Cruising around D.C.

With classes just underway and the stress of exams and term papers still far in the distance, now is the time to enjoy all the District has to offer.

A visit to the museums of the Smithsonian Institution is a practically effortless way to spend an afternoon – they’re accessible, interesting and free of charge.

The National Museum of American History, is host to numerous exhibits on all aspects of the American experience. “Between a Rock and a Hard Place: A History of American Sweatshops, 1820-Present” details the evolution of the sweatshop in the American garment industry. As part of it, items removed in the August 1995 raid of a sweatshop in El Monte, Calif are on display. The exhibit runs through Oct. 30.

“Ella Fitzgerald: First Lady of Song” is another exhibit at the American history museum. It features gowns, costumes, photos, recordings and other memorabilia cataloging the songtress’ career. The Fitzgerald exhibit is running indefinitely.

The National Museum of African Art – another of the Smithsonian’s offerings – often is overlooked, but is an interesting place to visit. A recently opened exhibit compares the furniture of French designer Pierre Legrain to similar African pieces. The exhibit continues through Nov. 29.

From portraits of famous faces to Dorothy’s ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz, the District’s many museums house intriguing exhibits of interest to nearly anyone who visits.

D.C.’s monuments are its most famous feature. A walk around the Lincoln Memorial or Washington Monument can be enjoyable, but some of the city’s lesser-known memorials also are worth a visit. The Albert Einstein statue, tucked away among the trees along Constitution Ave, is off the beaten path, but is a good diversion from the normal attractions on the National Mall.

If animals are your thing, a trip to the National Zoo is a great experience. The Zoo is one of the biggest and most diverse on the East Coast and has opened several new exhibits in the past year.

The Kennedy Center showcases excellent performing arts right down the street from campus. For the cash-strapped student, the Center’s Millennium Stage presents a free performance every day at 6 p.m. But the Kennedy Center also offers a slew of other engaging productions. In its 11th year, Shear Madness is a Kennedy Center staple. The hilarious show lets the audience in on the action – audience members help the cast solve the on-stage mystery.

En route to Broadway, Footloose runs in the Kennedy Center’s Opera House through Sept. 20. Directed by Tony Award winner Walter Bobbie (Chicago), the show is the stage version of the popular 1980s Kevin Bacon film and includes the foot-tapping music from the motion picture.

For an adventure a little farther from campus, head to Eastern Market on Capitol Hill. Very accessible, it sits a few blocks beyond the Metro’s Eastern Market station on the blue and orange lines. Eastern Market offers a calming atmosphere – a great escape from chaotic city life. Friendly vendors sell an eclectic assortment of items – fresh fruits and vegetables, handmade crafts and jewelry, assorted flea market items. For a small price, a massage therapist and fortune tellers lend their services to shoppers. Eastern Market generally is open Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

An excursion to nearby Old Town Alexandria is the area’s quintessential day trip. With small local shops and larger mainstream stores like a Gap factory store and a Crate & Barrel outlet, Alexandria combines the best of both worlds. Interesting restaurants hidden on quiet side streets satisfy anyone’s appetite. Sitting down on the waterfront with a few friends and a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream cone is a great way to unwind.

Dupont Circle tops the list of places to grab a cup of coffee and a delicious dessert. At XandO, s’mores are a favorite treat. Patrons toast their own marshmallows over a small tabletop flame and then smush it between graham crackers and chocolate bars, just like at summer camp. XandO also offers a variety of delectable coffee drinks and teas, and the sandwiches make the cafe a good stop for lunch.

Kramerbooks and Afterwords Cafe – another Dupont hot spot – provides decadent desserts, entertainment and shelves and shelves of books to peruse while waiting for a table. A live band occasionally entertains diners. The menu offers full meals, but skip straight to the desserts. Indulge in a Dysfunctional Family Sundae or a piece of Death by Chocolate – the names say it all.

For a quick escape, head to dinner with a group of friends. But be more adventurous than nearby T.G.I. Friday’s. Try new types of cuisine to turn a run-of-the-mill dinner into a truly unusual experience. From Indian to Vietnamese to Ethiopian, a restaurant can be found to satisfy even the most adventurous of palates.

The atmosphere elevates the dining experience at numerous ethnic restaurants, where diners enjoy authentic cuisine surrounded by decor from the region. At Skewers, a fantastic Middle Eastern restaurant in Dupont Circle, tapestries and other knick knacks native to the Middle East cover the walls.

Nestled on a side street in Georgetown, the Foundry features great second-run movies for only $2.50. The Foundry offers Washingtonians a chance to catch that movie they were meaning to see but never did, or to see that film they want to see again.

The opportunities to enjoy the city are endless, and one adventure usually leads to another. With beautiful summer weather and a relatively low workload, it’s the perfect time to go exploring.

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