Remember that class trip you took to the nation’s capital? This isn’t that city. The monuments, the trappings of power, the history—they’re all still here, of course, as are the Smithsonian’s fabulous museums and the seat of democracy, but there’s way more to “the District,” than you’ll find in the textbooks. Rampant revitalization has brought cool bars, funky shops and amazing restaurants to Washington, so if you haven’t been to DC since 8th grade, it’s time to give it another look.
9 AM EASTERN MARKET
225 7TH ST. SE WASHINGTON, DC 20003
Equal parts craft fair, flea market, farmer’s market, and food hall, Eastern Market has operated continuously since 1873. Far from a dusty relic, though, Eastern Market is thriving, especially in the age of artisanal and handcrafted everything. Find souvenirs, gifts, the makings of a locally-produced picnic, or a delicious hot breakfast all under one roof.
11 AM LIBRARY OF CONGRESS
101 INDEPENDENCE AVE. SE WASHINGTON, DC 20540
The repository of American culture and a Beaux Arts masterpiece, the Library of Congress is less heralded than some of DC’s other institutions, but it shouldn’t be, and it’s worth a quick visit on your way to the National Mall. Rotating exhibitions and displays provide a tour through a tiny fraction of the Library’s 158 million–item collection showcasing our nation’s cultural history.
12 PM TUNE INN
331 PENNSYLVANIA AVE. SE WASHINGTON, DC 20003
In a city where half the population turns over every four to eight years, flux is a constant. Some places manage to stand the test of time, though, and the Tune Inn is one of them. Open since 1947, this low-key hangout in sight of the Capitol has served up cold beers and comfort fare to generations of politicians, lobbyists and bureaucrats. And for all the brokering and bloviating that take place there, it’s still a friendly, casual place to grab a bite to eat amongst history.
1 PM THE NATIONAL MALL: MONUMENTS, MEMORIALS AND MUSEUMS
An abundance of national treasures too rich to take in one day, the Mall and its surrounds can be overwhelming, so it’s best to plan ahead and make some choices. The Lincoln Memorial, Reflecting Pool and nearby Vietnam Memorial are widely considered essential, as is the National Archive, where you can enjoy the spine-tingling experience of reading the actual Declaration of Independence. On the the museum front, the National Gallery of Art and the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum, the American Museum of Art, and the National Portrait Gallery are musts for creative types. The Smithsonian Air and Space and Natural History Museums should be on the can’t-miss list, too, especially if you’re traveling with kids.
6 PM ROUND ROBIN BAR AT THE WILLARD-INTERCONTINENTAL
1401 PENNSYLVANIA AVE. NW WASHINGTON, DC 20004
Cool off with a drink at this swanky, historic hotel bar. Opened in the middle of the 19th century, this iconic spot has served notables like Mark Twain and Walt Whitman, not to mention a century-and-a-half’s worth of the nation’s political elite. According to legend, Senator Henry Clay brought the mint julep to DC sometime in the 1850s when he shared his recipe with the bartender. The Round Robin is still humming today thanks to barkeep Jim Hewes, a renowned mixologist whose creative takes on the classic julep is house specialty.
8 PM BOUNDARY ROAD
414 H STREET NE WASHINGTON, DC 20002
Right in the middle of DC’s booming H Street (aka the Atlas District), Boundary Road is a casual gastropub that serves hearty, warming dishes (braised bison short ribs, anyone?) alongside well-crafted cocktails and a full slate of local drafts. The sparse, exposed-brick space is understated but cool, lending a fun, low-key vibe to the proceedings. Nothing here is exotic, but it’s all done to perfection. And if it was good enough for the Obamas, it’s probably good enough for you.
10 PM THE ATLAS DISTRICT
H STREET BETWEEN 2ND & 14TH NE WASHINGTON DC 20002
From Boundary Road, step out onto H Street, where the burgeoning Atlas District’s bounty of bars and clubs await. Play a round of shuffleboard or mini-golf at H Street Country Club, catch a show at the Rock and Roll Hotel, or a see a jazz jam sesh at HR-57. You can also get down to a DJ set at Little Miss Whiskey’s Golden Dollar, sip a cocktail in genteel fashion at Smith Commons, or just knock back a cold one at scruffy pubs like the Argonaut and the Crown Vic.
9 AM KAFE LEOPOLD
3315 M ST. NW WASHINGTON, DC 20007
Tucked away in Cady’s Alley, this sleek European-style café offers a quiet start to the day. Beautifully prepared light breakfast fare includes pancakes with currants and plum compote, or choose from an extensive list of sweet and savory pastries running the gamut from almond cake with coffee butter cream and chocolate ganache to a black olive and sweet onion tart with Manchego cheese.
10 AM GEORGETOWN
After breakfast, take some time to stroll around the neighborhood before the stores open and the retail frenzy begins. Whether window shopping tempts you or not, you’ll want to soak up the character of DC’s oldest neighborhood and its beautifully preserved historic buildings. You’ll see Federalist row houses, Georgian mansions and commercial buildings in just about every American architectural style that ever existed. Cobbled streets and the C&O Canal, which runs right through the neighborhood, add to the charm.
12 PM DGS DELICATESSEN
1317 CONNECTICUT AVE. NW 20036
Giving Jewish deli classics a contemporary twist is the M.O. at this Dupont Circle hotspot. Everything—from pastrami to lox—is smoked, cured, brined, and pickled in house and to exacting standards. The attention to detail comes through in the flavor, which harkens back to the delis of yesteryear, somehow without feeling fussy or old-fashioned.
3 PM SHAW AND THE U STREET CORRIDOR
NW WASHINGTON, DC
Once the heart of African American civic and cultural life in DC, Shaw and the U Street Corridor were devastated by the 1968 riots, but the area has rebounded with a vengeance. Today, you can’t turn around on U Street without hitting a bar, club, restaurant, or boutique, while Shaw is home to a gallery scene and burgeoning Ethiopian community. With the resurrection of the historic Howard and Lincoln Theaters, the neighborhood’s past gets its due too. Take a self-guided tour or explore on your own—you won’t need much help finding something to get into.
6 PM THE GIBSON
2009 14TH STREET NW 20009
Hidden, in true speakeasy fashion, behind an unassuming and unmarked door at the bustling corner of 14th and U Streets, the Gibson is DC’s premier cocktail lounge. The stunning interior, which features an embossed black leather bar, is matched by the care and precision with which the drinks are made and exceeded by the service. Be sure to make a reservation because seats are hard to come by.
8 PM RED HEN
1822 FIRST STREET NW WASHINGTON DC, 20001
The Red Hen exudes a pervasive, casual vibe that begins with a sparse wood and brick interior and an open kitchen’s wood-burning hearth. Pumping out Italian-inspired dishes like rigatoni with sausage ragu and grilled octopus with fennel, don’t be fooled—someone is working very hard and very deliberately to make it appear seamless. Paired with the unexpected but stellar wine list, you have a meal that’s pretty close to perfection.
WHERE TO STAY: HOTEL GEORGE
15 E. STREET NW WASHINGTON, DC 20001
A four-star boutique hotel from the Kimpton group, the George is plenty luxe, but also includes funky décor and far less starch in its collar than the city’s other top properties. Most important, of course, is location, location, location. The George’s central siting puts it at a comfortable midpoint between DC’s museums and monuments and the rest of the can’t-miss spots further east.