Renee Sklarew, author of The Unofficial Guide to Washington, D.C., has some suggestions on how to celebrate Presidents’ Day 2021 in our nation’s capital or from the safety of your home. Most museums in Washington, D.C., offer virtual tours of exhibits via their websites.
While some attractions remain closed in Washington, D.C., the National Mall with its memorials and monuments are always open to the public. This time of year, there are no crowds, and you can easily maintain social distancing and find outdoor activities.
Here’s a Top 10 list of fun ways to remember and celebrate the American presidents, including George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin and Theodore Roosevelt, and Dwight D. Eisenhower, along with our current president, Joseph R. Biden.
On Presidents’ Day and every day, celebrate the first president’s birthday. Learn about the life and legacy of the first American president, George Washington, whose birthday is February 15. A visit to his beloved home Mount Vernon is an ideal introduction to our founding father’s principles and why it was important that the new nation’s capital would be located on the Potomac River. It’s a story told through artifacts, a 4-D theatre, an education center, and portrayals of the contributions made by Mount Vernon’s enslaved community. Mount Vernon is open every day, and a walk through the grounds of this historic estate offers panoramic views of his Potomac River. Check the website for activities and virtual events.
Honor our longest-serving president. Learn about the contributions of President Franklin Roosevelt who served as president for four terms when the world was in deep crisis. The F.D.R Memorial is located on the western section of the Tidal Basin and consists of four sections, including a group of figures portraying a Bread Line during the Great Depression, a statue of him in his wheelchair, his faithful dog Fala, important words of comfort he offered the nation during World War II, and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt with a United Nations logo, an organization which she helped to found.
See a presidential retreat. Take a guided outdoor tour of President Lincoln’s Cottage, and learn why this historic, modest home overlooking the city provided sustenance to the president and his family. This location offered a moving view of the soldiers gravesites who had died during the Civil War and provided the solitude he needed to draft the Emancipation Proclamation, a document to end slavery in America.
Visit the newest presidential memorial. Stroll around the new Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial, which opened in October of 2020. You’ll find it across from the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, right off the sidewalk on Independence Avenue. Designed by architect Frank Gehry, the memorial features different periods in Eisenhower’s life—his childhood, his military service in World War II, his time as president, his contributions to Civil Rights, and the important words he spoke during his lifetime. Before you walk through, download the audio tour that describes the significance of each section of the memorial.
Enjoy presidential art. President John F. Kennedy was a patron of the arts, and the beautiful Kennedy Center of the Performing Arts honors his commitment to preserving art for humanity. While there are no indoor performances at the moment, you can still walk around the grounds of its companion outdoor campus, The REACH. This free outdoor exhibit—themed UNITY—showcases the healing power of the arts with interactive outdoor installations spread across the grounds. The views of the city and Potomac River make it a must-visit attraction.
Learn about the presidents. Download the official National Park app for Washington, D.C.’s National Mall. From this free app, you can learn the history of the Mall and discover convenient tour routes. You’ll also find in-depth descriptions of each landmark, like the Thomas Jefferson Memorial— its round, classical shape a nod to his beloved home of Monticello in Charlottesville, Virginia—and the pantheon-shaped Lincoln Memorial.
Hike like a president. There’s nothing like a rousing hike to enjoy nature and see wildlife, and yes, you can do that in Washington, D.C. Head to Theodore Roosevelt Island off the George Washington Memorial Parkway in Arlington to see a memorial to the president who established the National Park system. Then go for a hike around the island, where you can enjoy views of the city and explore the protected wetlands named in his honor.
On Presidents’ Day, dine like a president. President Joseph R. Biden lived in the Washington, D.C., area while serving as a Senator and Vice President. Today he makes his home in the White House. President Biden is a huge fan of ice cream, and one D.C.-area ice-cream shop, Ice Cream Jubilee, honored him and Vice President Kamala Harris with flavors of their own. Try Joe’s favorite, Vanilla Chocolate Chip, or the VP’s Cardamom Amaretto. These flavors are available for a limited time, so check before you visit. If you’d rather have a savory meal, Biden is known to frequent Carmine’s NY Restaurant for the pizza and pasta and Capriotti’s, a Delaware-based sandwich shop in nearby Rosslyn, Virginia.
Find presidential gear. You can shop at several stores around the city to find souvenirs honoring American presidents from Washington to Biden. With reduced hours and social distancing requirements, some America’s National Parks retail stores located around the National Mall are open. The National Museum of American History museum shop sells a wide variety of presidential merchandise, like puzzles, books, and games, but it remains online. At the Washington Welcome Center, you can buy tickets and reserve a ticket for an Old Town Trolley Tour. Pick up the latest memorabilia at White House Gifts, including Inauguration 2021 gear and presidential seal face coverings. Shop the White House Historical Association online store for the most elegant of presidential-themed gifts, including jewelry inspired by First Ladies, holiday ornaments, and The White House Kids’ State Dinner Cookbook.
Visit President’s Park. The grounds on the west side of the White House remain open. The green space has inspiring views of the Washington Monument and The White House itself. While The White House Visitor Center and the Washington Monument are not welcoming visitors at the moment, check the websites for reopening plans. Also, consider downloading the White House App for virtual information about the history of The White House and those who have lived here over the years.
For more information about Washington, D.C.’s reopening and virtual Presidents’ Day events, check Washington.org. If you enjoyed this post, please subscribe to our YouTube channel and sign up for our newsletter here. Be sure to follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.
Happy Presidents’ Day!