We won’t say “don’t go there,” but if you have any choice, there are nicer times to be in Washington, DC, other than January, typically its coldest month all year.
“Snow Cripples Inaugural City” was the headline the day John F. Kennedy was sworn in.
But if you are intent on heading to our nation’s capital on January 20, here’s what you need to know:
The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies is releasing advisories on a regular basis up to Inauguration Day, January 20.
They warn, “Getting to the swearing-in ceremonies that morning will be very difficult because of the large crowds. In addition to the 240,000 ticketed guests, a million or more people are expected to view the inauguration from the National Mall between 4th Street and the Lincoln Memorial, along with hundreds of thousands of others who plan on watching the Inaugural parade down Pennsylvania Avenue.”
The city’s inauguration Web sites claim to guarantee the most up-to-date information on events and travel alerts.
DC Government site: http://www.inauguration.dc.gov/index.asp
DC Tourism site: http://www.washington.org/
Official inauguration activities will span a four-day period, beginning with a welcome ceremony on Sunday, January 18 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The event will be free and open to the public. A day of service on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, January 19 follows. A list of projects can be found at http://app.cncs.dc.gov/mlkday/viewprojects.asp.
A prayer service will be held at the National Cathedral on January 21. www.nationalcathedral.org.
There are 240,000 free tickets available for this event on the lawn of the Capitol. Members of Congress and a few other groups get tickets automatically. The remaining tickets are divided among lawmakers to distribute to constituents. Tickets must be picked up in person from your congressperson’s office. If you can’t score a seat, large screens will be set up along the National Mall.
After the swearing-in, the new President and Vice President travel on Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol to the White House, surrounded by marching bands, military units, performers, and plenty of security. Jimmy Carter was the first President to walk the entire route. Weather permitting, President Obama may follow suit. This event is free and open to the public, no tickets required. No one can begin lining up before 7 am. Viewing stands and bleachers have been set up between 3rd and 17th Streets.
The eight official inaugural balls, like the Commander-in-Chief Ball for reserve and active duty military, require an invite. If yours is lost in the mail, you might consider the inaugural luau at the Hotel Monaco, a party for kids at the Historical Society of Washington, DC, or the Black McDonald’s Operators Association event.
Throughout his campaign, President-Elect Obama spoke of the vision and legacy of Abraham Lincoln. On January 18, you can celebrate this 2009 inauguration at the exact location where—in 1865—Lincoln celebrated his second, at the Old Patent Office Building that now houses the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Tickets ($375 or $500) include food, entertainment, open bar, museum tours and dancing. Proceeds go to the museum.
If you aren’t hiring a car and driver, count on Metro, DC’s subway system. It has a page dedicated to Inauguration Day.
If you go to Washington, DC, for the Inauguration plus a few days, don’t miss:
National Museum of American History: DC is celebrating Lincoln’s 200th birthday through April 30; a death mask mold and the hat he wore on the night he was killed are part of the display at this beautifully renovated museum, which is intertwined with the Portrait Gallery. 8th & F Sts. NW; 202-633-1000, www.americanart.si.edu
President Lincoln’s Cottage: Restored and just opened to the public in 2008, reservations are highly recommended since admission is by guided tour only. This cottage is the most significant historic site associated with Lincoln’s Presidency aside from the White House. During the Civil War, President Lincoln and his family escaped the heat and bugs of swampy DC and lived here from June to November of 1862, 1863 and 1864. Located on a hilltop at the Armed Forces Retirement Home (AFRH) campus in northwest Washington, D.C., there is no street address. Enter through Eagle Gate at the intersection of Rock Creek Church Road NW and Upshur Street NW; 202-829-0436, www.lincolncottage.org
Sewall-Belmont House: The home of the suffrage movement, explores the evolving role of women and their often untold pursuit for equality. The museum is the headquarters of the historic National Woman’s Party and was the Washington home of its founder and Equal Rights Amendment author Alice Paul. 144 Constitution Avenue, NE; 202-546-1210, www.sewallbelmont.org
The Newseum: Plan on spending a half-day in this seven-level, 250,000-square-foot museum that honors news history with up-to-the-second technology. The exterior has a 74-foot-high marble engraving of the First Amendment and an immense glass wall through which pedestrians can catch a peek inside. Highlights include Pulitzer Prize-winning photography, a film created by the journalists that covered 9-11 in New York, and a changing display of 80 current front pages from around the U.S. 555 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.; 888-NEWSEUM (888/639-7386); www.newseum.org
For more on the Newseum, check out Newseum Commemorates Historic Election in Washington, DC.
For your culinary needs, here are three new restaurants of note:
Art and Soul: Art Smith, Oprah’s former chef, opened this eatery on Capitol Hill not too long ago, and he may end up at the White House. 415 New Jersey Ave., NW; 202-393-7777, www.artandsouldc.com
Founding Farmers recently opened on Pennsylvania Avenue, 3 blocks from the White House. Owned by a collective of family farmers, the menu features farm-to-table comfort food. 1924 Pennsylvania Avenue NW; 202-822-TRUE, www.wearefoundingfarmers.com
Bourbon Steak (in the Four Seasons at the edge of Georgetown) is a new place for a big splurge. The beef is slow-poached in clarified butter and herbs before it’s grilled over a wood fire. Celebrity chef Michael Mina says the warm marinade makes for tender and more flavorful eating. If you’re not a beef lover, East Coast seafood is also featured prominently on his menu. 2800 Pennsylvania Ave. NW; 202-342-0444, www.fourseasons.com/washington/dining/bourbon_steak.html
One classic that will surely be hopping during the Inaugural weekend is Ben’s Chili Bowl: a 50-year-old treasured dive known for half-smokes and the like, is next to the Lincoln Theater in the vibrant U Street corridor; Bill Cosby is its #1 fan. 1213 U St., NW; 202-667-0909, www.benschilibowl.com
Home to the Obama family before Blair House—and the White House, a stop at the historic Hay-Adams Hotel is becoming a must for many DC residents and visitors. You can enjoy the same view of the White House as the Obamas (almost) from The Lafayette restaurant. The hotel also has a cozy bar downstairs, called Off the Record. It’s red, dark and romantic but lacks the view. The restaurant and bar are open during the Obama residency; reservations are highly recommended. Sixteenth & H Streets, N.W.; 202-638-6600, www.hayadams.com
Dessert trends in DC include tangy yogurt and cupcakes. Try Sweetgreen for organic salads and unsweetened, unflavored yogurt. Don’t worry, they provide lots of topping options. 3333 M St. NW; 202-337-9338, www.sweetgreen.com.
Sugary treats are nearby, at the place the Washington Post crowned the best cupcake bakery in town: Georgetown Cupcake; 1209 Potomac St., NW; 202-333-8448, http://georgetowncupcake.com
By Ann Cochran for PeterGreenberg.com. DC native Ann Cochran worked in the White House Social Office during the Clinton Administration. Visit her Web site at www.annpcochran.com.
And don’t miss our Off the Brochure Travel Guide to Washington, D.C.
If you tire easily or have mobility problems, don’t miss our patriotic guide to America’s Accessible Heritage.
Need a cheap way to get to DC? Check out Evaluating One-Dollar Bus Fares From New York to DC.
And finally, if you’re not willing to brave DC’s crowds, you can still get a dose of history, heritage and government with Let’s Get Political: Presidential Libraries and Museums.