Try This DIY Bike Tour of Beautiful Washington, D.C.
By July 28, 2022 0 1316•
Wondering What to Do With These Long Summer Days? How About Some Outdoor Biking Fun?
Washington, D.C., is a truly beautiful city. Whether you’re a resident deciding to spend the day being a tourist in your own town or an out-of-town visitor checking out the sites, this city is designed to amaze and inspire awe. During the past two years, the District has installed a series of bike lanes that now criss-cross the city making biking even more safe and enjoyable. This new bike highway provides a lovely way to tour the city via bicycle.
Looking for a fun outdoor activity during the long days of summer? This past week, I decided to embark on a DIY tour of my town, and I had so much fun, I wanted to share with my fellow residents and visitors alike.
You can start just about anywhere on this self-guided tour, depending on what you want to see. Feel free to stop at points of interest, or skip, depending on your time-frame, interests of the group, and personal perspective, but here is the route I did.
Stop 1: Start at the Trail Head/Get Your Bike/Canal Boat Tours
First things first, if you don’t already have a bike, pick one up at the C&O Canal trail head. The suggested route starts less than 500 feet from a Capital Bikeshare station (on 30th and K), which offers rentals for an affordable fee. While I ride my own eBike, my understanding is that Capital Bikeshare has a 30-minute time limit but you can’t beat their price of an $8 pass for 24 hours. If you already have your bike, head on down the trail towards town.
If you are up for it, and the timing is right, stop at the Heritage Canal Boat Tours which depart at 10 a.m., 12 p.m., 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday and enjoy a delightful tour a mile down the historic C&O Canal and back (adds one hour or so).
Pedal along the Georgetown Waterfront Park enjoying views of picnickers, and glimpses of Potomac boaters, enjoy the shade provided from the Whitehurst Freeway above. The on-road bike trail turns into sidewalk along Rock Creek Parkway. At the first stoplight and Virginia Avenue, make a left, at the corner (next to the world famous Watergate Complex). You are now back on a well-defined bike lane. Head uptown approximately 1.25 miles towards the Washington Monument clearly visible in the distance.
Stop 2: World War II Memorial/Constitution Gardens
Virginia Avenue will intersect with Constitution Avenue, ride towards the WWII Memorial and you will see the Constitution Gardens on your right. With Monet-esque water views, and a haven for waterfowl and other wildlife, this 50-acre park within the park is The Memorial to the 56 Signers of our Declaration of Independence. Feel free to stop and drink in the view, while on your way to Washington D.C.’s most recent addition to the Mall, The World War II Memorial. The reflection pond stretches to the right punctuated by views of the Lincoln Memorial.
Walk your bike between the WWII Memorial and reflection pool and head left, towards the Washington Monument along the Mall.
Stop 3: Smithsonian Institution Building/Carousel
Cycle past the Washington Monument, heading down the right side of the Mall. Take a moment to pause at the Smithsonian Institute’s Building nicknamed The Castle. The building is constructed of distinctive Seneca red sandstone and is impossible to miss. Depending on when you decide to tour the mall, an event might be happening, with installation of music, art, or educational information. Directly across from the Castle is the National Museum of Natural History. Ride past the Carousel on the Mall, if open and operating, take a ride on the only operating carousel in the District.
Stop 4: Hirshhorn Outdoor Sculpture Garden
On your way to the Capitol Building stop at the Hirshhorn Outdoor Sculpture Garden with over 30 works of art on display. The ramp to your left allows you to easily walk your bike and explore the grounds. Stop at the interactive Yoko Ono Wishing Tree, and make a wish. Sit on one of the benches in the shade and contemplate the curves of the Auguste Rodin and the angles of the red I-beam abstract by Mark di Suvero.
Stop 5: U.S. Capitol Building
Continue on past the Carousel on the Mall, heading towards the U.S. Capitol Building. This landmark is available to tour if planned ahead. Visit here to schedule a tour. However, if you’re keeping to the bike route and staying outdoors, tour around the reflecting pool and loop back towards the Washington Monument on the other side of the Mall. A variety of food trucks are usually parked at the bottom of the loop offering food and drink, if so inclined.
Stop 6: National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden
Sculptures by Joan Miro, Marc Chagal, Claes Oldenburg, and one of my favorite’s, Louise Bourgeois, and so many many more. . . are a welcome delight in this outdoor sculpture garden with a beautiful large fountain in the middle. With plenty of seating at the water’s edge, when I stopped the ranger encouraged me to take off my shoes and dip my feet in the refreshing water, with a “. . . that’s what it’s there for. . .” assurance. Sure enough, it was sooooo refreshing and invigorating. Walk your bike, take your time, marvel and admire, . . . take snaps!! There’s a restroom right next to the outdoor Pavilion Cafe, if you feel the need for a stop.
Stop 7: The Washington Monument
Built to honor our nation’s first president, George Washington, the 555-foot marble obelisk towers over Washington, D.C. I chose to circle around, sometimes going off the sidewalk to avoid the pedestrian foot traffic, and sometimes stopped to take a particularly angled photo. Depending on the time of day, the light shifts, creating moods, shadows, and stark contrasts against the sky. As a Georgetown resident, I usually see the monument’s tip from a distance or looking out a building window. This is my chance to be up close and personal. If desired, tickets can be purchased to D.C.’s centerpiece, and you can get a bird’s eye view of the nation’s capital from the top of the Washington Monument.
Stop 8: Lincoln Memorial/Vietnam Memorial
Head towards the Lincoln Memorial, along the wide shady tree-lined path, stopping along the way at the Vietnam Memorial designed by Maya Wing Lin. This is one of my favorites — meaningful and sacred — with its deep-cut black granite, pedestrians, veterans and their families, carefully walk around the fresh flowers, mementoes, and personal notes, placed at the base under a loved one’s engraved name.
Stop 9: The Reach Plaza and Gardens at the Kennedy Center
Head towards the Potomac River, look for the well-marked bike route (Georgetown 1.1 mile), and head along the water back towards Georgetown. The bike route passes right by The Reach plaza and gardens at the Kennedy Center. The sculptures, reflection pool and modern building silhouettes appear bright white against the cerulean blue sky. Lots of photo ops can capture the moment alone or with friends and family.
Stop 10: Washington Harbour & Georgetown Waterfront Park
Turn left at the Virginia Avenue light. Head towards the Washington Harbour & Georgetown Waterfront Park. This is a great place to cool off in the water fountain, have a bite to eat either at one of the outdoor cafes or you can even have your own picnic in the park under a shade tree.
Additional information . . . to keep you safe and comfortable.
Bathroom and Parking
Paid parking options are available within a short distance from the route’s start and finish points, and riders can find public restrooms along the Mall.
Food & Beverage
At the National Mall, food trucks offer all the street food classics and refreshments. We also highly recommend enjoying delicious bites at one of the several charming eateries in Georgetown upon your return.
The route starts less than 500 feet from a Capital Bikeshare station (on 30th and K), which offers rentals for an affordable fee. If you are considering making an investment in an eBike, I recommend the Trek Allant 2020 shown in the photos. This bike is a pure joy to get around town quickly and efficiently.
Don’t forget to wear a helmet (I love this one by Thousand), stay hydrated, and don’t forget the sunscreen. Please note: riders should be aware of new traffic patterns and road closures in the National Mall and be extra careful when sharing the road with other vehicles and pedestrians.
You never know when you might want or need to stop, and you will want to make sure your trusty steel steed has a secure lock up. My favorite bike locks are by Altor Locks. I use the Apex series when I need an easy-to-carry, day ride solution. And in situations where I might need an overnight lock up, or in my condo bike room I choose the SAF Lock.
DC Bike Ride
Part of this route can be cruised completely car-free on September 10. DC Bike Ride closes 20 miles of streets in the nation’s capital, inviting you to adventure through beautiful views, fun surprises, and photo zones. Join now with the promo code ALTOR for a special discount at dcbikeride.com. Here are a few photos from my ride last year. I hope to see you there!
Rebekah Kelley, is the owner and creator of VirtueSkinfood.com, and writes a monthly Wellness & Beauty column focused on trends and experiences, highlighting local resources and services in the Washington, D.C., area. Photos courtesy Rebekah Kelley.