What to Do Off the Beaten Path in D.C.

Updated July 8, 2020.

This Motivation Monday, I’m here to encourage you to think out of the box and find a little something out of the ordinary–find the obscure wherever you are! Washington, D.C., has plenty of interesting places to explore if you go just a few steps off the beaten path–sometimes even if you just cross the road! Here are my top picks for exploring Obscure D.C.

Albert Einstein Memorial

2101 Constitution Avenue, NW

I stumbled upon old Albert one day while I was roaming around D.C. He’s not far from the major monuments and memorials, but he’s also not on a lot of people’s radar. His tremendous bronze likeness is seated at the American Academy of Sciences at 2101 Constitution Avenue, NW, not far from the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial.

Hanging out with my dad and our pal Al!

Teddy Roosevelt Island

Access by foot or bike from the Mount Vernon Trail in Rosslyn; Access by car from the George Washington Memorial Parkway at Rosslyn

You can access this island tucked away on the Potomac from the Mount Vernon Trail in Rosslyn, VA, just a short walk from Georgetown. It’s a peaceful world away from the hustle and bustle of D.C.. If you’re looking for a bit of nature, this is the place for you. There’s a larger than life statue of President Teddy Roosevelt, as well as miles of hiking trails. It’s a local favorite, and now you know about it, too!

Posing with my friend Teddy. Photo credit: Jared Hassell

The Octagon House

1799 New York Avenue, NW

This obscure, oddly-shaped little house just blocks away from the White House has quite the story to tell. When the White House was burned by the British during the War of 1812, this is where First Lady Dolley Madison fled with that portrait of George Washington. It acted as the White House until the real White House could be rebuilt. Oh, and the Treaty of Ghent was signed here in 1815. No big deal. And don’t forget you can take a tour Thursdays-Saturdays!

The Octagon House Museum

Francis Scott Key Memorial

1198 34th Street, NW; at 34th and M Streets

This is another peaceful little spot that is often overlooked. As you walk across the Key Bridge from Rosslyn to Georgetown, look to your right on the Georgetown side and check out this pretty little memorial area. There is a bust of Francis Scott Key, writer of the Star-spangled Banner, and if you count the number of stars on the flag that’s flying there, you’ll notice there are considerably fewer than on the current American flag!

Francis Scott Key Park

Exorcist Steps

3600 Prospect Street, NW

Just a few paces away from the Francis Scott Key Memorial, you’ll find quite possibly the creepiest part of Georgetown: the Exorcist Steps. These are the very steps featured in the horror film, The Exorcist. It is especially creepy at night. Climb at your own risk!

Super creepy, huh?

56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence Memorial

North Side of the National Mall, North of the Reflecting Pool

This is a unique memorial that is all too often overlooked. You can see all 56 Signers’ signatures along with their occupation and what colony they were from. There’s a nice pond with ducks and geese roaming around, and it’s a little piece of nature in the middle of the District. It’s one of my favorite memorials because so few people know about it!

Bridge to the Memorial
John Hancock
Be sure not to miss it on your tour of D.C.’s Monuments and Memorials!

Navy Memorial

701 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

This is another one that is in the thick of it all but unfortunately under-visited. As a traveler, I love this one because there is a map of the world there! It’s located at 701 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., and sometimes the Navy band gives concerts there.

Heading out to sea!
Pointing out where I lived in Japan

Kennedy Center Tour and Free Concerts

2700 F Street, NW

This is one of the best little discoveries I made after I first moved to D.C. all those years ago. You can take a guided tour of this beautiful venue and its various performance halls. Then don’t forget to come back each and every night at 6:00pm for a FREE concert! Be sure to click the link above to find out what performances are happening when you’re in town.

Hall of Nations, on the Kennedy Center Tour
Chandelier in one of the many performance halls

Women’s Titanic Memorial

1425 4th Street, SW; at 4th and P Streets

This memorial, largely forgotten, stands at 1425 4th Street, SW. This memorial was created and funded by American women as a memorial to the men who sacrificed their lives so that the women and children onboard the doomed ship could survive. It’s a lovely setting and worth making the trip to see it if you have any interest in major historical events or sea travel!

The inscription reads: “To the brave men who perished in the wreck of the Titanic April 15, 1912. They gave their own lives that women and children might be saved.”

Maine Avenue Fish Market

1100 Maine Avenue, SW

This is a really cool fish market! It is the oldest continuously operating fish market in the country (older than the one in New York), and you can come here for fresh crab, oysters, fish, and more! It’s a fun setting because it’s such a local favorite. And now you know about it, too. This one may not be too obscure for long. There is a lot of development happening in this waterfront area!

Fresh Catch of the Day!

Capitol Summerhouse

Northwest Corner of the Capitol Grounds

Who knew there was a quaint, peaceful summerhouse on the Capitol lawn? I just recently found out myself! This is for you, a visitor to D.C. and the Capitol, because a chief complaint from early visitors was that there was no place to sit or have a drink of water nearby. There are shaded benches inside to accommodate up to 22 people, and there are now three drinking fountains waiting for you. The original fountain is there for display as well!

Summerhouse with fountain
Benches in the shade!

The Garfield Monument

First Street and Maryland Avenue, NW (East of the Capitol Building)

No, not a monument to Garfield the Cat! This is for President James A. Garfield. Actually, I never knew it was there until my brother asked me about it when he came to D.C. for a visit! Garfield only served as president four months before he was assassinated, but he lived an accomplished life before that. The three figures at the bottom symbolize his accomplishments as a teacher; in his military career; and as a congressman, senator, and president. You’re already at the Capitol, so stop by and give him a look!

President James A. Garfield

Mary Surratt House

604 H Street, NW

It’s not just an iffy sushi restaurant! The townhouse at 604 H Street, NW, was once the alleged site of Mary Surratt’s boarding house. Surratt was a Southern sympathizer who lived and owned a boarding house in Washington, D.C., and though her involvement was never firmly proven, her son and John Wilkes Booth may have conspired here to assassinate President Lincoln. It’s proximity to Ford’s Theatre is a bit shocking–just four blocks. She has gone down in history as the first woman hanged in the United States. And now her house is an iffy sushi place in Chinatown.

Mary Surratt House: AKA Wok and Roll
Plaque on the building

Temperance Fountain

678 Indiana Avenue, NW

D.C. might have the highest wine consumption per capita in the nation, but there were (and still are!) some tee-totalers in town! And this fountain at 678 Indiana Avenue, NW, is proof. There were many temperance fountains in the United States before and during prohibition (including on Block Island, Rhode Island!), and the idea was that if people had access to clean water (which many cities did not have, and which was a reason in favor of drinking alcohol), people would not be tempted to quench their thirst in saloons and similar establishments. It didn’t work. But the fountain still stands! Now the closest watering hole is the Starbucks across the street.

Temperance Fountain

Jefferson Pier Marker

Northwest corner of the Washington Monument Hill

I love this one. Back before the official Prime Meridian spot was chosen in Greenwich, England, Thomas Jefferson intended for the center line of the world to run north-to-south right through D.C. It makes sense that Jefferson would push for that, being a surveyor himself as well as the son of a surveyor. The idea didn’t take off, but we did win the War, so I think we got the better end of the deal!

What might’ve been the Prime Meridian!
Read next: D.C. for History Lovers

Are you ready for an obscure tour of D.C.? I hope you enjoy some of these sites! For all you need to know about visiting D.C. and more, check out my dedicated Washington, D.C. Page!

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3 responses to “What to Do Off the Beaten Path in D.C.”

  1. […] Don’t miss this one! This is the famed portrait of George Washington that First Lady Dolley Madison and her trusted servant Paul Jennings rescued from the White House while the British burned it down around them in August 1814. (Want to know more about the burning of Washington and where the Madisons lived in the meantime? Check out the Octagon House featured in Obscure DC!) […]

  2. […] Want to venture out to off-the-beaten-path locales? Check out Obscure DC! […]

  3. […] to know even more obscure facts and sites in D.C.? Check out Obscure DC! Want to explore all my material on my adopted hometown? Check out the Washington, D.C., section of […]

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