WASHINGTON -- Every Memorial Day weekend, thousands of motorcyclists from all walks of life converge on the nation's capital for Rolling Thunder, the annual gathering in the nation's capital meant to honor and remember prisoners of war and military service members who are missing in action.
Sunday will be the biggest day for motorcyclists, who will gather at the Pentagon's north and south parking lots at 6 a.m. before the noontime Rolling Thunder motorcycle rally -- the route goes across Arlington Memorial Bridge, goes past the Lincoln Memorial, east on Constitution Avenue toward Capitol Hill, crosses the National Mall on 3rd Street before heading back toward the Lincoln Memorial on Independence Avenue.
But it's common to find motorcyclists all over town during the course of the weekend, touring the nation's capital by road. The sound of revving engines is just as much a part of D.C.'s Memorial Day landscape as the emotional scenes of visitors at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall.
Motorcyclists, of course, enjoy the open road, free of obstacles. But those can be hard to come by in D.C. But it's not impossible to find good motorcycle routes inside the Capital Beltway.
Here are our picks -- just remember that Memorial Day is the time of year when red-light cameras catch the most violators.
Independence Avenue and Constitution Avenue: These two grand avenues flanking the National Mall offer some of the best monumental views in town. It's hard not to see the city's best landmarks.
Pennsylvania Avenue: The stretch of "America's Main Street" between 3rd Street NW and 15th Street NW, like Independence and Constitution avenues, offers a monumental ride. There's a reason why this is the route for presidential inaugurations.
Rock Creek Parkway and Beach Drive: Independence Avenue conveniently curves into Rock Creek Parkway near the Lincoln Memorial. Continuing northward into Rock Creek Park, there are few traffic lights to deal with. The scenic valley is traversed by interesting bridges, including the Q Street Bridge, Massachusetts Avenue's Glover Bridge, Connecticut Avenue's Taft Bridge and Calvert Street's Duke Ellington Bridge. Continuing northward, Rock Creek Parkway turns into Beach Drive, which follows the creek's path into the heart of Rock Creek Park. The northern section of Beach Drive, beyond Broad Branch Road, is closed to motorized traffic. (Bicyclists are welcome though.)
Connecticut Avenue: Heading northwest from the White House, Connecticut Avenue is a mostly straight shot out to the Maryland border in Chevy Chase. You'll pass some of the city's grandest apartment houses. Weekend traffic can be sluggish by the National Zoo, but Connecticut Avenue's traffic can move at a good pace, especially over the Taft Bridge, one of the city's most beautiful vistas. You won't see many notable landmarks there, but you'll sail above the green expanse of Rock Creek Park.
Massachusetts Avenue, west of Dupont Circle: This is the traditional heart of Embassy Row, lined with diplomatic missions and the Naval Observatory, where Vice President Biden lives. The long, gradual hill from Rock Creek to the Naval Observatory is a great ride.
Reno Road and 34th Street NW: Located roughly parallel to Connecticut Avenue through Chevy Chase, Tenleytown and Cleveland Park, these two roads run though primarily residential neighborhoods. It's hilly, has some nice curves and full of nostalgia -- at least for some.
16th Street NW: Like Connecticut Avenue, 16th Street is another monumental thoroughfare that emanates from the White House. The upper reaches of the roadway up to Silver Spring offer a nice ride, but the best views are in the southbound direction from Mount Pleasant, where the White House and Jefferson Memorial can be seen in the distance with the Washington Monument set slightly out of alignment to the left.
Interstate 395: There may be no better dramatic entrance to the nation's capital than on I-395 from Virginia. Just before the Pentagon, the highway hits the crest of a ridge, where the National Air Force Memorial's spires shoot up into the air. Continuing on, you'll cross the Potomac River and head into the city with the Jefferson Memorial on your left. Keeping left, merge onto 14th Street and cross the Mall into downtown. The Washington Monument will be on your left and the Capitol will be on your right. The Willard InterContinental Hotel will rise above 14th Street at Pennsylvania Avenue.
George Washington Memorial Parkway: There's a reason why the GW Parkway is a scenic parkway. Upriver from the Key Bridge, the parkway is hilly and sits on the ridge overlooking the Potomac River in Virginia. Closer to town, the parkway hugs the riverbank on its way south to Old Town Alexandria and onward to Mount Vernon.
Whitehurst Freeway and Canal Road: These two roadways are on the D.C. side of the Potomac and offer a nice route in and out of town. The Whitehurst, a relatively short elevated highway above the Georgetown waterfront, has great views of the Key Bridge, the Potomac River and the Kennedy Center. Canal Road, which starts at the Key Bridge, follows the course of the C&O Canal at the foot of a heavily wooded ridge. You won't even feel like you're in the city.
North Capitol Street: This main thoroughfare, emanating northward from the Capitol, offers a nice route with two underpasses beneath Rhode Island Avenue and New York Avenue. Heading southbound, you'll see the Capitol's grand dome.
Other suggestions? Let us know in comments ...
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