It’s not all politics and prose. Dare I say that Washington DC has character and poetry as well? There’s a lot to see and do here in our nation’s capital. Built on a very easy to navigate grid system, it’s superbly human scale–no building (other than the Washington Monument) is above seven stories. It’s an incredibly walkable and beautiful city and its distinct neighborhoods yield plenty of personality. The architecture, history, and power here are incomparable. But if it’s the softer side of life you seek to explore, there’s a wonderful emerging food culture, great art, and plenty of little romantic spots!
Penn Quarter (aka Gallery Place/Chinatown)
Bustling Gallery Place at night. Source
Penn Quarter (aka Gallery Place/Chinatown) is a very centrally located downtown neighborhood. Within walking distance to the National Mall, I’d recommend staying here. But, skip the corporate chains and go boutique! You will love the Hotel Monaco (part of the Kimpton group) with its chic and funky decor.
Hotel Monaco guest room. Source
The neighborhood is colorful and vibrant (although a bit commercialized) with plenty of dining and bar options! See a game or event at the Verizon Center. Dine at Poste (in the hotel) for modern brasserie fare! (I love the fries!) Or for a really quiet and romantic (more neighborhoody/less touristy) meal go to Corduroy (our local favorite–where we had our proposal dinner). Also try Proof wine bar and The Source, Wolfgang’s new place in the city.
Step into the Spy Museum and get your fill of DC’s cloak and dagger past.
Continue the clandestine vibe at Zola restaurant and bar upstairs (and order the White Knight), or for a more upbeat spot, take in Zaytinya around the corner (where Mr. P and I first met!). If you want something less touristy, locals love the mixologist at PS7.
Head around the corner to the National Portrait Gallery (where Mr. P proposed in the beautiful courtyard atrium) and check out the new Obama portrait. The best-kept secret is part of the Smithsonian American Art Gallery on the third floor where all the contemporary art is housed!!!
The Lincoln Gallery on the third floor of the Reynolds Center/National Portrait Gallery. Source
Monuments and the Mall
Stroll around the National Mall, see the Reflecting Pool, walk over to the Tidal Basin for a paddleboat ride, or take a moonlight tour of the monuments and walk along the National Mall–the best way to see them.
Then head over to the Ellipse and get some pics of the White House. If you plan ahead (like six months), get reservations for a tour.
Cross Constitution and head over to the Washington Monument. Wait in line and get same-day tickets and head up to the top for fantastic views.
Freshen up and head over to the Adams Morgan neighborhood for late night fun! This colorful multicultural neighborhood is where all the magic happens. (And by magic, I mean drinking.)
18th Street, the main drag in Adams Morgan. Source
Stop into Napoleon lounge for (more) drinks upstairs or throbbing beats downstairs in the basement. Similarly, there’s the Left Bank for a contemporary-Med feel. But if you want something more chill, try Tryst coffee house and indulge all your Bohemian sensibilities. Locals like Perry’s roof deck in the summertime for great views of the neighborhood and a little romance under the stars!
Then pop into Kafe Leopolds (my favorite breakfast place in the city) located in the stylish Cady’s Alley for a very nice breakfast–Austrian style. Try the grits with mushrooms and truffles, the ham and onion scones, buckwheat pancakes, and of course the fabulous coffee. Lovely little sweet treats also await you there. Sacher torte, madeleines, and macarons galore!
Walk through Georgetown’s main street (M Street), pop into the Old Stone House for a bit of history, stop by all the fun mall-like chains like L’Occitane, Intermix, and Ralph Lauren. But if it’s boutiques you want, get off of M street and head up Wisconsin and down the numbered streets. Along the way try the local favorite burger at Five Guys (they’ve now expanded nationwide). They hand cut their fries daily, and you get them in a large brown sac to soak up the grease! Go to Dumbarton Oaks and take in the beautiful gardens. Walk through the beautiful neighborhood and find JFK’s house at 1528 31st Street (where he lived as a Senator). For a little snack, head over to the new and popular Georgetown Cupcake!
Former Kennedy Residence. Source
Stay in the neighborhood and dine and Michel Richard’s famous, Citronelle, or one of my favorite tiny places, Mendocino grille and wine bar. Or, if you’re into fish, you can check out Sea Catch overlooking the towpath. It’s not the best food, but very romantic on a warm evening.
A very cool and historic African American neighborhood, U-Street has been revived in the past five years. Full of wonderful eateries and funky boutiques, it’s a must. Food Network star Warren Brown’s little shop of goodies, Cake Love, is on the main drag between 15th and 16th. Also visit favorite late night eats and Washington landmark, Ben’s Chili Bowl!
If chili half-smokes aren’t your thing, drop by Creme Cafe for some of the best shrimp and grits the city has to offer. Visit Stetsons (where the Bush girls hung out) or go relax in the laid back Chi Cha Lounge. But if it’s real cocktails you seek, try our newest speak-easy, Gibson, for best swank old time-y bevies (i.e. the Martinez, Gibson, Slow Gin Fizz, Tom Collins, etc.). And you guessed it, no signage. So call ahead for reservations. (It’s next door to Marvin’s on 14th and U.) We love it because it’s cocktails without the crowd. Try the Salad Days Sour.
Walk along the Mall and head over to the East Wing of the National Gallery for must-see contemporary and modern art. Designed by I.M. Pei, the building itself is a masterful design effort. Also stop in for a romantic stroll through the Sculpture Garden (they have jazz there on Friday nights in the summertime).
If you want something a little more private, head over to my favorite, Philips Collection in Dupont Circle. The collection contains superb modern works in an intimate setting. They include Degas, Cézanne, Gauguin, van Gogh, Bonnard, Matisse, Picasso, Braque, Klee, Homer, Whistler, Hopper, Stieglitz, O’Keeffe, Calder, and Rothko.
Philips Collection, Rothko. Source
While there in Dupont, have a drink at Veritas wine bar or a martini at Russia House (though I only drink Gin martinis, the vodka drinks here are not bad at all!). If staying around that neighborhood for dinner, make a reservation at Obelisk for a very, very romantic and intimate dinner in the 30-seat establishment. Or for a more fun, but local treat, try Pizza Pardiso. Try the Bottarga pizza with a Delirium Tremens beer.
Go to 18th Street Lounge (there’s no sign, it’s next to the Mattress Discounters) and lounge around. This bar is where DC’s most famous (and Mr. P’s most favorite musicians) Thievery Corporation got their start (and they own it).
Next, head up to the Capitol Hill neighborhood and stop by Eastern Market to pick up some fresh food goodies for a picnic, or get a little breakfast at Market Lunch diner (there’s also a flea market on Saturdays).
Then get a tour of the Capitol building and see Congress in session (obtain gallery passes from your Senator or Representative ahead of time). Then head next door to the Library of Congress (LoC) and lose yourself in the beautiful interiors.
Library of Congress Jefferson Building interior. Source
Go to the Thomas Jefferson building, the oldest of the three that make of the LoC. Stroll through the Botanic Gardens and see some of the most interesting plant species on earth.
Botanical Gardens. Source
Stop by the Supreme Court and hear an oral argument (be sure look at schedule ahead of time).
The Courtroom of the Supreme Court Building, where the Court has sat since 1935. Source
Stick around for dinner at my all-time favorite neighborhood place, Sonoma restaurant and wine bar. Great, locally sourced ingredients blended with simple, but smart craftsmanship. Fabulous wine selection. Spare and lovely interior!
The dining room at Sonoma. Source
Then grab a beer at the Pour House. (They love their Irish bars up there on that Hill.)
As you can see, Washington DC has a lot to offer. And this is just tourist’s version and the tip of the iceberg!
See all the posts in the Honeymoon in my Hometown Series here!