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Inside Washington: Unique DC Attractions

The city of Washington, DC is a treasure trove of history and culture. LeafCanoer, searchingforyourzen, recently visited the city and shared his experiences in his leaf, “Washington DC – In A Day!” The capitol city of the United States, DC is home to well-known attractions like the White House, the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, and even the Vietnam Memorial. Many visitors know about the free Smithsonian Museums, like the National Air and Space Museum and the Natural History Museum. And places like the National Zoo and Arlington National Cemetery are common stops for visitors to the city. But there are also a number of unique DC attractions that every visitor should see, to really get a feel for the city. Here are our picks for exploring a different side of DC.

Washington monument

Ben’s Chili Bowl
A longtime institution in DC is Ben’s Chili Bowl, which has been serving up soulful chili since 1958. Located on U Street, Ben’s Chili Bowl has served everyone from foreign dignitaries and the President, to the everyday person off the street. Ben’s Chili Bowl is a great starting off point for exploring the rest of U Street and its surroundings, which was once a hot spot for jazz legends like Nat King Cole, Miles Davis, and Duke Ellington. The area surrounding Ben’s Chili Bowl and U Street was also once the cultural center of DC’s African American community, and is still a great place to catch a music show.

C&O Canal
The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, known as the C&O Canal, runs from DC’s Georgetown neighborhood all the way into parts of West Virginia and Maryland. Once intended to connect Chesapeake Bay with the Ohio River, the C&O Canal was never fully finished. But it did serve as a transporter of coal from the Allegheny Mountains into Washington, DC. Visitors can walk or bike along the canal, and explore the old buildings of Georgetown.

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Gravelly Point Park
For those wanting a more exhilarating experience, Gravelly Point Park, along the George Washington Memorial Parkway, is a popular spot to explore. Here, visitors and locals alike can experience the rush of watching jet planes take off and land from DC’s Reagan National Airport, located right next to the park.

Mount Vernon
For another unique and historic attraction, spend the day in Mount Vernon, the home of George and Martha Washington. Located 17 miles south of DC, Mount Vernon is an expansive estate that has been well-preserved and well-maintained. Visitors can take a tour of its grounds any time of the year, and catch a glimpse of what life was like for America’s first president.

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Ford’s Theatre
DC is also full of lesser known historical sites. One such site is Ford’s Theatre, where President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. Visitors to Ford’s Theatre can take a guided tour of the still functioning theater, and learn about its significance in American history. They can also stay to watch one of their many entertaining theatrical performances.

Theodore Roosevelt Island
The city of Washington, DC has many parks and green spaces for relaxing and exploring. Roosevelt Island, located along the Potomac River, below the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Bridge on Highway 66, is the perfect place for an urban retreat. The island is accessible by foot from the Mount Vernon Trail, just off of the George Washington Memorial Parkway. The 88.5 acre island, which is considered a national park, has a number of trails for visitors to walk, jog, or run through, and is home to a variety of wild birds. Canoeing and kayaking are also popular activities on the island during the summer time.

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These are just a few of our picks for unique DC attractions. The city is overflowing with places to see and things to do, and it’s impossible to fit into one single list. Even locals who have lived in the city for years haven’t seen it all! For more ideas of what to see and do in Washington, DC, read more of searchingforyourzen’s leaf, or download the LeafCanoe app for more travel ideas.

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Zion National Park Highlights

Nothing says summer like spending time in the great outdoors. With the temperatures getting warmer, and the official start of summer just weeks away, now is the right time to start thinking of where to go for that perfect outdoor getaway. Leafcanoer, Daijie, has plenty of suggestions for places to experience the outdoors. One such place is Zion National Park, which Daijie shares in her leaf titled, “Zion Family Adventure.”

Zion National Park is located near Springdale, Utah, in the Southwestern part of the United States. It covers an area of 229 square miles, and features geological highlights like a 15 mile long and half mile deep canyon called Zion Canyon, freestanding arches, and a tributary of the Colorado River called Virgin River. Popular among avid hikers and day trippers alike, Zion National Park offers beautiful views, and an abundance of outdoor activities to keep any visitor happy and satisfied.

Zion National Park - Canyon Overlook

History
Zion National Park has a long and varied history. The first people to have inhabited the area that is now part of Zion were called the Anasazi. Known to be the ancestors of the Pueblo Native Americans, the Anasazi lifestyle centered on agriculture and the cultivation of crops. Despite being in the middle of the desert, Zion offered three things that made farming in the area ideal: a level area for growing crops, a river, and an adequate growing season. After years of living off the land, however, drought and overuse led the Anasazi to move southeast. Subsequent inhabitants of Zion have come and gone, including the Paiute people, as well as European and American settlers.  All of these people had to cope with the harshness of the desert climate and landscape. For visiting history buffs, there are archaeological sites that exist throughout Zion, allowing visitors to catch a glimpse of what life was like for the early inhabitants of this area.

Highlights
Zion National Park’s diverse natural landscape, formed from 250 million years of changing climates and geography, draws millions of visitors each year, making it one of the most visited national parks in the United States. The park contains geological features ranging from high plateaus, deep sandstone canyons, rivers, springs, and waterfalls. There are also 2,000 foot Navajo sandstone cliffs. Over 1,000 plant species exist in Zion, including prickly pears, cholla, and yucca. Among the wildlife that live at the park are 67 species of mammals, 29 species of reptiles, 7 species of amphibians, 9 species of fish, and 207 species of birds, according to the National Park’s website.

Zion National Park - Canyoneering

Popular activities for visitors to Zion include backpacking, camping, canyoneering, climbing, and hiking. The park offers 90 miles of trails for backpacking and hiking. There are 37 designated backpacking sites and three campgrounds for drive up camping. For canyoneering and hiking, The Narrows is a great spot to spend the day. Covering the narrowest section of Zion Canyon, the Narrows has a small section that is paved, while the rest of the hike involves wading through the Virgin River. Another popular hike, for the more advanced hiker, is The Subway, a strenuous 9 mile hike that involves route finding, creek crossing, rappelling, and scrambling over boulders.

Another highlight of Zion National Park is Kolob Canyons, which is located 40 miles north of Zion Canyon and 17 miles south of Cedar City. The canyons offer scenic views, which visitors can see along a five-mile drive through Kolob Canyons Road. For a more up close and personal view, visitors to Kolob Canyons can choose to hike the canyons, or go further into the wilderness for backpacking.

Whether visiting for a day trip, or coming for a multi-day camping trip, Zion National Park offers something for everyone. With its beautiful landscape and scenic hikes, Zion National Park is worth a visit at any time of the year.

Zion National Park - The Narrows

Looking for more travel ideas for the summer? Download the LeafCanoe app and see what other Leafcanoers have to say.

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Give NYC theater venues a closer look

The shows inside New York’s theaters are the real draw, but many of these venues are a sight to see alone. Draped in historical significance and beautiful design, theaters that hold Broadway shows, intimate products and even the occasional movie are well worth taking a peek during a trip to Manhattan. Some even have tours specifically for the drama buffs and architectural aficionados.

The Beacon Theater

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See rock and roll at its finest at the Beacon. It’s been the venue for recent Tony Awards and hosts a wide variety of concerts, such as The Allman Brothers and Duran Duran. The marquee shines bright, covered in old style flashbulbs. Some call it the ‘older sister’ to Radio City Music Hall. It has a deep history dating back to the 1920s that began with operas and musicals, especially because it boasts impeccable acoustics.

59E59

The layout of this venue is not the most impressive, but its three different theaters allow for a wonderfully intimate and unique show experience is such a large and chaotic city. Escape the streets and duck into this space, famous for its off-Broadway performances. Each space only holds a hundred or so guests, so they can have a truly immersive experience and connect with the actors. While big, flashy shows are thrilling, many wander to 59E39 for a different kind of performance.

David H. Koch Theater

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Ballet lovers and fans of classic performing arts will want to catch a show at this special area near the Lincoln Center. Since the 1960s, it’s been an iconic figure downtown, with an impressive front façade of white columns and a dramatic fountain area. Inside, note the elegant marble flooring and golf-leaf ceilings – an environment that warrants wearing your Sunday best for one of the spectacular shows on the bill. This is the official venue for the New York City Ballet.

The Ziegfeld

This is the place for flicks in the city that gives movie-goers a sense of the old school viewing pleasures. Covered in stunning red accents, chandeliers and sporting comfy seats, the features are limited and the space is often reserved for special events. Arrive a little early to admire the ambiance and watch the light fall for the film. Find it right on 6th Avenue for a perfect way to spend a rainy afternoon escaping reality.

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A journey to the top of the Empire State Building

Travelers know they have really made it to Manhattan when they view it from above at the top of the Empire State Building. While it’s no longer the tallest or most modern around, it holds true to its roots and is well recognized worldwide for being a feat of 20th century design.

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What to Expect

Access is right on 5th avenue and towers over guests that enter through the glittering gold lobby. There are some lines inside and places to buy tickets for the observation deck. Travelers can get authentic souvenirs inside as well, but these can be bought more affordably on the streets too. People from all over the world come here, so it’s most likely you will where dozens of different languages talking excitedly about the experience. There is a security check too, so wear removable jackets and keep belongings to a minimum to streamline the process.

Who Will Love It

Anyone on a first or 50th visit to New York City can’t help but be blown away by the incredible panoramic views offered from the 86th and 102th floor. There are other decks to see the city from, but this is the best by far. It’s centrally located and easy to get to as well. Movie buffs will have a blast remembering countless scenes filmed at this location, including Sleepless in Seattle, Elf, King Kong and Bright Lights, Big City.

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Who Will Be Disappointed

It’s hard to be let down at a place with so much architectural beauty and history. But it can be tough to keep track of children on the observation deck, which can lead to a little stress. Tickets are very overpriced, due to its iconic popularity, so it can cost a family a couple of hundred dollars just to reach the top deck. When on a budget, this might want to be avoided, but the lobby space is free to visit.

Travel Tips

As this is one of the top places to visit in Manhattan, travelers will often have to battle long lines and grumpy staff members. However, after the sun goes down, the lines great diminish and the observation is almost clear. Have kids take a nap and bring everyone straight to the top after 9PM for great nighttime views and less hassle. In addition, buy tickets in advance to avoid lines further and zoom right to the top.

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Manhattan’s hottest summer festivals

When the heat goes up in the city, the crowds hit the streets and start enjoying some of the amazing outdoor festivities. There might not be anyone other place in the world that has such a wide variety of events in the summer available to the public, whether you’re a local living in NYC for years or just popping over for the weekend. No matter if you are into unusual gathering or prefer to see exquisite culture, there is something for everyone.

Museum Mile Festival

Some travelers in New York City have to decide which museums they want to squeeze into their visit due to the often pricey entrance fee. But every year on the first Tuesday in June, nine of these prestigious establishments open their doors along “Museum Mile” for one free evening. Walk from the Guggenheim Museum up to the National Academy of Design, then finish at the International Center of Photography. Or, pick your own personalized route, as the path is closed down to all traffic.

Downtown NYC River to River Festival

As the largest free arts festival in New York City history, this event has a reputation to bring the best of the best performers to the masses. It’s impossible to see everyone in one visit, so visitors to the event can pick and choose their favorites, whether they’re interested in live theater, art installations, music and more.

Harlem Dances

Companies specializing in the art of dance throughout Harlem will be offering guests the chance to see some free shows in the West Harlem Piers Park. Broadway tickets can cost a pretty penny, so this can be the perfect way to see some up and coming stars steal the show. It will be part of the bigger Summer on the Hudson arts and culture festival this July.

Downward Dog Days of Summer

This is not exactly a festival, but still is a free escape toward health and wellness for anyone willing to participate. In Gansevoort Plaza, located in the Meatpacking District, several instructors throughout the summer will offer free outdoor yoga classes. Even a mat is provided to participants, as well as a refreshing, fun way to focus and get into shape. Part of an ongoing initiative throughout Manhattan, visitors and locals in the area are sure to discover many free fitness events to try in the sunshine all summer long.

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Take time to explore these top strange NYC museums

A mecca of sort for museum lovers, Manhattan has some of the best cultural and artistic hotspots to explore in the world. But after visitors have checked out the Guggenheim, MoMA, and the Natural History museum, what else is there to see? Travelers may be surprised to know that there are countless hidden surprises all over Manhattan are and in the boroughs that specialize in quirky, thrilling and strange exhibits open to the public.

Paradise for math geeks

Some people might find math overwhelming, or have memories of boring classes in their childhood. However, visitors in NYC can rekindle an interest for this fascinating hobby by enjoying a walk through the Museum of Mathematics. There are countless interactive exhibits to lean from, great for kids and adults with a curious mind. Ride bikes with square wheels, solve puzzles, create math art or try some graphic design – the possibilities are endless.

Bringing the outside indoors

This might be one of the most usual museums around, simply for its minimalist approach to contemporary art. Called The New York Earth Room, this installation is located on Wooster Street and is the brain child of progressive artist Walter De Maria. He has moved roughly 280,000 pounds of soil into a clean, white space, sectioned off by see-through glass panels. The effect blends together man-made architecture and natural beauty.

A tiny window into an odd world

No matter what time of day it is, people can take a peek at the space simply called “Museum”. In an alley between Franklin and White Street, there is a small space dedicated to showcasing weird and wonderful found items from all over the world. On the weekends, guests are invited to take a closer look at things like toothpaste tubes, mars rocks, tip jars and marked up currency when the doors are open. Any other time, people can view the display through streetside windows.

Hands-on tech fun

Seeing exhibits can be fascinating, but it’s also great to be able to touch and explore new and interesting concepts. Through a free initiative, the Sony Wonder Technology Lab is a space devoted to tech exploration. Peer inside a working video game console, or touch interactive walls that respond to light and temperature. The museum is popular and space fills fast, so reserving free tickets ahead of time is advised.

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Tastiest brunch spots in Manhattan

For such a bustling city like New York, the locals still have an affinity for taking things slow when they can. This is most prevalent on easy Sunday mornings, where many people take to the streets and local restaurants to indulge in a long and lazy brunch. This tradition is carried out by everyone – families order pancakes piled high with candied and syrup, while twenty-somethings often cure their headaches form the night before with unlimited mimosas often included with the meal. Each popular, famous or cozy establishment has its own personality, so it can be well worth the time for travelers to try a few on their next NYC visit.

Choosing a brunch style

It’s really an art form when it comes to eating out on late weekend mornings. Calling ahead for reservations is almost always advisable, due to its popularity all over the city. If interested in unique libations with a meal, ask about included drinks. Or, if trying to impress family and friends, decide on a spot that has a wide variety of selections and some memorable eats. Many establishment will also run specials during restaurant week or have daily deals online to sweeten the deal even more.

Top picks for brunch in NYC

Ilili – American-style brunch may be a classic choice, but sometimes travelers will want to stray from the norm. This stylish eatery offers delectable Lebanese cuisine that’s still include staples like eggs, but they are coddled and prepared instead with fresh spices and sides. Bunch deals also come with a standard mimosa, or guests can sip some tart pomegranate cava, or sparkling wine.

Back Forty West – People who hate making decisions should head straight for this restaurant. On weekend mornings, the pro chef presents a special tasting option that allows patrons to sample many delicious things on the menu at once.

DBDG – Here you can order a stack of pancakes, or go for a more lunch-like brunch, complete with juicy burger sliders and fries. Having a light dinner the night before can be best, as the not-to-be-missed prix fixe menu includes a basket of fresh pastries and a ice cream dessert to finish.

Cafecito Bogota We had to include a great Brooklyn spot as well, as this funky neighborhood as just as much to offer as Manhattan. With a decidedly Latin flair and three free refills on your brunch cocktail, this place more suited sapping stories form the night before than a tranquil meal. Savor poached eggs in passion fruit sauce with South American salami or any of the other filling options.

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Top 4 New York City scavenger hunt tours

To get a real feel of a city atmosphere, travelers will want to look high, low and at everything in between as to not miss a thing. But if a visitor is in the city and doesn’t know where to look for hidden gems, unique landmarks and points of interest, where should they turn?

The best way to have a blast in New York is through a classic, bona-fide scavenger hunt, just like we have when we were young. Luckily, there are several amazing groups who have already done all the hard work and simply invite people to partake in the wildest tours offered throughout the city.

Credit: Accomplice

Interact and be a part of a New York show

Blending together a love of adventure and a passion for theater. The gurus at Accomplice are so good, you won’t know if the person next to you is an actor or a tourist. Groups of ten stroll through the streets, uncovering clues and marks at neighborhood bars, iconic spots, alleyways and more to make it through to the end result where the genius behind the excursions are revealed. Thousands have experience the idea and liken it to being in a live action movie or play that lets you see the more unusual sides of downtown Manhattan.

Credit: Watson Adventures

Hunt your way through NY’s famous attractions

Anyone can walk through a museum, but what if you were on a specific quest to find the strangest and most hidden secrets at the attraction? Watson Adventures has some of the most fascinatingly themed ventures in the city, with event revolving around eating in Chinatown, playing a murder mystery game at the Met, and even a scavenger hunt inside Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum. You can even organize a private hunt for a special occasion, just for the kids, birthday parties and more through this professional and innovate group.

Credit: City Hunt

Combine business and pleasure with a scavenger hunt

If you are organizing an upcoming trip to NYC for business, a convention or special interest group, why not break the ice with an intensely fun scavenger event hosted by City Hunt? This team specializes in more corporate events, but are happy to work with you on any project involving your group that wants to have a good time while in town. In New York they do also hold public hunts on the regular, some of which are for charity and other good causes.

Credit: Stay Boots

Venture out on your own with your phone

While classic hunts are all the rage, the Stray Boots company is encouraging participants to also use modern technology. Users download a special program onto their phone so they can begin the journey at their leisure, choosing between hunts through Wall Street, Little Italy, a bar crawl in Soho or a jaunt through a famous museum. You send in answers to questions asks along the way and earn points to beat your top score, making discoveries throughout Manhattan more enjoyable than ever before.

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Feel like a movie star on a unique Central Park tour

It goes without saying that the skyline of New York City has been used in countless feature films. The iconic layout of the bustling streets is easily recognizable in everything from action flicks to romantic comedies. When travelers visit Manhattan and hope to spot their favorite movie scene backgrounds, it can get overwhelming knowing where to begin.

Fortunately, the plucky staff at Must See Central Park have designed a customized tour to help guests get an insider’s look at one particular filming hotspot in the city – the massive 843 acre sprawl of green. The natural beauty and urban style of Central Park has made creative types flock to it’s gorgeous landscaping and walkways full of interesting people.

Credit: The Movie Picture Database

This excursion can be the perfect place to start when hoping to catch a glimpse of New York’s cinematic splendor. Each tour takes place inside a pedicab, allowing for the best views of each landmark at a leisurely pace. Guides pedal travelers along the winding pathways to glide past countless movie backdrops over the last few decades. See an area featured in the blockbuster Independence Day, or the famous Bethesda Fountain that was used in the Disney movie Enchanted. Feel transported back in time at the Boathouse Cafe where Harry Met Sally, or see The Mall where part of Vanilla Sky was shot.

Each movie adventure lasts one or two hours and is always led by a licensed New York City guide. The cabs can fit one to three people, with frequent stops for questions and photos. Even if guest take this tour several times, the stops and highlights are constantly updated to keep things fresh and relevant to the modern movie fan. No matter what time of year travelers head to Manhattan, they can check this tour out and enjoy it rain or shine.

A Must See Central Park tour is the ideal romantic date to impress your loved one, a fun family outing or even a great way to get a feel for the area when traveling solo. Not only can travelers explore famous film scenes, but it can also be a fantastic way to map out the park for a future visit and to scope out the perfect picnic spot.

Credit: The Movie Picture Database

Interested in other movie tours while in Manhattan? There are many options throughout the city travelers can indulge after their Central Park excursion. Guests can take a bus with the Screen Tours company to catch a glimpse of the hotel used in The Devil Wears Prada or the diner in Chelsea from Men in Black II. Or if tourists adore the Sex and the City TV show and movies, they can experience a full tour by bus, booked through the New York Sightseeing website.

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