DAY ONE: BE THE TOURIST’S TOURIST.
Lace up your sneakers and slather on some sunscreen. You’re in for a day of touring, sightseeing, walking—and more walking.
8:30 AM: Union Station
Your day begins at Union Station (50 Massachusetts Ave., NE), one of the city’s most popular destinations. This Beaux Arts-style train station is a bustling transportation hub, with the Red Line Metro, Amtrak, and Virginia and Maryland commuter trains making stops daily. It features three concourses: The top two house more than 100 shops and eateries, and the lower one features a food court and movie theater. In the marble foyer at the front of the station—a cavernous space with 96-foot vaulted ceilings—art and science exhibits and other public events take place throughout the year. Pick up a brochure at the visitors’ desk and take some time to explore the building before heading out for breakfast.
9 AM: Breakfast at Bistro Bis
A few blocks from Union Station is Bistro Bis in the Hotel George (15 E St., NW; 202-347-4200), a power-breakfast spot popular with Washington politicos. Enjoy a plate of eggs Benedict while you get a taste of DC hard at work.
10 AM: Tour the Capitol
Take a tour of the US Capitol and learn about the history of the building while you see it for yourself. After walking through the Hall of Columns, the rotunda, and the old Supreme Court chambers, it’s upstairs to where the action is: the House and Senate chambers. From the visitors’ gallery, you can watch history as it happens—see bills being debated, votes being counted, and speeches being given. But a word to the wise: Congress is on recess for the month of August, so if watching a bill become a law is important to you, don’t plan a visit that month.
Tickets are free but available only on a first-come, first-served basis at the Capitol Guide Service kiosk on the sidewalk on the Capitol’s southwest side (near the intersection of First Street and Independence Avenue, Southwest). Ticket distribution starts at 9.
• Insider tip: Lines for the ticket kiosk can be long, especially in the summer. If you’re a US citizen, you might try to arrange a tour with someone from your Congress member’s or senators’ office. It’s recommended that you call in advance of your trip to secure a tour time, but even if you don’t, it’s a worth a try just popping in and seeing if they’ll give you a tour on the spot. Often, they’re more than willing to accommodate—you are a voter, after all.
11:30 AM: Free Museums
Who says you need money to have fun? The ten museums along the one-mile span of the National Mall are all free of charge. There’s a museum to suit practically every taste, and because you’ll only have time for one, check out a map beforehand and pick one that appeals to you. We recommend hitting the National Gallery of Art—the 76-foot-long Alexander Calder mobile in the East Building is especially breathtaking—or the Natural History Museum, for a look at dinosaur bones, an insect zoo, the Hope Diamond, and more. The National Gallery comprises the two easternmost buildings on the north side of the Mall, along Madison Drive. The Natural History Museum is the third building on the same side, moving west. No matter which you choose, take a few minutes to wander through the National Gallery of Art’s sculpture garden, which sits between the two museums.
For more free things to do in DC, click here.
1 PM: Lunch
By now, you’ll be starved and looking for a place to rest your feet. Central Michel Richard, one of the area’s most acclaimed new restaurants, is a short walk away at Tenth Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, Northwest (202-626-0015). Feast on bistro food gone haute: lobster burgers with crispy fries, fried chicken with mustard sauce, “faux gras” made from chicken livers whipped with butter. After all that walking, treat yourself to Richard’s signature “Kit Kat bar” dessert ($9). A word to the wise: The restaurant is pricey—sandwiches run $14 to $32 and lunch entrées $18 to $25—but if you’re here for only a few days, it’s worth the splurge.
A more wallet-friendly option is Aria Trattoria (1300 Pennsylvania Ave., NW; 202-312-1250), located in the central plaza of the Ronald Reagan Building. In nice weather, grab a seat on the patio and take in the sights and sounds of this busy promenade while you munch on a grilled-vegetable panini with eggplant, zucchini, and portobello mushroom ($10). Or create your own pizza with toppings such as Gorgonzola, salami, and artichokes—a ten-inch pie costs $11 plus $1.50 for each topping.
For other ideas about where to eat, check out our guide to museum dining.
2 PM: History Lesson at the National Archives
Don’t miss the National Archives (700 Pennsylvania Ave., NW; 202-501-5000), where you can see the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and hundreds of other historical documents on display. The museum also hosts rotating special exhibits that have included a showing of the Magna Carta, audiotaped conversations of former Presidents, and videos on important historical periods, such as the New Deal era. Free.
3:30 PM: City Views at the Old Post Office Pavilion and Clock Tower
Skip the lines at the Washington Monument and take in a view of the city from downtown DC’s second-highest point: the clock tower at the Old Post Office Pavilion (1100 Pennsylvania Ave., NW; 202-289-4224). This free tour is one of DC’s best-kept secrets. The observation deck provides 360-degree views of the city. The tower is home to the Congressional Bells, a gift from Britain for our country’s 200th birthday; they ring on Thursday evenings and special occasions.
4:15 PM: White House or Bust
It’s off to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for a look at the President’s home sweet home. Because tours of the inside of the White House are hard to come by—they must be booked months in advance, they’re reserved for groups of ten or more, and they’re available only during certain hours—you’ll have to take in the sights from behind the fence. But don’t worry, there’s still plenty to see.
The White House complex consists of the main building, which is the executive residence space, and the East and West Wings. The East Wing, visible from Pennsylvania Avenue to the left of the executive residence, houses office space for the First Lady and her staff and the White House Social Office. Below it is a secure underground bunker, where the President goes in the event of an emergency. The West Wing is where the business of the White House happens. From the Pennsylvania Avenue side, it extends to the right of the executive residence and houses the Oval Office, the Cabinet Room, the White House Situation Room, and the Press Briefing Room. Outside the West Wing, on the White House lawn, you’ll might see camera, sound, and lighting equipment—this is the area from which White House correspondents videotape their reports.
Snap a few photos, and you’re off.
5 PM: Happy Hour
Just down the street is the Round Robin Bar at the Willard InterContinental (1401 Pennsylvania Ave., NW; 202-628-9100), a swanky cocktail spot where Washington’s power players rub elbows around the circular mahogany bar. It’s not cheap—cocktails range from $12 to $15, and the cheapest beer will set you back $6.50—but you’re paying for the atmosphere and a chance to taste a bit of history; it was here that Henry Clay introduced George Washington to the mint julep in the early 1800s. You can try the famous drink—made the way Washington liked it with Maker’s Mark, mint, sugar, and branch water—for $15.
6:30 PM: Dinner
Adjacent to the Willard, Café du Parc (1401 Pennsylvania Ave., NW; 202-942-7000) channels Paris in the heart of DC. Dine on such French classics as pâté en croûte, roast chicken, and mussels steamed with white wine and garlic. Nothing beats a table on the charming patio on a nice evening—except maybe the excellent mille-feuille for dessert.
8 PM: Nightlife in Adams Morgan
DC’s Adam’s Morgan neighborhood—18th Street, Northwest, between U Street and Columbia Road—is DC’s nightlife mecca, with plenty of spots to sip a drink, grab a snack, listen to music, or dance the night away. The neighborhood has two personalities: Sunday through Wednesday night, it’s relatively quiet and the bars fill up to comfortable levels, mostly with neighborhood residents out for happy hour; Thursday through Saturday night, the strip transforms into a frenetic scene packed with college kids and twentysomethings out to party.
For an unpretentious dive bar with a decent beer selection, check out Toledo Lounge (2435 18th St., NW; 202-986-5416). Knock back a few at one of the two dozen or so tables inside, and if it’s warm, try to snag one of the coveted patio seats out front. You can people watch to your heart’s content.
Down the street is Club Heaven and Hell (2327 18th St., NW; 202-332-8899), a two-level joint where the upstairs bar (Heaven) caters to high-energy danceaholics and the downstairs bar (Hell) to a brooding billiard crowd. The highlight of Heaven is the Thursday-night ’80s dance party, which packs in a tight crowd. In Hell, the appeal is the dim lighting and relative quiet, which means it’s easier to have a conversation. Hell’s pool table is a bonus.
Across the street is the Reef (2446 18th St., NW; 202-518-3800), an aquatic-themed restaurant with cozy booths, a large bar with ample seating, and high tables overlooking 18th Street. The biggest draw is the aquariums throughout the place, which hold hundreds of colorful fish that give the room a glow at night. If it’s warm—and not too crowded—check out the upstairs roof deck for great nighttime views of the city.
Bars on 18th Street stay open late, so if you’re taking the subway back to your hotel, remember that it stops running at midnight Sunday through Thursday and at 3 AM on Friday and Saturday nights. The closest Metro stop to Adams Morgan is Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan on the Red Line.
DAY TWO: EXPLORE PENN QUARTER.
The morning starts off on Capitol Hill, but then it’s off to explore DC’s Penn Quarter neighborhood. Museums and theater, anyone?
9 AM: Breakfast at Firehook
Firehook (215 Pennsylvania Ave., SE; 202-544-7003), a local bakery/coffeehouse chain, serves a variety of fresh breads, muffins, coffees, and hot drinks. Try the croissants stuffed with spinach and feta or ham and cheese and the Morning Glory Muffin, a carrot muffin with apples, walnuts, raisins, shredded coconut, and spices. On weekdays, the place bustles with iPhone-laden Hill staffers grabbing a bite before work. On weekends, you’ll see a more relaxed crowd as residents from the surrounding neighborhood stop in for coffee and a Danish while they walk their dog or read the paper. Snag one of the few tables up front by the large windows and enjoy seeing how Washington likes to wake up. Closest Metro: Capitol South (Orange and Blue lines).
10 AM: US Botanic Garden
One of the Smithsonian’s treasures is the US Botanic Garden (245 First St, SW), just west of the Capitol. It’s a year-round greenhouse and conservatory that can make the darkest, coldest day of winter feel like a trip to Fiji. Inside, you’ll see 26,000 plants organized in collections throughout ten climate-controlled rooms. In the center is the largest room, which houses the jungle. It includes a second-story catwalk for viewing the canopy from above.
In nice weather, meander through the two outside gardens: Bartholdi Park (just south of the conservatory, across Independence Avenue), which is anchored by a large fountain, and the National Garden (just west of the conservatory), which includes rose and butterfly gardens, the First Ladies’ Water Garden, and an outdoor amphitheater.
11:30 AM: National Postal Museum
The next stop is the National Postal Museum (2 Massachusetts Ave., NE; 202-633-8181), which, believe it or not, is a great place for kids. Walk north on First Street, Northwest, across the Capitol complex, and turn right on Louisiana Avenue. At Columbus Circle, you’ll be facing Union Station. The museum is the building to the left of Union Station, between First Street, Northeast, and North Capitol Street.
This museum traces the history of mail in the United States from Colonial times to the present. The place is loaded with interactive exhibits—there’s even a place where you can make postcards and have them addressed, stamped, and mailed for free. Documenting how mail used to be carried across the country, the museum is home two airplanes, which hang from the ceiling, two stagecoaches (one that you can sit in), plus a big rig and an old train car, both of which you can sit in. Who knew mail could be so much fun?
1 PM: Lunch
It’s off to Penn Quarter for the rest of the day—but first, lunch! To give your wallet a break, go with something cheap and casual, like the new ecofriendly On the Fly cart (Southwest corner of Eighth and H sts., NW) for sandwiches, salads, wraps, parfaits, and more. You can’t miss it—it’s big and green. Or try a salad or sandwich at Chop’t (730 Seventh St., NW; 202-347-3445) for something fresh and healthy (or not—if you go for the smoky bacon dressing).
From the National Postal Museum, walk a block south on North Capitol Street and turn right onto E Street, Northwest. Follow E until you get to Seventh Street, Northwest, Penn Quarter’s main thoroughfare, where you should turn right. Chop’t is 2½ blocks north on Seventh. The On the Fly cart is half a block north and one block west of Chop’t at Eighth and H.
2 PM: Take Your Pick
Penn Quarter has several museums, but you won’t have time to see them all. We recommend hitting either the International Spy Museum or Madame Tussauds wax museum.
The International Spy Museum (800 F St., NW; 202-393-7798) tells the story of international espionage, both real and Hollywood style. The museum requires a good amount of reading—a lengthy placard accompanies almost every exhibit and item on display—but you’ll get to see some real-life spy gadgetry, such as a pistol disguised as a tube of lipstick, alongside some of Hollywood’s renditions, like the 1964 Aston Martin outfitted for James Bond. Tickets range from $15 to $18, depending on age; children under age five are free.
Another option is Madame Tussauds (1025 F St., NW; 202-942-7300), a quirky please-touch wax museum filled with lifesize replicas of past and present celebrities and politicians. Among four exhibits—with themes of history, celebrities, and sports, and a behind-the-scenes look at Madame Tussauds—you’ll witness Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, break the Watergate scandal with Bob Woodward, walk the red carpet with Julia Roberts, and check the green with Tiger Woods. As you can imagine, this place is chock-full of photo ops. Tickets are $18 for adults (over age 13) and $12 for children (ages four to 12); under age four is free.
• Insider tip: A $1 service fee is tacked on to tickets purchased online for Madame Tussauds, so we recommend purchasing them directly from the museum when you arrive.
4 PM: National Portrait Gallery and Smithsonian American Art Museum
Don’t miss the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture, located in the old Patent Office Building at Eighth and F streets and housing both the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The Portrait Gallery (202-633-8300) features exhibitions on America’s presidents and history; prominent cultural, scientific, and political figures of the 20th century; and performers, composers, and athletes of more recent acclaim. The American Art Museum (202-633-7970) is devoted to art and artists of the United States from Colonial times to the present. Both museums host traveling and temporary exhibits—such as the Portrait Gallery’s 2008 exhibition on American hip-hop culture—so there’s usually something new to see. Before you leave, stroll through the glass-enclosed Kogod Courtyard between the museums, which includes two 32-foot-high ficus trees and 16 black-olive trees as well as a café. The glass canopy was designed by British architect Sir Norman Foster.
5 PM: Happy Hour
A few blocks from the Reynolds Center is Poste Moderne Brasserie (555 Eighth St., NW; 202-783-6060), in the central courtyard of the Hotel Monaco. Feel free to walk through the hotel or enter the bar directly through the old carriage way on Eighth Street, last used when the space was home to the General Post Office in the 1800s. Belly up to bar to watch the bartenders work their magic. In pleasant weather, sit outside on a plush patio chair and sip one of the $10 signature cocktails, including Tango & Cash (rum and cashew juice) or the Chameleon (herbal tea with Bombay Sapphire, lemon juice, and club soda). Or ask the bartender about seasonal cocktails.
6 PM: Tapas on Tap
For a fun, delicious dinner a short walk from Poste, visit one of superchef José Andrés’s lively small-plates spots. His flagship, Jaleo (480 Seventh St., NW; 202-628-7949), features traditional and updated tastes of Spain; Oyamel (401 Seventh St., NW; 202-628-1005) is regional Mexican; and Zaytinya (701 Ninth St., NW; 202-638-0800) offers Mediterranean fare. All have tasty cocktails and a hip vibe. Even better, they’ve all been recognized among the area’s best restaurants on The Washingtonian’s most recent 100 Best Restaurants list.
8 PM: To the Theater!
Penn Quarter has a number of options for a night at theater. The Shakespeare Theatre Company performs the Bard’s classics as well as works by other playwrights at Sydney Harman Hall (610 F St., NW) and the nearby Lansburgh Theatre (450 Seventh St., NW)—collectively known as the Harman Center for the Arts—almost every night except Monday. Evening shows begin at 7:30 or 8; call 202-547-1122 or check the Web site for more information.
Another option is the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company (641 D St., NW; 202-393-3939), which has made its name developing, producing, and performing new plays. Some of them are world premieres; others have played recently in other cities but are making their DC debut. Tickets range from $24 to $57, depending on the date and time of the show and where you’re sitting. Learn more about this season’s plays here. Performances Wednesday through Saturday start at 8, on Sunday at 7.
If film is more your style, head to E Street Cinema (555 11th St., NW; 202-452-7672), an eight-screen theater featuring independent and foreign films, documentaries, and classics. Part of the national Landmark Theatre art-house chain, it serves beer and wine, among other concessions, and has an espresso bar. Tickets are $9.75; showtimes vary, so check the Web site before making plans.
DAY THREE: A DAY AT THE MONUMENTS
Visit museums in the morning, but then it’s outside for fresh air and a walking tour of the monuments.
8:30 AM: Breakfast
For breakfast, head to Teaism (800 Connecticut Ave., NW; 202-835-2233), an Asian-inspired teahouse near the White House in Lafayette Square, for cilantro scrambled eggs (or tofu) and hearty Irish oatmeal with fruit. Be sure to grab one of the hefty salty oat cookies for the road—they have something of a cult following among Washingtonians.
9:30 AM: Plan ahead! Grab a Picnic Lunch
You’ll be spending the day on the southwest side of the National Mall, where the pickings for lunch are slim. We suggest hitting Breadline (1751 Pennsylvania Ave., NW; 202-822-8900), a short walk from Teaism, and packing a lunch for later. The lunch rush at this popular spot can be chaotic, but because you’re going in the morning you’ll find no lines and will have your pick of fresh salads and sandwiches on excellent bread. Try the prosciutto with watercress, mascarpone, and fig jam on walnut-raisin bread; egg salad on olive bread; or a takeout bowl of greens with such toppings as Persian chicken or lentils and feta.
From Breadline, it’s on to the Mall. Head east on Pennsylvania Avenue—you’ll cross in front of the White House—and then turn right onto 14th Street. Take 14th about three blocks to the southwest corner of the National Mall.
10 AM: Freer and Sackler Galleries and US Holocaust Memorial Museum
Spend the rest of the morning at the Freer and Sackler galleries and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. Take an hour to walk around the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery (1050 Independence Ave., SW) and the Freer Gallery of Art (Jefferson Dr. at 12th St., SW), which together make up the Smithsonian’s museums of Asian art; the museums are connected by an underground exhibition space. In the Freer, don’t miss the Peacock Room, a blue-and-gold dining room painted by James McNeill Whistler; it was once part of an 1876 London townhouse owned by a wealthy ship owner.
Around the corner is the Holocaust Museum, a solemn but educational journey through a tragic period in world history. You’ll want at least two hours to take in the whole place. The permanent exhibition tells the chronological history of the Holocaust,starting on the fourth floor with Hitler’s rise to power and working its way downward. The exhibition ends with a video of Holocaust survivors sharing their stories. Because the permanent exhibition can be disturbing for children, the museum has developed “Remember the Children: Daniel’s Story,” a fictional account of the Holocaust about a boy name Daniel that draws from the stories of survivors. This exhibition is meant for elementary- and middle-school kids.
All three museums are free, but you’ll need a pass to visit the Holocaust Museum. It distributes a limited number of timed-entry passes on a first-come, first-served basis for use the same day.
1 PM: Lunch
Pull out your picnic lunch and, in nice weather, enjoy it on the grass in front of the Washington Monument. Sit back and relax. Aren’t you happy you planned ahead?
2 PM: Walking Tour of the Monuments
Take the afternoon to explore some of DC’s monuments and memorials. Starting at the Washington Monument, head south and walk the path around the Tidal Basin. Then walk west to the Lincoln Memorial, then back east past the reflecting pool, and end at the World War II Memorial. Here’s what you’ll see along the way (in order):
• Washington Monument
• Thomas Jefferson Memorial
• Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
• Korean War Veterans Memorial
• Lincoln Memorial
• Vietnam Veterans Memorial
• World War II Memorial
The loop is about 3½ miles long, so wear comfortable shoes and bring bottled water, especially in the summer. You have plenty of time to complete the tour, so feel free to sit, reflect, and rest at each monument. And if the weather’s nice, take a spin on the paddle boats at the Tidal Basin!
5 PM: Happy Hour
Take a cab to the U Street corridor, where you’ll spend the evening. Head to the lively Tabaq Bistro (1336 U St., NW; 202-265-0965) for drinks and appetizers from the small-plates section of the menu. Take in the fantastic view of the city from the covered rooftop. Tuesday through Saturday from 5 to 8, drinks are buy-one-get-one-free.
6:30 PM: Wine and Dine
Cork (1720 14th St., NW; 202-265-2675) is a cozy new wine bar that’s already packing in crowds. Sip flights of wines from the excellent, Old World list, and sample dishes from the menu of hot and cold sharable plates. Rosemary-chicken liver bruschette and a house-cured trout salad are favorites, along with the addictive French fries tossed with parsley, garlic, and lemon.
8 PM: Dance the Night Away
Now that you’ve eaten, it’s time to stretch your legs. Just a block away is the Black Cat (1811 14th St., NW; 202-667-7960), a nightclub and live-music venue popular with local hipsters. Downstairs, you’ll find the Red Room Bar, a dimly lit spot with a well-stocked bar of microbrews and imports, Belgian beers, bourbon, Scotch, and more. Strike up a conversation with a stranger; or if you’re more bold, challenge someone to a game of pool. You can also play pinball or play DJ for the night on the jukebox.
Adjacent to the bar is the club’s Backstage, a small performance space that hosts lesser-known bands of all stripes, from punk and indie to garage bands as well as soloists. The stage also features spoken-word events, film screenings, and DJ dance nights.
Upstairs is the main concert space, a 7,000-square-foot venue that hosts national touring acts, popular local bands, and monthly DJ dance events. The upstairs bar has a smaller selection than the one downstairs, serving predictable—and high-price—beers and mixed drinks. There are a few tables and chairs in the back for conversation, but most people crowd near the front, where the band plays.
The no-cover Red Room Bar is open from 8 PM to 2 AM during the week and 7 PM to 3 AM on Fridays and Saturdays. Doors open for the Backstage at 9, and the act goes on at 9:30. Door times for the Mainstage vary; check the Web site. Tickets for shows on both stages are required and can be purchased from the box office (cash only) starting at 8 PM or through Ticketmaster.com.
12 AM: Midnight Snack
Before calling it a night, there’s one more place in the neighborhood to check out. Ben’s Chili Bowl (1213 U St., NW; 202-667-0909) has been a favorite of Washingtonians since 1958, when legends such as Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Cab Calloway, Nat King Cole, and Martin Luther King Jr. frequented the spot. The most famous dish at this diner-style comfort-food joint is the chili half smoke, DC’s signature sausage swimming in Ben’s warm chili. It’s reportedly Bill Cosby’s guilty pleasure.
This busy late-night hotspot is open until 2 AM Monday through Thursday and 4 AM Friday and Saturday. On Sunday, it closes at 8 PM.
DAY FOUR: FIND LOCAL FAVORITES
Now that you’ve spent a few days touring, it’s time to see why many Washingtonians love to call this city home.
9 AM: Breakfast
Market Lunch (306 Seventh St., SE; 202-547-8444) is a local favorite in DC’s Eastern Market neighborhood (closest Metro is Eastern Market on the Orange and Blue lines). After a fire in April 2007 ripped through the historic Eastern Market building, Market Lunch and other vendors, which had been housed there, moved across the street to a temporary tented hall. Market Lunch’s long communal table with seating for 30 survived the blaze, so its cafe-meets-diner atmosphere is still in tact. The line tends to be long, especially on weekends, but it usually moves fast. Even if you have to wait a few minutes, the fantastic Blue Buck pancakes, made with blueberries and buckwheat, make the wait worth it. Open Tuesday through Sunday.
10 AM: Explore Eastern Market and Barracks Row
Eastern Market draws crowds from all over the area for its weekend open-air flea market (Seventh St., SE, between Pennsylvania and North Carolina aves.). Vendors selling jewelry, furniture, artwork, crafts, and produce set up shop every Saturday and Sunday from 10 to 5. Some accept credit cards, but many accept only cash. For bold bargain hunters, vendors are typically willing to barter.
During the week (except Mondays, when the market is closed), only food and flower vendors are on hand. Produce merchants and florists set up outside the Eastern Market building—on the corner of Seventh and North Carolina—under an awning, but the meat, seafood, and baked-goods vendors are in the temporary building across the street.
One block south and one block east of Eastern Market is the Barracks Row neighborhood, which takes its name from the Marine barracks on Eighth Street between G and I. Along Eighth are a number of quaint shops and boutiques selling everything from art supplies to stationery to haute goodies for your pet. In summer, the neighborhood’s restaurants spill onto the sidewalk, as residents and workers dine outside in the sunshine.
Among the Marines who live and work at the Southeast barracks are members of the Drum and Bugle Corps and the US Marine Band. On Friday nights in spring and summer, they give free performances for the public, but during the rest of the week, particularly in the warmer months, they can be heard practicing in the courtyard near the commandant’s house at Eighth and G. Their music provides the neighborhood with a festive soundtrack.
Noon: Lunch in Dupont Circle
It’s off to Dupont Circle in Northwest DC for lunch. From Eastern Market, hop aboard an Orange or Blue Line subway train at Seventh and Pennsylvania, and ride across town for lunch. You’ll need to change trains at Metro Center and get on a Red Line train headed toward Shady Grove. Ride two stops and get off at Dupont Circle.
At Zorba’s Cafe (1612 20th St., NW; 202-387-8555), feast on good Greek dishes on the cheap. The souvlaki and gyros are juicy and flavorful, and don’t miss the spreads for pita: top-notch hummus, baba ghanoush, and taramosalata (whipped cod roe). The kitschy dining room, with plastic fruit-print tablecloths and everything-Greek-goes decor, gives the place a quirky, relaxed atmosphere. In nice weather, try to snag a seat on the outdoor patio for prime people watching.
1:30 PM: Phillips Collection
Take in art at the Phillips Collection (1600 21st St., NW; 202-387-2151), the country’s first museum of modern art. Among the American and European artists represented in its 2,500-piece permanent collection are Renoir, van Gogh, Monet, Degas, Picasso, Matisse, and Cézanne. In addition, the gallery hosts temporary exhibitions, which in 2008 include “Degas to Diebenkorn: The Phillips Collects” (through May 25), featuring nearly 100 works by European and American artists, and “Brett Weston: Out of the Shadow,” a retrospective featuring Weston’s photographs from the 1920s through ’80s.
Admission to the permanent collection is free Tuesday through Friday, though contributions are accepted. Saturday and Sunday, it costs $10 for adults, $8 for college students and seniors. Visitors under 18 are free. Ticket prices for the temporary exhibits vary but usually cost around $12.
3 PM: Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle
A short walk south from Dupont Circle is the Cathedral of St. Matthew (1725 Rhode Island Ave., NW; 202-347-3215). The building draws inspiration from Roman and Byzantine architecture and dates to the late 1800s. It held its first mass in 1895. Anchored by a 35-foot mosaic of St. Matthew, the interior is decorated in marble and semiprecious stones. It has been the site of several famous funeral ceremonies, including a Mass in 1957 for Senator Joseph McCarthy and, more famously, the state funeral of President John F. Kennedy on November 25, 1963. The church doesn’t offer tours, but the clergy welcome visitors who want to look around or take a break from busy city life.
3:45 PM: Shopping in Georgetown
Next, you’re off to shop in Georgetown. From Dupont Circle, Georgetown is just a short walk west on scenic P Street (about a mile). If you’re not up for the walk, catch the G2 bus at 20th and P streets and ride to Wisconsin Avenue and P Street. Bus fare is $1.35.
Wisconsin Avenue and M Street, Georgetown’s two main arteries, are home to many shops and boutiques. Retail chains such as H&M, Urban Outfitters, and J. Crew have found homes here along with smaller boutiques such as A Mano (for leather goods) and Wink (known for carrying designer jeans).
Georgetown University begins at 37th Street. Take time to tour the campus, where you’ll see Gothic-inspired architecture, views of the Potomac River, and, during the school year, students bustling between classes. You might even catch the Hoya spirit.
5:45 PM: Happy Hour, Georgetown Style
There are plenty of places in Georgetown to sip predinner drinks. Our pick is Mie N Yu (3125 M St., NW; 202-333-6122), a trendy Middle East-inspired spot that offers interesting fusion drinks such as Emperor’s Nectar (peach-flavored vodka with white-cranberry and blood-orange juice) and the Dancing Shiva (Bulleit bourbon, sweet and dry vermouth, mint, an orange slice, and a splash of bitters). If you’re going during the week, the after-work menu offers drink and food specials at the bar. The Marco Polo martini, made with Centenario tequila, Cointreau, lime, and sours, is just $4.25; red and white wine are the same price. Appetizers such as fried calamari or crab with cream cheese, sambal, and Japanese mustard cost $2 to $4. The after-work menu is available Monday and Tuesday from 5 to 7 and Wednesday through Friday from 4 to 7.
7 PM: Dinner
For dinner, it’s off to Hook (3241 M St., NW; 202-625-4488) for impeccably fresh seafood and killer desserts (house-made whoopie pie, anyone?). The restaurant is committed to environmentally friendly practices, so the menu changes daily to reflect whatever fish are in season and available. In addition to delicious food, count on a great atmosphere and good service—the executive chef makes the rounds himself to check on how you like it.
8:30 PM: Drinks and Dancing at Blue Gin
The split-level bar Blue Gin (1206 Wisconsin Ave., NW; 202-965-5555), which caters to a more mature crowd, is a far cry from the frat-house scene in Adams Morgan. From behind three bars, designer-clad mixologists serve posh cocktails like a martini with lychee juice and one with chunks of fresh watermelon. They also stock a lengthy list of wines and premium liquors by the bottle—but those are for guests willing to shell out a minimum of $300.
If you make a night of it, the party gets going by 10:30. With house music, disco, ’80s electronic, and classic R&B thumping through the speakers, the crowd takes to the dance floor and grooves late into the night. The bar is open until 2 AM during the week and 3 on weekends. After 9:30, there’s a $10 cover.
For more ideas of fun, food, and shopping in Georgetown, check out our neighborhood guide.
DAY FIVE: OUTSIDE THE DISTRICT
Now that you’ve gotten a good taste of city life in DC, it’s time to see what our neighbors in Northern Virginia have to offer.
9 AM: Breakfast
Good morning! You’re off to Old Town Alexandria bright and early for breakfast at Table Talk (1623 Duke St., Alexandria; 703-548-3989), a classic greasy-spoon diner that’s a favorite with locals. From DC, hop aboard the subway and take a Yellow or Blue Line train to the King Street stop. Table Talk is a short walk from the Metro: Walk two blocks on Daingerfield Road to Duke Street. The restaurant is to the right, about halfway down the block.
This quaint diner serves as a proud reminder to its neighbors—among them, a Whole Foods Market and a slew of new condos, hotels, and business offices—that Alexandria is below the Mason-Dixon Line. It serves classic, unpretentious comfort food such as grits, pancakes, and eggs any way you want them. Locals are especially enamored with the French toast and home fries, served hot and crispy. Table Talk is not a place for the health-conscious, but if you’re looking for a simple menu, friendly atmosphere, and a strong cup of coffee, it might be just what the doctor ordered.
10 AM: Tour the George Washington Masonic National Memorial
From Table Talk, walk back toward the Metro to the George Washington Masonic National Memorial (101 Callahan Dr., Alexandria; 703-683-2007), just on the other side of the train tracks; you can’t miss the behemoth building, a Masons meeting lodge built in 1932 as a memorial to one of the group’s most famous members. The ten-story tower, built to resemble the Lighthouse of Alexandria in Egypt, can be seen from across the Potomac River in DC. The building houses a collection of the first President’s artifacts, including his Watson and Catsoul apron, a sash, a portrait from when he was the lodge’s charter master, and working tools. The neatest piece of history on display is the trowel used to lay the cornerstone at the US Capitol. Open from 10 to 4 for self-guided tours; guided tours at 10, 11:30, and 3.
11:15 AM: Shop Old Town
Make your way east through Old Town Alexandria by checking out the boutiques and shops along the King Street, the town’s main thoroughfare. If antiquing is your game, stop by Golden Rhodes (1305 King St.; 703-535-5560), which stocks 19th-century antiques and mirrors, or the 5,000-square-foot antique megastore Random Harvest (810 King St.; 703-548-8820). For clothing, American in Paris (1225 King St.; 703-519-8234) sells gowns, dresses, suits, jeans, and accessories by European designers, while Diva (116 S. Pitt St.; 703-683-1022), a designer consignment store on a side street, features shoes, clothing, and accessories by Prada, Gucci, Marc Jacobs, Burberry, and more. There are also stores with home furnishings and gifts for pets.
1 PM: Late Lunch
Take a late lunch at Restaurant Eve (110 S. Pitt St.; 703-706-0450) for excellent cooking at a bargain price. The “Lickity-Split” lunch special lets you pick any two items on the menu for $13.50. Go for two savory courses, a main and a dessert (such as the best pink birthday cake you’ve ever tasted), or even a salad or sandwich along with one of sommelier Todd Thrasher’s delicious cocktails. The deal is available only on weekdays at the bar.
2:30 PM: Take a Walk on the Waterfront
From Restaurant Eve, head east on King Street toward the Potomac River and take a walk along Alexandria’s waterfront. Or, if you’re too stuffed, sit at one of the many benches on the pier (near King and Union streets) and take in views of DC from across the river. For a good walking loop from the end of King Street, turn left on Union Street and walk four blocks to the north side of Founders Park. The park has a nice walking path that goes right along the river and ends at the marina and pier near King Street, where you began.
3:30 PM: Torpedo Factory Art Center
At the intersection of King and Union streets is the Torpedo Factory Art Center (703-549-9550), a World War II torpedo factory turned art gallery and studio space. The two torpedos are on display are impressive, but the main draw is the 160 professional artists who create, exhibit, and sell their art on the premises. Among the fine arts and crafts at the gallery are ceramics, collage, glass, jewelry, photography, and sculpture. New artists are added annually through a juried selection process, keeping the work fresh. Admission to the gallery and studios is free. The gallery spaces are open until 5, but studio hours vary depending on the artist.
5 PM: Happy Hour
Head to the handsome bar and lounge at Vermilion (1120 King St.; 703-684-9669), where the cocktails are potent and creative. Monthly drinks are inspired by local produce, such as blood oranges in February. Whiskey drinkers will appreciate the selection of classic single-malt scotches and small-batch bourbons. Happy-hour discounts last from 4 to 7.
6:30 PM: Dinner
The Majestic (911 King St.; 703-837-9117) is a more casual, less expensive spot from the team behind Restaurant Eve. The updated diner, complete with its original art-deco facade, black-and-white checkered terrazzo floor, and tin ceiling tiles, serves American comfort food—excellent roast chicken, juicy meatloaf, and homey desserts such as strawberry shortcake and milkshakes. Also on the menu, a real throwback: egg creams!
8 PM: Movie and a Beer at the Arlington Cinema ’n’ Drafthouse
Hop in a car or grab a taxi and head to the Arlington Cinema ’n’ Drafthouse (2903 Columbia Pike, Arlington; 703-486-2345) for a movie and a beer—or two or three. Sip premium and microbrewed beer, a glass of wine, or a mixed drink while enjoying a new release or classic flick. The best part? You won’t need to leave the comfort of your oversize chair for a refill—theater’s waitstaff will gladly get you another.
Movie tickets cost $5.50 (only $1 on Mondays). Theatergoers under 21 must enter with a parent. Check theater’s Web site for movie times.
Looking for more great things to do? Check out our other itineraries in our Plan a Visit section.