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Day Trip: How to Be a DC Tourist in Covid Times

posted in: Day Trips, Pandemic
No traffic on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Safe Day Trips from Greenbelt during covid times are a challenge but there ARE ways.

Getting There Safely

I wasn’t about to take the Metro for an unnecessary trip during the pandemic, but driving from Greenbelt to the National Mall is actually quicker – about 30 minutes, off-rush. (And the “rush” these days is awfully light.)

What convinced me the trip would be easy was hearing from a friend about reserving and paying for parking ahead of time. For me, that’s easier than hunting down an empty spot on the street and worrying about what parking meter app it uses.

What was truly easy was using Parking Panda to find a parking garage, which is how I found a cheap one at 280 6th Street N.W., across the street from the Newseum – just $10.45 for the whole day. However, DO print out your receipt or have it open on your phone to show the attendant. It’s self-park, so no “valet” will be driving your car.

What’s Open

Suddenly there’s lots more things to see and do around the National Mall – especially with timed reservations –  and still more are opening September 25. – here’s the list.

Opening September 25:


Smithsonian Gardens and Bartholdi Park


But while we’re having glorious fall weather, I’d rather stay outdoors!  Anyway, I’m averse to going to indoor public spaces, so I’m sticking with the gardens. Here are the gardens to see that are at or near the National Mall..

  • Open always are the ones around the Smithsonian Castle: the Haupt Garden in front of the Castle, the Ripley Garden between the Castle and the Hirshhorn (a favorite among serious gardeners), the Folger Rose Garden in front of the Castle, the Natural History Museum’s Pollinator Garden along 9th Street and the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden.
  • The National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden is also open and has food and bathrooms!
  • At the eastern end of the Mall there’s the U.S. Botanic Garden, which is surprisingly still closed – even its multi-acre native-plant National Garden. What IS open is its Bartholdi Park at the base of the Rayburn Building, which was renovated and made accessible in 2016 and is filling in very nicely..

What’s brand new this month and open all the time is the Eisenhower Memorial across Independence Avenue from the Air and Space Museum. I went during the day and following the advice of the  Washington Post’s reviewer, I’ll go back to see it lit up at night.

Rest Rooms and Food?

A concern for many visitors, including ME, is the availability of rest rooms. My favorite option, available 11-4 every day, is the Pavilion Cafe at the National Sculpture Garden. No reservations needed! And its food is ordered and consumed outdoors.

The Eisenhower Memorial also has open rest rooms (without a reservation or going through security). Though the memorial is always open, I can’t find information about the hours of the book store and rest rooms.

The food kiosk at the Lincoln  Memorial was closed when I was there.

Presumably, museum visitors may use the rest rooms there.

Crowd-Free Cycling

Silver lining-wise, the streets and sidewalks have never been so uncrowded! So on my second trip I packed my bike and went for a long, leisurely ride to all my favorite memorials, including the Lincoln, MLK and FDR.

If you don’t bring your own bike, I noticed a few rental options around the Mall – bikes and scooters, too.

Cyclists passing the Smithsonian’s Ripley Garden
Follow Susan Harris:
“Susan started blogging about Greenbelt soon after moving here in 2012, and that first blog has grown into this nonprofit community website. Retired from garden writing and teaching, she continues to blog at GardenRant.com. In 2021 Susan joined the Board of Directors of Greenbelt Access TV.

2 Responses

  1. John
    | Reply

    There are many public restrooms on the western end of the mall (ie by the memorials rather than the museums). The older circular restroom buildings have a bit of a worn-out feel, but there are newer or remodeled restrooms at 15th St by the Washington Monument, near 17th/Independence by the WWII memorial, and at the MLK and FDR memorials. Also inside the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials.

  2. Julie
    | Reply

    There’s a display of street murals outside the Building Museum.

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