I’ve been incredibly lucky to call D.C. my home for the last three years and have learned so much from living in this amazing little city. While the city is known as a hub of free museums and, of course, political activity, there’s so much more to see and do — I promise it’s not all politics all the time. If you find yourself with a long weekend to spare, D.C. should make the top of your travel list for its awesome food scene, variety of outdoor spaces to explore and culture that you won’t find anywhere else. Here are a few of my favorite things to eat, see and do in the city:
1) Union Market
Give yourself a few hours to spend at Union Market because once you’re there you seriously won’t want to leave. This converted warehouse is packed with local vendors serving up delicious eats, many with an international flair. Spots not to be missed include D.C. Empanadas, Takorean, Gorsha Ethiopian Eatery and B. Doughnut. And take a peek at Salt & Sundry, a local home goods store that will leave you swooning. Vendors change fairly regularly, so be sure to check the site before you go. On a nice day, you can take head outside to one of the colorful picnic tables before you walk to the side of the building to snap a few pics by the Insta-worthy heart wall with views of the Capitol in the distance.
2) Meridian Hill Park
This park is truly one of D.C.’s hidden gems. The Spanish-style steps will instantly transport you from the hustle of the city to a quiet mediterranean escape. Walking alongside the cascading fountains will lead you to an expansive field where you’ll find people picnicking, playing pick up soccer, or walking dogs. The park is situated near a commercial area of the district called U Street Corridor, which has no shortage of bars and restaurants. Grab a bowl at the iconic Ben’s Chili Bowl, some classic American comfort food at Ted’s Bulletin, drinks at The Fainting Goat, or sample even heartier fare at Diet Starts Monday. You could also venture to Busboys and Poets, a coffee shop and bookseller, to check out their lineup of shows for the weekend.
3) The National Mall
Even though I’m trying to stay away from major tourist attractions for this list, the National Mall just never gets old. If you’ve already seen the monuments, try a nighttime walk. The paths along the two-mile stretch are well lit, and so are the monuments themselves. If the weather’s nice, you can walk along the river, and grab a pedal boat to explore the tidal basin. There are also some beautiful gardens and ponds off the main path, including the Constitution Garden. You should know before you go that there aren’t many restaurants in the area (aside from food trucks and vendors within the Smithsonian museums). Once you’ve had your fill of history, head to Chinatown for some ramen at Daikaya, or do brunch at Founding Farmers.
The John F. Kennedy Center brings some of the biggest names to D.C., but it’s also home to a smaller theater that hosts free nightly shows. Book ahead if you’re hoping to catch a major performance on one of the main stages, but show up to the center’s Millennium Stage any night before 6 p.m. to grab tickets to a free show. Even if you’re not looking for a theatrical experience, the Kennedy Center’s expansive balcony overlooks the Potomac River and offers beautiful views of the monuments on the National Mall. There’s no cost to walk around the grounds, so it doesn’t hurt to take a peek.
5) Adams Morgan
If you’re looking for some evening fun, Adams Morgan is your spot (although U Street is also a great option!). The area is packed with college kids and young professionals on weekends, but don’t let the crowds deter you. There are plenty of fun bars to hop around, including Mintwood Place, Rosario, and Roofer’s Union, which offers a bird’s eye view of the neighborhood from its rooftop bar. If bar hopping isn’t your scene, check out the live music at Songbyrd cafe, or grab a midnight milkshake at The Diner.
This breathtaking structure sits in one of the city’s quietest neighborhoods — and just so happens to be across the street from where I’ve lived for the past few summers. If you love exploring architecture and beautiful gardens, then this is your place to be. Be sure to check out the Bishop’s garden, some of the grassy areas and stone pathways behind the church, and the on-site cafe, Open City. You can also tour the cathedral itself, which is nondenominational, for a small fee.
7) Georgetown Waterfront
This is one of my favorite areas in D.C. since it gives you a taste of old-world charm while sitting right in the center of the city. There’s plenty of space to picnic in the grass or to sit at the water’s edge. You can even grab a kayak or paddle board if you’re feeling adventurous. Just a few blocks up from the waterfront, you’ll find tons of high-end boutiques to windowshop, plus lots of local gems, including a couple of my favorites like Baked & Wired (the best cupcakes in town) and Falafel Inc.
8) Embassy Row
Just a few blocks from the National Cathedral, you’ll find Embassy Row, home to dozens of embassies donning flags from around the globe. Each building is more beautiful than the last on this blocks-long walk through town. The whole stretch meets in Dupont Circle, a busy center of shops and restaurants. While you’re in the neighborhood, be sure to visit Kramerbooks & Afterwords Cafe, along with the fountain within Dupont Circle itself. Plus, if you visit on a Sunday, the neighborhood’s enormous farmers market is always a blast — there are enough samples of fresh fruits and veggies to fill you up for the whole morning.
9) Yards Park
Yards Park features tons of greenery, water features and funky bridges along the Anacostia River in the city’s northeast quadrant. This up-and-coming area is home to must-visit D.C. establishments, like Ice Cream Jubilee, the National’s ballpark, Whaley’s seafood restaurant and Steadfast Supply, a homegoods store that regularly hosts fun workshops on things like flower arranging and watercoloring. You’ll also find Eastern Market not far from the park. This indoor-outdoor market is not only a great place to get some fresh produce, but you’ll also get a taste of some of D.C.’s street vendors and artisans.
Have you visited D.C.? What are your favorite things to eat, see and do?