidal Basin or Reflecting Pool, the area between the Jefferson and Lincoln memorials and the Washington Monument. The backdrop of the fireworks behind the memorials and the monument, reflecting off the water is stunning, and no exclusive rooftop can replace that.

Milan shares his favorite attractions, restaurants, selfie locations and more.

Why D.C. Loves Its Baseball Stadium

Nationals Park
(©Brooke Sabin) On game days, passionate fans converge on D.C.’s Nationals Park to cheer on the team.

America’s two most historic ballparks—Chicago’s Wrigley Field and Boston’s Fenway Park—each opened more than a century ago. Having hosted its first game in 2008, D.C.’s Nationals Park is just a baby, but it’s mature far beyond its years.

One case in point? The park’s commitment to sustainability. As the country’s first major professional stadium to become LEED Silver certified, Nationals Park has lots of eco-friendly features, like water-conserving plumbing, drought-resistant landscaping, energy-saving lights and even a 6,300-square-foot green roof atop a concession area.

The ballpark is also located near a Metro station, meaning many of the red-clad fans—more than 2.4 million last season—who flock to the Southeast Washington venue use public transportation to get there. And cyclists take advantage of the free bike valet.

Bryce Harper fans at D.C.'s Nationals Park

The stadium has spurred revitalization of the surrounding neighborhood, drawing restaurants, bars and green spaces like The Yards Park and Riverwalk, a one-mile path beside the Anacostia River, that give fans a reason to come before the game and stay after.

Of course, it helps that, led by superstars like Bryce Harper and Max Scherzer, the Nats in recent years have become one of baseball’s best teams. The Scherzer snow globe and Harper action figure are certain to be among the most sought-after promotional giveaways this season, but events like Yoga in the Outfield, an LGBT night and an opportunity for senior fans to stroll the bases also prove popular.

Pups in the Park, at D.C.'s Nationals Park

Back by “pup”ular demand, as the team likes to say, is Pups in the Park, six dates during the season when fans can bring their dogs to the game. All proceeds from dog tickets benefit the Washington Humane Society.

Every year the franchise adds food and beverage options to a mouthwatering lineup that already is ranked in the top 10 among baseball stadiums by On the menu this season, find new items including chicken fried steak and an Italian sausage burger, plus perennial favorites like the half-smoke from local legend Ben’s Chili Bowl. Fans can wash down their food with a cocktail from the new Distilleries of the DMV or a beer from Devils Backbone Brewing Company Left Field Lodge.

Distilleries of the DMV at D.C.'s Nationals Park

Nationals Park continues to be among the most technologically advanced stadiums in the country. This year the team collaborated with Major League Baseball to launch a customized app for iPhone and Android on which fans can buy tickets, order concessions and access news, promotions, in-game activities and discounts.

“We’re constantly looking for ways to enhance the guest experience,” said Valerie Camillo, the team’s chief revenue and marketing officer. “From partnering with leading brands to creating unique spaces for fans to expanding our concession and beverage options, we’re always striving to make Nationals Park the premier sports destination.”

For a behind-the-scenes look at places like the press box, dugout, bullpen—throw a pitch—and visiting team clubhouse, take one of the tours offered April through November—$15-$25, children $10-$20.

At its core, baseball is a kids’ game, and the Nationals focus much of their attention on entertaining the youngest fans. After all Sunday home games, kids ages 4 through 12 can run the bases, and on July 30, the first 10,000 fans 12 and under receive a free coloring book. The stadium has a Family Fun Area with a jungle gym, and there are special concessions for youngsters.

The Racing Presidents at D.C.'s Nationals Park

Matt and Lauren Hirt of Bethesda, Maryland, take their three children—Gibson, 12; Sullivan, 11; and Eliza, 8—to several games each season. “The main thing that brings us back is the quality of the team,” Matt said. “But the kids also really like the size and space of the center field promenade where we hang out before games. The presidents’ race is always a highlight. They also do T-shirt tosses, which the kids love. We already caught one this season and it was a big thrill!”

Ah yes, those Racing Presidents. No matter what flashy technology the team employs or savory treat it offers hungry fans, the giant George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and Herbert Hoover mascots who sprint—and often topple over—during the fourth inning continue to set Nationals Park apart. They’re a sight to behold, one you can’t experience at Fenway or Wrigley—or anywhere else in baseball.

Nationals Park features a top team, trendsetting amenities and cherished mascots that keep fans cheering.

Time Travel: Explore a House That Helped Shape America

National Museum of American History
(Courtesy National Museum of American History, Within These Walls exhibition) The historic home from Ipswich, Massachussetts, tells the stories of the people that lived there from the 1770s to the 1960s.

If you could take a time machine back and visit ordinary people striving to build a nation, would you? 

At the turn of the millennium Bob Goldberg, National Association of Realtors senior vice president, was given that opportunity.  Curators and staff from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History approached Goldberg and asked if the National Association of Realtors, or NAR, would be willing to sponsor an exciting exhibition that the museum was eager to undertake. 

A two-story, timber-frame home more than 200 years old in Ipswich, Massachusetts, was scheduled for demolition in 1963 to alleviate a parking problem on Elm Street. Preservationists in the area knew the significance of the home—built in colonial America and used as a home well after World War II—and fought against its destruction.

The house was saved by Ipswich citizens and it went to the Smithsonian, placed on view in the mid-1960s. Decades later, a new curatorial team wanted to research who lived in the house and curated a new exhibition based on their findings.

“Real estate is more than just a structure, it’s a home,” said Goldberg. “The stories of the occupants are what makes a house a home. We were particularly intrigued by this home as it provided an opportunity for NAR to share the importance of homeownership through the stories of the five families who called this structure home.” 

National American Museum of History exhibit

The House, The Exhibit, The Plan

The Smithsonian team approached Goldberg with a plan; the Ipswich house had been painstakingly preserved and the curators investigated the entire history of the house as home to several generations, over 200 years, to display the stories of these families and show how ordinary people participated in the great events and changes throughout American history.

Thus began a 15-year partnership in 2001 between the National Association of Realtors and the Smithsonian. The exhibit serves as a symbol of the role that NAR’s 1.2 million realtor members play in making property ownership and the American Dream a reality for millions of Americans. 

As a sign of that continued investment in the American Dream, NAR has extended its sponsorship with the Smithsonian through 2030. Additionally, the Smithsonian will make improvements to update the exhibition with new research, stories and interactive features.

One planned upgrade is an artifact showcase highlighting rotating curated content on various housing themes. In 2018, the content will feature artifacts commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, signed in April 1968, to protect the buyer or renter of a dwelling from seller or landlord discrimination. 

Immigrants, community activists and freedom fighters all lived in the house from Ipswich and, through their lives and stories, its preservation helps tell the history of a fledgling nation crafting an identity. The exhibition will continue to be an attraction in the Museum’s new wing “The Nation We Build Together,” unveiled June 28, 2017.

The families that lived in the house were unique and their stories are a small window into the history of American lives throughout the centuries. The Choates, the Dodges and Chance, the Caldwells, the Lynches and the Scotts filled the house with everyday courage and their own stories of our nation’s history. 

House interior exhibit

Understanding the Ipswich Families

In the 1760s, Abraham Choate commissioned this large and elegant house—just 30 miles north of Boston—for his young family with Sarah Choate. The parlor is particularly notable as it created a refined setting for new imported goods and genteel rituals like tea drinking that signaled the family and community’s prosperity within a growing British empire.

Choate sold the house in 1772. Abraham Dodge—a patriot fresh from the battlefield—purchased the house in the midst of the American Revolution where he lived with his family and an enslaved youth named Chance. While Dodge and other patriots achieved the liberty they fought for, what independence would mean for Chance and other enslaved people living in the New England house was not clear.

After the Dodge family, the exhibit looks at the Caldwells from 1822. Josiah and Lucy Caldwell had no children of their own but adopted their niece Margaret while simultaneously leading the Ipswich Anti Slavery Society and hosting meetings in their Elm Street home for the ladies abolition group, the Ipswich Female Anti-Slavery Society. From the parlor, they fought for the immediate abolition of slavery in the South, decades after slavery ended in Massachusetts.

The Caldwells remodeled their 50-year-old home in the Greek Revival style that’s displayed in the National Museum of American History today. Along with façade remodeling, the Caldwells also installed the latest home technology: heating stoves in the fireplaces and a square piano in the parlor. 

In the late 1800s, Ipswich was a mill-driven industrial area filled with immigrants pouring in from Europe. Catherine Lynch and her daughter rented half the house—the new owners had split the house into two side-by-side apartments—and bartered laundry services for part of their annual rent, totaling about $50. 

The Scotts moved in during the 1940s and helped with the World War II efforts: Mary Scott maintained a victory garden while waiting for news of her sons’ efforts in the service abroad. Her daughter, Annie Scott Lynch, and Annie’s husband Richard moved in with Mary Scott so that Richard could work at the local war materials plant. Annie Scott Lynch worked in a Sylvania factory in the area producing antiaircraft projectiles. 

These five families were part of nearly 100 people who lived in the house since its creation, each with their own role in America’s history. 

National Museum of American History exhibit

Understanding Your Home’s Historical Value

Every house holds clues to its history. A section of “Within These Walls” Exhibition website is dedicated to helping visitors understand the power to sleuth out the history of their own homes using tools like county registries, historical records, photos and more. These sources can help homeowners see the hidden value in everyday objects. This can be an entertaining activity for families to understand the history and unlock the hidden stories in their own home. 

The National Association of Realtors is America’s largest trade association, representing 1.2 million members involved in all aspects of the residential and commercial real estate industries.

National Museum of American History exhibit hall

The National Assocation of Realtors continued its sponsorship with the Smithsonian to keep a historic house on display.

Down by the Water: See D.C. From a Different Perspective

Washington Harbour
(©NCinDC/Flickr, Creative Commons) Washington Harbour

Two rivers run through Washington: the legendary Potomac and its lesser-known sister, the Anacostia. In a city perhaps most famous for political debates and white marble sites, these waterways are a vibrant reminder that D.C. is also a town blessed by Mother Nature.

“People forget you’re never more than a few steps away from nature here, especially if you get out on the water,” said local writer Gayle Putrich, who frequently canoes both wet wonderlands.

Putrich and other boaters ply one of the most historic bodies of water in the country. George Washington surveyed the Potomac—and traveled it to get to his riverside Mount Vernon estate—and British traders used it to ship tobacco back home. The smaller Anacostia, which is just 8.5 miles long and empties into the Potomac at Buzzard Point,  was once lined with farms and Native American encampments.

Today, both rivers make a relaxing backdrop for enjoying the outdoors and offer a different way to take in the beauty of the capital city.

Float Your Own Boat

Boating in DC operates seven concessions in locations like Georgetown in D.C. and National Harbor in Maryland. It offers one-hour to one-day rentals of kayaks, stand-up paddle boards, canoes and, at some locations, hydro bikes (pontoon-like water cycles). The company also leads guided kayak excursions past the monuments during the day and at twilight. Hot spots to float by range from Old Town Alexandria’s bustling waterfront in Virginia to National Harbor with its glitzy Capital Wheel and Georgetown’s Washington Harbour.

If you want more wind at your back, DC Sail gives beginning lessons from the Gangplank Marina in Southwest D.C., where budding sailors learn to captain a 19-foot Flying Scot in four sessions, and offers weekly “social sails” for $20.

Key Bridge Boathouse

Ride On

If you’d prefer to have someone else steer, there are multiple ways to float on. Departing from the Gangplank Marina and National Harbor, Spirit Cruises serves up lunch and dinner on a multi-level yacht with panoramic windows, the better for drinking in city and monument views. Also departing from the Gangplank Marina, Odyssey is a low-slung, elegant dining craft designed to slip under all of the Potomac’s bridges. Both vessels offer music and dancing.

DC Water Taxi runs laid-back routes between Georgetown and the National Mall on an open-air boat; it’s ideal for kids or for a quick intro to the city. Potomac Riverboat Company’s taxi travels from Alexandria to National Harbor, the National Mall and Nationals Park. The company’s tours glide by the monuments, along the Alexandria Waterfront and to Mount Vernon, with dogs allowed on some outings.

For more-adventurous cruising, Urban Pirates sails from National Harbor aboard the Relentless, festooned with skull-and-crossbones flags. Costumed, joke-cracking, wannabe Jack Sparrows' entertain on family-friendly sails Wednesdays through Sundays, with weekend nighttime “bring-your-own-grog” booze cruises for adults.

Entertainment Cruises' Odyssey

Go Alongside

Sometimes, the best way to “soak in” the river is by strolling its waterfront.

“There’s something about how people relax and feel casual by the river,” said Monty Hoffman, one of the developers behind The Wharf D.C., a retail, restaurant and residential complex coming to the Southwest Waterfront in the fall of 2017.

For now, attractions near the Anacostia include Yards Park, which combines green space, a geometric pedestrian bridge, an illuminated obelisk and a wading pool.

Riverfront paths also let you relish the easygoing charms of the water. The Mount Vernon Trail, which follows the Potomac from Theodore Roosevelt Island in Georgetown down to Mount Vernon, meanders past bird-filled wetlands with views of the monuments. The Anacostia Riverwalk Trail skirts the Anacostia through both developed and undeveloped areas and is a good choice for bikers, too.

The Mount Vernon Trail

Kayaks, cruises and waterside strolls reveal new views of the capital city.

In the ’Hood: How to Explore D.C.’s Shaw

At the bar at Tasty Burger
(Courtesy Tasty Burger) Tasty Burger

Located near U Street in Northwest D.C., Shaw has undergone a transformation in recent years from a gritty urban outpost to one of the district’s hippest zones. Most notable here is an influx of popular and well-reviewed restaurants that draw the foodie crowd morning, noon and night. But that’s not the area’s only draw. Denizens also descend on cool cocktail lounges, top shops and a happening nightlife scene. Round out any visit to Shaw with these recommendations.

Where to Eat: Burger Joints and Michelin-Starred Restaurants

With so many top-notch restaurants here, it’s best to come with an empty stomach. Follow expats to Chercher for Ethiopian comfort fare (listed in Michelin’s Bibb Gourmand), or indulge in Tasty Burger’s “Big Tasty” paired with a spiked milkshake (we like the “Green Monster” with mint chocolate chips). At Asian-inspired Kyirisan and Michelin-starred Kinship, the dishes are just as Instagram-worthy as they are delicious.

Chercher 1334 9th St. NW, 202.299.9703

Kinship 1015 7th St. NW, 202.737.7700

Kyirisan 1924 8th St. NW, 202.525.2942

Tasty Burger 2108 8th St. NW, 202.768.9292

Tasty Burger's Big Tasty

Shop: From Trends to Local Gems

From indulgent treats to arty kicks, cool duds and edgy art, some of the District’s raddest retail is located right here. Most of the newer shops are located inside The Shay, a retail/residential complex located on the corner of Florida and 8th St. NW. But a quick jog around the area yields plenty of other gems, too.

Buttercream Bakeshop 1250 9th St. NW, 202.735.0102

Bucketfeet 1924 8th St. NW, 202.847.3294

Frank & Oak 1924 8th St. NW, 202.499.1458

Long View Gallery 1234 9th St. NW, 202.232.4788

Oreo gems at Buttercream Bakeshop

Drink: Award-Winning Favorites

When it comes to quaffs, Shaw pours some of
 the city’s best. At Espita, smoky mezcal is the spirit of choice, while at Right Proper, craft suds are on tap (and in tanks). Beard-nominated Columbia Room offers three areas for sipping, but only the handsome Tasting Room (below) requires a reservation.

Columbia Room 
124 Blagden Alley NW, 202.316.9396

Espita Mezcaleria 1250 9th St. NW, 202.621.9695

Right Proper Brewing 624 T St. NW, 202.607.2337

J.P. Fetherston at Columbia Room's Tasting Room

Play: Gettin’ Down and Chillin’ Out

There’s no question that Shaw is a whole lotta fun. With historic venues like The Howard, a Duke Ellington fave and a must for fans of D.C.’s very own Go-Go music, how could it not be? For big names and indie acts in an intimate setting, bop on over to 9:30 Club. In the mood to “Netflix and chill”? You can head to any movie theater, but the new Landmark cinema offers the latest flicks, plus a bar for expertly mixed drinks and over-sized leather seats for settling in.

9:30 Club 815 V St. NW, 202.265.0930

The Howard Theatre 620 T St. NW, 202.803.2899

Landmark Atlantic Plumbing Cinema 807 V St. NW, 202.534.1965

30 Club

This northwest nabe isn’t just about hot restaurants.

Explore D.C.’s Happenin’ Virginia Neighbor, Tysons Corner

Colton Dixon concert at Tysons Corner Center August 2016
(Courtesy Tysons Corner Center) A Colton Dixon concert at Tysons Corner Center in August 2016.

Located about a half-hour drive of Washington, D.C., in Northern Virginia, Tysons Corner was once a crossroad known for peach orchards. But a massive development plan in the 1960s turned the area into a commercial hub that now buzzes with top shops, happy hour-promoting bars and restaurants and soul-lifting diversions.

Plans to transform Tysons Corner into a more walkable community are in the works, but for now, visitors can rent or hire a car, or better yet, hop on the Metrorail’s Silver line, which drops passengers off on a pedestrian bridge leading right into one of the largest shopping malls in the area, Tysons Corner Center. But there’s much more to do here than shop. Here’s how to make the most of your time.

Eat: Top Restaurants 

With big businesses calling Tysons Corner home, it’s no wonder there are plenty of restaurants to satisfy equally big appetites and busy schedules. Top stops here include TenPenh Tysons, where dishes like Nashville hot chicken bao buns take pan-Asian cuisine to new heights. Modern comfort fare satisfies cravings at Greenhouse Bistro, while fresh lobster and oysters reel in hungry diners at Legal Sea Foods. If you’re still hungry, stop into locavore champs Founding Farmers for spicy fried chicken, pork ribs and pastas, all made from scratch.

Founding Farmers, 1800 Tysons Blvd., 703.442.8783

Greenhouse Bistro, 2070 Chain Bridge Road, Vienna, 703.537.5700

Legal Sea Foods, Tysons Galleria, 2001 International Drive, McLean, 703.827.8900

TenPenh Tysons, 7900 Westpark Drive, 703.910.3096

Pork belly and Nashville hot chicken bao buns

Shop: Trends and Big-Name Labels

From hubs of luxury to the area’s largest mall, Tysons Corner offers shopaholics a retail paradise. If you’re in the market for runway looks, head over to Tysons Galleria, where storefronts for Chanel, Gucci, Prada and Bottega Veneta line the gleaming corridors. Two million square feet of retail await at nearby Tysons Corner Center, where top shops include Zara, Banana Republic, Brooks Brothers and fine jeweler, Lenkersdorfer. Just across the way, The Shops at Fairfax Square houses familiar names including Tiffany & Co. and Nordstrom Rack.

The Shops at Fairfax Square, 8075 Leesburg Pike, Vienna, 703.893.7700

Tysons Corner Center, 1961 Chain Bridge Road, 703.893.9400

Tysons Galleria, 2001 International Drive, McLean, 703.827.7730

Tysons Galleria

Drink: Buzzworthy Bars

Seasoned oenophile? Mad for mixology? Even if you just want a good beer, this area has it all. A glass of bubbly Veuve Clicquot feels truly decadent inside the sumptuous surroundings of the Ritz’s Entyse wine bar. For more casual quaffs, Tysons Biergarten tips its hat to Bavarian beer halls of yesterday with suds from Germany, Belgium and the good ol’ United States, plus brats, knocks and sausages. Lively Earls pours creative cocktails and classics like no less than five variations on the Old Fashioned.

Earls Kitchen + Bar, 7902 Tysons One Place, 703.847.1870

Entyse Wine Bar & Lounge, The Ritz-Carlton, 1700 Tysons Blvd., McLean, 703.506.4300

Tysons Biergarten, 8346 Leesburg Pike, 703.854.1123

Entyse Wine Bar & Lounge at The Ritz-Carlton Tysons

Play: Nature, Music and a Spa

There’s plenty to keep go-getters occupied in this neck of the woods. Wolf Trap draws top talent from around the world to the country’s only national park for performing arts. Meadowlark stirs the senses with flora, fauna and even a Korean pagoda. If you’d rather nature came to you, try the organic Euro facial at the Ritz’s glam spa.

Meadowlark Botanical Gardens, 9750 Meadowlark Gardens Court, Vienna, 703.255.3631

The Ritz-Carlton Spa, 1700 Tysons Blvd., McLean, 703.744.3924

Wolf Trap, 1551 Trap Road, Vienna, 703.255.1800

Wolf Trap

World-class shopping, top-notch restaurants and gorgeous vistas are all just a hop across the bridge from downtown D.C.

A Must for Outdoorsy Types: Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park

Just 75 miles from D.C., lace up the hiking boots and follow the Appalachian Trail to glorious mountaintop views, waterfalls and wildlife.
Hiker in Shenandoah National Park
A hiker exults in the view from the top of North Marshall, along the Appalachian Trail. (Courtesy Neal Lewis/NPS)

The first thing you should know about Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park is that if you think you’re going to take in the entire 104.6 miles of Skyline Drive—the park’s curvaceous scenic byway—in one day, you’re wrong.

It’s not the traffic or even the 75 pull-off overlooks along the way. What will consume your time in this rugged finger of public land is the frequent need to park the car and explore these ancient Appalachian hills, starting with the 500 miles of trails that amble across streams, beneath pulsing waterfalls and up rocky pitches to vistas of stacked mountain ridges that flow down to pastoral valleys.

On one recent trip, my wife, two kids and I stopped for a “brief” hike on the Dickey Ridge trail, intending to kill an hour before checking into our weekend rental house just west of the park. Four hours later, after an up-and-down meander that opened to a stirring view of wooded mountains unmarred by development, we returned to the car, dusted with trail dirt and happily weary.

Hiking Old Rag Mountain in Shenandoah National Park

We had just sampled a morsel from an expansive buffet, according to Marie Style who works at the Mountain Trails outdoors store in Winchester, Virginia, and has run—yes, run—almost every trail in Shenandoah, from the technical Old Rag, which gains—and then gives back—2,415 feet of elevation in a nine-mile circuit, to the smooth and gentle Fox Hollow, where you can still see vestiges of a 19th-century family farm, including its tiny cemetery.

Style calls the park “comfortable,” due to the embrace of the expansive tree canopy, and an easy place to see a variety of wildlife.

“It’s pretty common to come across bears, which I see as a positive,” said Style. And sure enough, during our last visit, we spotted a burly ursus americanus, eyeing us back from 50 feet up a tree.

Animal sightings are a bonus but not among the main reasons people visit the park, which spokesperson Sally Hurlbert says are: waterfalls, vistas, historical sites and the Appalachian Trail. The AT, which transects Shenandoah on its run from Maine to Georgia, crosses Skyline Drive “around 30 times,” said Hurlbert, leaving you with little excuse to avoid hiking at least part of it.

Black bear in Shenandoah National Park

Among historical sites President Herbert Hoover’s camp, Rapidan, is the most popular. Tours reveal the modest log cabin with a supersized stone chimney and an exhibit on the 31st president’s life. (Make the required reservations via or 877-444-6777.)

Shenandoah’s 199,173 acres rise from the Piedmont in some of the oldest mountains on earth—the Blue Ridge—formed 1.1 billion to 250 million years ago. The human footprint here dates back around 12,000 years, when Native Americans started hunting and fishing in the region.

Lush pastures drew Scotch-Irish and German immigrants in the 1730s and—according to the Shenandoah Valley Travel Association—famous Americans from presidents Adams, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe to Daniel Boone passed through the area at one point or another.

The valley also saw 14 Civil War battles, and although none of the fighting occurred within park boundaries, troops from both sides marched through these hills. Confederate generals in particular, most notably Stonewall Jackson, used the Blue Ridge as a natural screen to conceal their movements.

Dark Hollow Falls in Shenandoah National Park

For a taste of more-recent history, stop in Skyland Resort, which opened in the late 1800s—the park was established in 1935—as a vacation spot for the broader region’s urban middle class. Even if you don’t stay in one of the rustic cabins, some of which date to 1906, you should tour the Massanutten Lodge. Built in 1911 and recently refurbished, it offers live entertainment, from bluegrass and Americana to clogging and country.

You can find a similar bygone charm in the small towns fringing the park, where varnished historic buildings abut sketchy motels and 100-year-old homes in various states of repair. But the 21st century is advancing. Among my favorite newcomers is the Blue Wing Frog Picnic Market and Brew, in Front Royal, which entices locals and travelers alike with scratch-made baked goods, sandwiches, salads and soups.

Recently my family and I settled in here for a late Sunday lunch as we delayed our return to reality and savored a chicken pomegranate salad, catfish tacos, a pepperoni grilled cheese sandwich and wildflower honey lemonade.

Robert Hall, an Arlington transplant who owns Blue Wing with his wife, Kelly Sprague, credits the community for keeping him afloat. Three months after opening, the restaurant ran out of funds.

“The locals rallied with a ‘cash mob,’ which meant we didn’t have to pay any credit card processing fees, and a GoFundMe site,” said Hall. “I walked in—and we didn’t even have tables at the time—and there were 80 people in here. It brought tears to my eyes.” 

So will Shenandoah National Park, as long as you get out of the car and let the spirit of the mountains carry you away.

Getting There: From D.C., head to the park’s North Entrance. Take I-66 West to Front Royal, Virginia, exit onto Route 340 South and follow the signs to Skyline Drive.  

Shining a Spotlight on the Hot D.C. Theater Scene

"Come From Away"
(©Chris Bennion) Hit Broadway musical "Come From Away" made its final-check run at Ford's Theatre in D.C.

D.C. theater folks give their regards to Broadway. And maybe Broadway should say “thank you”? We’ve sent at least two current hit musicals north—“Dear Evan Hansen,” which premiered at Arena Stage, and “Come From Away,” which made its final-check run at Ford’s Theatre. This reflects a tradition—testing a show’s words and moves first on capital stages.

Consider Zero Mostel tuning up Teyve when “Fiddler on the Roof” made its last-minute stop at the National Theatre or James Earl Jones warming up for fame and “The Great White Hope” at Arena Stage. Our wise and worldly audiences have often helped tweak and polish Broadway-bound productions.

Ford's Theatre

But now … a reality check. At 90-plus stages across northern Virginia, southern Maryland and the District, curtains rise on an array of entertainment. Venues range from suburban and downtown troupes with community and professional players to companies with special interests (Spanish language, Jewish identity, mime, social issues), from children’s playhouses to the grand halls of the Kennedy Center.

One well-traveled, longtime patron of American theater, attorney Paul Mason touts the diversity. “I could go to good shows here five nights a week, and that’s not possible in San Francisco or L.A.”

Mason serves on the board of Bethesda, Maryland’s acclaimed Round House Theatre. The company’s producing artistic director, Ryan Rilette, typifies those adventurous spirits who’ve made Washington, in his words, “one of the top theater cities in America.”

Kennedy Center

He credits the strong base of actors, designers and directors that companies can draw from. Proximity to New York factors with some casting there (D.C. veteran actors like Nancy Robinette in “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”) and boosts the careers of some younger actors picked for national tours. But Rilette insists, Washington theaters have “no special relationship” or dependence on the New York scene.

Rilette identifies his company’s strength as “ensemble acting” and its focus as “plays that demand discussion and empathy.” When he books each six-show season, Rilette reconfirms the company’s passion for developing new material. By staging works-in-progress, “we get the first chance to weigh in.”

The TheatreWashington organization promotes and celebrates the region’s stages and each year bestows awards named in honor of the “First Lady of American Theater,” Helen Hayes. Panels of judges gauge more than 200 productions, both plays and musicals, in costume and set design, lighting, choreography, acting, writing and directing.

Arena Stage

Hayes (1900-1993) grew up in Washington, where a National Theatre production inspired her early stage career. She took her last bow in O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey into Night” at Catholic University’s Hartke Theatre. Between those hometown markers, she won the first Tony given to a lead actress, a second Tony, two Oscars, an Emmy, a Grammy, a Kennedy Center Honors Award and a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Can a theater here win a Tony? Indeed three local companies have earned the statuette for outstanding Regional Theatre—Arena Stage in 1976, Signature Theatre in 2009 and Shakespeare Theatre Company in 2012. Honoring the pioneering Arena Stage came as a surprise then, but not so for the later two, both run by Washington-based directors who paid their dues in New York but made their greater impact here.

Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall

Michael Kahn, artistic director of Shakespeare Theatre, has helmed New York productions and since 1968 taught at The Juilliard School’s Drama Division. Signature’s director, Eric Schaeffer, has created an ongoing connection to the work and person of Stephen Sondheim. In 2012, he was shortlisted for Drama Desk best director for the 2011 revival of Sondheim’s “Follies,” but he had established his cred already with “Million Dollar Quartet” which earned him a Tony director nomination.

The story of Signature Theatre reads like a plot for its own stage. Young actor/graphics designer (Schaeffer) comes to northern Virginia to help run a community theater, wins awards for “Sweeney Todd” in a school auditorium, converts an auto garage into a theater and, in 2007, moves his company into a $16 million facility.

Signature celebrated its 25th year with Sondheim’s “Sunday in the Park with George,” the musical that Schaeffer has directed often over the years. Sweet fact: years back, before his successes, he paid $1,000 for the original Broadway set and stored it in his garage.

In the capital city, not all the drama (or comedy) is political. Acclaimed stages draw crowds and produce Broadway-bound hits.

Explore Baltimore's Hipster and Historic Finds

An hour north of D.C. by car, Baltimore, Maryland, ups the cool factor with tall ships, "outsider art" and "hons."
Andrew Logan's Cosmic Galaxy Egg in front of the American Visionary Art Museum
Andrew Logan's Cosmic Galaxy Egg in front of the American Visionary Art Museum (©Jack Hoffberger)

Cobblestone streets and older-than-America row houses make it easy to imagine a bunch of pirates wandering the streets of Baltimore’s Fells Point. After all, privateers and shipbuilders plied their trades in this harbor town in the early 19th century. And somehow, that spirit of commerce and cool survives here in spades, making it my favorite place to spend a day away from D.C.

Fells Point Waterfront

My pal Anne and I arrive on a sunny Saturday morning to shop, feast on local seafood and experience another one of Charm City’s many charms: its thriving art museum scene.

In typical B’more fashion, the culture here veers between haute and hipster. We start with the refined, heading to The Walters Art Museum, where 18th- and 19th-century paintings and sculptures are displayed old-fashioned gallery style, with landscapes hung next to stuffed crocodiles and other curiosities. “It’s like wandering into some fabulous old aunt’s house,” says Anne.

Before a brunch break, we power through another downtown art show place, the quirky American Visionary Art Museum. One of the country’s only display spaces for so-called “outsider” pieces, AVAM’s like a gritty Guggenheim, with works by untrained-yet-fantastic talents like Howard Finster (folksy paintings) and Flaming Lips’ singer Wayne Coyne (a Gummy Bear self-portrait).

The gift shop sells both affordable art by folks in the collection and materials to make your own masterpieces; Anne and I both pick up a few stickers and postcards for later projects.

Walters Art Museum

For brunch, we’re off to native son/ filmmaker John Waters’ funky ’hood, Hampden, where we meet up with my Baltimore friends, photographer E. Brady Robinson and stylist Rose DiFerdinando. Like everyone here, they’re groovy and artsy. We corral ourselves at Golden West Cafe, a longtime diner, where paint-by-number portraits line
the walls and comfort chow crowds the menu. “I swear, this breakfast burrito can cure any hangover,” says Brady. I tuck into spicy banh mi tacos that also do the trick.

Besides eclectic restaurants that could star in a Waters flick, Hampden is also ground zero for a wealth of indie shops, especially ones selling both cool vintage and new clothing. “I think it comes from the ‘hon’ culture up here,” says Rose, referring to the beehive-sporting, retro- dress wearing women immortalized in Waters’ “Hairspray.”

Hunting Ground boutique in Baltimore

Rose leads us on a spree through some of her favorite fashion-y spots in Hampden, including Doubledutch, where new floral maxi dresses mix with jewelry and bags made by local designers. Located in an old church, Hunting Ground stocks men’s and women’s vintage pieces like a 1930s velvet Dior robe Rose recently snapped up for $30.

Anne and I also like Changed My Mind Vintage, where I score a 1970s black disco dress for $20 and she picks up a pretty pink wool coat for only $30.

Other stores in Hampden trade in an assortment of things like greeting cards, bath oils and cookbooks (In Watermelon Sugar) and locally made sweet treats (Charm City Chocolates). At the latter, don’t miss the Chesapeake Crunch, chocolate bark studded with peanuts and locally made Old Bay spice.

Fueled up, we decide it’s time to think about those long-ago pirates, shipbuilders and naval heroes. We swing by the Inner Harbor, the redeveloped hub of the city, where the Pride of Baltimore, a replica of an 1812-style clipper, is open for tours and day sails. It’s a graceful reminder of the tumultuous early years of the 19th century, when the city functioned both as a shipbuilding power and a key site in the War of 1812.

Fort McHenry

Not far away, Fort McHenry, where American soldiers held off the Brits during the War of 1812, proves an even more stirring chapter from the past. A massive replica Star-Spangled Banner flies over the star-shaped stronghold, a reminder that events years ago inspired Francis Scott Key to pen lyrics that became the country’s national anthem.

All that shopping and history makes 
us famished, so before heading back to Washington, Anne and I decide to indulge in an early dinner. Like many places in this old-meets-edgy city, Gunther & Co. in Brewer’s Hill dishes up modern food in historic surroundings.

Gunther & Co.

“It’s in the boiler room of an old brewery, and it’s got a great vibe,” says local food blogger Amy Langrehr. She’s a friend of Brady’s, and her recommendation turns out to be a good one. In the two-level, dramatic space with soaring, exposed red brick walls and mod blue banquettes, we
tuck into roasted local oysters spiked with chili and a rich dish of red wine-infused lamb. It’s satisfying and soulful, just like Baltimore itself.

A Chat with D.C. Celebrity Chef José Andrés

Chef Jose Andres
(©Our Local Commons) Credited with pioneering the tapas concept in America, Andrés now heads a restaurant empire and a food-focused nonprofit.

José Andrés is known for his infectious enthusiasm and boundless energy. And those attributes have served him well, as his plate is more than full. The Spanish-born chef runs acclaimed restaurants in cities from Miami to Las Vegas and with his nonprofit World Central Kitchen searches for solutions to hunger in impoverished communities. In between, he’s found time to teach university courses, host the PBS show “Made in Spain” and become a proud U.S. citizen.

Lucky for Washington locals and visitors, Andrés put down roots here, where diners savor meals in several of his popular spots, from the fast-casual Beefsteak to the avant-garde minibar. We recently caught up with the James Beard Foundation “Outstanding Chef.”

You were born in Spain, where you trained at the legendary El Bulli, and you have restaurants in several cities. Why make D.C. your base?

When I first moved to the United States, I started in New York but was soon offered a position at a new Spanish restaurant in D.C., in Penn Quarter. That of course was Jaleo, and Penn Quarter was not back then a dining destination. But the great restaurateur Richard Melman had given me an important piece of advice. He said, “Whatever you do, throw the anchor and belong. Learn to belong.” Jaleo was my anchor and helped me to learn to belong in D.C. I have loved this city ever since.


How has the city’s food scene changed since you opened Jaleo in 1993?

So much! D.C. has an amazing culinary legacy, with great French chefs like Jean-Louis Palladin and Michel Richard, but there wasn’t a lot of diversity in cuisine when we first opened 24 years ago. Now we see Mexican, Spanish, Greek, Filipino, Laotian, Ethiopian, Japanese—the world is right here in our city.

How did it feel to earn two Michelin stars last year for minibar?

I was once a 14-year-old boy looking into the kitchens of Michelin-starred restaurants in Barcelona. Now to earn two stars for minibar? I am so proud of my team. And it motivates us to keep pushing our creativity even more.


What are some must-sees or must-dos for a first-time D.C. visitor?

The National Museum of American History—it’s an amazing place full of America’s heritage. You can’t miss the exhibit on food, especially Julia Child’s kitchen! And it’s a short walk from the monuments and the museums to Penn Quarter, where many of my restaurants are. You can end a day of sightseeing with a salt-air margarita and some guacamole at Oyamel.

Can you recommend a hidden gem in the city?

I really love that this city is so green everywhere. Just a short distance from downtown are many parks and places to be outside. One of my favorite outdoor spots is the C&O Canal in Georgetown, just off busy M Street, where you can walk for miles and see trees, waterfalls and more. On a beautiful day, it’s a great place to go and feel like you are far away from the city.

C&O Canal

Do you have a favorite local ingredient?

Seafood from the Chesapeake Bay. I’m from Asturias, a seafood-eating region in Northwestern Spain, so I absolutely love fresh seafood. From the bay, we get incredible oysters, crabs and more. I recently opened a restaurant in Maryland celebrating the local seafood, Fish by José Andrés

Can you share an especially memorable dining experience you’ve had while traveling?

I recently visited Asturias for my annual winter pilgrimage to eat oricios, or sea urchins. They are in season in January and February, so every year I must go and enjoy them. They’re so briny and yet so sweet at the same time.

If you could wake up anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would that be?

I don’t want to sound boring, but honestly, I love waking up in my home. I am with my wife, Tichi, and my three daughters, and on a perfect day, we go to the farmers market, then cook a wonderful family meal. I have traveled all around the world, but I always love to be home.

The top toque dishes on Michelin stars, must-see sites and his annual seafood pilgrimage.