Must See in D.C.
July 20, 2009 2:21 PM   Subscribe

Cheap eats and must-sees in D.C. for three adults and three teens? Bonus for any vegetarian-friendly options!

We're taking our guys and heading to D.C., where we'll be joining our oldest son's girlfriend and her Mom for five days. We have tickets to the Capitol tour and plan to stop in the Holocaust museum, but we need suggestions for inexpensive places to eat (girlfriend is a vegetarian), as well as your picks for must-sees in town. I'd prefer places you've actually visited, thanks.

Also, I've always enjoyed the Smithsonian--any suggestions for exhibits our teens might especially enjoy as well? We have goths, metalheads and gamers to entertain in the party.
posted by misha to Travel & Transportation around Washington, DC (31 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
You must take them to Ben's Chili Bowl. They have a vegetarian chili that I understand is pretty tasty. And it is, needless to say, quite fine for non-vegetarians.

Your teens might dig The Spy Museum. It is especially popular with the young folks that I know who have gone. As you said, the Smithsonian museums are all great.
posted by MidAtlantic at 2:29 PM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh, also, this is just not-vegetarian friendly at all, but El Pollo Rico is one of the only things that makes living here worth it. Pollo a la brasa (read: big ole plate of rotisserie style chicken on a bed of steak fries).
posted by MidAtlantic at 2:31 PM on July 20, 2009

When I lived in D.C. a huge hit with pretty much every out of town guest I had was the Air and Space museum. It would be especially fun this close to the Apollo 11 40 year anniversary. I've been there many times and it never got old.

I don't know how teenagers would like this (*I* liked it as a teenager), but I also really loved the National Archives. It was always thrilling to see the Constitution and Declaration of Independence not to mention a copy of the Magna Carta.
posted by Kimberly at 2:33 PM on July 20, 2009

If you're on the Mall, the Mitsitam Café in the National Museum of the American Indian is pricier than standard museum-cafeteria fare but is really, really good, and there's a good variety of veg options. Reviews are quite good, and I can personally vouch for the deliciousness of a lovely piece of cedar-plank salmon.
posted by mdonley at 2:37 PM on July 20, 2009

I say this in every one of these, but The Freer/Sackler Galleries are always excellent. They're in the Smithsonian system, but tend to get overlooked. I'm personally not too keen on any of the current exhibits they have up, but they're still good. The U.S. Botanic Garden is a nice place to drop in, if you have time. It's definitely not a must-see, but it's pretty.

Nothing too geeky/gothy going on in town right now that I know of and I typically keep tabs on such things (I'm not sure when you're coming, but there's not much coming up that I know of). Palace of Wonders used to be open on Sunday mornings for all ages, but that doesn't seem to be the case anymore (it's otherwise 21+).

In terms of food, there are a lot of good vegetarian/vegetarian-friendly places. VegDC is my go-to for such things. I think Asylum for brunch would probably be fun for the teens -- it's a biker bar with a good vegan/veggie menu in Adams Morgan. Sticky Rice on H Street in Northeast may also be fun for everyone. I do tend to take out-of-town guests to Busboys & Poets since it's a crowd-pleaser and has a DC flair (the food isn't "this is the best food ever" but it's good enough and I've enjoyed the meals I've had there).

I don't think the Spy Museum is worth the time or money, but I haven't been in a few years so maybe it's changed.
posted by darksong at 2:45 PM on July 20, 2009

The National Geographic Museum is excellent.

Also the new(ish) extension to the Air & Space Museum is excellent. It's near Dulles Airport and is officially called the Udvar-Hazy Center. They have, among other things, a Space Shuttle, a Concorde and an SR-71. I was there around the 4th and it was excellent.

I've wanted to visit the National Electronics Museum but haven't had a chance. Probably a little too geeky for teenagers though.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 2:47 PM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Teaism is good for vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike, and close to the Mall museums.

The contemporary and folk art exhibits at the American Art museum might be good for teens who aren't interested in "paintings on a wall".

DC is known for "all ages" shows, if you feel comfortable with that. Check Black Cat or 9:30 Club for schedules.
posted by JoanArkham at 2:53 PM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Cafe Luna and Luna Grill & Diner in Dupont Circle are not the same restaurant, but they have pretty similar vegetarian friendly menus. When I lived in the neighborhood, I ate at Cafe Luna probably once a week - it's delicious and affordable. There are also a million Thai restaurants in the dupont circle area - I like Regent Thai and Thai Tanic.
posted by echo0720 at 2:55 PM on July 20, 2009

Oh, and if you're not staying in DC proper a friend is running an all ages goth night on Mondays. It's way the hell out in Virginia though.
posted by JoanArkham at 2:56 PM on July 20, 2009

Seconding Teaism.

And Kabob Palace in Crystal City will change your life for the better.
posted by The World Famous at 3:01 PM on July 20, 2009

Amsterdam Falafel in Adams Morgan.. delicious vegetarian falafel sandwiches + fries. cheap. awesome. Also you might try Chinatown Express on 6th St NW in Chinatown - they make their own noodles - you can get a huge bowl of noodle soup with whatever you like in it (chicken, seafood, veggies, beef) for about $6-$7.
posted by citron at 3:19 PM on July 20, 2009

Oooh, I could go for some Amsterdam Falafel right now. And I believe Smash Records is nearby (I haven't been to their new location).
posted by JoanArkham at 3:22 PM on July 20, 2009

I really like the burgers at Good Stuff Eatery. They have salads and a veggie burger. It was started by Spike from the cooking competition show Top Chef if any of you all watch that. That area is nice to walk around too and a little different than the usual DC mall stuff.

I love the food court at the Museum of the American Indian. And the food court at the new Capitol Visitor's Center is very good too.

On the west side of town, we would always end up at Panera if we were near the White House and got hungry or we would sometimes go to Old Ebbitt Grill which has an old DC-y feel to it. They say it's still frequented by politicians and journalists, but I was never in town enough to ever verify that.

Thirding Teaism.

Stephen Colbert's portrait is up at the National Museum of American History and is usually a big draw. They also have some really old computer equipment in the basement. And I'm pretty sure they also have Darth Vader.

Your boys might enjoy the National Building Museum. It was designed to be the Pension Building so there is some neat stuff about security (it held a lot of cash back in the day) and the building is just huge and really cool.

In the summer you can take paddleboats on the tidal basin. We always had a lot of fun racing each other. You can get very close to the Jefferson Memorial which is one of the ones that people usually miss.

If I remember correctly, there is a giant squid or some other type of large marine creature at the Natural History Museum.

I would skip the art and portrait museums unless someone is really into that. If you go up to Teaism you can pop into the National Portrait Gallery or go to the Spy Museum (I never went b/c it's not free).
posted by betsybetsy at 3:27 PM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

You could also go walking around Capitol Hill for a while and go to the recently reopened (there was a fire a couple years ago) Eastern Market. Cool building, fresh produce, bakery, cheese shops, and have the market lunch - crab cakes especially - it's open Wednesday to Sunday. Really good. It gets crowded on the weekends, but also there are markets outside, vendors selling everything from antiques to photos to handmade items.
posted by citron at 3:27 PM on July 20, 2009

Back in my quasi gothling days I used to really dig buying clothes/accessories my parents would hate at Commander Salamander in Georgetown.. still there.. a little different now but they still have the Manic Panic. Not far away is Thomas Sweet ice cream that has every flavor you could imagine, good stuff. Georgetown is fun to wander around for a day anyhow, not sure if you like shopping or not, but they have tons of stores, some of which you wouldn't find in smaller towns though a lot are chains, of course. But it's a pretty neighborhood, and if you go all the way down M St to the Key Bridge you get a really great view across the Potomac.
posted by citron at 3:33 PM on July 20, 2009

I recommend Etete for really fantastic Ethiopian food--get the gomen (collard greens, spices, and butter). Take the Metro to the U Street stop and walk a block down.

I liked the skateboarding exhibit at the Museum of the American Indian--it's a really interesting look at the simultaneous evolution and preservation of NA culture. The National Archives was cool, but it's kind of a horrendous zoo in the Rotunda. My favorite memorial was FDR's--it's way off the beaten path, but it's quiet and serene and quite lovely.

If you're into fish and chips, Eamonn's in Alexandria is fantastic (if you don't have a car, take the Metro out to the King St station and there's a free trolley that runs through Old Town). They also have deep-fried Mars bars that will take a year off your life but are so worth it.
posted by calistasm at 3:41 PM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

You might want to look through the food-related answers I got when I asked this question (for 2 vegetarians). I'm surprised no one in that thread recommended Busboys & Poets.
posted by Jaltcoh at 4:04 PM on July 20, 2009

When I was a sophomore, I went on my high school's Close Up trip. We arrived a day before the program started, and the chaperons let us do whatever we wanted. "No drinking, no drugs, no sex, don't get killed, be back at the hotel by 9 pm."

The first thing we did was head down to Crystal City mall. It was pretty cool, neat architecture and all, but I was 15 years old, and it was a mall. Next we rode the Metro out to Silver Spring, Md. I picked up a copy of Wired and a Coke and checked off another state as visited (SUCK IT, sis, I still have more than you!). I'm a bit of a subway nerd, so riding a new system was great, but my companions weren't too happy about the long ride. That evening, we headed down to the Verizon Center to watch a Wizards game (vs. the Sonics, IIRC). We had to buy tickets from a scalper, at $40 a pop, because the game was sold out.

There were about 3,000 other people inside, our seats were in the last row on the top deck, the ushers were watching us like hawks in case we tried to steal a seat away from our imaginary section-mates, the game was terrible, and I fell asleep.

Throughout the Close Up program, they bused us to various locales and tourist sites throughout the city. Of the ones I remember:

-The Smithsonian's Air and Space museum was very underwhelming. It was jam-packed with stuff, but it still seemed very small. I was done after 45 minutes or so. I think it would be much better with a tour guide.
-All of the monuments were very cool (and Lincoln's is much bigger in person, going to the top of Washington's was cool), but again, probably would have benefited from a tour guide.
-Speaking of the memorials, the FDR memorial was weird. It was completely different than the others, and it was a little unsettling to walk around. If I didn't know better I would've thought it was an allegorical or symbolic interpretation of the schizophrenic mind.
-We went to U Street and to Ben's Chili Bowl. The chili was unmemorable, but being part of a bunch of white kids from California marooned in the center of black DC on a 10-degree January day certainly left an impression. I bought some bootleg porno DVDs.
-On the bus ride back from U street, the bus idled outside of some park for a few minutes while our instructor lectured us and a transvestite gave us a strip-tease show.
-The National Archives were very cool, but we had to wait in line outside to go through the metal detectors to get inside, where we waited in line for them to hand us our admission tickets and direct us to the line that would actually let us into the gallery.
-We also did the Capitol tour, which was great fun, as we actually had a tour guide.
-Another highlight was being in the audience for a Supreme Court trial. It had something to do with mining rights, and was boring as hell, but it was exciting to just be there.

(Aside from that first day, most of these should all be taken in the context of an over-supervised educational field trip in groups with a few students from each participating school. This led to exciting mixes like twenty or so loud and opinionated fundamentalist Christians from Louisiana and Texas, three loud and opinionated and very liberal kids from my school, and me, frantically trying to teleport myself the fuck out of there. Being told very explicitly why we and everyone else from the Bay Area is homosexual and therefore going to hell is not exactly a good lead-in to visiting the Vietnam Memorial, so YMMV.)
posted by clorox at 4:19 PM on July 20, 2009

Old Ebbitt's is fantastic (great crab cakes) and got name dropped once or twice on The West Wing but it isn't anywhere near cheap. I really enjoyed renting bikes and spent riding them from the Capitol all the way over to Arlington National Cemetery. The Mall is a big place so walking it can be a bit of a struggle. The bikes allow you to spend more time seeing things rather than getting from thing to thing.
posted by mmascolino at 4:31 PM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Sunflower in the VA suburbs is the best vegetarian food I've found in the area.

Must see: The Smithsonian art museums are better than the more tourist-friendly Air & Space and History museums.
posted by yesno at 4:52 PM on July 20, 2009

There's really really good food in the National Museum of the American Indian, and it's a good museum too of course.
posted by yesno at 5:12 PM on July 20, 2009

Nando's Peri Peri is an inexpensive chicken place, and they do have vegetarian options. If you want to get a view of the city without standing in line for the National Monument, try going up the Tower at the Old Post Office. The Written in Bone exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History is well worth a visit, as is the Udvar-Hazy Center (as others have mentioned), which is the Air and Space Museum annex near Dulles Airport and houses the really big stuff. Nthing that the cafe at the National Museum of the American Indian is one of the better places to eat on the Mall. A number of the Smithsonian museums have IMAX theaters. Check here for schedules. Finally, if you are in town while Screen on the Green is going on, the teens might enjoy it.
posted by gudrun at 6:12 PM on July 20, 2009

I wish I had thought to ask this last week -- I was in DC for a convention. The only touristy thing I got to do was run over to the zoo on Saturday afternoon. It's free and you get to see the pandas AND the gorilla baby! There was a line for the panda house but it moved quickly.

Plus I got to see the boy panda poop.
posted by sugarfish at 6:47 PM on July 20, 2009

There is this tour called DC By Foot and I thought it was an excellent way to visit the most popular memorials in DC.
I was with some people in their 40s and teens and they all loved it. I don't really know what else to say other than it was the most memorable day of my trip to DC. If you have time and don't mind walking around laughing your asses off, check out the tour. It is in your price range (free) but yet after it is finished you can't help but tip the guide for the awesome tour.

Hope you have a great trip! If you do go on the tour, send me a MeFi Mail afterwards because I'd be curious to see how you and your party liked it.
posted by CZMR at 10:16 PM on July 20, 2009

I loved the Hirshhorn - it's an "art museum", but not in the old stodgy people way. This might appeal to the edgy teens, if they have an appreciation for technology as art. It's been years since I've been there.
posted by knile at 5:24 AM on July 21, 2009

The National Portrait Gallery/SAAM is probably the neatest of the Smithsonian museums, although as gudrun mentioned the forensic anthropology exhibit at American History and the newish Ocean Hall at the National Museum of Natural History are excellent. The Spy Museum/National Museum of Crime & Punishment/Newseum aren't really worth the eighteen dollar admission charge apiece, especially when the National Electronics Museum/Postal Museum/National Museum of American History fill each one of their jobs better and for free, respectively (the NEM has an Enigma you can play with! Offer that, Spy Museum!).

Similarly, if anybody is going to get bored fast, can I recommend against NMAI? It's poorly laid out, both in floorplan and information+exhibit design, although it does have the best café of any SI museum (and it's not significantly more expensive than, say, the Air & Space McDonald's). Every time I've been with my family my sister (who usually tolerates museums a bit longer than that, although she's hardly their biggest fan) has clamored to leave within ten minutes, and even as somebody who likes museums I have to agree. But if you're on the Mall and didn't bring a picnic lunch/don't want to pay a jillion dollars for a hot dog from one of the expensive carts down there I'd say it's worth it to duck in to eat and maybe wander a few minutes.

And, oh, yeah, if you go to the zoo - Amsterdam Falafel is absolutely where you must go to eat once all that walking and cooing at pandas makes you hungry.
posted by The Bridge on the River Kai Ryssdal at 7:13 AM on July 21, 2009

whoops, Natural History, not American History.
posted by The Bridge on the River Kai Ryssdal at 7:17 AM on July 21, 2009

oh, and if you have time before the trip, get a copy of Sarah Vowell's
Assassination Vacation
, preferably the audio version. A lot of it takes place in DC and the stories are very obscure and interesting. It sort of makes a visit to DC into a treasure hunt.
posted by betsybetsy at 8:46 AM on July 22, 2009

For eats, I can recommend Coppi's Organic in the U Street area. It's not super-cheap, but nor is it expensive for a place to have a nice sit-down dinner--they grow their own veggies and herbs in a nearby community garden.

There's also a great, really unassuming creperie (i.e., you'll have to look past the fast-food aesthetic) called Crepes-a-Go-Go right off Dupont Circle.

As for sights, be sure to check out the sculpture garden at the Hirshhorn and the national botanic garden.
posted by safran at 3:20 PM on July 23, 2009

UPDTE: The cafe at the American Indian Museum was NOT cheap but absolutely *delicious*. Great suggestion. Didn't get to other recommended restaurants due to schedule and location.

We the sculpture garden (we are most impressed by works we feel none of us could accomplish with our limited ability and as my niece has created some metalwork sculpture we felt could easily compete here, we were less than impressed, though still entertained); Natural History was a huge hit (been there before and the kids loved it!); Capitol tour went well.

I was completely humbled by the Holocaust Memorial. While the others continued on to view the monuments, I just returned to the hotel to reflect that day.

The Spy Museum also rocked the teens. Thanks, Mefites!

Stephen Colbert's portrait has been moved from the National Gallery and is now elsewhere on the mall, ran out of time to see it. Sad to have missed the National Geographic Museum and the National Zoo as well.

Other favorites we discovered: The Dubliner Irish Pub for dinner, Japanese American Memorial.
posted by misha at 11:26 AM on July 27, 2009

Oh, and we enjoyed the Botanic Gardens as well, despite the heat! Gorgeous.
posted by misha at 11:27 AM on July 27, 2009

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