Travel Guide: Happy Birthday America!
Celebrate the 4th of July in allergy-friendly Washington, DC
Are you wondering how to commemorate our nation’s 235th birthday? Take a trip to Washington, DC. There’s no better place to enjoy patriotic festivities than in the shadow of our country’s national monuments. The District of Columbia offers a stunning backdrop for Independence Day fireworks, concerts and parades.
A national birthday party and abundant attractions—historic buildings and famous memorials, renowned museums and special-diet dining opportunities—guarantee a memorable trip. And the fun doesn’t stop at the end of the day. A night at the theater and a major league baseball game are just a few of the options for delightful evening entertainment.
Summertime in Washington, DC, offers fun, educational experiences for every member of your family—and you won’t see the sights hungry. A variety of restaurants accommodate special dietary needs and the city’s public transportation makes it easy to get to them.
Schedule your flight to Washington, DC, into Reagan National Airport, only ten minutes from the heart of the city. The airport is located on the metro’s yellow and blue lines, making it easy to reach your final destination by either subway or cab, depending on how much luggage you carry. Other airports serving the metropolitan region are Washington Dulles International and Baltimore Washington International, both a longer distance from downtown.
For arrival by train, purchase tickets to Union Station, which houses a centrally located metro terminal and offers plenty of taxi access for smooth transit to your hotel. The food court and shops at Union Station hold their own attraction. Hungry after a day of travel? Stop at Union Station’s Pizzeria Uno (unos.com, 202-842-0438, $$) and dig into a gluten-free thin crust pizza to start your DC adventure.
Where to Stay
There are many nice hotels throughout the city so pick a place based on location and price. (Be prepared: Room rates may be a bit higher over the 4th of July holiday weekend.) Reserve a room with a fridge to store snacks and breakfast foods.
For a central location on Pennsylvania Avenue, stay at JW Marriott Downtown (marriott.com, 202-393-2000). It’s just blocks from many museums and sights and in walking distance of the Metro Center stop that accesses the red, blue and orange lines to take you all over the city and beyond. Rooms start at $399 per night.
For a more affordable price yet still centrally located, book a room at Westin Washington DC, City Center (starwoodhotels.com, 202-429-1700). This hotel is close to McPherson metro station, just a subway-hop to the sights. Rooms range from $197 to $319.
To save money, consider staying just outside the city. The Hilton Alexandria Old Town (alexandriahilton.com, 703-837-0454) is within sight of the King Street metro. With access to the yellow and blue lines, you can be in DC in 15 minutes. The Hilton Alexandria is also in walking distance of charming, historic Old Town Alexandria. Enjoy newly renovated rooms with micro refrigerators. Rooms range from $119 to $269.
Once you’re settled in, ask your hotel concierge for the closest grocery store, preferably a natural foods store. You’ll want to stock your room’s refrigerator with breakfast foods and snacks and pick up picnic fare for your 4th of July dinner on the Capitol lawn. Whole Foods Market has three locations in Washington DC and one in Alexandria that’s within walking distance of the King Street metro. While there, pick up a light-weight disposable cooler to transport your picnic.
Grab breakfast in your room and pack some snacks for on-the-go munching. Take the metro to the Smithsonian metro station, on the orange and blue lines, and choose among the many Smithsonian museums within walking distance. The Smithsonian (si.edu/museums) offers free admission. You can spend your entire morning in one museum or make multiple stops to see the highlights in different buildings.
Kick off your Smithsonian tour at the Museum of Natural History. If you have a budding scientist in your family, this museum is not to be missed. Check out the dinosaurs, admire the Hope Diamond and walk through the Butterfly Pavilion.
Just next door, you’ll find the American History Museum. Catch the patriotic spirit by viewing the American flag that inspired the National Anthem. Explore decades of American inventions, including early trains and cars. You’ll also find cultural icons like Dorothy’s ruby slippers, Jim Henson’s Kermit the Frog and Olympic memorabilia.
Ready for some food? Eat lunch at the National Museum of the American Indian. The Mitsitam café labels dishes that are gluten free and vegetarian. (Inquire with the manager about other food allergens.) Choose from juicy roast chicken or quinoa for an authentic (and naturally gluten-free) native American dish. While at the museum, learn more about our nation’s original inhabitants, whose stories often go untold.
If you’re up for one more museum, visit the Air & Space Museum, located alongside the American Indian Museum. Here you’ll delve into the history of flight—the Wright brothers, Charles Lindberg, aviation during the world wars—and you can check out actual planes on display. Enjoy a 3D film in the Imax theater, such as Legends of Flight, which gives you the view from the cockpits of some of America’s greatest aircraft.
Finish up your day in southeast Washington, DC, cheering for the Washington Nationals baseball team (washington.nationals.mlb.com). Catch the green line to Navy Yard Station. During the first part of July, the ‘Nats’ play ten home games in a row, so now’s the time to enjoy an afternoon or evening outside in their brand new stadium. Gluten-free concession stands provide typical game food—Noah’s soft baked pretzels, Redbridge beer, pizza, mac ‘n cheese, even burritos.
The National Zoo
For breakfast, take the red line to Woodley Park-Zoo metro stop and eat at Open City Diner (opencitydc.com, 202-332-2331, $$). This eatery, which serves breakfast all day long, has a gluten-free menu with a variety of delicious options, including pumpkin muffins that are well worth the trip. If you don’t make it for breakfast, stop by for Open City’s gluten-free pizza (half off on Wednesday nights!). Chefs are very aware of food allergies and work hard to accommodate special dietary needs.
Walk a few blocks north to the famous National Zoo (nationalzoo.si.edu). A part of the Smithsonian, the zoo provides free entertainment and endless educational opportunities. Enjoy a morning outdoors, as you meet the cheetah cubs, experience the rainforest in Amazonia and watch the pandas play. You can lunch at a cafe or restaurant on the premises. Menus are labeled with gluten-free options.
Spend your evening at the theater, starting with a fixed-priced, pre-theater dinner at Café Atlantico’s (cafeatlantico.com, 202-393-0812, $$$$), located in the Penn Quarter (Archives/Penn Quarter metro on the green and yellow lines). Chef Richard Brandenburg creates an allergy-friendly meal with each new menu and labels each dish (example: no gluten, dairy, egg, nuts, soy, shellfish). With seasonal menus that change daily, you’ll find unique and delicious selections, such as grilled octopus and jerk leg of lamb.
After dinner, it’s time for a show. The city is host to many theaters, including the Kennedy Center, the Warner Theater and the National Theater, so take your pick. During the month of July, the Kennedy Center (kennedy-center.org) presents the Tony Award-winning musical, Wicked, as well as the interactive, family-friendly, local favorite, Sheer Madness.
The National Monuments
Start the day with a leisurely brunch at Sticky Fingers Bakery (stickyfingersbakery.com, 202-299-9700, $$). Take the green line to Columbia Heights metro station. All items are dairy free and egg free but not all are gluten free—be sure to call ahead. Weekend brunch offers gluten-free pancakes. Try a breakfast burrito with tofu scramble on a gluten-free wrap. To indulge later, order a gluten-free cupcake or cookie to go.
A short, scenic walk from the Smithsonian metro station, the National Mall offers much to see, including the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial and the Jefferson Memorial (nps.gov). The size and architectural significance of these monuments makes them recognizable around the world. You can climb stairs to the top of the Washington Monument for a beautiful view. Tickets are free but should be acquired in advance.
Thomas Jefferson’s famous words line the walls of his monument, modeled after the Pantheon in Rome. As you walk up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, dial 202-747-3420 on your cell phone for free presentations from the U.S. Park Service on the history of our 16th president. While on the Mall, don’t forget to see the Vietnam Memorial and the FDR Memorial.
Spend the afternoon in Georgetown. Splurge on a cab, as Georgetown is a bit of a hike from a metro station. Sit down to lunch at Clyde’s (clydes.com, 202-333-9180, $$), a well-known DC restaurant that accommodates customers with special dietary needs. Employees are thoroughly trained and the chef is eager to make a meal that works for you. Georgetown is one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city and has a bustling shopping district full of eclectic stores, boutiques and restaurants. Off the main drag, Georgetown’s narrow cobblestone streets are lined with gorgeous historic homes. If you have time, stroll around the lovely urban campus of acclaimed Georgetown University.
For dinner, grab a cab to Tortilla Coast (tortillacoast.com, 202-546-6768, $$) on Capitol Hill. This local favorite of Hill staffers offers many options for gluten-free diners. Waitstaff are knowledgeable and management is accommodating. If you call early in the day (before the fryer becomes contaminated with gluten), the chef will make a special batch of gluten-free tortilla chips for you. Try the chicken fajitas with corn tortillas for a spicy meal that fully satisfies.
Grab a cup of coffee and a quick breakfast in your room. Then stake out a spot on Constitution Avenue to watch the annual National Independence Day Parade (july4thparade.com). It starts at 11:45 am and runs down Constitution between 7th and 17th Streets. This rousing display of bands, drum lines, military units and other marchers inspires flag waving.
After the parade, grab lunch at Chef Geoff’s Downtown (chefgeoff.com, 202-464-4461, $$$), a restaurant located on 13th Street between E and F. Open for lunch and dinner, Chef Geoff’s makes warm hospitality and accommodating food allergies a priority. The menu is seasonal and expansive. Highlights include perfectly cooked pan-roasted Atlantic salmon with lentils and tender braised pork shank with white beans. Chef Geoff’s offers a glimpse of the city’s business scene, off the tourist-beaten path.
Stop by the annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival, on the Mall from 11:00 am to 5:00 pm. You'll see cultural highlights that include dancing, music, crafts, costumes and cooking demos. (Note that vendors and exhibitors don’t necessarily cater to special diets.)
Return to your hotel to rest (if time allows) and to pack up your cooler. Then head to the U.S. Capitol’s West Lawn with your picnic. (The Smithsonian metro is closed for most of the day, so check with your hotel concierge for the best metro stop.) No tickets are required for this event; it’s first come, first spot—so arrive early to get a place. Festivities begin with a concert at 6:00 pm, performed by the U.S. Navy band. As the night continues, you’ll hear the talented National Symphony Orchestra and other performers, all leading up to the main event. The stunning fireworks display over the Washington Monument begins promptly at 9:15 pm. Prepare for resounding oohs and aahs. You will not be disappointed by this show.
The fireworks fill up the entire DC sky, so there aren’t many bad seats. If the Capitol lawn doesn’t work for you, other choice viewing spots include the National Mall, the Iwo Jima Memorial and the Air Force Memorial.
After the fireworks, grab a drink at Birch & Barley (birchandbarley.com, 202-567-2576, $$$). Despite its name, Birch & Barley offers a variety of gluten-free beers. Here you can quench your thirst and relax after a day in the heat.
Newseum & Dupont Circle
Have breakfast in your room and head out to the Newseum (newseum.org), one of DC’s newest and most interactive museums. Just a short walk from the Archives-Navy Memorial metro stop, the Newseum’s visual, hands-on exhibits allow you to replay history through the perspective of the media. The admission charge in this city of free museums seems steep ($49.95 for a family-of-four package) but the experience is worth the price. See a towering piece of the Berlin Wall, pretend to be a reporter sitting in the ‘hot seat’ and check out Pulitzer prize-winning photographs.
After a news-filled morning, stroll around the historic neighborhood of Dupont Circle (DuPont Circle Metro stop) and lunch at Café Green (javagreen.net, 202-234-0505, $$). Its vegetarian menu labels gluten-free selections (yes, they have cheesecake!) and nut-free items. Café Green offers raw dishes, too. Try the gnocchi made with gluten-free dumplings, a Seoul food platter or a homemade veggie burger.
While walking around Dupont, enjoy a gluten-free cupcake at Hello, Cupcake (hellocupcakeonline.com, 202-861-2253, $). Each day, Hello, Cupcake offers a gluten-free version of one of its signature goodies. The staff uses separate pans and utensils for gluten-free cupcakes and bakes them in polka dot wrappers to distinguish them from the rest. Hello, Cupcake also makes a vegan cupcake that’s dairy free and egg free. These moist little gems are said to be some of the best in DC. You’ll find more than ho-hum chocolate or vanilla varieties here. Hello, Cupcake’s most popular items include Peanut Butter Blossom and Vanilla Gorilla.
Since you’re in the neighborhood, plan to dine at Firefly (firefly-dc.com, 202-861-1310, $$$$) for dinner. The casual vibe and cozy decor here make customers feel comfortable. Firefly’s gluten-free menu provides plenty of options. If you love comfort food, order the mini pot roast with mashed potatoes. For dessert, indulge in a caramelized banana split.
Travel writer Betsy Metcalf (glutenfreedomatlanta.com) has celiac disease and lives in Atlanta.