It’s not all monuments and museums in the nation’s capital.
Washington, D.C., about a four-and-a-half hour drive from Raleigh, is alive with an electrified drinking and dining scene, a refined shopping experience and plenty of outdoor activities. Large émigré populations of El Salvadorans, Vietnamese and Ethiopians have been woven into the metropolitan fabric of the historically African American city, and the Washingtonian dining scene is synonymous with these cultural heritages. Mediterranean tapas, Indian curries and some good, old-fashioned American-style bar food are equally plentiful.
While some may be familiar with the Potomac and Anacostia rivers, they probably aren’t the main reasons why most visitors come to the capital. Yet the riverfronts are bustling throughout the day and well into the evening, regardless of the season, whether because of a baseball game at Nationals Park or because everyone in the neighborhood had the same idea to stroll along the waterfront.
Luxury, name-brand stalwarts like Kate Spade New York and Anthropologie are sprinkled throughout Georgetown, but small, local boutiques can be found in the Logan Circle neighborhood along 14th Street NW. It’s easy to get lost among the antique chairs, mirrors and other tchotchkes at Miss Pixie’s, but a more modern shopper might prefer Salt and Sundry across the street.
The district’s sites and settings are deservedly famous and certainly shouldn’t be missed: The recently inaugurated National Museum of African American History and Culture has been celebrated by audiences near and far, and you have to try really hard to avoid the obligatory walk between the Capitol Rotunda and the Washington Monument while you visit.
If you select one or two museums that cater to your interests, though, and just explore those sites, you’ll feel much more rewarded than if you try cramming everything into one weekend. Don’t feel bad breaking up your party so that someone can explore space at the National Air and Space Museum’s downtown location and another can see Julia Child’s kitchen at the National Museum of American History. Our capital’s rich national heritage is too much to devour in a weekend (even for those who live here!), so relieve yourself of any guilt over skipping some things and spend the rest of the weekend walking from neighborhood to neighborhood, sampling bites and brews served up by both new and more established Washingtonians.
Skip the infamously long lines at Georgetown Cupcakes. Head a block south to this ritzy doughnut shop and enjoy one of its sticky, creative pastries. The winter menu includes flavors like Bailey’s and Coffee, maple bacon and the sinfully simple, salted dulce de leche.
Some restaurants are one-trick ponies, but China Chicano’s menu draws inspiration from chifa cuisine, where elements of Peruvian, Chinese and Japanese flavors intersect and delight. The internationally acclaimed chef Jose Andrés runs this whimsical spot, where neon signs descend from the ceiling amongst vibrant pendants. Come for the buttery soft Sánguche de Pescado, a catfish-stuffed slider, and stay for the nine varieties of ceviche.
Located out of the district’s center is Fat Pete’s, a Cleveland Park neighborhood favorite slinging hot, smokey barbecue all week long. Make sure to order an entire rack of ribs so that you can try each of the six sauces. For, you know, science.
Fire pits, fuzzy blankets and glasses of Mediterranean wine—is there a better way to end a weekend getaway? If the seasonally changing, Michelin-starred menu doesn’t give you a reason to dine al fresco or at the bar inside this former stable, the dozens-strong list of wines hailing from the Aegean Islands, Lebanon and the rest of the region should do the trick.
This tiki joint, where drinks come in tropically inspired glasses with fun extras (think dolphin-shaped bananas, or mermaid drink stirrers) shouldn’t be missed. Bring a friend and split one of the shareable cocktails, like the Pineapple of Hospitality, which is served in a pineapple hull and, per the menu, is full of “rum and secrets.”
Sip on some history and a glass of mulled wine while checking out the Arlington skyline from up high one evening at the five-star Watergate Hotel’s rooftop bar. Yes, that Watergate Hotel. In the wintertime, a small ice rink welcomes skaters of all ages.
There’s a slew of brews at this southeast spot along the waterfront, conveniently located a few hundred feet away from Nationals Park. Grab a few beers and a snack, such as the Smoked Carolina Trout Dip, and either take a tour of the microbrewery-cum-restaurant or hang out until the opening pitch.
The district is littered with farmers markets, but one of the most extensive and easily accessible markets is in historic Dupont Circle, a central neighborhood comprised of embassies, residences and smaller offices and shops. Anything from cider to kimchi is available for purchase, but Shepherd’s Whey Creamery sells a variety of goat cheese and milk products, including a habit-forming apple cinnamon goat’s milk smoothie.
Head over to neighboring Arlington to visit the living memorial of Theodore Roosevelt, a famously fervent naturalist and the 26th American president. Accessible either by car, bike or on foot, the 191-acre island is rarely visited by tourists but is beloved by locals who relish its lush serenity. Boardwalks weave between groves and water features, with plenty of space for pedestrians and bicyclists to enjoy a little quiet away from the capital.
Nestled in the northeast neighborhood of Adams Morgan, the LINE Hotel’s D.C. outpost is situated in an over-a-century-old church alongside many beloved restaurants and bars. But if none of the neighborhood spots appeal to you, you can dine at one of the three restaurants and two bars onsite—and try your hand at podcasting at the hotel’s full-service radio station afterward.
A recent addition to the Washington lodging scene is the Eaton, blocks away from the White House and other downtown sites. Inspired by the founder’s desire for an “inclusive gathering place for changemakers and creatives,” guests can enjoy a wellness room, walk-in showers and bluetooth record players during their stay.