Unlike many little girls who grow up to be actresses, Graham didn't grow up with red-carpet dreams and Marilyn Monroe fixations. Her introduction to acting was through the regional theaters of D.C. "I wasn't particularly outgoing, but I liked playing someone else," she says. When she was a child, her father read to her every night, and acting just seemed like a natural extension. Her first experience onstage was at Arlington Children's Theatre - "I was Cook Number Three, and I had one line, like, 'The bread is ready!" - followed by a summer theater program at Catholic University and a workshop at the Arena Stage, a well-regarded regional group producing both new and classic plays. "I was one of the youngest people in the workshop," she remembers, "and it should have been really intimidating. But for me, there was no better thing than being part of the Arena ensemble. They all knew each other; they did all these shows together. It's funny that I'm in television now, because I didn't really have a desire to be glamorous. My goal was to be in regional theater. That was as far as my vision went."

D.C. is better known for its theatrics than for its theater, yet the latter is the aspect of the city that had the most profound effect on Graham. "D.C. isn't a theater town, but it has a nice theater community. And it has a cultural center, so there are really quality productions, and it's a place where people go to the opera and theater," she says. And so she felt more than a twinge of recognition when she saw a play of Carson McCullers's The Member of the Wedding, about a bored and aching 12-year-old girl. She saw shows at the Shakespeare Theatre, the Kennedy Center, and saw her first Chekhov play at the Arena Stage. At the time, her father was working on his English master's degree at Georgetown University. He was a voracious reader who leapt at the opportunity to share his love of literature. "And this stuff was probably over my head," she says, "but if there was anything remotely age-appropriate,­ my dad would take me."

At Langley High School, Graham continued in theater but wasn't consumed by it. She was a good student and spent a year on drill team and student council. After graduating at 17, Graham went to New York - "mostly because of the movie Fame," she jokes - to study at Barnard College. Like her father, she studied English, but the stage was still lodged in her heart. She got her master's in theater at Southern Methodist University's Meadows School of the Arts in Dallas and eventually moved to L.A. to pursue work in movies and television. She starred in a string of failed sitcoms before hitting her stride on Gilmore Girls.

These days, D.C. has become something of a respite from the gossip and ­navel-gazing of Graham's home in L.A. "I love being in a city that doesn't care about show business," she says. "I like to see people in suits and ties, because where I come from, it's all baseball caps and shorts. My father wore a suit and tie to work every day, but that formality is almost exotic to me now."

Her father, now married, currently heads the National Confectioners Association and lives in Great Falls, Virginia. She visits him several times a year and revels in "old-school, stately Washington places" like the Hay-Adams Hotel, with its luxurious rooms, some of which overlook the White House. She likes eating at the Capital Grille, which she describes as "classic D.C. - it's wood, it's steak, it's martinis" - and at Georgetown bistros like Billy Martin's Tavern and Clyde's. For pizza and deli sandwiches, she likes the Italian Store. ("Which is technically in Arlington, but who cares? It's delicious," she says.)

Her favorite, however, is L'Auberge Chez François, the cozy, charming Alsatian restaurant near her father's current home. "You have to make reservations like a year in advance," she says. You'd think someone who'd been nominated for a Golden Globe might be able to pull a few strings. But instead, Graham has a sneakier plan for landing a spot at Chez François. "Sometimes, if it's snowing or icy, we'll drive over," she says, "because we know people from the city can't make it."

Now living in a city that has no seasons, Graham doesn't even mind bracing East Coast winters, although she prefers the city in autumn, when the trees are ablaze with color. "It's a pretty mild fall," she says. "But I find it so beautiful. There are these drives that I love, like driving over Key Bridge. It's the entrance from suburban Virginia to the base of Georgetown. You drive over the bridge and everything just changes." In fall, she can ride her bike along the W&OD Trail (short for Washington and Old Dominion), stretching from Virginia into Georgetown, a scenic trip she has taken since she was a teenager without a driver's license, itching to get into the city. Each time she's in town, she makes a point to walk around the monuments and the Mall. "It's a city planned around these memorials. Unlike, say, other well-planned cities that may have monuments scattered around town, D.C. has all this space that is designed for you to appreciate these monuments and museums." She likes the older museums, like the Smith­sonian National Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. And her favorite monument? "I like the Lincoln Memorial," she says. "I love that he's sitting in this weird chair. I remember when I saw him as a kid, he seemed strangely relaxed and welcoming."

One thing she doesn't miss about D.C., however, is the summer. "I was a camp counselor, and I remember just wanting to die, it was so humid," she says. After all, the city is a swamp. "My hair is really curly, and it was just a mess." Yes, Lauren Graham is down-to-earth. Yes, Lauren Graham isn't terribly glamorous. But, come on: Every girl has her limits.