Low-key mom's birthday events in DC
April 4, 2024 11:53 AM   Subscribe

We'll be traveling from CA to Washington, DC, in a few days to meet my mother and stepfather, who'll be flying in from Massachusetts. The day after we arrive is my mother's birthday, and we'd like to celebrate it in a low-key, not-too-expensive way. But I'm stumped.

My mother is turning 78, and is healthy and active. The thing is that she's not really into anything specific, unless you count crossword puzzles, NCIS-type shows, and her grandkids (two of whom will be in attendance). We'd like to do something to celebrate her birthday, but a) I don't know the local options, and b) I don't really know what to do in general, anyway.

She and stepdad have some money, so I don't need to buy her anything - she has even specifically requested that we not buy her things. So I'm looking for "experiences," which may extend even to such things as somewhat unusual local restaurants, parks, oddities, attractions, etc. Can be mom-themed/mom-centric, but certainly need not be.

While she's fine with walking, she's not into hiking. She likes museums, but we'll be doing plenty of those on this visit. She likes reading and, like, hanging out and talking. Doesn't care for wine. We looked into a few local places that do "high tea," which she'd enjoy, but they're very spendy - around $100/person - and we'll be a party of six. The O Street Museum looks intriguing, but I can't quite tell from the website if it would fit the bill. But that level of local quirkiness might be received with favor.

I haven't been to DC in at least 15 years, and Google and Yelp are only so helpful. Any ideas? Thank you in advance!
posted by Dr. Wu to Travel & Transportation around Washington, DC (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
NCIS-type shows

I bet she'd enjoy the International Spy Museum. They don't have a restaurant, but the museum is very close to the Wharf, which has a ton of food options.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 12:12 PM on April 4 [5 favorites]

A second idea: My spouse and I were blown away by the Planet Word museum. It's relatively new. If your mom has any interest in language, reading, writing, etc., it's a great place.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 12:14 PM on April 4 [3 favorites]

I was going to suggest the Mansion on O Street as soon as you mentioned puzzles and NCIS! If she is up for the level of Extreme Quirk on display (and it’s definitely more thrift store than museum in vibe), the hunt for secret doors is honestly so fun, like an escape room with no pressure. Plus it puts you in Dupont Circle where there are a lot of bars/restaurants/cafes… I won’t bother making recommendations as I’m sure all my favorites have closed, but there’s always something.

If she and the other parties drink non-wine, you might also follow bartender Chantal Tseng (shinobipaws on instagram) to see if your visit lines up with any of her “literary cocktails” programs—fancy cocktails based on books. Used to be in the library-esque back room at the Petworth Citizen but that’s closed as well—the current locations are less bookish but it could still be fun. Chantal is very nice and would probably tell you her upcoming plans if you sent her a message.

(On preview I noticed you said “in a few days” and not “for a few days” so never mind about the last thing, but I’ll leave it for any future people looking for “reading and chatting” events in DC…)
posted by babelfish at 12:31 PM on April 4 [2 favorites]

So I visited the O Street Mansion in February and it was unique but ... overwhelming. Like there is stuff EVERYWHERE. Nooks, crannies, cubby holes, etc. And it's all on sale with the vast majority of it being really old books that you would find at a yard sale. Each room also has a theme and the accompanying music plus hidden doors, etc. It's a tight squeeze for a large party of people exploring together and I absolutely would not recommend it for children under 10. You would literally spend the entire time going "don't touch that, put that down, watch where you're going".

Georgetown is always a lovely visit but there is still limited public transportation service there.
posted by tafetta, darling! at 12:54 PM on April 4

Hillwood Museum and Gardens? They do afternoon tea, too.
posted by ersatzkat at 12:58 PM on April 4 [2 favorites]

There are a ton of Potomac River cruise options which are surprisingly nice if the weather agrees.
posted by A Blue Moon at 1:31 PM on April 4 [1 favorite]

Dumbarton Oaks is beautiful this time of year, as is the very close by Oak Hill Cemetery. While it's not a classic "high tea", Patisserie Poupon, a ten minute walk away, has high quality pastries and coffee and is a pleasant place to sit and talk.
posted by ryanshepard at 2:18 PM on April 4 [2 favorites]

I was also going to suggest Dumbarton Oaks, its a nice easy walk to Wisconsin Ave where there are a lot of shopping/restaurants.

I particularly love Chez Billy, (its like 3/4mile away from the gardens, totally walkable but also an easy quick cab if you all have had enough walking). Its a wonderful quiet restaurant with great food (the burgers!) and isnt pretentious in the least. Its down the street from the intersection of M and Wisconsin, which can be zoo-y, so you can go and see and then escape.
posted by zara at 2:52 PM on April 4

The eclipse on Monday will be 89% totality — there’s a big event for it on the National Mall. You might want to snag eclipse glasses of your own beforehand if you can.
posted by hollyholly at 3:58 PM on April 4

If she likes reading, would she like a bookstore? In particular, our local Politics & Prose bookstores usually have fun author events.

There's a few locations. If you go to the one on Conn Ave, across the street is a lovely French restaurant with heated outdoor seating and they have a really fun floating island dessert that I find birthday-worthy. If you go to the one on the Wharf, that is a nice area you could stroll around and it has plenty of restaurants. There is also a karaoke bar where you can book a private karaoke room. (I have only been for late night shenanigans but I would imagine if you go when they open in early evening it would be quieter.)
posted by inevitability at 5:14 PM on April 4

What about a play? Shear Madness tickets are $59, Little Shop of Horrors has some dates and it looks like some tickets are $53.
posted by soelo at 5:41 PM on April 4

Response by poster: Thank you all for these suggestions! Some great ideas here! I'll report back after the trip!
posted by Dr. Wu at 7:24 PM on April 4

I ate brunch last weekend at Anju and it was wonderful. Not too expensive, great Korean fusion.
posted by Sukey Says at 1:11 AM on April 5

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