The lure of Netflix and a blanket-strewn sofa can be hard to resist on a snow-swirled winter day, when temperatures hover well below freezing. But, before delving into a day of blanket-fort ensconced show-binging, consider these five reasons to get off the couch and brave the elements.
Pay Tribute to Frederick Douglass
Celebrate the 200th birthday of statesman and abolitionist Frederick Douglass with a tour of Cedar Hill, his former home in Anacostia. Born into slavery in February of 1818, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, Douglass famously escaped his enslavement as a young man, going on to become a vocal champion of emancipation and ultimately serving under five different presidents. Douglass spent the last portion of his life at Cedar Hill, which he purchased in 1877 for the sum of $6,700. The former residence and grounds have been preserved as the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, now a museum managed by the National Park Service – one of the capital’s overlooked cultural gems.
Catch the City’s Winged Winter Arrivals
Urban bird nerds don’t have to leave the city to get an ornithological fix, and winter is one of the best seasons for engaging avian encounters, especially as migrating waterfowl descend on the capital’s waterways. Some of the top strolling spots for catching wintering ducks, geese, and gulls include Hains Point, Constitution Gardens, and the Tidal Basin. Another popular spot for a winter birding safari is the Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Garden, spread along the Anacostia River, which attracts cold weather visitors like American black ducks, buffleheads, and ring-billed gulls. Aside from seeking out the city’s visiting waterfowl, in the dead of winter, the leafless tree branches make spotting birds easier in parks all over town. On winter bird walks, keep an eye out for engaging seasonal holdovers like blue jays, Carolina chickadees, hairy woodpeckers, and tufted titmice.
Seek Out Deep Tracks at a Local Record Store
Forgo the ease of streaming music, and instead spend a snowy day in the capital scouring the city for vinyl treasures. There are plenty of cozy record stores throughout the city, perfect places to escape the chill and spend a day crate digging for diamonds in the rough. Plan a vinyl scavenger hunt featuring locations like Smash Records in Adams Morgan, offering plenty of vinyl, vintage threads, and classic band t-shirts; Georgetown’s Hill & Dale, featuring an eclectic selection of records and collectible art in a tastefully minimalist space; or peruse the trendy offerings on U Street, at Som and Red Onion. Or, venture across the river and make a vinyl pilgrimage to Crooked Beat in Alexandria, to sift through more than 9,000 titles, then head for longtime Falls Church mainstay CD Cellar, with a massive selection and in-house listening stations for scrupulous buyers. After a day of shoe-leather searching, what better way to spend a snowy evening than to cozy up beside the turntable, and crank up all those newfound LPs.
Savor the City’s Winter Sports Spread
While perhaps not quite on par with the upcoming Winter Olympics, when Mother Nature cooperates, there are plenty of ways to take advantage of the city’s trails and green spaces. When the heavens dump an ample layer of powder, regional trails like the Capital Crescent, Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, and Washington & Old Dominion can be transformed into the thoroughfares for cross-country skiers and snowshoers, and if driving conditions permit, locations outside the city like Antietam National Battlefield in Maryland and Manassas National Battlefield Park in Virginia offer more open space for sweeping turns. For newbies interested in learning the ropes, REI is offering free 90-minute classes on snowshoeing basics at their retail locations in the capital area throughout January and February (the next course on January, 11). Meanwhile, for snowbirds preferring sledding hills to ski slopes, the city has plenty. Haul the toboggan to the lofty heights of Fort Reno, highest natural point in the city, Book Hill Park in Georgetown, or head for Battery Kemble Park, which once hosted a pair of parrot rifles trained on Virginia, part of the city’s western defense against encroaching Confederate troops.
If the weather doesn’t cooperate in the way of snow, head for a sure thing — the city’s outdoor ice skating rinks. While the capital may not be high on the list of winter sports hubs, the city does have an abundance of enticing places to skate, including the ice rink bedecking the National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden, the 11,800 square foot riverside rink at the Washington Harbor, or the cozy 1,400 square foot slab of ice crowning the Watergate Hotel, treating skaters to panoramic city views.
Seek Out the Best Hot Chocolate in City
Exquisite hot chocolate is an art form, especially on a winter day. Fortunately for cocoa connoisseurs, there are plenty of places in the city to seek out the perfect mug. Besides baking up aromatic small-batch pretzels, the Pretzel Bakery also concocts a flavor fusion dubbed the Hotella, as in hot chocolate crafted with Nutella. Then, there’s Peregrine Espresso, purveyor of artful pour-over coffee and Omanhene hot chocolate, crafted with some of the finest cocoa beans in the world, sourced from Ghana. Lounge-worthy coffeehouse Tryst serves an inventive lavender hot chocolate, while Oyamel Cocina Mexicana serves rich Oaxacan hot chocolate spiced with cinnamon, vanilla bean, and cloves. Of course, there’s always the capital’s cathedral of all things cocoa, aptly named Co Co. Sala, with options like white chocolate and salted caramel hot chocolate.