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Behind Washington's Monuments at Some Famous Haunts

August 30, 1987|ELLEN HOFFMAN | Hoffman is a Washington free-lance writer.

WASHINGTON — The casual or business traveler to the nation's capital could easily believe that the city is entirely composed of imposing monuments and formal gardens, museums that hold countless treasures and expense-account restaurants.

It's all a facade. A facade created by Washingtonians who live here and by the tourism industry.

The monuments, museums and the White House should be on the itinerary of any first-time visitor to Washington, and some are worth visiting many times. But for the visitor who has already "done" Washington or who makes frequent business trips here, a little more variety is in order.

The true Washington insider, much like the New Yorker who never goes to the Empire State Building, lives and works and plays in neighborhoods, restaurants and cultural institutions rarely seen by the short-term visitor.

Some favorite haunts are not even in the city. A true Washington insider knows that one of the best things about living in the capital is the variety of attractions in nearby Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia.

A lush and verdant tropical oasis a few steps from the Capitol is also convenient to the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum. It's the U.S. Botanic Garden, housed in 11 greenery-filled rooms at the corner of Maryland Avenue and 1st Street Southwest.

Always in Bloom

Something is always blooming at the garden. If you are here in azalea season you can feast your eyes on more than 800 of the white, pink, red and purple blooming bushes. If it's Christmas you'll find the building ablaze with more than 2,000 poinsettia plants. The garden is open most days of the year and into the evening during summer.

The Old Post Office Building, site of the city's first two major public New Year's Eve celebrations, is one of the latest ornaments to the "Main Street of the Nation," Pennsylvania Avenue. The turreted Romanesque edifice, built in 1899, was saved from the wrecker's ball by preservationists a few years ago.

It has been transformed into a lively shopping, eating and entertainment center. At lunchtime, bureaucrats and tourists alike throng to the eateries in the ground-level Cookery area, where they munch everything from Indian curries to chocolate chip cookies.

Save at least half an hour for the free excursion in a glass-walled elevator to the 12th-story clock tower observation post. From there you'll get excellent views of downtown and monumental Washington and the 10 huge bells given to the United States by Great Britain as a Bicentennial birthday present. The Pavilion, at Pennsylvania Avenue and 12th Street N.W., is open daily from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.

The Washington museum scene may begin at the Smithsonian but it doesn't end there. The Textile Museum, for example, is known for its constantly changing exhibits of everything from Oriental rugs to South American tapestries. It's in two early 20th-Century residences at 2320 S St. N.W. and has a formal garden that is perfect for resting weary tourist feet.

On a Walking Tour

You can visit the Textile Museum by itself or as part of a walking tour designed by the Dupont-Kalorama Museums Consortium. Information about the self-guided walk, which takes you to seven museums and historic places in one of Washington's most gracious old neighborhoods, is available at the Tourist Information Center at the Commerce Department, Pennsylvania Avenue and 14th Street N.W.

Renoir's "The Boating Party" and numerous paintings of Cezanne, Braque and other modern masters are among the attractions at the former family residence that houses the Phillips Collection, 1600 21st St. N.W. Recently reopened after renovation, the museum offers the opportunity to sip a cup of coffee or dine in a cafe on the ground floor.

Those who remember Virginia as a dry state may not think of taking a tasting tour of its vineyards. But according to the state's Department of Agriculture, "grape growing and wine making have become a dynamic segment of Virginia agriculture, due largely to incentives by the 1980 farm winery law and the increasing consumer preference for wine. . . ."

If your schedule permits a day in the country, you can enjoy the serene landscapes of Virginia's rolling hills as well as the tasting. For a copy of the guide to vineyards and a schedule of wine festivals, write to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, P.O. Box 1163, Richmond, Va. 23209.

The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal towpath, which starts in Georgetown, provides in-town bucolic relief for joggers, bikers and walkers. You can rent a bike by the hour or day at Fletcher's Boat House, 4940 Canal Road N.W., or see the canal April through October from the deck of a mule-drawn barge.

The National Park Service Information Center at the Foundry Mall, on 30th Street at the canal, south of M Street in Georgetown, sells tickets and will provide information about barge trips.

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