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Washington, DC

The U.S. capital city was established in the late 1700s on land carved from Maryland and Virginia, so as not to reside in a state. It was designed by French architect Pierre L'Enfant on a grid of rectangles with streets radiating out, much like Paris. East-west streets have letter names, north-south streets have number designations, and the diagonal streets have state names. Most of D.C.'s residents work in federal government or serve government workers in some way.

The Community of Washington, DC

The Potomac River forms Washington's western border, while the rest of the city takes on a partial diamond shape. I-495, known as the Beltway, circles the city and I-295 runs through the southeast corner. The city is divided into quadrants (NW, NE, SW and SE) with the Capitol Building in the center.

Capitol Hill, where the federal government sits, is one of the city's most well-known neighborhoods. Others include Friendship Heights on the northern border with Maryland; residential area Cleveland Park in the northwest; Georgetown with its universities and high-end brick houses; and the funky Adams Morgan area.

What to Do in Washington, DC

Many monuments sit in or just outside of the National Mall, which runs 1.9 miles from the Capitol Building to the Lincoln Memorial. In the middle, the obelisk-like Washington Monument towers over the city; you can take an elevator to the top for spectacular views. Directly north of the Washington Monument sits the White House, where the President lives. Simply strolling along the Mall can be entertaining, but don't miss taking a moment or two to sit by the Reflecting Pool and check out the Lincoln Memorial.

The Smithsonian is a collection of museums managed by the federal government. From the popular Air and Space Museum to the National Museum of Natural History with its dinosaur bones and the infamous Hope Diamond to smaller collections like the National Museum of African Art, there's something for everyone. Not all the museums are spaced along the National Mall; to see everything would take months or more.

Like those in Europe, the National Cathedral took decades to plan and build. Its Gothic spires rise over the upper Northwest part of Washington as the sixth-largest cathedral in the world. Look for the 112 gargoyles outside -- including one that looks like Darth Vader -- or view the gorgeous stained glass from the inside. Or climb either of the two towers to see the city.

One Place You Shouldn't Miss in Washington, DC

Washington's iconic cherry blossoms grace the city only for a brief time in the spring, but the Tidal Basin where the trees are located is fun all year round. Walk along the path that surrounds this artificial lake and stop to check out the many memorials, including the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, Jefferson Memorial and Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.

Dining in Washington, DC

Set in The Hay-Adams Hotel, The Lafayette is a famous place to dine with views of the White House. Eat breakfast, lunch, dinner or brunch here, set in an intimate atmosphere where you could spot a well-known politician. The ever-changing menu features American contemporary cuisine like Seared Filet Mignon and Shenandoah Rack of Lamb.

Baked and Wired in Georgetown has some of the best cupcakes you've ever tasted, as well as a host of other pastries, cookies, brownies and drinks. They showcase new artists every month for an eclectic atmosphere to go along with the delicious cakes and pies.

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