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A politically oriented culture combined with Type-A personalities and plenty of green space has set the stage for a strong triathlon community and tri-friendly destination.
As I traversed D.C. sidewalks through puddles and drizzling summer rain on the wheel of my tour guide’s red cruiser, I thought back to the Fat Tire Bike Tour I had taken in Paris years earlier, when our tour group had to ambush a car lane at a stoplight so we could get to the Louvre. But on this Capital City Bike Tour, owned by the same company, we barely used the roads—we were able to see everything from the Capitol and museums to the Lincoln and FDR Memorials while sticking almost exclusively to sidewalks, parks and occasionally bike lanes, even at the height of the tourist season.
The three-hour bike tour was a great way to get oriented in a city full of historic sites, and it should be on your first touring day’s itinerary. If you’d feel more comfortable exploring the city on your own schedule, the city recently instituted the Capital Bikeshare program. Championed by former D.C. mayor Adrian Fenty, an avid triathlete, the program has a fleet of 1,100 bikes parked at 110 stations in D.C. and Arlington, which can be rented for a year, five days or one day with a swipe of your credit card.
“Adrian Fenty has had a large influence on the city,” says Jennifer Devlin, the public relations consultant for the two local races, the Washington D.C. Triathlon and Nation’s Triathlon. Besides advocating for green space and opening up bike lanes, Fenty also races both D.C. triathlons.
While Fenty may have influenced some to join the triathlon crowd, many assume it’s just in the Type-A nature of D.C. residents—the breakneck speed at which the society functions appeals to the overachieving triathlete. D.C. has been named, after all, the “fittest city in the nation” by Forbes magazine three years in a row, citing its lower-than-average obesity rate, access to exercise locations and ranking of second-highest in people biking or walking to work.
Besides those factors, Mindy Ko, a local triathlete who races with Team Snapple, theorizes that triathlon has also become a great way to make new friends: “D.C. is such a transient city,” she says. “It’s rare that I meet somebody who’s been here more than six years. When people move here, they want to find a group of people who like to do the same kinds of things, so they join a running club or a tri club.”
Whether you come to D.C. for racing or vacation, you should book a hotel in downtown, from where it’s easy to get to practically any destination, including the race sites of the city’s two major triathlons. To avoid the headache of parking, consider using public transportation—the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority website (Wmata.com) is extremely useful. The Circulator bus (Dccirculator.com), originally intended for tourists but frequently used by locals, will get you to and from any major tourist destination for $1.
No trip to D.C. is complete without stepping into a few of the free museums of the Smithsonian Institute, the biggest museum complex in the world. The three most popular are the National Air and Space Museum, the National Museum of American History and the National Museum of Natural History. All three are located along the National Mall, the grassy area that stretches from in front of the Capitol to the Washington Monument.
Try to catch the 2.5-hour “Monuments by Moonlight” tour with Old Town Trolley Tours (Trolleytours.com)—they look very different when they’re lit up. Or go for a run—it’s a little less than 2 miles from the Grant Memorial in front of the U.S. Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial. You won’t be alone on your jog as the Mall is packed with runners at lunchtime, says Ko. “In the capital area, you have five or six road races every weekend during the summer and fall. It’s a ridiculous running community.”
Other popular running spots are the C&O Canal towpath, which you can access in Georgetown, and the Mt. Vernon Trail, which you can catch from George Washington Memorial Parkway—G.W. Parkway to locals.
The ethnic diversity in D.C. makes finding good food a breeze. For Spanish tapas, head to Jaleo, by James Beard Award-winning chef José Andrés. Try the simple “gambas al ajillo” (shrimp sautéed with garlic). For creative pasta, go to Bibiana, which was named one of Esquire’s best new restaurants in 2010. For Indian, Rasika is the place to be. For some Latin influence, grab lunch from Julia’s Empanadas.
If you’d rather stick with more American cuisine, steak is king in D.C., so head to Charlie Palmer Steak or BLT Steak. For brunch, try Founding Farmers Restaurant, located near the White House (Wearefoundingfarmers.com). Its local and sustainable food and clever combinations of ingredients—such as red flannel hash made with beets, goat cheese, poached egg and leek hash browns—make it so popular you should get a reservation on the weekends. For dessert, Baked & Wired in Georgetown makes great coffee and even better cupcakes.
Whatever you’re looking for in D.C.—from food and fitness to politico sightings and historical sites—you’ll be sure to find it.
WASHINGTON, D.C. SHOUT-OUTS
If you want …
Try Dangerously Delicious Pies on H Street NE. Pie is the new cupcake—the Baltimore Bomb won’t disappoint.
Just a taste of art
Head to the West building of the National Gallery of Art, pick up the “highlights” sheet from the Art Information desk to see the must-sees in less than an hour. Nga.gov
A group ride
Freshbikes hosts no-drop rides on Tuesday nights starting from Arlington, Va. Freshbikescycling.com
To maintain your swim fitness
Get some laps in at the 50-meter pools at Wilson Aquatic Center (indoor) or at Hains Point in East Potomac Park (outdoor). Or join an open-water swim with WaveOne Swimming. Feelthewater.com
Cycle Life USA is part bike shop, part bike-fitting studio, and part café, located in Georgetown. Cyclelifeusa.com
To catch up on current events
Walk along the outside of the Newseum, where newspapers from around the world are posted daily, or head in to experience the museum that celebrates journalism and the events that have shaped the modern media age. Newseum.org