D.C. has one of the oldest continuously operating botanical gardens in North America, and we have Lieutenant Charles Wilkes to thank for that. Lt. Wilkes may have been sent out to chart sailing courses for whaling merchants, but we're thankful that he spent his spare time gathering plants. When he returned in 1842, his collection of rare plants from Fiji, New Zealand and South America jumpstarted the garden. The 40,000-square-foot attraction, with its glass greenhouse and charming stone orangeries, is a refreshing respite from the museums. There are 13 viewing areas which span borders and history (see everything from jungle to desert to primordial forest), but we're especially fond of the orchid collection. The centerpiece of the garden park is the Bartholdi fountain—one of the first monuments to have been illuminated at night (it was lit by gas lamps in 1877). If you're on a budget, this is a great place to hunker down for a picnic.
- Open Hours: Monday to Sunday from 10:00 AM to 05:00 PM
Attractions & Landmarks, Parks, Gardens & Cemeteries, Sports and the Outdoors
- Nearest Train: Federal Center