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Find the Hidden Spots at the Washington, DC Memorials

Hidden Spots at the Washington, DC Memorials

What are some of the hidden spots at the Washington, DC memorials?

Did you know there are a lot of hidden spots at the Washington, DC memorials? It’s true, take it from a tour guide. As you know, a trip to America’s capital city, Washington, DC, would absolutely not be complete without seeing all of the memorials on the National Mall. We, of course, recommend that you take a walking tour with a knowledgeable guide but if you can’t make it or if you’ve been to DC often and already know most of the big take-aways from the memorials, here are a handful of lesser known spots, secrets, and hidden gems of the memorials on the National Mall. You can choose what you’d like to call them, just make sure you find them on your next trip to DC. AND! In case you missed it, We chatted a bit about the memorials (and cherry blossoms) on the National Mall on our very first podcast, available here or for free on Apple Podcasts.

Spot all of the hidden gems at the Lincoln Memorial

Lincoln Memorial: Dedicated in 1922, the Lincoln Memorial is truly an American icon. I could talk specifically about this memorial for a long time but we are here to focus!

First, and especially at dusk/night, walk up the stairs and around to the back of the memorial. Yes, the back. Here, you’ll have a beautiful view of the memorial bridge. Those bronze Art Deco and Neoclassical statues that you can see at the entrance of the bridge as well as the entrance to Rock Creek Parkway are called the Arts of War and Arts of Peace. If you look out in front of you like you’re staring at Arlington National Cemetery, which is directly on the other side of the Memorial Bridge, you might notice a small flame in the distance at eye level. Look closely. Do you see it? That’s the eternal flame at the grave of JFK. Make sure to add Arlington National Cemetery to your list of things to do in Washington, DC. It is truly an incredible experience.

Next, walk into the atrium where the 19 foot statue of America’s 16th and first assassinated president, Abraham Lincoln, sits. Here, there are a couple of things to find. First, on the north wall (if you are staring into the face of Lincoln that’s the wall to your right) reads Lincoln’s second Inaugural Address. You’re looking for a mistake in the speech. If you look closely enough, there was once carved a letter E within the speech (to begin the word “future”) that was meant to be the letter F. To correct this, the E was filled in a bit to form an F but the mistake is still evident.

Now walk back to the front of Lincoln’s statue. If you’re staring at Lincoln in the face walk around to your left and head to the back side of the statue. Yes, the back. This would be Lincoln’s right ear. So, first are foremost, this next bit is a MYTH. But it’s still fun. There’s a story that the face of Lincoln’s rival–we will call them rivals though the real story is much longer and more detailed than that–Robert E. Lee is carved into the back of Lincoln’s head. If you use your imagination here, you might notice the profile view of a face that situates itself within Lincoln’s hair. What do you see? Have fun with it.

Last, as you make your way down the steps, don’t forget to stop roughly a third of the way down where the granite changes color a bit. Etched into the ground it reads “I Have a Dream.” It’s at this spot that MLK gave his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech during the March on Washington in 1963. The etching was added in 2003 to mark the 40th anniversary of the speech.

Bonus: Did you know that during WWII, the Lincoln Memorial was the only building in the continental US to be struck with an artillery shell. At wartime, the Army decided to place numerous anti-aircraft guns on office building rooftops around downtown DC. One day during a lunchtime, an unnamed office worker was fiddling around with one of these guns and accidentally fired a shell which hit the memorial and caused minor damage. Whoops.

Find Kilroy at WWII

Hidden Spots at the Washington, DC Memorials
Where you can find the Kilroy Doodle at the WWII Memorial

Opened in 2004, the WWII Memorial is one of the most beautiful on the national mall. Tucked completely out of the way on each side of the memorial is a graffiti doodle of a man’s bald head just peaking out above a wall that his nose hangs over and fingers clutch. The phrase that goes along with the doodle is “Kilroy was here.” During WWII, it was common for US soldiers overseas to leave this doodle at places they had visited, been stationed, etc. Think of it as a way one American soldier left a universal note for the next American solider or passerby letting them know that they too can understand this experience. That’s the way I’ve always interpreted it, anyway. The British had a similar character named Chad and the Australians had a character named Foo during WWI.

Finding it at the WWII Memorial in DC is a little tricky so if you’re totally lost, ask a park ranger but here’s the best way I can explain the locations (there are two). If you are looking at the back wall of the memorial that has over 4,000 gold stars on it called the Freedom Wall, the doodles are placed to the side and behind that wall near what I would like to think is the pump house for the waterfalls. So, make your way to the outside of the memorial and walk along the perimeter of the columns with states names until you are at the very back. When you come to a point where you can’t walk anymore (there is a gate to keep you out of what, again, I think is the pump house) you will see the “Kilroy was here” doodle. It’s located in the same place on both sides of the memorial.

Understand the different symbols and mementos on the Vietnam wall

Hidden Spots at the Washington, DC Memorials
A soldier’s boot among other mementos left at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is, for me, the most emotional memorial in DC. I’ve seen grown men in tears at this memorial on multiple occasions. For many, the scars of the Vietnam war still sting regularly. There are so many things to explain about how this memorial was conceived and picking up on all of the symbolism and nuances (that’s what walking tours are for!) but I’ll leave you here with a couple of important elements. First, next to each name you will see a very small symbol. The diamond shape is for those soldiers who were killed in action. If you see a small cross next to a name, it means the solider is still noted as missing in action. Keep looking closely, as sometimes you’ll notice a symbol that is a cross with a diamond shape imposed on it. There have been numerous instances where a solider was listed as missing in action and his remains were found long after, changing his status on the wall.

Second, and especially if you are visiting the wall on or around Memorial Day, Father’s Day, or Veterans Day, you’ll probably see some mementos that visitors have left on the wall. Typically, it’s flowers or letters (a lot of school groups choose to write and leave letters to soldiers they’ve studied) but in my personal experience, I’ve seen baseball mitts, boxes of cereal, a bottle of whiskey with shots poured next to it, countless photos, stuffed animals, dog tags, motorcycle vests, and Army gear. One guy in the past left his Harley Davidson motorcycle at the wall. So what happens to all of this stuff? Well, volunteers at the memorial come along every couple of days or so (depending on the volume of the objects left, weather, etc) and collect and catalog all of these items which are then stored in warehouses in nearby Maryland. Nothing is thrown away. Soon, they will begin building a plaza to the west side of the memorial that will showcase some of the items left at the wall. If you have time for a video, CBS This Morning did a great piece on the mementos left at the wall–it really is just incredible.

Learn About a Specific Wreath and Dog at the Korean War Memorial

The elements of the Korean War Memorial are some of the most symbolic and just really cool. Especially at night, it’s almost eerie. The memorial commemorates the nearly six million Americans who were involved in the war and the large granite wall you see as part of the memorial features all sorts of faces from those involved in the war, airmen, soldiers, nurses, clergymen, etc. It also features one German Shepard dog symbolizing one of the 26th Scout Dog Platoon that arrived in Korea in 1951. Over a thousand dogs were used during the war to aid in warning soldiers of approaching enemy.

Hidden Spots at the Washington, DC Memorials
Wreaths decorated for Easter at the Korean War Memorial

During your visit to the memorial, you’ll also notice a uniquely decorated wreath at the head of the memorial, typically near the small reflection pool. There’s a placard on it that reads something along the lines of “In our Remembrance Forever; the Seoul Class of 1963.” The wreath is always beautiful and is most often very decorated for whatever holiday falls near–I’ve see it incorporate a lit jack-o-lantern for Halloween, dozens of pastel eggs for Easter, paper fans made out of the American Stars & Stripes near the 4th of July, the list really goes on. Once a week, a representative from the South Korean Embassy comes to lay the wreath, as a way of saying thank you and acknowledging the continuing supportive relationship between the two countries.


Discover a missing quote on the MLK bust

Hidden Spots at the Washington, DC Memorials
The original way the bust of MLK looked when the memorial opened.

Today, when you visit the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, DC you’ll notice that on one side of his bust, there reads a quote “Out of the Mountain of Despair, a Stone of Hope.” The other side of his bust is blank. However, when the memorial opened in 2012, this was not the case. Originally, the opposite side of the MLK bust read, “I Was a Drum Major for Peace, Justice, and Righteousness.” I would say that it’s widely agreed upon that MLK was indeed all of these things but supporters of the memorial argued that this quote was taken entirely out of context from his “The Drum Major Instinct” sermon he gave on February 4th, 1968 (one of his last sermons before his assassination in April of that year). Essentially, what MLK was saying in his sermon was that IF people wanted to call him a “drum major,” call him a drum major for these things–which is distinctly different from an “I AM” statement. Therefore, less than a year after the memorial opened, the bust was covered in scaffolding and the quote was completely erased.



More Information

As we’ve said before on the podcast, our absolute favorite walking tour company in DC is DC by Foot, as they offer excellent “pay what you want” type walking tours all over the city. As a reminder, all of their guides work strictly for gratuity, so please make sure you show them your appreciation at the end of any tour. They are some of the absolute best in the business.

If you have any questions or comments about the memorials in Washington, DC let us know below or send us an email at

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What to Know about a Double-Decker Bus Tour

Double-Decker Bus Tour

What do I need to know about taking a double-decker bus tour?

I often think a big, red, sightseeing double-decker bus tour (like City Sightseeing)  you see in nearly every big city (save for London where their double decker red buses are actually just public trans) get a bad rap for

Red Double-decker bus
A queue of red busses in London

being a way to check out a city. This could absolutely be because I am biased to more organic forms of touring and small companies that I think employ more informed guides with better public speaking skills. But, with that said, there is certainly nothing wrong with touring a city via a huge double-decker bus and there are actually some positive takeaways from choosing this way to sightsee.

  • They go everywhere. Usually with your ticket purchase on the double-decker bus you can take any one of the routes the bus company offers. These routes are typically color coded and as long as you’re at a stop that services multiple colors, you can easily switch routes and see much more of a city—or even another state. For example, in Washington, DC some sightseeing buses service Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia
  • You can hop on and hop off. This means that you don’t have to really stress about a schedule. If you’re with a group tour, you are often only allotted a certain amount of time at each location. With the flexibility of hopping on and off you can take more time at sights that really interest you and even skip sights that don’t do anything for you. Usually companies will have buses making their rounds every 20 minutes or so, so as long as you know their schedule you can plan accordingly
  • They will provide commentary. While you’re driving around you should be getting commentary on the major sights you’re looking at. Sometime this commentary comes from a pre-recorded audio tape and other times it come from a live tour guide. Level of knowledge and ability to answer questions can naturally differ between guides so if you’ve noticed you’ve got a good one, it might be in your best interest to ride along a bit longer before hopping off—it’s never guaranteed that you’ll be on the same bus twice as companies have multiple buses servicing their routes all day long
  • They make traversing a city easy. Let it be known that I am always a fan of public transportation to get around a city but I am also an experienced traveler who is comfortable with this sort of thing. Absolutely no judgement if you are not. Therefore, the double-deckers buses are nice because they provide you with a map of the city that conveniently has all of their (usually color coded) routes on it and you just have to show the driver your ticket stub or sticker upon returning to the bus. You don’t have to figure out subway maps, ticket kiosks or any other routing when you’re riding a double-decker around. This type of sightseeing is good for families who are juggling young children and have enough to worry about
Group boards Trolley Bus
A tour group boards a trolley in Savannah, GA

When available, I personally always direct guests to Old Town Trolley. They currently only run in seven cities—Boston, Washington, DC, Key West, St. Augustine, San Diego, Savannah and Nashville—but I find that the guides on them are usually really knowledgeable and easy to listen to. I’ve personally taken rides with them in Boston and Savannah and know a load of guides who have worked for them in DC. The trollies are open air and some of the newer models have stadium seating. But more importantly, the guides that drive them around give live commentary and really do know what they are talking about—often times, they are a complete wealth of knowledge. I don’t always feel like this is the case with the larger, double-decker companies.


And if you are in London definitely take advantage of the iconic red double-decker bus. You won’t get commentary but at a low fare it’s a great way to cruise around the city and take it all in.


Like tours? Check out some of our other tour posts like eating your way through Pike Place Market in Seattle with a food tour or going on a tour of the Neon Museum in Las Vegas!


Questions? Comment here or email us at



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State Fair Food: 5 Fairs to Indulge In

State Fair Food

Nothing says riding out the tail end of summer with a trip to the fair and indulging in the best state fair food! Read: Fried things on sticks for days! When the dog days of summer arrive, it typically means that we are all sweating and hating it. In the midst of the August heat come those nostalgic, 2/3 really fun, 1/3 exceptionally questionable state and county fairs. I think that when you are from the Midwest like me, reminiscing the days of cotton candy and gravitrons go hand in hand with blue ribbon contests for pigs, pie judging, a showcase of canning skills. And let us not forget that since we witnessed the delicious Ryan Gosling hang from a ferris wheel in The Notebook we haven’t looked at one the same since.

I grew up going to the Hillsdale County Fair and Jackson County Fair  (where I saw a Destiny’s Child concert in 1997 for $15) in Pure Michigan. Both reeked of the unadulterated Midwestern bliss that comes with farming and simplicity. That and hormonal teenagers. And cow manure. Living in the city, I probably won’t have the opportunity to make it to a fair this year but if I did, I’d try to hit one of the big ones. The kind that have been around for over a century and have morphed into an “only in America” campaign where a highly coveted prize is winning the creativity trophy for a new conception of food on a stick. Or deep fried food on a stick. Here are 5 iconic American State fairs.

Where can I find the best state fair food?

Iowa State Fair: Held since 1854 and spread of 445 acres, the Iowa state fair is one of the largest in the country. It’s almost hard to choose the best thing available at this fair. Perhaps its the monster arm wrestling or cow chip throwing contests. Or the 600 exhibitors to see. Or the cow that is entirely sculpted out of butter. Or the nearly 65 food items available on a stick like a bacon-wrapped corn dog, deep fried Snickers bar, Twinkie Log (frozen Twinkie (WHERE did they find said Twinkies?!) dipped in white chocolate and rolled in cashews), or the bacon-wrapped riblet. All available sans plate.

Minnesota State Fair: Trailing only behind Texas in terms of attendance, the Minnesota State Fair, or the “The Great Minnesota Get-Together,” has been kicking since 1859. Check out Machinery Hill where, yep you guessed it, can see one of the largest displays of farm machinery in the world in addition to motorcycles and lawn mowers. Before heading over there, see livestock exhibits or an art or cooking show. A food item of this fair that’s really intriguing in a whaaaat the—- sort of way is the corn dog pizza. However, I am not doubting at all that it’s culinary genius.

State Fair of Texas: We all know that everything is bigger in Texas. Sort of. But really the state fair, held annually since 1886 is the highest attended fair in the country and no joke. This year, Dallas will gratefully welcome back its fair mascot, Big Tex, who caught on fire last year. Other highlights include livestock, a garden show, and the historic Red River Rivalry football game between Texas and Oklahoma. Fried options include deep fried jambalaya and a deep fried bacon cinnamon roll.

Great New York State Fair: The oldest state fair in America, this celebration has been pleasing fairgoers since 1841. Here, you can view contests for antique tractors to farm products, Midway rides, extreme log makeovers, and butter & cheese sculptures. There’s also Pan-African and Iroquois Indian villages to tour and if you’re hungry you can try the deep fried macaroni or the long john donut hot dog dipped in maple syrup.

Wisconsin State Fair: America’s dairyland has held a state fair since 1851. Play bingo with the Potowatomi Bingo Casino Road Show or educate yourself in the Wisconsin State Fair History Museum. There is also a white tiger discovery exhibition where keepers feature the last remaining five species of tigers in the world. Naturally, there’s food on a stick you can try like the cajun frog legs, breaded oysters, or deep fried cheesesteak. The most popular food item at this fair, however, is the cream puff, a delicious cream filled pastry served since 1924.

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10 Things to See (and Eat!) in Memphis


Memphis, Tennessee. Definitely a “10” in our book. This southern gem is just radiating with culture, history, incredible music and great eats. Wrap that all into a long weekend and you’ve got yourself a fabulous reason to don some blue suede shoes and take a walk through Memphis. Here are 10 things to do and eat while you’re there:

Dip into History:

  • Take a tour through the home of “The King,” Elvis Presley. Graceland offers a self-guided audio tour that will take you through the mansion and ground of the home where the King of Rock and Roll once resided. You’ll also have a chance to see Elvis’s grave (if, in fact, he’s not still alive), tour his private jet the Lisa Marie, and ponder over some of his most sacred possessions like those bejeweled jump suits and classic cars. Two new exhibits have just opened focusing on Elvis’s fascination with Hawaii and his time spent in Las Vegas. While you’re there, try one of the King’s favorite snacks: a grilled peanut butter and banana sandwich.

    Front Exterior of the Graceland Mansion
    Front Exterior of the Graceland Mansion
  • After Graceland, stop by Sun Studio, a store front music label that reputably recorded the first rock and roll single and signed artists to the likes of Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lew Lewis, and Carl Perkins. The Broadway hit, Million Dollar Quartet is written about a surreptitious night that the aforementioned spent together at this famous spot.

    The home of Rock and Roll
  • If you’re still in the mood for music (which you obviously should be), check out the Memphis Rock and Soul Museum, one of the only Smithsonians not in Washington, DC. Here you will learn about the birth of rock and soul music and the struggle of innovators to jump racial and socio-economic hurdles to create a genre that forever changed the musical landscape.
  • Martin Luther King Jr., the historical and great Civil Rights icon was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis in 1968. Now, the site is a part of the National Civil Rights Museum that educates visitors on the Civil Rights Movement’s impact and influence. Visitors can walk through the hotel room where King’s assassination happened and go across the street to see where the assassin James Earl Ray lived and plotted the tragic event. And don’t forget to stop by and say hi to Jackie…she’s been protesting for decades in front of the museum. She’ll talk your ear off, but it’ll be interesting.

Get Rowdy:

  • Memphis may be most famous for Beale Street, and rightfully so—it is one of the coolest (or hottest, your pick) spots in the US. As early as the turn of the 20th century, Beale Street was filled with historically African American clubs, restaurants, and shops. W.C Handy is credited for writing the first blues song here in 1909 and the street has since then hosted Louis Armstrong, B.B. King and Muddy Waters, among many others. Much of the Street is closed to traffic and allows open alcohol, which means you can cruise around sampling the different blues clubs, eateries, and eccentric shops with ease.

    Lights on Beale Street
    Lights on Beale Street
  • Check out the march of the Peabody Ducks. Ok so ducks might not be rowdy but the little mallards that have been making their march down to the Peabody Hotel’s lobby fountain twice a day for nearly 80 years are quite the lively bunch. That’s right, ducks. Marching from their penthouse suite to a lobby fountain. In a fancy hotel.
  • Head on over to Mud Island a la Tom Cruise in The Firm and check out the Mississippi River museum…they’ve got a scaled replica of the entire river with a big swimming pool-type-thing standing in for the Gulf of Mexico. They also have an amphitheater and great views of the Mighty Mississip, as well as the Hernando de Soto Bridge, which forms the world’s largest freestanding letter “M”. True. We couldn’t make that up.

Eat your Face Off:

  • On a side alley just off of 2nd Street stands the home to some of the best the best ribs in the country at Charles Vergos’ Rendezvous BBQ. What began in 1948 after Vergos found a coal chute in the basement of his diner is now something that you can smell for blocks. These dry rubbed ribs are spectacular and the homemade BBQ sauce takes them to a whole other level. Try a sausage and cheese plate too; you’ll be happy you did. They’re not open Sunday so plan accordingly. And make sure you use the sauce with the red cap for a little extra spice.

    ohemgee. those ribs.
    ohemgee. those ribs.
  • Fried chicken is also a culinary star of Memphis at Gus’s World Famous Hot & Spicy Chicken. The recipe, used for more than 60 years now, is a family secret but you’ll note that there’s a kick to it, giving this chicken an unbelievable zing. This chicken is fried perfectly on the outside and so juicy and tender on the inside, it will have you ordering buckets to go. Top it off with some baked beans and coleslaw and you’ve got a perfect picnic. If you don’t feel like waiting in long lines, order ahead and then eat in a park.
  • You can’t leave Memphis without having a cocktail or two. Or a bucket of cocktail, really. Silky O’Sullivans Pub on Beale Street, home to live music, multiple bars, and 2 live goats, serves up a secret blend of libations in a gallon sized bucket. And it’s actually really tasty. Grab one of those and you are in for one gallon of Southern good time.

    Sucking down a bucket at Silky O’Sullivans
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