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Nat Geo’s Washington, D.C.

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The National Mall plays host to many events throughout the year, including the blossom kite festival. (Photograph by Mario Savva, My Shot)

Since it’s America’s birthday today, we thought it would be fitting to publish a special edition of I Heart My City to celebrate the best things about the nation’s capital and National Geographic’s home city.

There’s a little-engine-that-could we like to call “Team Lady” here at Traveler — otherwise known as Carolyn FoxAndrea Leitch, Leslie Trew Magraw, and Sarah Polger (our fearless leader, Zain Habboo, is visiting family in Jordan). While we’re not as different as the four friends on Sex in the City, each of us brings a distinctive flair to the table. Here’s a mash-up of our favorite things about living in “the District.”

Washington, D.C. is Our City

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The National Mall plays host to many events throughout the year, including the blossom kite festival. (Photograph by Mario Savva, My Shot)

The first place I take a visitor from out of town is the National Mall to tour the monuments and Smithsonian museums (they’re all free!).

When I crave pizza I always go to We the Pizza in Capitol Hill.

To escape the concrete city I head to the Shenandoah Mountains to go for a hike.

If I want to see a foreign, independent, documentary, or classic film I go to E Street Cinema.

For complete quiet, I can hide away in the Hirshhorn Museum’s Sculpture Garden.

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See "The Needle Tower" in the Hirshhorn's sculpture garden. (Photograph by Sydney Liautaud, My Shot)

If you come to my city, get your picture taken at the Jefferson Memorial. It faces the Washington Monument and the White House and is especially lovely when the cherry blossoms are in bloom.

If you have to order one thing off the menu from Ben’s Chili Bowl it has to be the chili-cheese fries (ask for “the works”).

Georgetown Cupcakes is my one-stop shop for great dessert.

Locals know to skip Georgetown shopping and check out Eastern Market instead.

When I’m feeling cash-strapped I go have a picnic with friends in Meridian Hill Park (a.k.a. Malcolm X Park). It offers a spectacular overlook of downtown.

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Check out the drum circle that gathers on Sundays at Meridian Hill Park. (Photograph by Jessica Stephens, My Shot)

For a huge splurge, I reserve a spot at the Passenger’s back bar, the Columbia Room, and sip on specialty cocktails and sample fancy olives.

Photo ops in my city include historic presidents’ memorials (Jefferson, Washington, F.D.R., Lincoln) and the best vantage point is a walk along the whole of the Tidal Basin.

If my city were a celebrity it’d be Anderson Cooper: lived through familial scandal, loved by many, and cares about the world — including the world outside the U.S.

The most random thing about my city is there are no skyscrapers. Also, even though it’s the nation’s capital, the people who live here pay federal taxes, but don’t have voting representation in Congress. Not cool. That’s why we have “No taxation without representation” on our license plates.

The Capitol building, the epicenter of the District. (Photograph by Leslie Cordero, My Shot)

My city has the luckiest men. Because there are some great ladies in this town.

My city has the most ambitious women, who are determined to help the world.

In my city, an active day outdoors involves a hike through Great Falls Park in Virginia.

My city’s best museum is the National Portrait Gallery. Something for every kind of art lover, a unique center courtyard, and a gift shop stocked full of good stocking stuffers.

My favorite jogging/walking route loops around and through Meridian Hill Park, between the U Street Corridor and Columbia Heights.

For a night of dancing, go to U Street Music Hall. Or, for live music, check out the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hotel on H Street, NE.

The sun sets on the Shenandoah Mountains. (Photograph by Shiv Beheraj, My Shot)

Haydee’s, in DC’s Mt. Pleasant neighborhood, is the spot for late-night eats (you might even catch some live mariachi music). If you’re looking for a healthier option, Taylor Gourmet is open late on the weekends and makes killer sandwiches.

To find out what’s going on at night and on the weekends, read the Washington Post‘s Going Out Guide or Brightest Young Things.

You can tell a lot about my city from participating in its extensive happy hour culture. You’ll see Capitol Hill suits, tech nerds, hipsters, and hippies.

You can tell if someone is from my city if they walk up the metro escalator in a rush on the left (and stay to the right if they’re standing still), and call the subway by its rightful name: the metro. Stand right, walk left!

In the spring you should check out the National Arboretum, another one of DC’s hidden gems (see below).

The National Capitol Columns -- a surreal experience at the Arboretum. (Photograph by Ryan Holloway, My Shot)

In the summer you should bring a picnic and take in some free outdoor jazz at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden (Fridays from 5:00-8:30 p.m.), take a dip in the Capitol Skyline pool, wander in and out of the many free (and air-conditioned) museums in DC, or see DC’s last remaining wetlands (and blue herons) at Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens.

In the fall you should take a stroll through Theodore Roosevelt Island and around the Tidal Basin (way fewer tourists, and much better weather). Fall is a great time for bike riding, too, and there are amazing trails in Rock Creek Park, an urban escape more than twice the size of Central Park.

In the winter you should bundle up and go ice skating on the Mall or geek out at the National Archives (you can really trot out your patriotism here: the original Declaration of Independence, Constitution, Bill of Rights, and Emancipation Proclamation, are all on display).

See the Declaration of Independence at the National Archives. (Photograph by Matt McKinney, My Shot)

A hidden gem in my city is Lincoln’s Cottage, an important (and intimate) historic site that played a major role in the Great Emancipator’s presidency (the Lincolns lived here in the summer and fall throughout the Civil War).

For a great breakfast joint, try the Tabard Inn, the ultimate brunch experience. Order a round of homemade donuts for the table. You won’t be disappointed. Or, for cheaper eats, try Ben’s Chili Bowl. This DC legend is known for its half-smokes, but breakfast is its secret weapon. Get there early: they stop serving b’fast at 10:45 a.m. sharp.

Don’t miss the Screen on the Green festival on the National Mall July through August.

Just outside my city, you can visit Great Falls Park for serious kayaking, adventurous hiking, and quiet picnics. For a quick road trip, drive to the Eastern Shore. It’s Del-Mar-Va-lous — and home to some revolutionary history.

The best way to see my city is by bike. Capital Bikeshare makes it easy to cruise the entire city.

The sun rises on the Potomac River at Great Falls Park. (Photograph by John Franco, My Shot)

If my city were a pet it would be an American Foxhound. Fit and trim with an enormous amount of energy.

If I didn’t live in a city, I’d live on the beach in Malibu.

The best book about my city is Washington By Night: Vintage Photographs from the ’30s.

When I think about my city, the song that comes to mind is “Bustin’ Loose” by the “Godfather of Go-go,” Chuck Brown. The beloved D.C. music legend passed away in May, but he will live on in our hearts. “Wind me up, Chuck!”

If you have kids, you won’t want to miss the National Air and Space museum.

Regular presidential caravans could only happen in my city.

My city should be featured on your cover or website because Washington D.C. is a multicultural city where in a single day you can run into the President of the United States, see the Declaration of Independence, run down the “The Exorcist stepsThe Exorcist stepsThe Exorcist steps, cheer for the Washington Nationals, and eat any cuisine in the world.

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