Outdoor Activities in Washington, DC
Washington, DC's major sites are tantalizingly close to one another, but just a bit too far to explore in a reasonable day of walking. Enter the bike tour! Bike the Sites offers much-loved tours that are accessible to even beginning bikers and led by personable guides with an insider's knowledge of the area. Tours include the Mall and Monuments, Capitol Hill and the Smithsonian museums, and Old Town Alexandria. For memorable twists on the usual DC tour, try Monuments by Moonlight or a cherry blossom tour. The company's three locations (at the Post Office Pavilion, Union Station and Old Town) also rent everything from mountain bikes to tandem bicycles, plus kids' bikes and accessories. Bike tours run from March to December. Helmets and vests are provided, but be sure to bring drinking water in hot weather.
Dreaming of a chance to play softball on the Ellipse or practice your volleyball spike in the shadow of the Lincoln Monument? Drive past the Mall-area athletic fields on any evening in the warmer months, and you're likely to spot at least one softball or volleyball game sponsored by the Capital Alumni Network (CAN). CAN offers a variety of volunteer, social and professional activities, but its best known program are leagues for softball, basketball, football, soccer and volleyball. Don't fret if your school isn't among the dozens with CAN teams -- someone's always willing to take in a newcomer. Despite decent players and sometimes bitter school rivalries, the main goal of CAN is to meet other people and have fun: Most games end at a favorite team bar, and countless DC newcomers have built their social lives through CAN.
There's something magical about riding horses in the middle of a city. DC's version of this magic comes courtesy of the Rock Creek Horse Center in Rock Creek Park, a large barn full of beautiful horses that serves everyone from horse-crazy grade schoolers to yuppies in designer boots. The Horse Center doesn't offer hourly horse rentals, but there are trail rides through the trees of Rock Creek Park, kids' pony rides, horse camps and riding lessons. Trail rides and pony rides run only during the warmer months, and they are hugely popular -- be sure to reserve many weeks in advance. Even if you don't schedule a ride, it's fun to drop by the barn to stroke some velvety noses and feed the residents a carrot or two.
Our own brand of weekend fitness is too often a stroll between the coffee shop and bakery. But the Mount Vernon Trail is so amazing, we can't pass by without visions of serious running and biking dancing through our heads. The Mount Vernon Trail is an 18-mile dedicated pedestrian and bike path that follows the Potomac on the Virginia side, from Arlington in the north past Reagan National Airport and Old Town Alexandria, through the marshes and nature preserves south of Alexandria and ultimately to George Washington's stately home at Mount Vernon. The trail offers fresh breezes, water views, green spaces galore, occasional glimpses of the Monuments across the Potomac, Colonial-era charm and even the excitement of an occasional low-flying jetliner. The trail is well maintained and mostly flat. And the combination of nature's bounty and postcard-perfect city views is simply unbeatable.
Pass through any city in China early in the morning, and you're likely to see at least one group practicing tai chi in a park. Tai chi is a slow, gentle martial arts practice that is said to enhance the flow of life force (chi) throughout the body. Like yoga, tai chi increases both muscle strength and flexibility while incorporating a spiritual component that enhances mind-body awareness. Every Saturday morning, weather permitting, Capitol Hill Tai Chi meets to practice tai chi in Capitol Hill's Lincoln Park. Classes run from 8-10 a.m. and welcome all ages and levels of experience. The teacher is a local chiropractor who has studied tai chi for decades; he also teaches more intensive group classes and private lessons.