What Else to Do in Washington During Barack Obama's Inaugural Festivities

There are presidential exhibits galore, along with presidential homes and favorite taverns.


For those willing to venture 16 miles beyond the District, there's the presidential home to end all others. Mount Vernon offers not only George Washington's mansion, but the estate's slave quarters, a working farm, and 45 acres of grounds.

As well as seeing how presidents lived, visitors can eat how they ate. In Alexandria, Va., Gadsby's Tavern, which dates to 1770, has played host to Washington, Jefferson, John Adams, Madison, and Monroe. Back in the District, Old Ebbitt Grill, established in 1856, claims to be Washington's first known saloon. Grant, Andrew Johnson, Grover Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt, and Warren Harding all drank at the bar, and William McKinley is even thought to have stayed in the saloon's boarding rooms while serving in Congress. At Martin's Tavern in Georgetown, guests can patronize the same 1930s saloon that claims to have served every president from Harry Truman on. (Lucky visitors might run into Madeleine Albright). They can even sit in the booth where John Kennedy proposed to Jackie.

But Obama's inauguration is historic for reasons beyond simply becoming the next president, and that's what a visit to some of the area's African-American history sites can underline. The home of Frederick Douglass, former slave, civil rights activist, and author, is open for tours; advance reservations are recommended. A downtown exhibit by the National Lincoln Monument Association focuses on the first national event held by African-Americansa 1865 celebration of Lincoln after his death. And the Anacostia Community Museum is a Smithsonian-run museum of African-American history, while the African American Civil War Memorial and Museum on U Street is devoted to black participation in the Civil War.

The U Street corridor, dubbed the "Black Broadway" in the 1920s and 1930s, is interesting for more than its museums. Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, and Miles Davis frequently performed in the area; one of the clubs they played at, now called the Bohemian Cavern, still offers jazz performances. Jazz remains alive and well at other clubs, too, like Utopia, Twins Jazz, and Café Nema. Visitors to U Street can also make like Martin Luther King Jr., whose birthday is the day before Inauguration Day, and eat at Ben's Chili Bowl. An energetic joint despite its 50 years of age, Ben's closes at 4 a.m. on weekends.

  • See a map of the inaugural festivities.
  • Read about the history of inaugurations.
  • Read about inaugural balls of the past.
  • Read some tourist tips for Washington, D.C.
  • Take a quiz on inaugural trivia.