Don’t fear the cliché: Monuments at night and other D.C. traditions
Unlike most students moving to universities in rural areas and college towns, we at AU have the advantage of having Washington, D.C., at our fingertips. It’s easy to get stuck staying safe on campus and claim you’ve lived the “District” experience, but until you step foot out of Tenleytown, you’re only hurting yourself. Here’s a guide to make sure you live up to your full D.C. potential with some of the few absolutely quintessential (and mostly free because we’re broke) things to do before you graduate, no matter how overdone they may seem.
Visit the monuments at night
For the first year of your college experience, it is almost 100 percent guaranteed that you will visit the monuments. It is also nearly 100 percent guaranteed that every time a friend visits from home, they will request to see said monuments. Some may consider it trite, but it’s a necessary evil, and honestly, a lot more fun than some of your more pretentious classmates may have you believe.
However, if you’re going to see the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial on the Mall for the 30th time, do yourself a favor and head out after the sun goes down. There’s something simply whimsical (and not to mention beautiful), about seeing the lights shine on the massive structures once the city turns dark. Everything seems a bit more ethereal, so it feels slightly more like you have the place to yourself. You can take photos to share with your pals from home and add it to your “First Semester in the District!!!” photo album that is required by AU freshman law to upload to Facebook after the first few weeks in the city.
Note: No matter how overdone it is, it is absolutely required to take a picture of yourself pointing up at your home state at the World War II Memorial.
Attend a protest
Upon your first return home, whether over fall, Thanksgiving or winter break, one overanxious, eager aunt or uncle will be at your side grilling you about all the political goings-on in the world, testing to see if your presence in the nation’s capital has at all improved your knowledge of foreign affairs. By attending a protest, you can, not only rock out with people as passionate as yourself about something, but also have ammunition for all the blood relatives testing the extent of your D.C. experiences. (Be prepared to defend the topic of the actual protest you went to, as it is more than likely on a subject they do not agree with.) As college students, it is our duty to fight the man, and nothing feels quite as District-y as doing so in Lafayette Park across from the White House, with a bandanna on your head and poster in hand.
Do free, artsy stuff downtown
D.C. is full of fun free things to do that only require money for the Metro ride. The go-to free activity in the city is touring all of the museums in the Smithsonian Institution. You can look at the Hope Diamond and Tyrannosaurus Rex fossils at the Museum of Natural History, or Amelia Earhart’s historical plane at the National Air and Space Museum or go gawk at some of the Muppets or Superman’s cape at the Museum of American History. If exhibits aren’t really your style, the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage has a free performance at 6 p.m. every day, ranging from esteemed jazz performances to middle school choirs. The stage is beautiful and the performances are lovely, and definitely something everyone should head to once, if only to make yourself feel a bit classier. If cultural experiences are more of your thing, D.C. has several street festivals throughout the year with live music and food vendors selling to thousands of people across numerous city blocks. The Japanese Street Festival, which follows the National Cherry Blossom festival every spring (also something every student should go to at least once), has everything from anime carts to Dance Dance Revolution stands to made-to-order sushi merchants. If hipster stuff is more your style, there’s always the Crafty Bastards Arts and Crafts Fair in Adams Morgan, or, if you’re more of a thrift shopper, the weekly flea market at Eastern Market.
Don’t be afraid to be cliché — take a picture with Lincoln, grab food at Ben’s Chili Bowl, picnic on the Mall and get a deep focus picture of a cherry blossom with the Jefferson Memorial in the background. Get off campus and get into the city, one District staple at a time.
Plus, once you’ve visited and done the typical and necessary D.C. stuff, it’s easier to be pretentious about all the underground clubs “no one else knows about” later in your college experience.