Three of The Tangled Tomato’s Favorite Walking Routes
We connected with Chesley McCarty, a DC-based writer and photographer known as The Tangled Tomato, to learn about her favorite way to spend time in Capitol Hill – walking and capturing the architectural character of the neighborhood. She shares her stories with us below, as well as a map to guide your next stroll!
Watkins Alley is a charming residential development that is deeply rooted within the city and uniquely intertwined with the ethos of Capitol Hill, a neighborhood where connection is synonymous with community. The units are built inside of beautiful townhomes that face a central alleyway – this detail fosters a sense of belonging, character, and legacy that is cherished throughout the larger neighborhood.
Though I’ve only lived in Capitol Hill for two years, my strolls would tell you a different story. I can often be found wandering through the neighborhood’s networks of streets, pathways, and alleyways, swooning over the ivy-laden brick walls and cobblestones muddled with puddles. There is little that will stop me from capturing the character of the context – the palette of a rowhome’s facade, carefully curated with shutters, doors, landscaping, and little details like lighting will always bring me to a full stop. I especially enjoy the rare moments when I can peek into the home just a bit, and catch a glimpse of a library wall lined with books cracked repeatedly, or a dog staring longingly out of the window with hope in his eyes.
Given where I live in the neighborhood, there are three routes that carry my feet time and time again – an East / West traverse along East Capitol Street, a slow stroll along A Street SE, and a southern-jaunt along 8th Street towards Barrack’s Row. When considered carefully, each has their own unique identity, but together they all speak to the larger character of Capitol Hill, a story that has a palpable sense of warmth and welcoming to it.
The walking notes below do not capture the history of this remarkable patch of the city, though I hope to one day be able to speak more vividly and candidly on the social and urban threads that wove this piece of the District’s fabric just so. I’ll speak only to my experience on my walks – what I am seeing, hearing, smelling, and feeling. I try to take a mental step back while taking many step forwards to absorb all of the details that make this neighborhood so splendid. I encourage you to do the same, whether on your next walk through your own neighborhood, or on a visit to this corner of the city.
East Capitol Street
Notable stops: The Capitol Building (1A), The Supreme Court Gardens (1B), an ivy covered gem (1C), a hidden alley called Terrace Court NE (1D), the most grand homes on the street (1E), a magnolia tree dripping with string lights (1F), a very informal urban music group (1G), 804 East Capitol Street (1H)!
East Capitol toes the line between Northeast and Southeast, so depending on what side of the street you stand on, you are walking in an entirely different quadrant. The homes here are distinctly defined by their yards – it is rare to find homes in DC with this much frontage, and different owners have different tactics for tending to their little patch of urban land. The width allows for the Capitol building (1A) to be beautifully framed within view throughout your walk.
I typically begin my route admiring 804 East Capitol (1H). This home could undoubtedly win the yard of the year award on the street, but I love it just as much for its architecture – whereas most rowhomes are attached at both hips, this one is completely freestanding. As you continue towards the Capitol, you might hear the sound of a banjo or two between 7th and 8th Street; the gathering is informal, but their music is a delight to enjoy along your way (1G). You’ll pass under a grand magnolia tree cloaked in edison bulbs (1F) before stopping at a handful of grand homes towards the intersection at 6th Street – these homes tower over the others, and their elegance is difficult to capture in an image (1E). At 321 East Capitol Street, you’ll find an ivy covered brick home, set remarkably far back from the street; if the weather is right, you’ll almost always spot two older men outside splitting a bottle of sauvignon blanc (1C).
Around 3rd street, the character of the street changes entirely – whereas the Capitol once felt like a distant destination, now its grandeur is striking, present, and truly magnetic. Before you walk all the way up to the building, I encourage you to take a lap around the Supreme Court, which has beautiful landscaping along the northern and southern edge (1B). In these gardens, the flowers bloom with a rhythm that feels like a symphony of color and fragrance.
East Capitol is grand but graceful, and there is always something new to discover or to study; if you are really adventurous, take a slight detour to Terrace Court – a unique collection of tiny row homes so small that you’ll want to tuck the view into your pocket for safe-keeping (1D).
A Street SE
Notable stops: a white house with beautiful details at 628 A Street SE (2A), a bright blue house at 623 A Street SE (2B), and set of 3 charming homes on 414 A Street SE (2C).
Directly to the south of East Capitol Street is A Street SE, an equally as texturally-rich and formidable but much quieter companion. I enjoy walking down this street because the homes are set close to the sidewalk, allowing you to capture more of the architectural spirit and detail. Whereas East Capitol has a very long wingspan, stretching from Lincoln Park on 12th Street all the way to the Capitol Building, A Street SE thrives between 2nd Street and 8th Street.
There is something for everyone’s taste along A Street – homes burst with personality, such as the Tiffany-blue colored house between 6th and 7th (2B), as well as a handful of homes that truly look like castles. One of my favorite homes is 628 A Street SE (2A) – the colors are simple and refined, which is usually what my palette gravitates towards. If you look closely during your journey across A Street SE, you’ll notice tiny spaces between homes that open up into grand backyards, like little urban oases tucked within folds of the city.
On your walk, don’t forget to look up, because often the most striking and ornate details can be found along the roofline. One of my favorite moments can be found at 414 A Street SE (2C) – the set of three homes shares the same stature and posture, and their color contrasts beautifully against the sky.
8th Street SE / Barrack’s Row
Notable stops: Eastern Market (3A), a guy playing cello on his front porch (3B), Little Pearl (3C), Navy Barrack’s (3D), Rose’s Luxury (3E), Gingko Gardens (3G), District Doughnut (3F).
Unlike the first two routes, 8th Street is truly a thoroughfare, with residences sprinkled throughout retail destinations. As you head south from East Capitol and cross North Carolina Avenue, you’ll see the face of Eastern Market (3A) peeking out from 7th Street – one day this area will return to the normal buzz of market stands and families milling about with fresh donuts and basil in tow. Though the retail activity begins with Eastern Market, the vibrancy truly picks up after Penn Ave, where the street texture shifts from concrete to cobblestone and locally-loved places like District Doughnut (3F) and Rose’s Luxury (3E) soften the architectural edges of the Navy Barracks (3D) to the East.
There are two detours near 8th Street that I frequent. Little Pearl (3C) is my favorite local spot for coffee, or my personal favorite, a banana-nutmeg latte and a sweet potato donut. A few blocks further south, you’ll find Ginkgo Gardens (3G), a plant nursery whose seams burst with plants and flowers.
These are only a few routes within Capitol Hill’s vibrant urban fabric, and though I have my go-to walking routes memorized just like my coffee order, finding new paths that lead to new discoveries is just as enjoyable and finally coming to know a place as well as you know a friend. So, dust off your fanny pack, put on some sunscreen, and get walking! There is so much to discover in the city and stories that these rowhomes are waiting to tell.