Your Guide to DC: Where to Go and What to See
Updated: Apr 8, 2022
Before you read ANY FURTHER there is one thing you need to know about DC. If you are riding the metro, STAND on the right side of the escalator and walk on the left side! Please, I’m begging you, DON’T BE THAT TOURIST! And if you don’t listen to me, don’t come crying to me when you get screamed at. I will have no pity for you.
You have been warned.
Anyways, let’s dive in.
See the Monuments at Night
I’ve seen the monuments more times than necessary.My pro tip- see them at night because they’re beautifully lit and less crowded. My favorites include the Washington Monument, MLK Memorial, Thomas Jefferson Memorial, and Lincoln Memorial. All of these monuments are relatively close to each other and can be accessed via car, bike or one of those god awful obnoxious electric scooters.
I will say- the tidal basin is gorgeous during the day. If you're visiting during daylight, take a paddle boat around the basin for prime views of the Jefferson and MLK Memorial.
Get tickets for the African American Museum
The National Museum of African American History Culture opened in 2016. It’s one of my favorite museums but rather tricky to get to. Make sure you go on their website and grab your free tickets before your visit. The museum is relatively new, so they still maintain a ticket policy.
The museum exhibits span from slavery all the way to modern day black history and culture. They recently opened an exhibit on Oprah (who contributed a large sum of money to the museum) which is so informative and stunning. Be warned- the museum is large and robust in information. I've been to the museum four times and still haven't seen everything.
Pro tip: Don't eat at the museum's "Down Home Cafe". It sucks. Instead, head over to the Museum of the American Indian and eat at their amazing cafe,
Into Art? Go here
Museums are boring. As a Virginia native, I’ve had US history pushed down my throat since I popped out. Never fear! DC has a collection of cool art galleries and museums. My personal favorites are the National Portrait Gallery, Renwick Gallery, Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Gardens and Museum of African Art, all of which are free! The National Building Museum listed below is unfortunately, not free but they have discounts for military and students.
National Portrait Gallery: Come here to see the Obama’s official presidential portrait. Located in Chinatown right off the Gallery Place (green and yellow line) metro station.
Renwick Gallery: The Renwick is known for bringing a myriad of rotating art exhibits. It’s located steps away from the White House and is accessible via the Farragut west (blue, orange and silver lines) and Farragut north (red line).
Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Gardens: The Hirschhorn Museum is known for it’s modern and innovative contemporary art exhibits. Their sculpture garden is a great place to sit, observe and unwind from the hustle and bustle of DC. Located off of Independence avenue on the mall, the closest metro station is Smithsonian (blue, orange and silver lines)
Museum of African Art: This art museum may be small, but it’s robust in material. Located adjacent to the Hirschhorn, the National Museum of African Art houses incredible exhibits featuring art from the African diaspora. They are currently running an exhibit entitled, I Am… Contemporary Women Artists of Africa. Closest metro: Smithsonian (blue, orange and silver lines).
While you’re here walk to the Enid Haupt Garden outside of the Smithsonian castle- it’s one of my favorite places in DC.
National Building Museum: Not necessarily considered an art museum BUT it's one of my favorites in DC. They host a plethora of funky exhibits. It's located near Chinatown, so grab a drink at Bar Deco and/or Penn Commons and head over here! Last year, one of their exhibits was a giant ball pit. It's one of those rare museums in DC that cost money, but don't be discouraged it's still not too expensive. Adult tickets are $10 and military, youth, and senior tickets all have a discount.
Explore Capitol Hill
DC is known as the center for American politics. I personally do my best to ignore Capitol Hill, as it’s ridden with Congressional staffers and *shudders* interns on scooters. I can say this because I was once a congressional intern, and I will never forgive myself for that. I think there’s value in going to the Capitol, especially if you’ve never been before!
There are only two ways to tour the Capitol building. First way is through the Capitol Visitor’s Center. You’ll enter the Capitol and be greeted by tour guides in red vests. You can get tickets ahead of time or try to score a tour on site. The second way to grab a far more personal tour of the capitol is through your representative’s office. Most congressman have an option on their website to sign up for a tour. You’ll need to book the second option relatively far in advance!
Did you know there’s a tunnel that connects the Capitol to the Library of Congress? After the Capitol, head to the Jefferson building of the Library of Congress! And when you’re done, head next door to the Supreme Court to see one of the DC’s most gorgeous buildings. If you have extra time, head past the Capitol to the reflection pool, reflect a bit, and then head to the US botanical gardens. And as everything in DC, all these buildings are free!
Getting hungry? Head over to Union Station, located just down the street from Capitol Hill. A historic train and bus station, Union provides a large selection of eateries. They also have the only Bojangles in Washington DC.
My pro tip for a trip to Capitol Hill: pack light. You will need to go through security at every building.
US Capitol: https://www.visitthecapitol.gov/
Library of Congress: https://www.loc.gov/
Supreme Court: https://www.supremecourt.gov/
US Botanical Gardens: https://www.usbg.gov/
Union Station: https://www.unionstationdc.com/
Visit the National Zoo
Did you know the National Zoo was free? Take that Bronx zoo! Located between the Cleveland park and Woodley Park metro stops, the Smithsonian National Zoo is a staple in DC. We have pandas! And I’m best friends with the Komodo dragon in the reptile exhibit. While I know many see zoos as controversial, I personally think the Smithsonian does an amazing job of caring and educating visitors on their animals.
During Christmastime, the zoo comes alive at night as a “Zoo Lights” exhibit. The Zoo hosts a plethora of events year-round. Please note, the zoo is a long walk. Washington fit people love taking runs through the zoo. It’s downhill going and uphill coming back. Wear comfortable shoes!
Pro tip: you can bring your own food into the zoo. Stop by the 7-11 located directly across from the entrance and get yourself a sandwich or two. Or if you're looking to get food after the zoo, walk back to the Woodley Park Metro and grab food at Hot and Juicy Crawfish or Italian Pizza Kitchen,
Frederick Douglass House
Frederick Douglass House is a lesser known historic site in Washington, DC. Located in South East DC on Cedar Hill this house is a must see on your DC tour list. Fredrick Douglas, an American abolitionist and freedom fighter, lived here from 1877 to his passing in 1895. Closest metro: Anacostia station (green line).
No, this is not a threat. There's some cool areas outside of DC to explore. Old Town Alexandria is one of my favorite areas. You can take a free street car up and down King Street. Old Town Alexandria has a small waterfront and a really cool art gallery called the Torpedo Factory you can check out.
Another favorite is Gravelly point, which is an overlook near the National Airport in Arlington, Virginia. This is an amazing place to layout a blanket, open a picnic basket and watch the planes take off over your head.
Places to walk around
Growing up in Arlington, Georgetown was our go-to place to feel a bit posh and bougie for a second. I mean that and there was a hookah bar here named Sphinx (RIP) that never carded and always was the vibe on a Friday night.
Brownstones and high-end stores line the streets of Georgetown. Walking down M ST, you’ll experience an array of restaurants and shops. Some of my favorite restaurants in Georgetown are Thunder Burger, Pinstripes, and Farmers Fishers Bakers, Some people will tell you to go to Georgetown Cupcakes- I personally prefer Red Velvet bakery near Chinatown. If you’re coming to Georgetown don’t forget to walk down to the waterfront. The dried up canal is actually cute as well.
As a teen, we used to hike up to this amazing point in Georgetown that's informally referred to as Graffiti Park/Cliff. To get here, go down to the waterfront area, walk all the way down towards the Key Bridge, and take the stairs up. It's a top secret spot where teens honestly used to just let out our angst. Definitely Instagram worthy.
The worst part about this area is the lack of metro accessibility. My advice take the metro to either Foggy Bottom or Rosslyn and walk. Or take one of those obnoxious scooters.
The Wharf/”District Wharf”
When I say “wharf” you say “gentrification”.
My earliest memory of the Wharf is riding down I-395 on our way into the city and smelling Old Bay right off the river. Before it’s “renovation”, the Wharf known to be a market where locals came to buy fresh seafood.
But, like all things in DC- the culture of this area has changed significantly. District Wharf, DC’s latest gentrification project, popped up in 2017. With it came ritzy restaurants, a new concert venue (The Anthem), and million-dollar condos. Despite this, I will not deny it is a cute area to walk around. There’s a variety of outdoor bars that offer nice views of the Potomac and prime people watching.
I do not visit H st enough. One of my closest friends and coworker, Rachel, always urges me to get out here. H St. is another area of DC that was once predominately black. And as the Chocolate City gets more vanilla, the landscape of our historically black neighborhoods is changing.
If you’re an indecisive eater like I am, H ST. is a great place to come and walk and contemplate. Want the best wings in DC? Hit up Duffy’s Pub. Ramen? Toki Underground. Bagels? Bullfrog Bagels. Best fried fish ever? Horace and Dickies. In the mood for something sweet? Dangerously Delicious Pies is tasty and open late! H ST also offers some historic building, murals and hole in the wall bars. Bonus and shameless plug: take a ride on the free DC Streetcar.
City Center and Chinatown
If you haven’t gotten it from this blog, I love to live a fake bougie life. City Center is a newer development in the city. Think a mini Rodeo drive laden with some of DC’s top restaurants. City Center also has a cute Instagram alley lined with colorful umbrellas. You can grab a tasty, but overpriced treat at Milkbar. Or you could walk into the Gucci store and walk straight right back out after looking at the prices.
Head down two blocks, and you’ll hit DC’s small and historic Chinatown. Like many places in DC, this historic area has changed exponentially. What's left of Chinatown is historic restaurants and a gorgeous Instagram worthy gate.
Chinatown is synonymous to Gallery Place, which is essentially the same area. My favorite part about Gallery is experiencing true DC culture. Often street performers line the streets outside the metro station, showcasing an array of talents from singing to rapping and locking. Tune in to here the signature sound of DC- gogo music.
Need more ideas on what to see and do? Comment below or reach out to me on instagram @lilmsawkward or @whereintheworldisalexa. Additionally, you should research events that are happening in DC while you're visiting. Check out these links:
Enjoy your time in DC!