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Five ways to save your Washington, D.C., trip during the U.S. government shutdown

Whether you are a furloughed federal employee or an out-of-town tourist frustrated that the Smithsonian museums and national monuments you came to the nation’s capital to explore have been blocked and shuttered, you are probably looking for something to do in Washington, D.C.

The government shut down midnight Tuesday, effectively closing national parks, the National Zoo, the U.S. Capitol Rotunda and tours, and the Smithsonian museums that line the National Mall. While this changes the D.C. trip you planned, there is still plenty to do.

For museum-goers: D.C. has more than Smithsonians

NewseumWere you hoping to see the National Museum of American History? Another way to get a broad overview of American history — but through the lenses and printed words of the journalists who recorded that history as it happened — is the Newseum.

It is one of the most interesting and interactive museums I’ve visited — and I’m not just saying this because I’m a journalist. Walk around the outside of the building to find the front page news of your home state or country, then view a collection of stunning Pulitzer Prize-winning photographs. Learn how the First Amendment has shaped free speech and freedom of the press in the United States and around the globe. Become a broadcast reporter in the interactive newsroom. See pieces of the Berlin Wall and get a view of the U.S. Capitol from a terrace overlooking Pennsylvania Avenue.

Other Washington, D.C., museums:

For history buffs: Mount Vernon

About a 30-minute scenic drive along the Potomac River outside Washington, D.C., will take you to the historic estate of the United States’ first president.

Mount Vernon | Where Erin Goes

 A visit to Mount Vernon includes a tour of George Washington’s home, a stately mansion overlooking the Potomac. The grounds also include an educational museum, charming gardens, Washington’s distillery (the largest of its time), farm animals and the tombs where George and Martha Washington are buried. For a true 1700s experience, stay for lunch or a candlelit dinner at the Mount Vernon Inn Restaurant, where servers don colonial costumes and the menu features dishes from early American life.

Nearby areas for dining and shopping:

  • Old Town Alexandria: Enjoy spectacular views of the Potomac River as you drive the George Washington Parkway to Old Town. This historic neighborhood has a mix of charming boutiques and brand-name retailers. Dine at a casual pub or an upscale restaurant — you’ll find it all on or near King Street. Quaint and charming, Old Town is the perfect setting for strolling hand-in-hand. Some of my favorites: Jackson 20 for weekend brunch; Union Street Public House (pub side) for a high-quality burger and a cold, crisp beer; The Light Horse for $5 Bloody Mary weekend brunch or the casual sports bar upstairs; Layla’s Lebanese Restaurant for shish tawouk and a variety of vegetarian appetizers; and Taverna Cretekou, a Greek restaurant with an intimate outdoor courtyard — perfect for the unseasonably warm temperatures we’ve had this first week of October.
Quaint and charming Old Town is the perfect setting for a romantic stroll. The historic neighborhood is lined with colorful row houses, unique boutiques and eateries of all kinds.

Quaint and charming Old Town is the perfect setting for a romantic stroll. The historic neighborhood is lined with colorful row houses, unique boutiques and eateries of every flavor.

  • National Harbor: Just across the Potomac River from historic Alexandria is a modern commercial development. At National Harbor, visitors will find shopping and dining options along the riverfront. See “The Awakening,” a huge sculpture of a man struggling to rise from the harbor’s small beach. Stop for Pinkberry frozen yogurt or Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Shop for one-of-a-kind art, high-quality kitchenware, budget-fashionista accessories, chic home decor and more. Some of my favorites: Rosa Mexicano for delicious guacamole made fresh at your table and Bobby McKey’s, a dueling piano bar.

The Awakening | Where Erin Goes

For the patriots: Arlington National Cemetery

Although military cemeteries abroad are closed during the shutdown, Arlington National Cemetery remains open. However, Arlington House, which is operated by the Park Service, is closed. Visitors should be able to walk the grounds and see the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Arlington National Cemetery | Where Erin Goes

For shopping til you drop: Georgetown

Zara. Banana Republic. Urban Outfitters. Anthropologie. Madewell. Michael Kors. Kate Spade. H&M. CUSP. Rag & Bone.

Yep, they are all in Georgetown.

Restoration Hardware. CB2. West Elm. Jonathan Adler — Georgetown has got your home-goods shopping covered, too.

Georgetown University | Where Erin Goes

Take a shopping break to see Georgetown University’s beautiful campus.

As for dining, you really can’t go wrong along M Street and Wisconsin. If you are craving Italian, the risotto at Paolo’s Ristorante is fantastic. Thunder Burger & Bar has an edgy and fun atmosphere with delicious dishes.

Frozen hot chocolate at Serendipity 3 in Georgetown. Utterly delectable.

Frozen hot chocolate at Serendipity 3 in Georgetown. Utterly sinful.

Georgetown is a bit of a dessert mecca. In the realm of frozen treats, you’ve got Pinkberry, My Berry Frozen Yogurt, Sweetgreen, IceBerry, Ben & Jerry’s and Hershey’s Ice Cream. You’ll find pastries and baked goods at Baked & Wired and Dean & DeLuca. Like at the original in New York City, Serendipity 3 has its signature frozen hot chocolate drinks. Something new: Pie Sisters — and I think you know what they sell there.

And, if you must get a cupcake, place an order by 8 p.m. the day before for a half dozen. Then you can bypass the enormous line outside Georgetown Cupcake and walk right in to pastry heaven. And, as if there weren’t enough places to satisfy your sweet tooth, another cupcakery, Sprinkles Cupcakes, is just down M Street from the “DC Cupcake” setting.

For animal lovers: Day trip to National Aquarium in Baltimore

The government shutdown is especially sad because we can’t watch the National Zoo’s newborn on the panda cam. In fact, we can’t go to the National Zoo at all.

But, you can see animals in Baltimore. There’s the Maryland Zoo and the National Aquarium, which has a fun-for-all-ages dolphin show, a steamy rain forest exhibit and a 225,000-gallon shark tank.

The aquarium sits right on the water at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. There you can also unwrap the world of mummies at the Maryland Science Center’s new exhibit, see a Navy tall ship from the 1800s, take sightseeing cruises — I suggest the high-speed Seadog — and eat at a variety of waterfront restaurants.

The National Aquarium at the Inner Harbor

The National Aquarium at the Inner Harbor

Wish you were here,

Erin

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