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Water soothes the quiet side of busy Georgetown

GEORGETOWN — Part 2 of a three-part series on Georgetown.

GEORGETOWN - True, this famously upscale quarter of Washington is unabashedly commercial, a bastion of designer shops, trendy eateries and urbane bars and clubs.

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Yet not far from the madding crowds exists a less hurried, less congested and more quietly textured version of the capital's oldest neighborhood.

Call it the softer side of Georgetown.

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To access this world of quaint shops, cozy cafes and other sites tucked off the main drags of Wisconsin Avenue and M Street, simply head south straight toward the water.

Not far away is the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, constructed beginning in the 1820s, during an era when the nation's economy relied on its waterways.

Spanning nearly 185 miles, the C&O; runs along the Potomac River from the mouth of Rock Creek in Georgetown to Cumberland. Once a vital carrier of goods, supplies and settlers heading west, the canal sputtered to a halt in the face of competition from the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.

Today, the canal is the center of a scenic national park dedicated to preservation of both history and nature. You will see hikers, cyclists and boaters enjoying its serene beauty. Rangers in period costumes recall the heyday of the canal, once dubbed the "Great National Project." And hardy mules still plod on the 12-foot-wide towpath, pulling replica canal boats.

The woodsy area is picturesque and gloriously cool in the summer, with a handful of tiny shops that face the canal. The area also holds the Cinema on the Canal series, where film buffs are encouraged to bring a blanket and cooler and watch movies under the stars. Sponsored by the Georgetown Film Festival, the series is in its third year and plays host to a new outdoor festival of independent films that kicks off Sept. 18 at nearby Canal Square.

Canal Square is also a haven for art enthusiasts, what with five distinctive art galleries among its offerings. Loosely known as Galleries 1054, the complex includes the Alla Rogers Gallery, which specializes in contemporary American and Eastern European art.

Just a few doors away is the Parish Gallery of Georgetown, recognized worldwide for exhibitions that celebrate artists of the African diaspora. The venues help attract a diverse cross-section of art enthusiasts, aided by monthly openings and events held throughout the calendar year.

"Every third Friday we jointly host an opening, with wine and cheese," says artist Alla Rogers, whose gallery was the first to open on the square back in 1990. "It's a wonderful way to introduce people to our galleries ... [and] to this lovely section of Georgetown. Not everyone knows about the area, but it's well worth finding."

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Where to eat

Sea Catch Restaurant & Raw Bar (1054 31st St., 202-337-8855): Casually elegant ambience and al fresco dining overlooking the C&O; Canal, plus sea "catches" such as grilled rainbow trout and Louisiana seafood gumbo.

Cafe La Ruche (1039 31st Towpath, 202-965-2687): With a lemon-colored exterior and French blue shutters, this cozy cafe bills itself as "a bit of Paris on the Potomac." Try the croque monsieur sandwich (French toast baked with ham and cheese).

Sushi to Go (3073 Canal Towpath, 202-333-6774): Located on the towpath near the C&O; Canal, the restaurant has a Japanese chef in full regalia whipping up a profusion of fresh sushi, sashimi and other delicacies - most under $10.

Citronelle (3000 M St., 202-625-2150): Everyone from congressmen to local power players dine at Citronelle at the Latham Hotel. Among the five-star offerings: lobster burgers and rich creme caramel cheesecake.

What to see and do

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Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historic Park (Visitor's Center at 1057 Thomas Jefferson St., 202-653-5190): The C&O; Canal was viable from 1828 to 1924. Today, you'll hear cries of "Mules coming!" as the beasts pull replica boats (open to the public).

Georgetown Film Festival (202-338-4300 or www.georgetownfilmfest.com): The group co-sponsored the Cinema on the Canal Series this summer. A new independent film festival featuring some 90 films will be held Sept. 18-21 inside the Canal Square courtyard.

Canal Square (1054 31st St. N.W.): With five galleries, the square can be one-stop shopping for anyone who loves art. The Alla Rogers Gallery (202-333-8595) is filled with color-drenched paintings, sculpture and photography. New Orleans native and painter Norman Parish opened Parish Gallery of Georgetown (202-944-2310) 12 years ago, and now primarily shows artists from Africa and the African diaspora. Check out the contemporary photos and art inside Fraser Gallery, hip art at Moca Gallery, and Russian painter Alexander Anufriev at Gallerie Petite.

Washington Harbour (3000 K St. and 3050 K St. 202-295-5000): The best parts of this complex are its restaurants and views of the Washington harbor and the Kennedy Center.

The Old Print Gallery (1220 31st St., 202-965-1818): Hailed as the area's largest selection of original antique prints, maps and items that range from the nautical to botanical, the gallery also does appraisals and archival framing.

Getting there

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Take the Baltimore-Washington Parkway (Route 295) to U.S. 50 (New York Avenue) to Mount Vernon Square. From there, pick up K Street and take it toward the waterfront. The Metro does not service the area, but the blue and yellow Georgetown Metro Connection Shuttle runs about every 10 minutes. 202-625-7433.

More information

Washington, D.C., Convention and Tourism Corporation: 202-789-7099 or www.washing ton.org. Georgetown Visitor's Center (3242 M St., 202-333-1600).

For more regional trips, see Page 33.


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