Few cities have as many can’t-miss sights as Washington. But beyond the signature monuments, museums, and landmarks is a layer of equally impressive but less familiar attractions. We asked dozens of Washingtonians, including readers of our Web site, to tell us about their favorite things to do or see in the area beyond the obvious tourist destinations. Here are our 62 suggestions for treasures that may not have cherry-blossom status but still very much merit a visit.
See a Google map of our hidden gems list and, if you think we left some great place/activity off our list, let us know. Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Explore all things Vietnamese . . . at Eden Center, a small mall in Falls Church where visitors should come hungry. Along the outdoor walkways lilting with Asian pop, you’ll find delis specializing in bánh mì (crisp baguettes layered with pâtés, grilled meats, and terrines); pho houses; restaurants for bánh xèo (an oversize stuffed crepe) and bun (noodles bowls); and coffeeshops filled with dapperly suited men whiling away the afternoon. 6763 Wilson Blvd., Falls Church; 703-204-4600.
Slip into a speakeasy . . . for bar whiz Todd Thrasher’s locally inspired cocktails at swankily Deco PX. Thrasher’s easy-to-down drinks include local homages such as the Smoker’s Delight, a post-smoking-ban creation made with Virginia tobacco and bourbon, and a yuzu-accented spin on Washington’s native cocktail, the rickey. There’s a no-standing rule, so reservations are essential for the 32 seats. And like any proper speakeasy, there’s no phone number; go to eamonnsdublinchipper.com to book a table. 728 King St., Alexandria.
Put your pinky in the air . . . at the Ritz-Carlton in Pentagon City, where the art of afternoon tea is alive and well. Weekends in the serenely plush Fyve restaurant, you’ll find a lovely spread of scones, pastries, and delicate tea sandwiches. The regular assortment is $38 per person. To get a jump-start on happy hour, you can add a glass of Champagne for $4. 1250 S. Hayes St., Arlington; 703-415-5000.
Slurp to your heart’s content . . . at the St. Mary’s County Oyster Festival. For more than 40 years, this Leonardtown festival has brought out the bivalves raw, stewed, grilled, fried, on the half shell—“any way you like ’em,” as its slogan promises. Held annually on the third weekend in October, the festival includes a National Oyster Cook-Off featuring top chefs as well as an oyster-shucking contest.
Crack into a bushel of crabs . . . at Cantler’s Riverside Inn, which sits on an inlet off the Chesapeake Bay (many locals arrive by boat). There can be a bit of a hassle factor—the narrow, twisted road to get there, the crowds, the wait for a new shipment of crabs—but you’ll be rewarded with some of the sweetest, meatiest steamed crustaceans around. 458 Forest Beach Rd., Annapolis; 410-757-1311.
Indulge your sausage craving . . . with a pilgrimage to the joyously chaotic Ben’s Chili Bowl (1213 U St., NW; 202-667-0909) for a chili-smothered half-smoke, as close as DC gets to a regional dish. If we’re talking the area’s best sausage, that award goes to Robert Wiedmaier’s boudin blanc at Marcel’s in Foggy Bottom (2401 Pennsylvania Ave., NW; 202-296-1166). It’s both impossibly rich—foie gras, pheasant, and cream will do that—but also unexpectedly light. The boudin may hail from France, but Wiedmaier has made it all his own.
Have a hip-shaking dinner . . . at Marrakesh, the signless Moroccan restaurant near the Washington Convention Center, where the menu hasn’t changed in decades. But the family-style food, while good, is beside the point. The best reason to come is for the experience: relaxing against silken pillows, marveling at the belly dancers who shimmy through the room (and might pull you up with them), and lingering over mint tea. 617 New York Ave., NW; 202-393-9393.
Have a midnight feast . . . at the raw bar at Clyde’s of Gallery Place, where you can cobble together a plateau de mer of East and West Coast oysters, shrimp cocktail, littleneck clams, and chilled lobster on the cheap. The entire selection of shellfish is half off Sunday through Thursday 11 pm to 1 am. Much more interesting than diner pancakes. 707 Seventh St., NW; 202-349-3700.
Relax the Ethiopian way . . . by spending Sunday afternoon at Sidamo Coffee & Tea, where Yenu Desta, the co-owner’s sister, hosts a free, incense-filled coffee ceremony with freshly roasted and ground beans. 417 H St., NE; 202-548-0081.
Sample the best in street Fare . . . from the Fojol Bros., a madcap quartet of jewel-turbaned twentysomethings—sometimes on roller skates, always behind fake mustaches—who rove downtown DC doling out Indian stews, garlic-ribbon chips, and ginger-lassi popsicles from a dinged-up 1950s Chevy van. You can follow their whereabouts at twitter.com/fojolbros, but if they’re parked anywhere nearby, chances are you’ll hear them blasting a dance-friendly indie-pop soundtrack.
Kick back over a Manhattan . . . at the Off the Record bar at the Hay-Adams Hotel, one of the power establishment’s favorite places to unwind. Leave any cravings for rose-petal martinis at the door and put yourself in the hands of affable longtime bartender John Boswell. He gives classic cocktails their due—and makes an especially mean Manhattan. 1 Lafayette Square, NW; 202-638-6600.