Places and Events of Interest

Between sessions at the 2019 AAG Annual Meeting, there is plenty to do and see while visiting the Washington, D.C. area. As the capital city of the U.S., Washington, D.C. hosts the three branches of the federal government as well as many foreign embassies and influential non-governmental organizations. The District is also home to a population of over 690,000 people, making it the 20th largest city in the U.S., while the wider metropolitan area has over 6 million people, pushing it up to the 6th largest metro in the country. The mixture of governmental institutions and local citizens create a cultural landscape to explore. From the free Smithsonian Museums and National Zoo to the historical neighborhoods and music scenes to the growing number of culinary, arts, and athletic venues, D.C. is a unique place to discover.

The 2019 National Cherry Blossom Festival

One of the most popular festivals in Washington, D.C. is the National Cherry Blossom Festival, held the last two weekends of March through first two weekends of April each year. Celebrating the start of the spring season, the National Cherry Blossom Festival coincides with the blooming of cherry trees along the Tidal Basin of the Potomac River and surrounding the Washington Monument. The trees, a gift sent from Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo, Japan in 1912, represent the friendly relationship that has existed between the United States and Japan for over a century. The festival annually attracts more than 1.5 million people who visit to view the blooms amidst the Jefferson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Martin Luther King, Jr. memorials and partake in the various cultural performances on festival stages. 
The planting of the cherry trees was originally conceived as an idea by Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore, the first female board member of the National Geographic Society, in 1885 upon returning from a trip to Japan. Scidmore persisted in her desire to obtain the trees for 24 years, finally writing a letter to First Lady Helen Herron Taft in 1909. After hearing of the desire for the cherry trees, the Japanese consul sent 2,000 trees to Washington, D.C. in 1910. Unfortunately, the trees were diseased and could not be planted. However, Japan sent a second ship of 3,020 trees in 1912. These trees were planted in a ceremony held between First Lady Taft and the wife of the Japanese ambassador on March 27, 1912.

The first cherry blossom festival was held by several civic groups in 1934 to commemorate the tree planting ceremony. Though the blooming of the trees occurs within the time frame of the festival, peak blooms happen on a different date each year due to local weather conditions and are monitored by Bloom Watch forecasters. Today, the National Cherry Blossom Festival is marked by a variety of events starting with an opening ceremony at the historic Warner Theater (this year on March 23, 2019) and closing with the National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade (this year on April 13, 2019). The festival includes a range of daily activities such as cultural performances, sushi/sake celebrations, fashion shows, art exhibits, and bicycle tours. Other notable headlining events include the Blossom Kite Festival and the Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run

To visit the National Cherry Blossom Festival, it is recommended to take public transportation to the National Mall and walk to the Tidal Basin. The closest metro stop is the Smithsonian Station on the Orange/Blue/Silver lines. From the conference hotels, ride the Red Line Metro starting at the Woodley Park station to Metro Center station. At Metro Center, transfer to a Blue, Orange, or Silver train to Smithsonian Station. Alternatively, the DC Circulator Bus National Mall route encircles the Tidal Basin area. This route costs $1 and is accessible from the bus stop at 12th St. and Madison Dr. NW, a few blocks from the Federal Triangle Metro stop on the Orange/Blue/Silver lines.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture

The newest of the 19 Smithsonian museums is the National Museum of African American History and Culture. It offers an interactive experience dedicated to preserving and illuminating the role African Americans played in shaping the building of the United States. It serves as a place for the general public to gain an appreciation for African American culture, as well as to document the history of African American communities in the United States. Though it opened its doors on September 24, 2016, efforts to establish a national museum dedicated to African American life had been in the works for over a century until it was established by an Act of Congress in 2003.
Of specific interest to geographers, the museum features a permanent exhibit Power of Place which centers place as an integral component of the African American experience in the US. The exhibit focuses on both the internal and external migrations associated with African American communities as well as several specific locations of note including Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the low country of South Carolina, and urban Chicago. The museum also features a James Beard nominated restaurant, Sweet Home Café, for patrons to learn about African American culture through regional cuisine. Other indefinite displays feature looks into the contributions of African American athletes, musicians, artists, actors and actresses, and military personnel. 

Visitors can tour the museum for free, though, due to the museum’s popularity, timed entry passes are currently required for admission. There are several ways to obtain timed entry passes. A selection of passes becomes available online three months in advance on the first Wednesday of each month. Passes for April will be available online on January 2, 2019. Same day timed entry passes may be available starting at 6:30 AM, until they run out. Limited walk up passes are available starting at 1:00 PM at the museum. The museum is located on the National Mall (15th St. and Constitution Ave., NW). The closest metro stops are Federal Triangle or Smithsonian on the Blue/Orange/Silver lines. 

The National Museum of the American Indian

More global in its outreach than some of the other Smithsonian museums, the National Museum of the American Indian contains exhibits on the myriad cultures of those native to the entire Western Hemisphere. The museum, which opened in Washington, DC, in 2004, is made up of three different facilities: the museum on the National Mall, the George Gustav Heye Center in New York City (which became part of the Smithsonian Institution in 1990), and the Cultural Resources Center in Suitland, MD. The museum cares for one of the most expansive collections of Native objects, photographs, and media in the world. 

The Native voice has been ever present in the design and curation of the National Museum of the American Indian. The D.C. building (pictured) was drawn up by Native architects, the exhibits were created with the help of input from various tribes throughout North and South America, and the leadership of the museum has been under tribal members since the museum was established by the National Museum of the American Indian Act in 1989. This facility not only hosts a variety of permanent and traveling exhibits, but also spaces for lectures and performances, which can be found on the museum’s calendar of events. Of particular interest to the immediate area, the exhibit Return to a Native Place: Algonquian Peoples of Chesapeake provides an in depth look at the peoples of present day Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, and Washington, DC from 1600 to the present. 

Similar to other Smithsonian museums, the National Museum of the American Indian is free to visit. The restaurant at the museum, Mitsitam Café, is highly regarded and features a variety of Native cuisines, broken down by region of interest including the Northern Woodlands, South America, the Northwest Coast, Meso America, and the Great Plains. The museum operates from 10:00 AM - 5:30 PM (restaurant open between 11:00 AM - 3:00 PM) and is located on the National Mall (4th Street and Independence Ave. SW). The closest metro stop to the museum is L’Enfant Plaza on the Blue, Orange, Green, Yellow, or Silver lines. 

The Library of Congress

Did you know that the Library of Congress is considered to have the largest collection in the world? Among its 838 miles of bookshelves are copies of books, films, audio files, rare and unique texts, U.S. patents and copyrights, and, for geographers, maps. The Library of Congress, proposed by James Madison (who would later become the fourth president of the United States) in 1783, was officially established in 1800 by President John Adams as a library for the use of Congress in their daily work. It was initially housed in a variety of spaces in the U.S. Capitol building until finally receiving a space of its own in 1897. The Jefferson Building was modeled after the Paris Opera House and named in honor of Thomas Jefferson, whose personal collection of 6,487 books formed most of the initial library at its founding. The Library now spans three buildings: the Jefferson Building, which houses public reading rooms and tours, and the James Madison Memorial Building and the John Adams Building, which are both primarily used for research.

In addition to housing more than 32 million books in 470 languages, the Library of Congress also holds over 5.2 million maps in the Geography and Map Reading Room. The largest and most comprehensive cartographic collection in the world, the Geography and Map Reading Room dates back to 1897 and currently occupies 90,000 square feet of space in the James Madison Memorial Building. In addition to thousands of historical maps, the Map Room also contains rare pieces, such as fourteenth century portolan atlases and charts drawn on vellum and a 1482 printed edition of Ptolemy's Geography. The chief of the Geography and Map division is Paulette Marie Hasier who is the first woman to have been appointed to the position and previously worked with geographic collections at the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency’s GEOINT Research Center and the Pentagon Map Library.

The current Librarian of Congress is Carla Hayden, awardee of the 2019 AAG Atlas Award, the highest honor from the AAG. Both the first woman and first African American Librarian of Congress, Hayden will be speaking at the 2019 AAG Annual Meeting on Friday, April 5, 2019 at noon. For meeting attendees who wish to visit the Library of Congress, it is free and open to the public Monday - Saturday between the hours of 8:30 AM and 4:30 PM. Both self-guided and formal tours are offered. Books are only available to be read in the designated reading rooms and cannot be checked out. The easiest way to get to the Library is to take the Red Line Metro from the conference hotels to Union Station and walk a half mile to the Library. However, the Capitol South metro station on the Blue, Orange, and Silver lines is located only two blocks from the Library.

The Phillips Collection

Nestled within the Dupont Circle neighborhood of Washington, DC is the Phillips Collection, an assemblage of modern and contemporary art housed in the intimate setting of an historic home listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Phillips Collection was the vision of art critic Duncan Phillips who started collecting modernist art as early as 1916 while living in the Dupont Circle home. Possibly the most well known piece in the gallery is Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party, though the building also houses additional works by Renoir, Van Gogh, Picasso, and Monet. Phillips also gave equal attention to American artists who were contemporaries of himself such as O’Keeffe, Bonnard, and Rothko. 

Equally as impressive as the art installations is the building itself. Build as a Georgian Revival style home in 1897, the house originally displayed the works of art in special galleries, setting itself up as America’s first museum of modern art. As the collection grew, the Phillips family moved to a new home and converted the Phillips’ house into a public museum. Renovations in 1989 funded by Japanese businessman Yasuhiro Goh added a new wing, the Goh Annex, to the building. More recently an extensive addition was completed in 2006 which added an additional 30,000 feet to the museum. 

The Phillips Collection (located at 1600 21st Street NW) is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10:00 AM - 5:00 PM and on Sundays from Noon - 6:30 PM. Admission is $12 for adults and $10 for students. The museum is accessible from the Dupont Circle metro station on the red line, just one stop from the conference hotels at Woodley Park.

Professional Sports in Washington, DC

Washington, DC is home to a variety of major league and college level sports teams. While DC has franchises in all of the major sports leagues in the U.S., only a few will be in the midst of their seasons during the AAG Annual Meeting: the Washington Nationals, the Washington Capitals, the Washington Wizards, and DC United.  

The Washington Nationals

The Nats will be playing at home on April 2, 2019 and April 3, 2019 against the Philadelphia Phillies. Historically, baseball has been around a long time in the DC area, although the city itself was without a team for more than three decades between 1971 and 2005. The Washington Senators started playing in DC in 1901 remaining as the home team until becoming the Minnesota Twins in 1960. A new Senators team was created, but in 1971, they moved to Texas to become the Rangers. It was not until 2005 when the Montreal Expos moved to DC that the current team, the Washington Nationals, began. After completion of their new stadium, Nationals Park, in 2008, the Nats have gained fans and popularity throughout the region. 

The Washington Capitals

As DC residents continue to celebrate the Washington Capitals 2018 Stanley Cup victory, Annual Meeting attendees can catch the Caps at home in the Capital One Arena on April 4, 2019 against the Montreal Canadiens or on April 6, 2019 against the New York Islanders. The Caps have been DC’s National Hockey League team since the NHL expansion in 1974. Despite their rocky start as a team, they have faced a series of playoff appearances over the past decade. 

The Washington Wizards

Attend a Wizards NBA basketball game April 3, 2019 against the Chicago Bulls or April 5, 2019 against the San Antonio Spurs at the Capital One Arena. The venue, originally called the MCI Center, became the team’s official space in 1998, also when a vote was held for fans to name the team the Washington Wizards. Currently they share the Capital One Arena, located in the Gallery Place/Chinatown neighborhood of DC, with the Washington Capitals. Notably, basketball player and geography major Michael Jordan was the President of Operations for the Washington Wizards and played his final two seasons with the team. DC also boasts a WNBA team, the Washington Mystics, however their season does not overlap with the AAG Annual Meeting.

DC United

Major League Soccer season runs between March and October, so keep an eye on the schedule to see if a hometown DC United match will be happening during the AAG Annual Meeting. One of the original teams and also a highly decorated club in the MLS, DC United recently acquired star Wayne Rooney. Since 2018, they have played in their new stadium, Audi Field. However since 1996, the majority of their seasons were played at the famed RFK Stadium.

Music History in Washington, D.C. 

Photo credit: Ted EytanPhoto credit: Ted Eytan
Washington, D.C. boasts its own extensive musical history, being most famous for genres such as jazz, go-go, and hardcore punk. The earliest musical acts in the district started before the establishment of the city with the founding of the U.S. Marine Corps Band in 1798, making it the oldest musical group in the United States. Almost a century later, D.C. native John Philip Sousa took over as conductor of the Marine Corps Band, composing 132 marches, such as “Stars and Stripes Forever,” that have become iconic to U.S. displays of nationalism. 

Home to a large African American community following the Civil War, Washington, D.C. was also central to the development of Jazz as a musical genre. Duke Ellington grew up in the historically African American U Street neighborhood, known during the early 20th century as “Black Broadway” for its music and entertainment scene. Venues such as the Howard Theater and Lincoln Theater hosted Ellington and other jazz greats and continue to be mainstays of the local community today. Ellington’s influence on the D.C. community can be seen in the many places named after him such as the Duke Ellington Bridge between the U Street and Adams Morgan neighborhoods, the elite Duke Ellington School of the Arts (a D.C. public high school dedicate to arts based education), and a statue of “the Duke” outside of the Howard Theater (pictured). 

Extensive high school music education, the popularity of marching bands, and the tradition of music in the African American communities of D.C. also contributed to the birth of go-go music. A blend of funk, blues, soul, and salsa, go-go music was popularized in the 1970s as music played in dance clubs, often times by bands with high school student members who brought their marching band training to the stage. The music style is characterized by continuous percussion beats between melodic tunes where the band leader called out to the audience to respond. Chuck Brown, known as the Godfather of Go-go, and his band the Soul Searchers heavily influenced the genre. Other go-go bands include Experience Unlimited, Essence, Trouble Funk, and Junkyard Band and were often performing at venues like the Howard Theater or in public arenas during outdoor summer festivals.  

Around the same time as the development of go-go, hardcore punk arose on the D.C. scene as well. Both go-go and hardcore are characterized by lyrics that criticized the socio-economic condition that many D.C. natives felt during the 1970s and 1980s where there was class conflict between the people who lived in the city versus the people (mostly politicians) who worked in the city. Music label, Dischord Records, was established by hardcore rocker and D.C. native Ian McKayne and featured many early D.C. based hardcore bands. While U Street was home to jazz and go-go, hardcore venues could be found in the adjacent Adams Morgan and 14th Street neighborhoods. Locations such as The Black Cat, established by Dave Grohl (of Nirvana and the Foo Fighters), and the 9:30 Club are a testament to the punk scene. 

Collage of Washington, DC neighborhoodsA Guide to D.C.’s Neighborhoods 

The Washington, D.C. Office of Planning unofficially defines 131 neighborhoods in the District. However, geographers know how tricky it can be to draw boundaries based on mental maps of a city. Each neighborhood in D.C. offers something different to its residents. Below are a few closest to the location of the 2019 AAG Annual Meeting hotels. 

Woodley Park

The neighborhood where the 2019 AAG Annual Meeting hotels are located is called Woodley Park, named for the Woodley House estate built by the uncle of famed author of the lyrics of the Star Spangled Banner Francis Scott Key in 1801. In addition to the two historic hotels where the annual meeting will occur (the Marriott Wardman Park and Omni Shoreham), Woodley Park is known for its green spaces, including the Smithsonian National Zoo and Rock Creek Park. As part of the Smithsonian Institution, the National Zoo is free to visit and includes over 1,500 animals, the most famous of which are the giant pandas Tian Tian, Mei Xiang, and cub Bei Bei. The entrance to the 2,100 acre Rock Creek Park is also found in the neighborhood. Rock Creek Park, administered by the National Park Service, extends to Maryland and boasts over 32 miles of hiking trails in addition to horseback riding trails, picnic areas, and birdwatching posts. 

Cleveland Park

Just north of the annual meeting hotels in Woodley Park, lies the neighborhood of Cleveland Park. Historically, this area was slower to develop and started out as a series of estates and summer homes throughout the 1800s. Notably, the house built by Gardiner Greene Hubbard, the first president of the National Geographic Society, is located here and now houses the diplomatic mission of the Republic of China on Taiwan. With the establishment of a streetcar connecting Cleveland Park to downtown in 1892, the neighborhood grew into a larger residential area. Connecticut Ave NW runs through the center of the neighborhood, featuring art deco architecture and the Park and Shop, one of the nation’s first strip malls, built in the 1930s. Restaurants and retail still dot Connecticut Ave and make for a nice area near to the meeting to find something to eat. 

Adams Morgan

Cross Rock Creek by way of Calvert Street (located directly outside of the AAG Annual Meeting hotels) and the Duke Ellington Memorial Bridge and you will find yourself in the Adams Morgan neighborhood. The neighborhood was established in the 1950s with the desegregation of the area. The name comes from the two schools that served the area - the all-black Thomas P. Morgan Elementary School and the all-white John Quincy Adams Elementary School. Today, the neighborhood is culturally diverse, with many immigrant communities from El Salvador, Guatemala, and the Caribbean having been established since the 1960s. 18th Street in Adams Morgan features extensive nightlife options in their many bars and restaurants and eclectic shopping found in vintage clothing, records, and book stores. 

Dupont Circle

Walking down Connecticut Ave and across the Howard Taft Bridge from the AAG Annual Meeting hotels will bring you to the Dupont Circle neighborhood. Dupont Circle is centered around the traffic circle of the same name, commemorating rear admiral Samuel Francis Du Pont for his services in the Civil War. The neighborhood is part of the oldest residential areas of Washington, D.C. and was included as part of the city plans drawn up by Pierre Charles L'Enfant, the French urban planner who designed the capital city. Many embassies are located in the neighborhood and it also houses Meridian Place (the AAG Headquarters). Culturally, the neighborhood is considered a location of historic importance in the gay community and hosts annual events such as Capital Pride and the Dupont Circle High Heel Race. Connecticut Avenue also offers a variety of boutique shopping, international dining, and popular nightlife. 

U Street/14th Street

Along U Street NW between 18th and 9th streets and extending south down 14th Street is the U Street Corridor. This neighborhood was largely built up around the turn of the century in the late 1800s and early 1900s with the development of a streetcar line. A historically African American community, U Street was the largest African American urban community until being surpassed by Harlem in the 1920s. It’s roots in the African American community and arts scene gave rise to its nickname, Black Broadway, during the neighborhood’s heyday between the 1900s and 1960s. Unfortunately, following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., the intersection of 14th and U was the site of extensive riots in 1968. U Street declined dramatically throughout the 1970s and 14th and U was notorious for its drug trafficking. During the early 2000s extensive redevelopment of the area fueled by community efforts and city investment have dramatically changed the neighborhood. World famous eateries such as Ben’s Chili Bowl and historic music venues like the Lincoln Theater and the Black Cat are surrounded by funky boutiques and trendy dining on the D.C. street that never sleeps. 

Other Articles of Interest

Come to Washington, Contact your Members of Congress

There has never been a more salient time to show up and speak up in Washington. Members of Congress have been receiving an unprecedented volume of calls and visits from constituents looking to make their voices heard on issues of importance. And with the 2019 AAG Annual Meeting in our nation’s capital, attendees have a unique opportunity to gather in the heart of the action and make a meaningful impact.

The AAG has a strong history of success in communicating policy priorities and effecting changes that benefit geographers. From protecting NSF funding and increasing the role of geography in K-12 education, to fighting against legislation that would exclude geographers from conducting mapping and GIS, the AAG has been there for you. We are committed to providing resources that enable Annual Meeting attendees to express your own views while here in Washington. We will have a station at the meeting with knowledgeable AAG staff ready to answer your questions on how to arrange meetings with your Congressional representatives or their staff, plan travel and logistics, and make the most of your interactions on Capitol Hill.

But don’t wait until the Annual Meeting to plan your visit! The Spring can often be Congress’s busiest season as offices are focused on appropriations requests for the upcoming fiscal year - a crucial time to make geography priorities known. Register for the AAG Annual Meeting today and start planning your meetings on the Hill!  

For more information contact Michelle Kinzer, AAG Government Relations Manager, mkinzer@aag.org.
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AAG 2010 Focus on Washington DC Newsletter Articles

Below are the Focus on AAG DC 2010 articles that ran in the print newsletter in 2009-10. The months listed contain hyperlinks to PDF versions of the newsletters. Within each issue, you can scroll through the pages to find the articles.

May 2009

  • “ 2010 AAG Annual Meeting April 14–18, Washington DC ”

July/August 2009

  • “Designing Washington D.C. ‘The City of Magnificent Intentions’”
  • “‘We Scared Abe Lincoln like Hell’ Historical Geography in the D.C. Region”

September 2009

  • “Explore the Chesapeake Bay”

October 2009

  • “Metropolitan Washington A Restless Immigrant Landscape”
  • “The National Cherry Blossom Festival”

November 2009

  • “Monumental Washington ‘A Civic Rite of Passage’”
  • “A Monumental Feast AAG Annual Meeting Restaurant Recommendations”

December 2009

  • “Welcome to DC: an Unconventional Approach”
  • “Neighborhood Change in Washington DC: Remaking U Street”
  • January 2010
  • “Life Inside a Watershed: The Renewal of the Anacostia River?”
  • “Native Washington”

February 2010

  • “Special Diversity Sessions Planned for AAG Annual Meeting” (AAG staff)
  • “Ottoman Maps to be Displayed at AAG Annual Meeting”
  • “Geography and Human Rights Sessions at the AAG Annual Meeting” (AAG staff)
  • “AAG Field Trips at the 2010 Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C.” (AAG staff)
  • “D.C.’s Evolving Economy”

March 2010

  • “Maps that Challenged the World Library of Congress Offers Rare Opportunity”
  • “AAG EDGE Workshops and Sessions in Washington, D.C.” (AAG staff)
  • “Renowned Conservation Biologist to Headline AAG Biodiversity Roundtable”

April 2010

  • “AAG Annual Meeting Highlights” (AAG staff)
  • “Arts & Culture of Geographical Interest in Washington, D.C.”
  • “Our National River”
  • “Harvest Time in the Nation’s Capital The Rise of Urban Agriculture in Washington, D.C.”