Tag Archives: DC Secret Spots

Serenity Now: 10 Places to Find Peace and Calm in DC


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 view from inside a gazebo at the Arboretum

National Arboretum
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. 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 the National Arboretum and get more of a glimpse of it here, here, and here.  Visit the official website here.


The Franciscan Monastery’s pretty, peaceful garden

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, and admission is free. Find more info about the Franciscan Monastery here.


Wander in the woods at Tregaron

Tregaron Conservancy
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.


A hidden gem of the Botanic Garden

Bartholdi Park
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. Read more about Bartholdi Park in this KFDC Post.


A little oasis within Yards Park

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.



Nature and presidential tribute at Roosevelt Island

Roosevelt Island
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.  Theodore Roosevelt Island is open 6am – 10pm, and admission is free.


A grand Cathedral backdrop at the Bishop’s Garden

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.


The Parterre, the main part of the Haupt Garden

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.


Peaceful grounds at the cemetery

Congressional Cemetery
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 grave sites, where you can contemplate life (and death) or just find calm in the silence.


Plenty of space to stroll and de-stress at Dumbarton Oaks

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. It’s open Tuesday-Sunday 2-6pm March-October, and 2-5pm November-February. Admission is $7 from mid-March through October (free the rest of the year).  Read more about Dumbarton Oaks Gardens and view more scenes here, here, and here. View the official website here.



Filed under All ages, Coronavirus, COVID-19, DC, Free, Nature, Ongoing, Outdoor, Park, Social Distancing, Weekdays, Weekend

A DC “Secret” Uncovered: The Franciscan Monastery in Brookland


Note: Right now, only the gardens are open to visitors, daily 9am – 5pm; the indoors spaces are closed due to Covid.

It’s not often that I read lists revealing “hidden treasures” in DC and actually learn something I didn’t previously know. And I’m not saying that in a yay-me-I-know-everything kind of way. I mean, think about what I do, this blog. I make it my business, literally, to keep up with these things. Plus, I have lived in DC for a Really. Long. Time. Much longer than the average transient-inclined Washingtonian, so I’ve been around. On top of that, I simply enjoy discovering new places and adventures around the area. For me, it’s fun and keeps life interesting.


So back in October, when Thrillist published a round-up of 13 DC Secrets You Had No Idea Existed provided by the Prince of Petworth, I was psyched (and super impressed). There actually were several spots listed that I wasn’t aware of until I read the piece. I quickly checked off five of the thirteen as “been there, done that” and recognized a couple of others even though I hadn’t yet experienced them. But the remaining six had me intrigued — and, admittedly, feeling like I might be losing my edge. A reality check like that is good thing, though, since it’s often just the motivation needed to get on it. Not to mention, the prospect of going to some new, cool places is always exciting.


Hence, I am making it my business, both personally and professionally, to uncover those “secrets” that evaded me for so long and have vowed to visit the rest of the 13. This mission has actually been in progress since reading that Thrillist article, but I’m only now starting to post about my findings. And it’s lucky #13 on the list, The Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America, that is kicking off the series.


The “Oasis of Peace” in Brookland consists of the Memorial Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the centerpiece of the Monastery, beautifully manicured grounds immediately surrounding it, and a lovely garden area 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 bearing the Angelic Greeting in nearly 200 ancient and modern languages. Between the portico and the Church, there are a few statues as well as a greenhouse and a little fish pond, all very pleasant to stroll among.



And here I feel compelled to note that I’m in no way trying to push any kind of religious agenda. In fact, I’m Jewish, and a mildly practicing one, at that. But I do appreciate a beautiful, interesting, peaceful place, and the Franciscan Monastery is that and then some.



We first visited in the fall and enjoyed touring the grounds around the Church, but the gates to the garden were locked for some reason, and we weren’t sure about going inside. So, on the recent unseasonably awesome 60-degree day, I took Sasha and a friend with me to explore some more.




On the south side of the portico are gates that lead to the garden. Stairs and a ramp lead down to a gorgeous area where there is a grotto commemorating the agony of Christ, a replica of the Tomb of the Virgin Mary, and other religious shrines, all within a lovely plant and tree-filled area. I did have to remind Sasha and Celina that it was a very special place for many people and that the “caves” were not places for them to chase each other. It’s easy to see how the sights are exciting to them, and they loved the garden, too. If it’s that pretty in the winter, I can only imagine how gorgeous it is in the spring when the flowers (lots of roses, apparently) are in bloom.


Along with wandering the grounds outside, we popped into the Church, too. Tours are available, but we just walked around on our own, taking in the spectacular architecture and design of the cathedral.




Photos don’t begin to do this place justice. You’ll just have to go experience it for yourself.

The Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America is located at 1400 Quincy Street NE in the Brookland neighborhood of DC. Monastery hours are 9am – 5pm Monday through Friday, 9am – 6pm on Saturday, and 8am – 5pm on Sunday. Garden hours are 9am – 4:45pm daily. Guided Garden Tours take place every Saturday during the summer at 11am and 12pm. Admission is free.


*If you’re looking for a bite to eat before or after visiting, I highly recommend Brookland’s Finest located at 12th & Jackson Streets NE. Delicious food, great vibe, and very kid-friendly.



Filed under All ages, Art, DC, Educational, Exhibit, Free, Ongoing, Outdoor