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Washington, D.C. Travel Guide

© Courtesy of Destination DC

Ted Leonsis, serial entrepreneur and owner of three local sports franchises, gives us his Washington D.C. travel guide.

Amtrak’s Acela train hurtles toward Washington, D.C., carrying Ted Leonsis, the owner of the Washington Capitals, the Wizards and the Mystics sports teams, toward home. Like the other riders, Leonsis has taken over a business-class seat—his computer out, papers scattered, talking on the phone. It’s no small feat that he manages to work undisturbed: The colorful Leonsis, while not quite as visible a team owner as, say, Jerry Jones or the departed George Steinbrenner, has developed a cult following in his adopted hometown through blogging, Tweeting and responding with action or words to nearly every email fans send his way. On the Acela, he can finish this type of work without cutting into meetings, negotiations and team management. “I love the Acela. Sure, I have my own plane. But the train is always on time, it goes right into the city and it’s 150 bucks!” Leonsis says.

You wouldn’t think a man worth roughly $1 billion would personally oversee his transportation costs, let alone respond individually to fan email. But those who know Leonsis wouldn’t expect less. The Brooklyn-born son of a restaurateur and a secretary, this self-made new-media pioneer and former vice chairman of AOL is credited with helping develop the commercial growth of the Internet. Leonsis is an indefatigable entrepreneur— and movie producer, team owner, philanthropist and author—on a mission. Or, more accurately, on 101 missions, as noted in his 2010 book The Business of Happiness.

In 1983, Leonsis was riding on an Eastern Airlines flight when it experienced hydraulic failure near Atlanta. As flight attendants prepared for a crash landing, the successful 25-year-old businessman assessed his life and decided he wasn’t where he wanted to be. “When you have a life-changing event, you start to think about what you’ll miss—and it’s not your houses, cars or jewelry,” Leonsis told the ExecutiveBiz blog in April 2010. After the plane managed to land safely, Leonsis drafted a list of 101 things he wanted to do before he died, from taking care of his parents (#4, now checked off) to having a major impact on a children’s charity (#36, checked off). Nearly a third of the items involve travel—touring such places as Tahiti, Australia and even outer space (many checked off, including London, Paris, Greece, Brazil and Egypt).

But Leonsis’s ambitious travel goals, now famous mission list and hectic schedule don’t keep him from his all-time favorite place: Washington, D.C. When he comes home to roost, it’s at a mansion on three acres in McLean, Va., just nine miles from his beloved alma mater, Georgetown University, and 11 miles from the Verizon Center, home of his three teams. “I am unabashed about telling people how magnificent this city is. This is one of the most beautiful places in the world,” he says.

Leonsis also owns a home in Vero Beach, Fla., and says he loves the energy of New York City, but his heart lies in D.C., where he attended college, amassed his wealth and raised his children. The city’s appeal lies not only in its beauty but also in its brains, he says. “I’ve always seen Washington, D.C., or the DMV—D.C., Maryland, Virginia, as some of us call it now—as being the most educated, most affluent, most wired community in the country,” says Leonsis. The city’s intellectual capital first drove the entrepreneur to open a local branch of his company Redgate Communications. In 1993, when Redgate became AOL’s first acquisition, Leonsis and AOL cofounder Steve Case helped expand the region’s collective IQ, attracting young guns to the nation’s newest technology corridor. In many ways, both men helped D.C. expand past its limits as a federal town; today, it houses the headquarters of several corporate giants, including Discovery Communications and Capital One.

On the heels of that influx of intelligent, relatively affluent residents has come a complete makeover of many parts of the city—“and not just the downtown area,” Leonsis says. “This place has developed like a wheel. There’s the hub, D.C., and the spokes, like Tyson’s Corner, Bethesda, Alexandria, Rockville. There are lots of things going on here.”

New attractions, such as the Newseum and International Spy Museum, have joined Washington’s traditional draws—the Smithsonian, the U.S. Capitol, the National Mall and the memorials—in bringing in visitors. Local and celebrity chefs have transformed D.C. into a center for world-class cuisine. And the city’s size and design, roughly 68 square miles of broad boulevards and a horizontal skyline, make it approachable and accessible by car and the Metro subway system.

On a weekend this past fall, Leonsis went to dinner on Friday in his village of McLean; took his daughter to lunch on Saturday at a favorite Georgetown pub, the Tombs, then caught dinner and a movie near the Georgetown waterfront; and went shopping on Sunday at the Galleria in Tyson’s Corner, Va. He also enjoys strolling through Oak Hill Cemetery, a burial grounds and gardens that serve as the final resting spot for such D.C. luminaries as William Corcoran, Dean Acheson and Phil and Katherine Graham. “I really love those grounds,” says Leonsis.

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