Escape DC Without Leaving Town By Visiting These 8 Places

You could use a break.

Once in a while, a quick escape from the norm is necessary. Take into consideration the year we’re all having -- one which can only be described time and time again as “unprecedented,” and the desire to escape only grows. Despite travel not being an option for many right now, there are still ways to get that quick but oh-so-sweet break from reality right now, without even leaving the DMV. With that in mind, we pulled together a list of our favorite places for escapism -- from secret gardens to spooky spaces -- that are all right here in DC (or extremely close by).

Alexandria, Virginia
Take a short drive into Old Town Alexandria in neighboring Virginia and you’ll feel as if you have been transported to a different time in history. Walk down rustic cobblestone streets as you check out the colonial style architecture and gas-lit lamps burning in front of Alexandria’s townhouses. Make your way down to the water by way of King Street, lined with shops and restaurants. Those planning an overnight visit during autumn might even consider a spooky ghost tour to get into the Halloween spirit.

National Mall
Located within the Enid A. Haupt Garden tucked behind the Smithsonian Castle, the Moon Gate Garden is particularly magical. Designed by architect Jean Paul Carlhian, the garden was inspired by the layout of the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, China and uses a geometrical, axial design centered on the cardinal points of the compass. During springtime, pink magnolia blooms line the way into the garden.

Spanish Steps
Spanish Steps | BeyondDC/Flickr

Pretend you’re in Rome at the Spanish Steps

There’s no better feeling than stumbling upon a place that feels like a secret, and the Spanish Steps in Kalorama are just that. Their unofficial name comes from their resemblance to the original Spanish Steps in Rome, but at a much smaller, neighborhood scale. Occupying the roadways of 22nd St. NW between S and Decatur Place, the steps are tucked between a number of gorgeous flowering trees, as well as red cedars and oaks.

Victura Park
Victura Park

Foggy Bottom
Looking for the perfect picnic spot? You’ll find it in the new Victura Park at the REACH -- a new expansion of the Kennedy Center. The pop-up wine garden is a collaboration between the culinary creative team of The Hilton Brothers and Chef Erik Bruner-Yang, and features a spacious spacious manicured lawn full of picnic and café tables, shade umbrellas, and green space upon which to enjoy a glass of wine while overlooking the Potomac.

National Bonsai Foundation
National Bonsai Foundation

We’ve all heard of (and seen photos of) the arboretum’s National Capitol Columns, which are also worth a stop when visiting the park, but the best kept secret is undoubtedly the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum. A serene space full of meticulously kept bonsai trees, the museum is the perfect place to escape for the afternoon. Make sure not to miss its crown jewel -- a Japanese white pine that has been “under training” since 1625, making it as old as the first colonial settlements in North America. (It even survived the atomic bomb at Hiroshima.)

Friends of Theodore Roosevelt Island
Friends of Theodore Roosevelt Island

Scope out wildlife on Theodore Roosevelt Island

Potomac River
Smack dab in the middle of the Potomac River lies Theodore Roosevelt Island, a piece of land that was turned from a neglected, overgrown farmland into a memorial to America’s 26th president in the 1930s. There, landscape architects created a forest designed to feel like the natural forest that once covered the island. Wander the island’s two-and-half miles of scenic trails, taking time to look out for possible wildlife sightings of birds such as woodpeckers, herons, and ducks.

If you’ve ever shopped around Georgetown, you’ll probably get the idea that the area has its fair share of history. In fact, it was established back in 1751 and the Old Stone House on M Street is believed to be the oldest surviving building in the entire city. The grounds of this ancient house are believed to have been used as a kitchen garden, and now, managed by the National Park Service, features beautiful fruit trees and flowering plants. It’s a scenic stop that only becomes more vibrant once autumn rolls around.

Hook Hall
Hook Hall

Park View
Missed that Hawaiian vacation this summer? Stop into the newly reinvented backyard at Hook Hall, now dubbed The Oasis. It’s grassy astroturf flooring and abundance of plants make for some major tropical getaway vibes, and private cabanas with fans are available to rent for up to six diners. Take a seat in one of their hanging chairs or on an Oktoberfest-style benches while you sip on a frozen margarita or perhaps a guava gin rickey.

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Austa Somvichian-Clausen is a freelance food and travel writer, as well as a staff writer for The Hill where she covers the topics of diversity and equality. She now lives in Brooklyn with her girlfriend and two fur babies, but called DC home for many years -- attending American University and then working for National Geographic. Follow her on Instagram.