Cooking Light Best Cities: Washington, D.C.

Our capital city sets an accommodating agenda with farm-fresh dining, diverse cultures, and ample opportunity for exploration on foot.

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Best lunchtime workout: With its egalitarian attitude and self-policing honor code, ultimate frisbee may be America's most democratic sport. Pioneered in the 1960s, this soccer-with-flying-discs game encourages participation (beginners welcome) and rewards players with a heart-healthy cardio session. Check the Web site of Washington Area Frisbee Club (301-588-2629) for matches and tournaments, or just arrive for pick-up games, with one of the best starting Fridays at noon on the National Mall near the National Museum of Natural History.

Best moonlight paddling: Hooting bard owls, leaping fish, beavers slapping the water with their tails to alert comrades to your presence-such reception awaits paddlers on moonlight kayak rides down Piscataway Creek, a Potomac tributary by Mount Vernon, George Washington's plantation 17 miles south of downtown. Atlantic Kayak (301-292-6455) leads groups of all levels on excursions departing at sunset.

Just south of the National Mall, Tidal Basin Paddle Boats (202-479-2426) rents two- and four-person boats for sunset rides around this lake-like tributary of the Potomac. Enjoy views of the Jefferson Memorial, the FDR Memorial, and others, which are even more impressive by the twilight's last gleaming.

Best comeback story: Billie Holliday, Dizzy Gillespie, and D.C. native son Duke Ellington graced the stages of jazz clubs lining U Street in the Shaw district during the "Black Broadway's" mid-century heyday. Postwar blight dimmed the lights, but an encore arrived in the late 1990s with the Shaw's renaissance as one of D.C.'s top nightlife neighborhoods. Jazz still tops bills here, with Cuban timba (a style similar to salsa) ensembles and swing jazz orchestras enlivening the colorful Bohemian Caverns (202-299-0800), and tuneful trios gigging at tiny Twins Jazz (202-234-0072), opened more than 20 years ago by Ethiopian twin sisters, Kelly and Maze Tesfaye. By day, historical markers guide walkers to neighborhood highlights, including Ellington's boyhood home on T Street.

Best arts enclave: The city's most walkable neighborhood, leafy Dupont Circle in Northwest D.C., may be its most creative, with striking 19th-century architecture and art galleries clustered along P, Q, and R streets. Grab the free Galleries Magazine guide, available in neighborhood shops and galleries, or set out wandering, popping into places like the Burdick Gallery (202-986-5682), where proprietor John Burdick spotlights Inuit art he gathers in northern Canada, or the Studio Gallery (202-232-8734), a collective of mixed-media D.C. artists. On the first Fridays of each month, galleries stay open late, often showcasing new exhibits while guests enjoy wine and cheese. For a quirkier tour, follow the Art on Call Boxes (202-661-7581), a Cultural Tourism D.C. project that refurbished old neighborhood fire and police call boxes as public art, each decorated by local artists.

Best museum off the beaten path: Don your secret identity upon entering the International Spy Museum (202-393-7798), a kitschy trip through the spy versus spy era. This repository of bizarre gadgets like buttonhole cameras and invisible ink seems all the more surreal when juxtaposed with true tales of code breaking and the Berlin Wall.

Where to Stay

Best historical hotel: Filled with history (Martin Luther King, Jr., penned "I Have a Dream" here), the circa-1850 Willard Intercontinental (from $299; 202-628-9100) aims to conserve resources with its new sustainability plan, drawing on wind energy and funding local conservation projects. Its red and blue-hued Federal-Victorian decor sets a stately tone.

Best Georgetown boutique: Hip and stylish, the Latham Hotel (from $209; 888-587-2377) has compact rooms offset by a mingling scene at the rooftop pool and sun deck.

Best way to stay fit on the road: In-room ellipticals and yoga stations make the Topaz Hotel (from $139; 202-393-3000) a wise choice for the fitness-focused.

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