Yep, sometimes the second 'B' stands for broke...which is not a great place to be, especially during the summer. So what is a savvy BBW to do? Improvise, of course! And DC happens to be the greatest city in the world for winging it (just ask Congress).
Thus, from the perspective of a bona fide DC native who is always broke, here are a few entertainment options to help you beat the heat and possibly discover something new about the Capitol City:
Visit the Smithsonian: Your hard earned tax dollars have already paid for them, so why let perfectly decent museums sit un-visited? While some museums are overrun by tourists, several others would love to have you stop by, such as the National Museum of African Art (headed by one of my BBW sheroes, Dr. Johnnetta B. Cole); the Museums of Asian Art (the Freer and Sackler Galleries); and the Hirshorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. If you are feeling especially adventurous, take the shuttle from the Mall over to the Anacostia Community Museum (because it is not that easy to find, even for most locals).
Walk the Monuments by Dusk: How long has it been since you actually visited the attractions that are featured in those cheap plastic snow globes and ceramic doo-dads that the tourists love? If you have to think back to an elementary school class trip, then you are long overdue in revisiting some of the city's most iconic places. An early evening stroll is romantic, educational and quieter since there are fewer people milling around. The must-sees on your list should include the Lincoln Memorial, the ultra phallic Washington Monument, and the soon-to-be unveiled MLK National Memorial, but there really is not much that you will not see on the National Mall (except for the Reflecting Pool, which is being renovated).
Attend an Outdoor Concert: Even in the age of iTunes Genius and Pandora, you still want to discover different groups, so what better way than to take in some live music? Well, thankfully you do not have to drive the ends of the earth (outside of the Beltway) to get to a decent outdoor venue. A hidden gem is Fort Dupont Park in Southeast where you can enjoy jazz and R&B with the cousins...or you can head uptown to the Carter Baron Amphitheatre to hang out with the snootier side of the family to listen to some jazz or watch some cool performances. The paid performances at the Carter Baron are really cheap at $24.50, so what's not to love about that?
Another way to enjoy free music is to bum around town during your lunch hour or after work. Apparently, I missed the memo, but at the Woodrow Wilson Plaza (near the Ronald Reagan International Trade Building), Smokey Robinson performed earlier this summer for their kick-off; but no worries, there is a show everyday at noon and the final act will be our own Godfather of Go-Go Chuck Brown on September 23rd. Another memo I must have missed regards the new space down on the Waterfront, now referred to as Yards Park (near the Nationals Stadium) and which apparently opened a whole year ago and offers live music on Friday nights. Of course, that competes with my old standby at the National Gallery, where you can enjoy jazz and sangria in the Sculpture Garden, also on Friday evenings.
One last thing--remember the bug spray!
Watch Free Movies: Sure, you've seen these movies a few hundred times...or maybe not, but there is always a good time to be had at Screen on the Green. Bring a blanket, a basket of goodies, and join a few thousand of your closest friends under the stars for a Monday night movie on the National Mall.
So I just realized how utterly uncool I am since there are free films also shown in some of the city's new trendy neighborhoods like the NoMa Summer Screen on Wednesdays and the Capitol Riverfront on Thursdays (majorly uncool since both are totally in my radius). Or you can opt to be a do-gooder by hitting the U Street Movie Series on Tuesdays, where for a donation, you can see documentaries and support the Harrison Recreation Center. At each location, you can bring a picnic or patronize the latest big thing to hit the streets--one of the inescapable food trucks.
And again, remember the bug spray!
Soak up some Fancy Art and Culture at places you cannot otherwise Afford: Such as the Millenium Stage at the Kennedy Center and the Strathmore. I will shamefully admit that I have not actually ever gone to see any of the free performances at the Kennedy Center, which occur every Monday through Friday, but I appreciate the fact that they exist. And I plead ignorance about the free programs offered by the Strathmore since it is located outside of the city, but it might be worth a Metro ride. So do as I suggest and not as I have yet to do...
Now in a city full of free museums, why would you even consider paying admission somewhere else? What makes the Corcoran Gallery of Art so special? Well, find out one Saturday for free.
Explore East of the River: I know, I know...you've been hoodwinked and bamboozled into thinking that there is nothing to see in Soufeast (gotta say it just like that :), but the BBW is a proud product of SE DC and can attest that you will find great things on the other side! Forget what you've heard about making a pilgrimage to Ben's Chili Bowl (which is great and wonderful, blah blah blah), but the real you-cannot-leave-DC-without-seeing-it-or-else-you-are-a-total-bamma is the beloved Frederick Douglass House also known as Cedar Hill in Anacostia. It is literally three blocks away from that other great Washington monument, the Big Chair on MLK Avenue. And though this is not technically located in SE, you should totally go see the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens to do some urban bird watching or to get your meditation on.
Now I am going out on a limb by making this suggestion, but another very important landmark East of the River is the Shrimp Boat on Benning Road. Mind you, this is not exactly a place that you should plan a day around, let alone spend more than five minutes driving by, but it is a must-see simply because it is one of those places that sounds like you should be able to go in for some seafood. Yet I don't believe I know a single person who has ever actually done that... You can pass by it on your way to the Langston Golf Course where you can enjoy a relatively cheap nine-holes.
Check out Part 2 for some cheap eating options.