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Parks and Nature

Washington is more than marble and limestone buildings. The city is blessed with numerous parks and outdoor attractions that provide a break from the museums and government facilities. Rock Creek Park extends through much of the city, with entrances to the park near many hotels. Other outdoor spaces, such as the National Mall, Potomac Park, and Constitution Gardens, offer a chance to see nature, combined with the beauty of nearby waterways and the majesty of the city's beloved monuments.

Gardens

Constitution Gardens. Many ideas were proposed to develop this 50-acre site near the Reflecting Pool and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. It once held "temporary" buildings erected by the Navy before World War I and not removed until after World War II. President Nixon is said to have favored something resembling Copenhagen's Tivoli Gardens. The final design was plainer, with paths winding through groves of trees and, on the lake, a tiny island paying tribute to the signers of the Declaration of Independence, their signatures carved into a low stone wall. In 1986 President Reagan proclaimed the gardens a living legacy to the Constitution. In that spirit, naturalization ceremonies for new citizens take place. Constitution Ave., between 17th and 23rd Sts. NW, White House area, Washington, DC, 20024. www.nps.gov/coga. Farragut W or Foggy Bottom.

Dumbarton Oaks. One of the loveliest places for a stroll in Washington is Dumbarton Oaks, the acres of enchanting gardens adjoining Dumbarton House in Georgetown. Planned by noted landscape architect Beatrix Farrand, the gardens incorporate elements of traditional English, Italian, and French styles and include a formal rose garden, an English country garden, and an orangery (circa 1810). A full-time crew of a dozen gardeners toils to maintain the stunning collection of terraces, geometric gardens, tree-shaded brick walks, fountains, arbors, and pools. Plenty of well-positioned benches make this a good place for resting weary feet, too. Public garden tours are at 2:10 pm Tuesday–Thursday and Saturday. In May, the peonies and azeleas in full bloom are spectacular. 31st and R sts, Georgetown, Washington, DC, 20007. 202/339–6401 or 202/339–6400. www.doaks.org. $8 mid-Mar.–Oct.; free Nov.–mid-Mar. Tues.–Sun. 2–5 (to 6 mid-Mar.–Oct.).

Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens. Cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post purchased the 25-acre Hillwood Estate in 1955, and devoted as much attention to her gardens as she did to the 40-room Georgian mansion. You can wander through 13 acres of them, including a Japanese rock and waterfall garden, a manicured formal French garden, a rose garden, Mediterranean fountains, and a greenhouse full of orchids. The "Lunar Lawn," where she threw garden parties that were the most coveted invitation in Washington society, is planted with dogwood, magnolia, cherry, and plum trees, as well as azaleas, camellias, lilacs, tulips, and pansies. Tours are offered on a first come, first served basis in spring and fall. The estate is best reached by taxi or car (parking is available on the grounds); it's a 20- to 30-minute walk from the Metro and there's no bus from the station. 4155 Linnean Ave. NW, Upper Northwest, Washington, DC, 20008. 202/686–5807 or 202/686–8500. www.hillwoodmuseum.org. House and grounds $15 (suggested donation). Tues.–Sat. 10–5 and two Sun. per month 1–5 (except annual closure around late Jan.; call for details). Tours: Apr.–late June and early Sept.–mid-Nov, Tues.–Sat. 10:30 and 12:30, Sun. 2:30. Van Ness/UDC.

Kahlil Gibran Memorial Garden. In a town known for it's political combat, this tiny urban park is a wonderful place to find some peace. The shady park combines Western and Arab symbols and is perfect for contemplation. From the Massachusetts Avenue entrance, a stone walk bridges a grassy swale. Farther on are limestone benches, engraved with sayings from Gibran, that curve around a fountain and a bust of the Lebanese-born poet. The garden is near the grounds of the U.S. Naval Observatory. 3100 block of Massachusetts Ave. NW, Upper Northwest, Washington, DC, 20008. Woodley Park or Dupont Circle.

Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens. Exotic water lilies, lotuses, hyacinths, and other water-loving plants thrive in this 14-acre sanctuary of quiet ponds, protected wetlands, and marshy flats. The gardens' wetland animals include turtles, frogs, beavers, spring azure butterflies, and some 40 species of birds. In May the water lilies and lotus are at their peak. In July nearly everything blossoms; early morning is the best time to visit, when day bloomers are just opening and night bloomers have yet to close. There's a tiny child-friendly museum in the Visitors Center. The nearest Metro stop is a 15-minute walk away, but there is ample free parking. Exit gates are locked promptly at 4. 1550 Anacostia Ave. at Douglas St. NE, Anacostia, Washington, DC, 20019. 202/426–6905. www.nps.gov/keaq. Free. Gardens and visitor center, daily 8–4. Tours daily at 9, 10, and 11. Deanwood.

Tudor Place. A little more than a block from Dumbarton Oaks in Georgetown is this neighborhood gem, the former home of Martha Washington's granddaughter. The house has 5½ acres of grounds that offer impressive replications of Federal-period gardens and include 19th-century specimen trees and boxwoods from Mount Vernon. The self-guiding tour comes with a map and/or an audio tour. Make time for a one-hour docent-led tour of the house itself, which features many rare possessions of George and Martha Washington. 1644 31st Pl. NW, Georgetown, Washington, DC, 20007. 202/965–0400. www.tudorplace.org. $10 house and garden; $3 garden only. Self-guided garden tours: Feb.–Dec., Mon.–Sat. 10–4, Sun. noon–4. House tours: Feb.–Dec., Tues.–Sat. on the hr 10–3; Sun. on the hr noon–4. Woodley Park or Dupont Circle.

United States Botanic Garden. Established by Congress in 1820, this is the oldest botanic garden in North America. The garden conservatory sits at the foot of Capitol Hill, in the shadow of the Capitol building and offers an escape from the stone and marble federal office buildings that surround it; inside are exotic rain-forest species, desert flora, and trees from all parts of the world. A special treat is the extensive collection of rare and unusual orchids. Walkways suspended 24 feet above the ground provide a fascinating view of the plants. A relatively new addition is the National Garden, opened in 2006, which emphasizes educational exhibits. The garden features the Rose Garden, Butterfly Garden, Lawn Terrace, First Ladies' Water Garden, and Regional Garden. Step outside the building to see the Bartholdi Park, where theme gardens surround a historic fountain. Ask for a Junior Botanist kid's backpack of exploration for kids nine and above. 1st St. at 100 Maryland Ave. SW, Capitol Hill, Washington, DC, 20024. 202/225–8333. www.usbg.gov. Free. Daily 10–5. Federal Center SW.

United States National Arboretum. During azalea season (mid-April through May) this 446-acre oasis is a blaze of color. In early summer, clematis, peonies, rhododendrons, and roses bloom. At any time of year the 22 original Corinthian columns from the U.S. Capitol, re-erected here in 1990, are striking. All 50 states are represented by a state tree or flower. The arboretum has guided hikes throughout the year, including a Full Moon Hike at night. Check the website for schedules and to register. For a soothing, relaxing outing, visit the Cryptomeria Walk and Japanese Stroll Garden, which are part of the Bonsai and Penjing Museum. Admission to the grounds and the Visitors Center is free. On weekends a tram tours the arboretum's curving roadways at 11:30, 1, 2, 3, and 4. It's a difficult walk from the Metro so driving or biking in is best. The National Herb Garden and the National Bonsai Collection are also here. 3501 New York Ave. NE, Northeast, Washington, DC, 20002. 202/245–2726. www.usna.usda.gov. Free. Fri.–Mon. 8–5 (Bonsai and Penjing Museum 10–4). Weekends only: Union Station, then X6 bus (runs every 40 mins); weekdays: Stadium/Armory, then B2 bus to Bladensburg Rd. and R St.

Parks

George Washington was one of the first to advance the idea of a canal linking the Potomac with the Ohio River across the Appalachians. Work started on the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal in 1828, and when it opened in 1850 its 74 locks linked Georgetown with Cumberland, Maryland, 185 miles to the northwest (still short of its intended destination). Lumber, coal, iron, wheat, and flour moved up and down the canal, but it was never as successful as its planners had hoped it would be. Many of the bridges spanning the canal in Georgetown were too low to allow anything other than fully loaded barges to pass underneath, and competition from the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad eventually spelled an end to profitability. Today the canal is part of the National Park System; walkers and cyclists follow the towpath once used by mules, while canoeists paddle the canal's calm waters. You could walk or pedal to the end of the canal, nearly 200 miles away in Cumberland, Maryland, but most cyclists stop at Great Falls, Maryland, 13 miles from where the canal starts.

This 328-acre finger of land extends south of the Jefferson Memorial from the Tidal Basin between the Washington Channel to the east and the Potomac River to the west. There are playgrounds, picnic tables, tennis courts, swimming pools, a driving range, one 18-hole and two 9-hole golf courses, miniature golf, and a pool. Double-blossoming cherry trees line Ohio Drive and bloom about two weeks after the single-blossoming variety that attracts throngs to the Tidal Basin each spring.

At 429 feet above sea level, this highest point in Washington has been used in different eras as a Civil War fort, the site of telegraph and radio towers, and a reservoir. In 1864 Abraham Lincoln watched nearby as outnumbered Union troops defended the capital from a formidable Confederate advance led by General Early, in the only battle to take place in the capital. Today, the park is enjoyed by soccer players, dog-park regulars, and picnickers. Most of the Civil War–era earthworks are gone, and two curious faux-medieval towers, built in 1929, mark the reservoir site, which is not accessible to the public. Nonetheless, the park has an appealing city view and plenty of room to run around. Free outdoor concerts take place each week in summer.

Groves of beeches, elms, and oaks flourish at this 183-acre park, part of the Rock Creek system, which begins just west of Georgetown and ends, 3½ miles later, near Van Ness Street. Along the way you'll experience a stream valley with ancient trees, possible bird sightings, and perhaps even a celebrity or two.

A quiet, sunken garden and fountain honors General John J. "Black Jack" Pershing, the first to hold the title General of the Armies, a rank Congress created in 1919 to recognize his military achievements. Engravings on the stone walls recount pivotal campaigns from World War I, when Pershing commanded the American expeditionary force and conducted other military exploits.

Rock Creek Park. The 1,800 acres surrounding Rock Creek have provided a cool oasis for visitors and D.C. residents ever since Congress set them aside for recreational use in 1890. The bubbling, rocky stream draws nature lovers to the miles of paved walkways. Bicycle routes, jogging and hiking paths, and equestrian trails wind through the groves of dogwoods, beeches, oaks, and cedars, and 30 picnic areas are scattered about. About twice the size of NYC's Central Park, the park bifurcates the length of the city, making entrance and egress easy for short or long exercise excursions.

An asphalt bike path running through the park has a few challenging hills but is mostly flat, and it's possible to bike several miles without having to stop for cars (the roadway is closed entirely to cars on weekends). Bikers can begin a ride at the Lincoln Memorial or Kennedy Center, pass the Washington Zoo, and eventually come to the District line, where the trail separates, with one part continuing to Bethesda and another to Silver Spring. The most popular run in Rock Creek Park is along a trail that follows the creek from Georgetown to the National Zoo, about 4 miles round-trip. In summer there's considerable shade, and there are water fountains and an exercise station along the way. Rangers at the Nature Center and Planetarium introduce visitors to the park and keep track of daily events; guided nature walks leave from the center on weekends at 2. The park is open only during daylight hours. 5200 Glover Rd. NW, Nature Center and Planetarium, Washington, DC, 20015. 202/895–6070. www.nps.gov/rocr. Nature Center: Wed.–Sun. 9–5; Planetarium shows: Wed. at 2, weekends at 1 and 4.

Meridian Hill Park. Landscape architect Horace Peaslee created oft-overlooked Meridian Hill Park, a noncontiguous section of Rock Creek Park, after a 1917 study of the parks of Europe. As a result, the garden contains elements of gardens in France (a long, straight mall bordered with plants), Italy (terraces and wall fountains), and Switzerland (a lower-level reflecting pool based on one in Zurich). John Quincy Adams lived in a mansion here after his presidency in 1829, and the park later served as an encampment for Union soldiers during the Civil War. All 50 states are represented by a state tree or flower. Meridian Hill is also unofficially known as Malcolm X Park in honor of the civil rights leader. On weekends you will find a mix of pickup soccer games, joggers running the stairs, and a weekly (weather permitting) drum circle. A statue of Joan of Arc poised for battle on horseback stands above the terrace, and a statue of Dante is on a pedestal below. A ranger-led tour and cell-phone tours illuminate the history of the landmarks inside the park. Meridian Hill is open year-round during daylight hours. 16th and Euclid Sts., Adams-Morgan, 20009. www.nps.gov/mehi. U St./Cardozo or Columbia Heights.

This placid pond was part of the Potomac until 1882, when portions of the river were filled in to improve navigation and create additional parkland. The Tidal Basin is the setting for memorials to Thomas Jefferson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, Jr., and George Mason, and can be enjoyed by strolling along the banks or paddling across the tame waters.

Two grotesque sculpted heads on the sides of the Inlet Bridge can be seen as you walk along the sidewalk that hugs the basin. The inside walls of the bridge also feature two other sculptures: bronze, human-headed fish that spout water from their mouths. The bridge was refurbished in the 1980s at the same time the chief of the park, Jack Fish, was retiring. Sculptor Constantine Sephralis played a little joke: these fish heads are actually Fish's head.

Once you cross the bridge, continue along the Tidal Basin to the right. This route is especially scenic when the cherry trees are in bloom. The first batch of these trees arrived from Japan in 1909. The trees were infected with insects and fungus, however, and the Department of Agriculture ordered them destroyed. A diplomatic crisis was averted when the United States politely asked the Japanese for another batch, and in 1912 First Lady Helen Taft planted the first tree. The second was planted by the wife of the Japanese ambassador, Viscountess Chinda. About 200 of the original trees still grow near the Tidal Basin. (These cherry trees are the single-flowering Akebeno and Yoshino variety. Double-blossom Fugenzo and Kwanzan trees grow in East Potomac Park and flower about two weeks after their more famous cousins.)

The trees are now the centerpiece of Washington's two-week Cherry Blossom Festival, held each spring since 1935. The festivities are kicked off by the lighting of a ceremonial Japanese lantern that rests on the north shore of the Tidal Basin, not far from where the first tree was planted. The once-simple celebration has grown over the years to include concerts, martial-arts demonstrations, a running race, and a parade. Park Service experts try their best to predict exactly when the buds will pop. The trees are usually in bloom for about 12 days in late March or early April. When winter will not release its grip, parade and festival take place without the presence of blossoms, no matter how inclement the weather. When the weather complies and the blossoms peak at the time of the festivities, Washington rejoices.

Between the Potomac and the Tidal Basin, this park is known for its flowering cherry trees, which bloom for two weeks in late March or early April, and for the World War II Memorial, as well as the memorials for Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jefferson, George Mason, and the Korean and Vietnam War Veterans. A nice place to picnic and play ball, families can relax and admire the views of the water.

Sports

Washington is well designed for outdoor sports, with numerous places to play, run, and ride. When the weather is good, it seems all of Washington is out riding a bike, playing softball and volleyball, jogging past monuments, or taking a relaxing stroll. Many of the favorite locations for participation sports are in the shadow of D.C.'s most famous spots, such as Capitol Hill and the White House.

Baseball

Washington Nationals. Major League Baseball has returned to D.C., where the Washington Nationals of the National League play in the spectacular 41,546-seat, state-of-the-art Nationals Park. The team has enjoyed winning seasons and are hugely populular with the hometown crowd, although seats are usually available at the gate. The Nationals' mascots, "The Racing Presidents," compete during the fourth inning at every game. Tours of the stadium are available when the Nationals are on the road and in the morning when the team has night games. The Metro is a hassle-free and inexpensive way to get to the ballpark. Parking is scarce. Nationals Park, 1500 S. Capitol St. SE, Southwest D.C., Washington, DC, 20003. 202/675–6287. washington.nationals.mlb.com. $7–$598; tours $15. Navy Yard.

Frederick Keys. Head north of Washington up I–270 in Maryland to see the Orioles Class A Frederick Keys, part of the Carolina League. To reach the stadium, look for the Market Street exit from Route 70 or 270. Harry Grove Stadium, 6201 New Design Rd., Frederick, MD, 21703. 301/662–0013. www.frederickkeys.com. $8–$11.

Potomac Nationals. About an hour south of Washington is the home of the Class A Carolina League Potomac Nationals, a farm team for Washington. Take Exit 158B off Prince William Parkway and look for the sign for Manassas; drive 8 miles and take a right onto County Complex Court. G. Richard Pfitzner Stadium, 7 County Complex Ct., Woodbridge, VA, 22192. 703/590–2311. www.potomacnationals.com. $7–$11.

Basketball

Georgetown University Hoyas. Former NCAA national champions, the Hoyas are the most prominent Division I men's college basketball team in the area. They became a national basketball powerhouse under their coach John Thompson, and remain perennial contenders in the national tourney under their current coach, John Thompson III. The Hoyas play home games at the Verizon Center downtown. Verizon Center, 601 F St. NW, Chinatown, Washington, DC, 20004. 202/687–4692. guhoyas.com. Gallery Pl./Chinatown.

Washington Mystics. This WNBA team plays at the Verizon Center in downtown Washington and perennially lead the WNBA in attendance, despite a losing record. The games are loud, boisterous events. You can buy Mystics tickets at the Verizon Center box office or through Ticketmaster. The women's season runs from late May to August. Verizon Center, 6th and F Sts., Chinatown, Washington, DC, 20004. 202/432–7328. www.wnba.com/mystics. $18–$300. Gallery Pl./Chinatown.

Washington Wizards. From October to April the NBA's Washington Wizards play at the Verizon Center and feature NBA All-Star and 2014 Slam Dunk Contest champion, John Wall. For showtime entertainment look for the G-Wiz, the G-Man, the Wiz Kids, and of course the Wizard Girls. Buy tickets from the Verizon Center box office, the Wizards' online, or Ticketmaster. Verizon Center, 6th and F Sts., Chinatown, Washington, DC, 20004. 202/432–7328. www.nba.com/wizards. $18–$2,500. Gallery Pl./Chinatown.

Bicycling

The numerous trails in the District and its surrounding areas are well maintained and clearly marked. Washington’s large parks are also popular with cyclists. Plus, with new bike lanes on all major roads and the Capital Bikeshare scheme, it's also a great way to get around town.

East Potomac Park. Cyclists might try the 3-mile loop around the golf course in East Potomac Park at Hains Point (entry is near the Jefferson Memorial). This peninsula, though somewhat less scenic than a run around the Mall, is a favorite training course for dedicated local racers and would-be triathletes. Hains Point is a great place to view Fort McNair and the National War College, as well as to watch planes take off and land from Reagan National Airport across the river. 14th St. SW, Southwest, Washington, DC, 20024. 202/485–9874 National Park Service.

Mount Vernon Trail. Across the Potomac in Virginia, this riverside trail has two sections. The northern part begins near the causeway at Theodore Roosevelt Island across the river from the Kennedy Center. Three and a half miles later it passes Ronald Reagan National Airport and continues on to Mount Vernon, a total distance of 18 miles. This section has slight slopes and almost no interruptions for traffic, making it a delightful biking experience. Even inexperienced bikers enjoy the trail, which provides wonderful views of the Potomac. To access the trail from the District, take the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge or the Rochambeau Memorial Bridge, also known as the 14th Street Bridge. South of the airport, the trail runs down to the Washington Marina. The final mile of the trail's northern section meanders through protected wetlands before ending in the heart of Old Town Alexandria. The trail's 9-mile southern section extends along the Potomac from Alexandria to Mount Vernon. No motorized vehicles (including skateboards, bicycles, scooters, and Segways) are allowed, however. Park Headquarters, Turkey Run Park, McLean, VA, 22101. 703/289–2500. www.nps.gov/gwmp. Arlington Cemetery, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, or Rosslyn.

Boating and Sailing

The Chesapeake Bay is one of the great sailing basins of the world. For scenic and historical sightseeing, take a day trip to Annapolis, Maryland, the home of the U.S. Naval Academy. The popularity of boating and the many boating businesses in Annapolis make it one of the best civilian sailing centers on the East Coast.

Mather Gorge. Some of the best white-water kayakers and canoeists in the country call Washington home. On weekends they practice below Great Falls in Mather Gorge, a canyon carved by the Potomac River just north of the city, above Chain Bridge. The water is deceptive and dangerous, containing Class I to Class IV rapids. Beginners should watch the experts at play from a post above the gorge. Great Falls Park is now a trash free zone, so be prepared to carry your trash out of the park with you. Great Falls Park, 9200 Old Dominion Dr., McLean, VA, 22102. 703/285–2965 in Virginia; 301/299–3613 in Maryland. www.nps.gov/grfa.

Potomac River. Canoeing, sailing, and powerboating are popular in the Washington, D.C. area. Several places rent boats along the Potomac River north and south of the city. You can dip your paddle just about anywhere along the river—go canoeing in the C&O Canal, sailing in the widening river south of Alexandria, or even kayaking in the raging rapids at Great Falls, a 30-minute drive from the capital. Washington, DC.

Football

Washington Redskins. The perennially popular Redskins continue to play football in the Maryland suburbs at 79,000-seat FedEx field. Under ongoing discussion is a name change for the team, since some deem it insensitive to Native Americans. Super Bowl wins in 1983, '88, and '92 have ensured the Redskins a place as one of the top three most valuable franchises in the NFL. Diehard fans snap up season tickets year after year, especially after the acquisition of the explosive new quarterback, Robert Griffin III, or RGIII as he's known to the fans. Individual game-day tickets can be hard to come by when the team is enjoying a strong season. Your best bet is to check out StubHub (www.stubhub, the official ticket marketplace of the Redskins.)

Several restaurants overlook the field, and the stadium houses the Redskins Hall of Fame. A large installation of solar panels, including one shaped like a giant quarterback and dubbed "Solar Man," powers the lights. Parking is a hassle, so take the Metro or arrive several hours early if you don't want to miss the kickoff.

Game tickets can be difficult to get, but fans can see the players up close and for free at the Bon Secours Training Camp in Richmond, Virginia. Camp begins in late July and continues through mid-August. The practices typically last from 90 minutes to two hours. Fans can bring their own chairs, and the players are usually available after practice to sign autographs. Call ahead to make sure the practices are open that day. A practice schedule is on the team's website. FedEx Field, 1600 FedexWay, Landover, MD, 20785. 301/276–6000 FedEx Field. www.redskins.com. $75–$1,200.

Hiking

Great hiking is available in and around Washington. Hikes and nature walks are listed in the Friday "Weekend" section of the Washington Post. Several area organizations sponsor outings, and many are guided.

Billy Goat Trail. This challenging trail in the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park starts and ends at the C&O Canal Towpath for a total hike of 4.7 miles, providing some outstanding views of the wilder parts of the Potomac, along with some steep downhills, rock hopping, as well as some climbs. Be prepared—the hike is mostly in the sun, not suitable for small children, and no dogs are allowed. Near Great Falls Tavern Visitor Center, 11710 MacArthur Blvd., Potomac, MD, 20854. 301/413–0720. www.nps.gov/choh.

Potomac-Appalachian Trail Club. Founded in 1927, the club sponsors hikes—usually free—on trails from Pennsylvania to Virginia, including the C&O Canal and the Appalachian Trail. This is a good resource for books with trail maps, hiking guides, trail cabins, and camping information. 118 Park St. SE, Vienna, VA, 22180. 703/242–0315. www.patc.net.

Theodore Roosevelt Island. Designed as a living memorial to the environmentally minded president, this wildlife sanctuary is off the George Washington Parkway near the Virginia side of the Potomac—close to Foggy Bottom, Georgetown, East Potomac Park, and the Kennedy Center. Hikers and bicyclists can reach the island by crossing the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Bridge or walking from the Rosslyn Metro. Many birds and other animals live in the island's marsh and forests. Rangers are available for an Island Safari, where a statue of Teddy greets you with his arm raised. Washington, DC, 20037. 703/289–2500. www.nps.gov/this.

Woodend Sanctuary. A self-guided nature trail winds through a verdant 40-acre estate that is the suburban Maryland headquarters of the local Audubon Naturalist Society. So bring those binoculars! A Georgian Revivalist mansion, designed in the 1920s by Jefferson Memorial architect John Russell Pope, graces the grounds. You're never far from the trill of birdsong here, as the Audubon Society has turned the place into something of a private nature preserve, forbidding the use of toxic chemicals and leaving some areas in a wild, natural state. Programs include wildlife identification walks, environmental education programs, and a weekly Saturday bird walk September through June. A bookstore stocks titles on conservation, ecology, and birds. The grounds are open daily sunrise to sunset, and admission is free. 8940 Jones Mill Rd., Chevy Chase, MD, 20815. 301/652–9188; 301/652–1088 for recent bird sightings. www.audubonnaturalist.org. Free.

Hockey

National Gallery of Art Ice Rink. One of the most popular outdoor winter venues in Washington is surrounded by the museum's Sculpture Garden. The art-deco rink is perfect for a romantic date night, a fun daytime kid activity (when it's less crowded), or for just enjoying the wintry views of the National Archives and the sculptures as the sun sets. In spring the rink becomes a fountain. Plus, the Gallery's Pavilion Café is right there. Admission is $8 for adults, skate rental is $3, and lockers are $0.50, plus a $5 deposit. Constitution Ave. NW, between 7th and 9th sts., Downtown, Washington, DC, 20565. 202/216–9397. www.nga.gov. Archives/Navy Memorial.

Washington Capitals. One of pro hockey's top teams, the Washington Capitals play loud and exciting home games in October through April at the Verizon Center. The team is led by one of hockey's superstars, Alex Ovechkin, and enjoys a huge, devoted fanbase. Tickets are difficult to find but can be purchased at the Verizon Center box office, StubHub, or Ticketmaster. Verizon Center, 601 F St. NW, Chinatown, Washington, DC, 20004. 202/266–2222. capitals.nhl.com. $45–$385. Gallery Pl./Chinatown.

Cabin John Regional Park. The indoor rink here is open year-round, and the fee for ages 11 and over is $6.50 for 2 hours of public skating (with reductions for younger children and seniors); skate rentals are $3.25 per session. 10610 Westlake Dr., Rockville, MD, 20852. 301/365–0585. www.montgomeryparks.org.

Kite Flying

Blossom Kite Festival. The Smithsonian's annual kite fest gives kids and adults a chance to enjoy a day of kite flying on the National Mall. Held in connection with the Cherry Blossom Festival in early spring, the granddaddy of kite festivals features kite battles and incredible kite-flying exhibitions. Washington Monument, Constitution Ave. and 17th St., Downtown, Washington, DC, 20013. 202/357–3030. www.nationalcherryblossomfestival.org. Smithsonian.

Running

Running is one of the best ways to see the city, and several uninterrupted scenic trails wend through Downtown Washington and nearby northern Virginia (including the Mount Vernon Trail). The trails of Rock Creek Park close at nightfall and the ones along the C&O Canal and other remote areas—or on the Mall—are not as safe, although the streets are fairly well lit.

National Mall and Memorial Parks. The most popular running route in Washington is the 4½-mile loop on the Mall. At any time of day hundreds of runners and speed walkers make their way along the gravel pathways. There's relatively little car traffic and, as they travel from the Lincoln Memorial all the way up to the Capitol and back, they can take in some of Washington's finest landmarks, such as the Washington Monument, the Reflecting Pool, and the Smithsonian's many museums. For a longer run, veer south of the Mall on either side of the Tidal Basin and head for the Jefferson Memorial and East Potomac Park, the site of many races. Bounded by Constutution and Independence Aves., The Mall, Washington, DC. www.nps.gov/nacc.

Soccer

D.C. United. One of the best Major League Soccer teams has a huge fan base in the nation's capital, finding many of its fans in the international crowds who miss the big matches at home, as well as families whose kids play soccer. International matches, including some World Cup preliminaries, are often played on the grass field of Capitol Hill's RFK Stadium, the Redskins' and Senators' former residence. Games are played March through October. You can buy tickets at the RFK Stadium ticket office or through the team's website, which offers special youth pricing. The DC Talon, the team mascot, entertains the crowd, along with enthusiastic, horn-blowing fans. Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, 2400 E. Capitol St. SE, Capitol Hill, Washington, DC, 20003. 202/547–3134. www.dcunited.com. $25–$65. Stadium.