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21 cliched D.C. attractions you must visit

Jenna Johnson

Today's guest blogger is Ilana Strauss, a junior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Ilana has interned at the Jerusalem Post, the Scripps-Howard Foundation and DailySource.org.

The end of your internship is slowly nearing, and while you have done lots of "D.C. things off the beaten path," you still haven't done many touristy things.

So, here are 21 D.C. attractions that are totally cliché, but you still need to check them out:

benschili200.jpgBen's Chili Bowl
Come here to have a wickedly delicious and satisfying meal, which you'll continue to eat even after your arteries scream for mercy. Plus, if you happen to be Obama or Bill Cosby, you get in for free! (Personally, I think the chili is a little salty. Don't tell anyone.) Photo by Bill O'Leary of The Post

whitehouse.jpgThe White House
True, you probably won't actually get inside unless you arrange for a guest pass, but you can't go to D.C. without at least looking through the gates at the president's house. Plus, lots of protesters congregate here, so there's a decent chance you'll stumble on a demonstration and witness some real news ... even if it's just two guys and a sign. Photo by Ricky Carioti of The Post

capitol.jpgThe Capitol
Representatives come here from every corner of the country to make Democracy happen. If you have an internship that allows you to get into the non-tourist section, you can witness some real members of Congress debating bills. Trust me, it's MUCH better live than on C-SPAN. Photo by Andrew Harrer of Bloomberg

The Supreme Court
Take an afternoon to go for a tour of the third branch of government. Depending on your internship, you might even get a pass to get into the courtroom itself and hear some cases being discussed. The justices are surprisingly laid-back.

zoo.jpgThe National Zoo
This one doesn't need a sales pitch. It's a zoo. There are pandas. (Tip: if you come during tourist season, I'd recommend getting off at the Cleveland Park Metro stop instead of the Woodley Park Zoo stop. It's actually closer to the entrance of the zoo than the earlier stop and you won't have to fight through hordes of tourists to get there.) Photo of Francois the bear by Mehgan Murphy of the Smithsonian Institution

kennedy.jpgKennedy Center
World-class music, plays, shows, ballets, jazz concerts and more. Students usually get huge discounts, plus there are occasionally free events. Check out their Web site to find out which artists are performing. Photo by Joan Marcus

Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
Ever wanted to be an astronaut? Well now you can pretend for a few hours. The museum takes you through the history of transportation, from stories of flight to Mars. They offer some IMAX stuff, too.

Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History
The history's all here, but personally, I'd even go for the artwork. The walls are covered in beautiful, intricate murals. Plus, a cartoon centipede wearing a bowtie explains arthropods to you on a television screen.

Smithsonian National Museum of American History
This master museum houses Dorothy's ruby slippers, Kermit the frog and the original American flag sewn by Betsy Ross herself. No matter what your cultural interests are, you'll find something here you just can't stop staring at.

Newseum
Probably the most high-tech museum in our nation's capital, the Newseum is full of sleek exhibits, interesting interactive simulations and even a 4D (that means the seats move) theater. Whether or not you are up to date on current events (which you probably are, given your location), you're sure to learn a lot.

nationalmall.jpgFrisbee on the Mall
Or long walks. Or pick-up football games. Or picnics. The Mall is a large, open space, covered with grass, in the middle of many D.C. attractions. It's a really pleasant place, good for relaxing between activities. So instead of just walking from the Metro to the Smithsonian museums, stop and smell the roses. Photo by Toni L. Sandys of The Post

WashingtonMem.jpgWashington Monument
Chances are, you'll have a tough time missing this one. It's a tower that ... towers ... over the city. Plus, red lights blink from it at night, making it eerily reminiscent of Sauron from "The Lord of the Rings." Photo by Bill O'Leary of The Post

Lincoln Memorial
Love him or hate him, you probably love him. Honest Abe is one of our best-remembered presidents. And he'll continue to be, unless they take away the penny, as they've been threatening. In which case, I think Lincoln should be on the $20 bill. No idea how Jackson got there in the first place. (Sorry if I've offended any Jackson fans.) Plus, when you go to the Lincoln Memorial, you can look over the reflecting pool, which leads straight to the Washington monument. The whole area is symmetrically stunning.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial
The memorial is simple, just a black wall inscribed with the names of those killed in the war. The surface is so reflective you see a ghost-like image of yourself among the names. This structure is probably the most haunting in Washington.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Remember what I said about the Vietnam Memorial being the most haunting? I may have spoken too soon.

The National World War II Memorial
This is a different sort of memorial. The structure consists of a fountain surrounded by white blocks, one block for each state. I personally recommend cheering when you get to your state's block and getting whoever you dragged along to take a photo of yourself in front of it.

Cherry Trees
Ah, the cherry blossoms. Everyone gets very excited about these flowering trees in the spring. D.C. becomes covered in tourists, snapping shot after scenic shot. To be fair, the trees are gorgeous -- pink flowers coating the Capitol and White House. Plus, there are few festivals associated with them where you can learn about other cultures and make some pretty cool purchases.

National Arboretum
This is actually a giant area spanning a chunk of the eastern side of the city. If you need a day to leave the city behind, the National Arboretum is your place for hiking, picnicking or even just taking a walk. Also, if you live on the western side of town, you can try Fort Stevens Park. The best part about this place is that the land is barely touched -- more like a forest preserve than a garden, which is a relief if you're sick of business suits and copying machines.

The United States Botanic Gardens
I'm going to be honest here: I come from Chicago, where the Botanic Gardens are almost 400 square acres and look beautiful outdoors all year. I was a little disappointed by the D.C. version, which is a greenhouse. But I must admit, this can be a relaxing paradise in the winter, when everything is covered in snow, you've been working hard on the Hill all day, and you'd just like to pretend to be in Hawaii for an hour or two.

Spy Museum
A museum that allows you to pretend to be a spy -- how can you go wrong? You get a fake identity you'd better stick to ... or else. This museum has special deals (like two-for-one or free exhibits) on certain days, so plan ahead.

National Archives
Whether you're so right wing your idea of alternative energy is powering your apartment by burning copies of Ralph Nader books, or so far left your eyeballs are turning green -- you'll be awed by the original Constitution.

By Jenna Johnson  |  August 2, 2010; 11:55 AM ET
Categories:  D.C. Interns  | Tags: Internships  
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