Sometimes you’re looking for an out-of-the-house activity that doesn’t actually involve much… activity. You just want to find a locale that is pretty and quiet, where you can chill out and think (or not) — especially during this strange and uncertain time when there is so much information to digest and new circumstances to comprehend. Whether with kids, in the company of other adults, or solo, having a place to go to process everything (or not focus on it for awhile), can be good for everyone’s well being. You might want to wander around beautiful grounds, take a break in nature, meditate in a tranquil place, or just lounge and enjoy the surrounds. Here are 10 spots in DC perfect for that, where you can find some peace and calm.
The 450 acres of gorgeous grounds contain a bunch tucked away spots, where you can hang out and unwind, you just have to explore beyond the popular parts to find them. There are gazebos in the middle of plant collections, benches placed under the prettiest trees, swaths of grass amid blooming flora, and uncrowded trails and paths that wind all around. Skip the old Capitol Columns that tend to draw lots of visitors and head to the Asian Collection, the dogwoods and conifers, the hollies and magnolias, the hill full of azaleas, or Fern Valley (when it’s open again). Whether you roam around or discover a secret place to sit, your surroundings will be beautiful and calm. The National Arboretum is open daily, 8am – 5pm, and admission is free. Read more about it here and here.
Franciscan Monastery Garden
The Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America is an “Oasis of Peace” in Brookland. It consists of the Memorial Church of the Holy Sepulchre, beautifully landscaped grounds immediately surrounding, and a garden adjacent to that. The Rosary Portico, long concrete open air passageways, run along the perimeter of the inner grounds, the inside walls adorned with Christian symbols and ceramic plaques. In the garden, pretty flowers and plants and tall trees grow among replicas of Holy Land shrines. The public is welcome to enjoy it all. There are paths to stroll and lots of benches if you just want to sit and reflect. Garden hours are 9am – 4:45pm daily (though the church is closed right now), and admission is free. Read more about the Franciscan Monastery here.
This secluded locale in Northwest DC that stretches between the Washington International School and a residential area — you can see the backyards of homes as you walk along some of the paths — offers a nice little nature break. Trails wind through the 13 acres under tall leafy trees, with a lily pond, large meadow, and a couple of stone stairways adding a bit of a fairy tale feel. You could very well have it all to yourself — we’ve wandered through without encountering a single other visitor. And if you wanted to extend your walk, the park trails lead right to the Klingle Valley Trail. Access Tregaron at 3100 Macomb Street NW or 3031 Klingle Road NW.
This outdoor area of the U.S. Botanic Garden is often missed by visitors because of its location across Independence Avenue from the Conservatory. But the lack of people is part of what makes it such a lovely spot. The Bartholdi Fountain is the centerpiece of the park, and it’s surrounded by colorful flowers and paths winding among the plants. A couple of tables with umbrellas, plus several benches are there, so you can sit and relax amid it all. It’s so lovely and serene, you’ll forget there’s a busy thoroughfare just beyond its edges.
River Street Gardens at Yards Park
If you can snag one of the wooden lounge chairs in this small section in front of the boardwalk on the east side of Yards Park, it’s a great place to chill out. Overlooking the Anacostia, you can sit back and take in river views, surrounded by birch trees and greenery that make it a relaxing enclave within the bigger, bustling Capitol Riverfront. The park is open from sunrise until two hours after sunset, and admission is free.
Something about its location within the Potomac River makes the park feel like an isolated escape. You have to cross a bridge from Virginia to access it even though it’s technically in DC. A couple of trails traverse the island through woods and along the water, some parts of it on a boardwalk over marshy areas. And in the center of it all is the Memorial Plaza, a tribute to Theodore Roosevelt, with fountains and stone benches. Whether you walk the grounds or just sit and relax, you’ll be immersed in a soothing setting. Roosevelt Island is open 6am – 10pm, and admission is free. Read more about it and get a good glimpse in this KFDC post.
Bishop’s Garden at the National Cathedral
While many find calm and comfort inside the Cathedral, this gorgeous area on the south side of the church offers that in its own way. The terraced, walled garden is as tranquil as it is beautiful, featuring an array of colorful flowers, a variety of plants, statues, and medieval and modern structures incorporated into the design. Walk through it all along the stone path or pick a seat on a bench or in the gazebo for a calming break.
Enid A. Haupt Garden
The grounds between the Smithsonian Castle and Independence Avenue (and nearby offshoots) are always well-groomed, vibrant with flowers, and an inviting outdoor space. You can stroll around and get a close look at the plants and flowers or find a bench to sit and savor it all. Neat little side areas, like the Moongate Garden adjacent to the Freer|Sackler and the Fountain Garden next to the National Museum of African Art, have water features and artistic designs that are pretty to view and relaxing to hang out by. The Haupt Garden is open daily from dawn to dusk, and admission is free.
It doesn’t get much more peaceful than a cemetery. Sure, the thought of hanging out among the dead and buried might be eerie to some, but others find the stillness comforting. At this Capitol Hill site, the serene environs are also beautiful, their 30 acres studded with all types of gravestones — large and small, simple and intricate — and you can walk among them on several paved paths that stretch across the grounds. You’ll also find many quiet places to sit, some even at gravesites, where you can contemplate life (and death) or just find calm in the silence.
Dumbarton Oaks Garden
The beautiful grounds of the historic Dumbarton House in Georgetown is one of the prettiest places in DC, in my opinion. Tucked away in a relatively non-bustling area of the neighborhood, a visit there feels like a little escape right in the city. A variety of sections feature different kinds of flora, and there are numerous paths — brick, stone, grass, stairs — to access them, often with delightful surprises on the way. Roaming around is a great way to de-stress and clear the mind, and scattered throughout are nice small nooks with seating as well as open spaces. Garden hours are 2-6pm Wed-Sun. Admission is $10/adult, $5/age 2-12 from mid-March – mid-November (free the rest of the year). Note: Dumbarton Oaks Gardens are closed right now due to COVID, but it’s included here for when the public is welcome again — hopefully, soon.