Beyond the Hill’s Concrete Confines

Take a Lunchtime Break and Explore Some Overlooked Hot Spots

Posted May 5, 2009 at 3:08pm

Correction Appended

With the weather (finally) warming up, it’s a perfect time to leave the concrete confines of Capitol Hill and enjoy that lunch hour with a quick excursion to a local hot spot.

Forget the tourist-filled halls of Union Station or that same burrito at Tortilla Coast. The neighborhood near the Capitol offers an array of overlooked (and free!) options to liven up the middle of the day.

And you might even learn something.

Canadian Embassy

Designed by Canadian architect Arthur Erickson, this mammoth modern structure is the only foreign embassy located on Pennsylvania Avenue between the Capitol and White House.

The Canadians certainly have taken advantage of their coveted spot on America’s Main Street, opening their embassy doors for tours and special exhibits.

The embassy’s current “50 Years of American Photojournalism: 1939-1989,— is perfect for an afternoon jaunt. Owned by Ryerson University in Toronto, the collection features 330 photographs taken by Americans, focusing on the civil rights movement, war and conflict, and personalities.

Open to the public 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. Exhibit runs through June 12. 501 Pennsylvania Ave. NW; 202-682-1740.

Folger Shakespeare Library

Home to the world’s largest collection of Shakespeare materials — along with an array of other rare Renaissance-era artifacts — the Folger Shakespeare Library is among Capitol Hill’s most beloved treasures.

And the library is the perfect place to take in a little culture during an early (or late) lunch hour, as docent tours are offered at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.

In fact, the library boasts a collection of 256,000 books, 60,000 manuscripts, 250,000 playbills, 200 oil paintings and 50,000 drawings. Among the Folger’s most prized possessions are its 79 copies of the 1623 First Folio, the first edition featuring a collection of Shakespeare’s plays. (A First Folio is always on permanent display.)

Open to the public 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Located at 201 E. Capitol St. SE; 202-544-4600.

Sewall-Belmont House

Not just a hot spot for evening events, the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum is open for 30-minute docent-led tours during lunchtime Wednesday through Sunday.

Visitors walk through the first two floors of the House, as guides tell the story of suffrage-era leader Alice Paul and the National Woman’s Party through the museum’s art and artifacts.

There certainly is plenty to see. The museum’s collection includes more than 100 banners and 5,000 prints and photographs from the suffrage days to the push to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, along with feminist literature, newspapers, scrapbooks, paintings and sculptures.

Other highlights include Susan B. Anthony’s desk, Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s chair and the desk used by Paul when she wrote the Equal Rights Amendment.

Open to the public noon to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. 144 Constitution Ave. NE; 202-546-1210.

Japanese American Memorial

Not looking for an outing but just feel the need to get out? Then grab lunch and have a picnic at the National Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism, which honors Japanese Americans who fought in World War II — and the 120,000 family members forced into internment camps during the conflict.

Surrounded by cherry trees, the memorial rests in a triangular space just blocks from the Senate. A Nina Akamu-designed statue of two gold-plated bronze cranes is a highlight, while a peaceful cascading pool of water sits in the center, surrounded by a pink granite wall featuring the names of the 10 internment camps and the number of people who were interned in each.

Located at the intersection of Louisiana and New Jersey avenues and D Street Northwest.

U.S. Botanic Garden

Need a break but can’t go far? The Botanic Garden is a perfect spot — it’s located just steps from the Capitol, after all.

Aside from its enchanting collection of plants, including current seasonals such as red and yellow tulips, tropical dwarf papaya and gardenia, the garden also offers an array of exhibitions that study everything from endangered species to the unique fauna found on the islands of Hawaii.

Our favorite exhibit? “The New Age of Chocolate,— which runs through August and studies the health benefits, flavors and ways to create a sustainable harvest of the beloved rain forest crop.

Open to the public 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Main entrance located at 100 Maryland Ave. SW; 202-225-8333.

U.S. Supreme Court

OK, so listening to an hourlong legal proceeding on telecommunications law might not make for a riveting lunch hour. But the history and architecture of the iconic marble building is actually quite fascinating, and worth a trip across First Street.

Did you know, for example, that the panels on the bronze doors of the court’s west front depict important moments in the history of law? (King John attaching his seal to the Magna Carta is among them, for example.) Or that construction of the building came in so under budget that $94,000 in appropriations was returned to the Treasury Department?

While getting into an actual oral argument can be tricky — seats are given on a first-come, first-serve basis — visitors can tour the building itself throughout the day without reservations. And free lectures are offered on the half-hour when the court is not in session.

Open to the public 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays, excluding federal holidays. Located at 1 First St. NE; 202-479-3211.

Correction: May 7, 2009

The article implied the roofdeck of the Canadian Embassy is open to the public. It is not.