By Janelle K. Eagle
In eighth grade, I traveled to Washington D.C. on a school trip with my classmates. We placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington Cemetery, climbed the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, drove by the White House and had many conversations that attempted to put what we were learning in our American History courses into practical application. I barely remember that trip beyond the fact that it was one of the first times I traveled without my parents.
A couple decades later, I’ve visited Washington D.C. on a number of occasions. A gay wedding. An advocacy trip with American Jewish World Service to get the International Violence Against Women Act passed. And this time – a straight (and Indian!) wedding with my girlfriend who was visiting our Nation’s capitol for the first time. I felt excited by the idea of revisiting the city with fresh perspective and enthusiasm for this hotbed of patriotism.
To be honest – I don’t always have a positive association when I think about politics. I was taught it’s a taboo dinner table topic and knowing that I’ve been home grown in Cali also makes me hyper aware that if I travel, I’m bound to be a bit left of anyone I come into contact with. I’m prone to the same frustrations many of us feel that the Congress is stuck in an egotistical stalemate, that the courts are behind the times in granting us the freedoms and protections we deserve, and that democracy is at risk when so many outside influences and big spenders can interfere with the system with their pocketbooks. Color me slightly pessimistic with a sliver of hope that we’ll soon learn that the Supreme Court will protect our right to marry whom we love, regardless of what state we live or tie the knot in.
Despite my harrumphy-slant, there is something deliciously sexy about the ideals of democracy and justice. The vision of Washington D.C. as an anchor of opportunity for these very ideals is a bit infectious. While trolling with the gorgeous Spring breeze, past crowds of kickball-playing adults on the National Mall, and to the steps of monuments that commemorate change-makers such as Lincoln and Martin Luther King, you can’t help but appreciate that this very city is a home where major strides for peace and equality have been taken. Certainly there are many more strides to be taken.
What is particularly wonderful about these major monuments (and MOST museums!) is that entrance is free – a word everyone likes to hear (except Google spam filters). In Washington D.C., however, there is so much to do that is free, you may catch yourself getting confused when someone does actually charge you.
We walked from the White House to the Washington Monument, past the World War II Memorial, along the Reflection Pool (cue Forrrrrressssst!), up the stairs of the Lincoln Memorial and the anchor of the “I Have a Dream” speech and over to the MLK Memorial in less than an hour and a half. If you don’t have a lot of cash, you can pull up Wikipedia on your phone and have Siri inform you that the Washington Monument was halted in construction for over a decade and as a result, there are two different tones of bricks in its façade. Or if you are a Shonda Rhimes fan, you can envision yourself having a deeply profound and long monologue with Scandal’s Olivia Pope on one of the iconic benches along the waterfront. All are truly within walking distance and if you come in the springtime like we did, you’ll be treated to some gorgeous weather and a refreshing breeze.
If walking is a bit much, Uber is new in D.C. – however, I would venture there aren’t enough drivers yet, so there are often “peak pricing” times that we saw go as high as 2.4 times the normal price.
Public transportation is exemplary and on point, nonetheless. If you’re going to be in town for a couple days or more, it may be worth getting a “Smart Trip” card, which is indeed very smart. Able to be loaded and reloaded with travel funds, this Metro card also gives you a discount on each leg of your travels. I got mine right at the DCA airport and took the Metro all the way into town with my full-size luggage and landed just a few blocks from my hotel without ease. We stayed at the W, which was not only gay-friendly, but PERFECTLY located to walk to almost all monuments and museums.
One museum that is not free, but absolutely worth its entrance fee of $23 is the Newseum. Visiting this museum is profound in an age when we are consumed by media. This interactive multi-floor space is modern, well-curated and full of some of the most impactful images and storytelling moments of the modern day. With video and photography that is visually assaulting at times, you are certain to have a moving experience at exhibits such as the “Pulitzer Prize Photographs” or the “9/11 Gallery.” Pick yourself backup by watching kids play newscaster in the interactive “NBC News Interactive Newsroom” or the “First Dogs” exhibit. The top floor balcony provides some incredible views of the nearby monuments and is also home to a cool display of today’s paper from news outlets across the globe. Bring your AAA membership card for 10 percent off – a discount also offered to those with a military ID.
For a specifically queer-friendly experience, I recommend the following:
- Phase 1 – the oldest continually operating lesbian bar in the U.S. has been renovated and features ladies nights (for the 18+) crowd – and $2.50 PBRs!
- JR’s Bar and Grill. Featuring a Showtunes Sing-a-Long on Monday nights, you’ll also enjoy no cover charge and pints for just $3 from 8 p.m. to close.
- The Adams Morgan area has fun shops including Idle Time Books or Smash Records for some music memorabilia.
- At the Duplex Diner (also in Adams Morgan), there is an “M is for Mondays” night in which menu items starting with M such as margaritas, merlot, mussels, meatloaf, and mac and cheese are all 50-percent off before 10 p.m.
- If you can’t miss a workout, join DC Front Runners, a running, walking and social club for gay people that meets twice weekly for a fun run followed by socializing.
- Check out the work of emerging artists at Gallery Plan B on 14th Street
- Hang with a predominantly African American crowd at The Fireplace. On Wednesdays, rail drinks and domestic beer are $3 all day and night.
- You can also gather the gang and watch a sporting event at Nellie’s, DC’s first gay sports bar. Wednesday-night trivia is tres popular, so get there early.
It may not be the destination that comes to mind when pondering East Coast vacation spots – but with the mix of gay-friendly progressive culture, super affordable (and mostly free!) sites, and its walkability score – D.C. has plenty to offer.
Janelle K. Eagle is a TV Producer based in Los Angeles, CA. She is an out-and-proud traveler who also happens to be Queer and Jewish. She is one of GayTravel.com’s Celebrity Gay Travel Gurus and is on social media as @journeywithjanelle.