Staying Fit While Visiting Washington, DC

Staying Fit While Visiting Washington, DC

Washington DC

I grew up right outside of DC so much of my youth was spent visiting various monuments and museums during field trips and whenever friends came from out of town. During college I worked as a barback at one of the busiest bars in Georgetown and was very familiar with that scene, from my early 20s to mid-30s I lived in the Dupont Circle and Adams Morgan neighborhoods of the city. My fitness career started in Dupont Circle and expanded to other parts of the city.

This post has two sections: the tourist thing of places to visit and the local thing providing workout options in local parks and fitness studios. Enjoy!

Here are some of my favorite local fitness studios and gyms:

Roam Fitness

Graham, the owner, is a long-time friend, he does fitness right.

CrossFit DC

Tom, the owner, introduced me to CrossFit back in 2005, he was an early adopter and has been rocking it ever since.

Balance Gym

Mark, the owner, is a former rugby player from Australia and has created a great community-based gym.

The Sports Club/LA

Located in the Ritz Carlton in the city’s west end, if you like (expect) five-star service, this is the place for you. Also great for people watching and DC-celebrity spotting (if you count people like lobbyists and television talking heads “celebrities”)

PAC Rugby

If you’re a rugger and visiting in the summer, pack your boots! PAC (my former club) plays touch rugby on Tues/Thurs nights in the summer right by the monument at 15th and Independence. Thurs night training usually ends with a trip to the local watering hole: the Bottom Line (Eye Street between 17th and 18th)

The Tourist Thing

There are various sightseeing tours that cover the whole city and allow on/off privileges, but if you want to combine sightseeing with exercise then take the Metro and visit the national mall starting at the US Capitol (the east end) and ending at the Lincoln Memorial (west end). It is NOT a shopping mall rather it is a beautiful piece of parkland lined by the Smithsonian Museums and laden with monuments to our country’s heroes.

Take the Metro to Union Station (FORGET driving, parking is nigh on impossible); walk the grounds of the Senate buildings, visit the fountain at the foot of the Capitol, then start moving west towards the Washington Monument (the tall obelisk in the distance).

On your left (south side) you’ll have the following Smithsonian museums (supported by our tax dollars, many exhibits are FREE, while others do require tickets):

Native American

Air and Space


Freer Gallery of Art

On your right (north) are the following museums:

East Wing of the National Gallery of Art

National Gallery of Art

National Museum of Natural History (killer insect zoo)

National Museum of American History

Before visiting check the museum websites to see hours and special displays. My personal favorites are the Air and Space, the American History and Natural History museums – lots of cool things to see at each and perfect for kids. The art museums have fascinating displays but tend to “bore” the younger folks.

The Washington Monument offers unparalleled views of the city but the line takes FOR-EV-ER; plus it’s been closed for renovations since a freak earthquake in 2011.

The World War II monument lies at the east of the reflecting pool in front of the Lincoln memorial; the Korean War memorial is to the south and the Vietnam War memorial is to the north-all are somber reflections and tributes to the sacrifices made by some of our nation’s finest.

While the Lincoln Memorial is cool, walk behind the memorial towards the river and you will come to two, cool hidden workout spots: the Watergate stairs and the sand volleyball courts. While the condo complex with the same name was made famous by political scandal in the 70s, the true Watergate is a set of stairs where visiting dignitaries used to disembark from their vessels (back when travel was by boat) to visit the city; they provide a killer workout with cool views of the river. If you play volleyball the courts are bustling all weekend long with games so you can let out your inner Maverick (Top Gun reference).

There are various other museums, monuments, memorials and even cathedrals sprinkled throughout the city; to cover all of them would be outside the scope of this blog.  One cool place to visit is the Spy Museum it is NOT part of the Smithsonian and costs money but it is well worth it, and it’s located in the Gallery place neighborhood which offers numerous options for fun restaurants.

The Local Thing

DC offers many options for your favorite recreational activities.  There are numerous parks and trails for running or cycling located throughout the city. Some are easy to find while others take some inside knowledge to locate. If you’re in town on a weekend Beach Drive through Rock Creek Park is closed and is a great place to be in the woods while in the middle of a city.

Outdoor Workout Options: Here are a couple of options for runs starting in the DuPont Circle area

Massachusetts Avenue 

If it’s a nice day and you want to enjoy a great walk (or run) and skip the crowds go to DuPont Circle and head northwest on Massachusetts avenue – it’s lined with beautiful embassies and provides a fun run heading up to the northern part of Georgetown-Glover Park. The run is uphill and provides plenty of shade, at the top where Mass hits Wisconsin Ave, turn left (south) on Wisc and a Whole Foods is about half a mile down-for refueling.

Rock Creek Park

This is one thing I really miss about living in DC, it’s a great park that runs the length of the city. You can enter the park from a number of areas:

If you’re in DuPont take P Street West, then run south towards the river

If you’re in Woodley Park, enter by Calvert Street and either head south towards the river-this way has a workout course with pull-up bars and various obstacles, or head north where you’ll go through a portion of the zoo.  If you like trail running-this is the way for you, north of the zoo the park has various off-road trails that are open to both horses and people (but not cyclists, although many do ride these trails illegally). The best trails are on the west side of the park.

Georgetown lies on the southwest end of Rock Creek, you can take the canal tow path east to access rock creek park, or you could simply run west on the tow path, this will take you away from the city and provide a tranquil run along the river if you need to unwind after a busy day.

Mid-town/Penn Quarter

If you’re in the Penn Quarter it can be tough to get to Rock Creek, but I’d recommend going to the national mall or Malcolm X park for runs. Malcom X runs along 16th Street from U street north and offers awesome views of the city as you run uphill.

Capitol Hill

Once upon a time you could run up the west stairs of the capitol – a great workout with awesome views, but thank your Taliban friends for ruining that one. From Cap Hill it’s about a 3 mile round-trip to the Washington monument and back. The gravel paths of the mall are perfect for running, dodging slow-moving tourists creates a reactive agility challenge.