Light Shows in Washington

An enlightened tour through the capital city, from daybreak on the Mall to encounters with Old Glory, an eternal flame and a fine chef

High watts beam on landmarks all year and often all night, inspiring excursions 24/7. Late-night visitors to the Mall enter illuminated precincts honoring Lincoln, Jefferson, Franklin Roosevelt and Martin Luther King, plus those lost in America’s wars. And lights serve other purposes. The blinking red “eyes” of the Washington Monument once warned away aircraft. The light in the tholos of the U.S. Capitol signals still that Congress is in session. But aesthetics factor too. Artists mark the landscape with neon installations like the Athena Tacha in Chevy Chase and the Keith Sonnier in the Ronald Reagan Building. Now the American Art Museum devotes permanent space to works of new media by folks like Jenny Holzer and Nam June Paik. Her LED column and his mesmerizing video walls delight the mind as well as the eye.

Morning

Plan to catch “dawn’s early light.” As the sun rises over the U.S. Capitol, so does a flag. After saluting Old Glory, head to the National Museum of American History to see the real deal—the Star-Spangled Banner, dramatically illuminated in its own gallery. After all, 2014 is the 200th anniversary of that morning it triumphantly flew and inspired a D.C. lawyer Francis Scott Key to pen the national anthem.

Star Spangled Banner

Midday

Sunlight and water pour down from the National Gallery of Art plaza into the Cascade Café. After lunch, enter Leo Villareal’s Multiverse, a dazzling sculpture passage of 40,000 LEDs and 16 strobes. At memorials, light takes on symbolic meaning. Jacqueline Kennedy asked that a flame be kept lit on John F. Kennedy’s grave at Arlington Cemetery, its gleam even visible at night from across the river.

JFK grave

Evening

Chef Tony Chittum knows what makes a restaurant a destination: fine food, service and, yes, flattering candlelight. His restoration of the fabled Iron Gate features a lantern entry, glowing chandeliers, votives and a fireplace. His sophisticated Mediterranean menu orchestrates flavor and texture in antipasti, gnocchi with truffles, pork belly and panna cotta paired with wines of Italy, Greece and Sicily.

iron gate fireplace

More Places For Illumination:

Jean Lawlor Cohen
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