Chinatown, Washington DC (photo credit: Postdif)

Emerging into the humming streets of Chinatown from the Galleries/Arena exit, I walked two blocks to the National Building Museum. Less obvious and hectic than the Air and Space or Natural History museums, it is an enormous brick and terra cotta structure located on F street between 4th and 5th. Upon entering the building, the most obvious and arresting features are the colossal internal columns. 75 feet high and 25 feet around, these marbled pillars soar upward, drawing the eye with them. Above the center of the main hall, 235 busts representing different members of the building trade (architect, engineer, craftsman, and so on) sit in carved niches, looking on.

National Building Museum (photo credit: Diderot)
The museum has been the site of many important functions, the most recent being President Obama’s inaugural ball in 2009, and its exhibits range from city histories to the evolution of the architecture industry. It is also a child-friendly museum that has activities for kids and a place for parents to relax. An especially commendable feature of the museum is that they encourage visitors to bring their own food and drink inside. There is a Firehook Bakery onsite but, unlike so many public buildings, one is not conscripted into patronizing it. For opening times and current exhibits, visit the website.

By this time I was feeling hungry and, whilst Chinatown offers a wide variety of places to eat, I had in mind something different. Walking three blocks back to 7th and G Streets I picked up the DC Circulator bus, traveling in the direction of the Southwest Waterfront. The Maine Avenue fish market was my destination, and the promise of all the fresh seafood I could handle. It is walkable from Chinatown but in the heat, particularly that of those incomparable late summer days in Washington where temperatures soaring into the 90s are accompanied by wheeze-inducing humidity, public transport is by far the best option.

Upon arriving at the market (or ‘the wharf’ as it is sometimes known), one gets a similar sense to the experience of the aforementioned farmers market; that of old-fashioned, boisterous trading activity.
Maine Avenue Fish Market (photo credit: dbking)
Most of the stalls at the market are selling fish and seafood to buyers who are taking their purchases home to cook later on, but tucked between two of the larger traders is a stall that sells sandwiches and platters for people eat right away. I recommend buying your lunch from here, finding a place on the nearby boardwalk and watching boats glide back and forth on the potomac as you eat. Again, it’s a kind of primal pleasure, eating with one’s hands in the sunshine, sitting close to water that soothingly laps at the shore. I guarantee, sooner or later, you will issue a contented sigh, whether you mean to or not.

Fully sated from lunch, I boarded the Circulator back in the direction of Chinatown, connecting at C street and Independence Avenue with another Circulator bus on the Smithsonian – National Gallery of Art route. My next stop? The Folger Shakespeare Library.

Part 1 | Part 3

Culture A Day in DC – Don’t Miss These Hidden Gems (Part 2)