Tucked away in a parcel of land at the northeast corner of the city surrounded by drab industrial areas along New York Avenue and Bladensburg Road, the National Arboretum isn’t easy to get to without a car making it a bit of a lesser known attraction in the area, but it’s well worth the trek.
Perhaps the most iconic feature of the Arboretum is the National Capitol Columns. The stately Corinthian columns were once part of the US Capitol but were replaced in 1958 and eventually found their permanent home on top of a slightly elevated open field at the Arboretum called the Ellipse Meadow. Their appearance is imposing and photo worthy and a popular local spot for wedding and engagement shots.
There are over 400 acres of land in the Arboretum so there’s much more to explore. There’s an impressive Bonsai garden, an azalea garden that is absolutely breathtaking if you hit it at peak bloom, a youth garden and even plenty of cherry blossom trees for those looking to avoid the overwhelming crowds at the Tidal Basin in the spring. Although it’s currently under construction, outside of the Administration Building is a large koi fish pond and visitors get to feed the fish. It’s a favorite kid activity. They love to see the huge fish crowd around with their gaping mouths begging for food. We can’t wait for the koi fish to return when construction is complete.
One of my personal favorites is the Asian Collection which backs up to the Anacostia River and includes a few secluded benches with great river views. It’s easy to drive in and follow the signs to a small parking lot right off the gardens. I’ve often found myself completely alone in contemplation and peaceful silence.
There is a tram that offers tours of the grounds but they tend to run on the weekends only. There are also plenty of guided walking tours, even a full moon hike in the evening after hours which is on my to-do list but plan ahead b/c they fill up quickly.
Helpful Tip: If you don’t bring along a picnic lunch and you’re needing to fill your belly after all the walking you’ll do at the Arboretum, there’s a great Szechuan Chinese restaurant called Panda Gourmet just up Bladensburg Road inside the Days Inn. You’ll be skeptical, but trust me, it’s good and authentic Chinese food in the most unlikely of places.