From chilly ice to hot chocolate

After summer’s lush greenery is gone and the humid air has lifted, the gallery’s Sculpture Garden transforms itself into a winter wonderland straight out of Whoville.

The Sculpture Garden’s ice rink is the perfect activity for a date night or an afternoon with family in town for the holidays.

The Sculpture Garden was designed to offer year-round enjoyment to the public in one of the preeminent locations on the National Mall. It opened in May 1999. 

“The ice rink was a preexisting feature of the land that became the 6.1-acre National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden,” Deborah Ziska, chief of press and public information at the National Gallery of Art, said of the area that was to become the gallery’s garden. The land was previously under the ownership of the National Park Service.

“The preexisting reflecting pool was redesigned to function as a fountain during warm weather,” she said, and was “transformed” into a public skating rink during winter months.

The ice rink has welcomed more than 500,000 skaters since it opened, according to Ziska.

The rink is open until mid-March, weather permitting, and with D.C.’s unseasonably warm winter so far, you may have good luck with an open rink. Prices are reasonable as well, with two-hour sessions beginning on the hour for $8, and skate rentals for $3. If you’re coming back from getting your holiday shopping done and have bags with you, lockers are 50 cents to rent (with a $5 deposit).

If you’re a serious skater, $195 gets you on the rink for the entire four-month season.

The rink is surprisingly large, and a friendly staffer welcomes skaters on and off the ice at various times in order for the Zamboni to work its magic keeping the ice slippery.

The rink plays Top 40 hits and mixes of festive favorites like “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” and “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas.” Don’t forget to skate in a counterclockwise direction, or else you’ll bump into small children (and adults!) just learning to skate, clinging to the railing for dear life.

The rink is open until 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday nights.

You can get pretty cold sailing about the ice, and D.C. has multiple hot chocolate options to warm you up. If ice-skating wears out your feet, the obvious choice is the Pavilion Café, located next to the rink, which also serves sandwiches, pizzas and salads.

Some of the finest hot chocolate in the city is served north of the National Mall at ACKC, or Artfully Chocolate Kingsbury Confections, on 14th Street. Their “divas” hot chocolate collection is the perfect end to a chilly night ice-skating. The divas for which the drinks are named include Audrey Hepburn, Judy Garland, Elizabeth Taylor, Doris Day and other starlets from Hollywood’s Golden Age.

The Judy Garland is milk chocolate with a shot of hazelnut, covered in whipped cream and rainbow sprinkles — a nod to her “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” fame. Its sweetness is just right, and the café warms their drinks to utter perfection.

The Audrey Hepburn is another must try. The drink is described on the menu as “extremely sophisticated,” extremely dark hot chocolate served European style — in an espresso cup.

Another option a bit further afield, if you’re a suburbanite who visited the downtown area to ice skate, is Gaithersburg’s SPAGnVOLA, a dessert restaurant and coffee shop.

One of the shop’s favorite quotes is “The most common expression of love is through chocolates.” After tasting a cup of their rich and creamy hot chocolate, you’ll want to pick up a few pieces of sweets to take home.

Whether you’re skating around with the Washington Monument in the background or enjoying a cup of chocolaty goodness in the warmth of a café, the D.C. area has plenty of winter weather activities to enjoy.

This post has been updated to correct a misattributed quote from Deborah Ziska.