My kind of Fourth

'Oh, you've lived in Washington? I've been there. It was...boring.'

The conversation happened today, but it's the story of my life. It's hard not to get defensive when you come from an overgrown town that's been wracked by violence and corruption for much of its short history.

Washington has always struggled to compete with such neighbors as New York and Boston, let alone West Coast stars like San Francisco and Los Angeles. To the tourist, it's a bizarre combination of monumental and ponderous. In the federal city, soaring neoclassical architecture competes with hideous 1970s monstrosities.

But on the Fourth of July, DC is the best city in the world.

I don't want to hear about gaudy displays over the SF Bay or parties in Times Square. They've got nothing on the glamour, tackiness and raw emotion of lying in the grass of the National Mall, with the National Symphony Orchestra playing behind you and fireworks exploding over the ghostly Lincoln Memorial.

You're surrounded by families who have travelled from around the country and world. Everyone is looking at the sky at the same time, with the same expression. In a moment, you realize what American innocence and optimism really mean.

The day may have started with a trip to the National Zoo. Your feet might be sore from trundling through the Air and Space Museum or American History Museum (but you were glad of the air-conditioning). You may have played Frisbee on the Mall's grass. Or you may just be lying prone, trying to digest the sketchy $5 hot dog sold to you from a van.

It doesn't matter. However tired you are - and however you feel about unashamed patriotic displays - you'll be caught in the moment. The connection is incredible.

The moment passes quickly. The Fifth of July isn't a big deal. Most of the tourists are gone.

Try sticking around. Sleep in, then wander down U St in the Shaw district. Take a look at the Duke Ellington mural before tucking into a chili half-smoke at Ben's Chili Bowl. Then stretch your legs by heading over to the Adams-Morgan neighborhood, which will keep you busy the rest of the afternoon.

Finish your day in a Georgetown dive bar or at the Uptown Theater.

There - you've spent a whole day without setting foot in the federal city. And, if you kept your eyes open, you discovered that DC has grown up a bit since the 1990s.

Boring? Nope. You just need to know where to look.

(OK, so I'm biased. For a more balanced view, check out Andy M's roundup of Independence Day celebrations.)