Recommendations of what to see/do when visiting Washington D.C.?
June 14, 2004 2:26 PM   Subscribe

Recommendations of what to see/do when visiting Washington D.C.? We're going next week, and have a list of a few touristy spots to visit, but I'd like to see what Mefites recommend. Locals advice also highly appreciated, i.e. dance clubs and restaurants to visit. Finally, all over the web it says you must arrange a White House tour with one of your congressional representatives. We can't do that (group of two), someone said we can join a tour at a kiosk. Anyone agree with this? Please be kind if the question has been posted before, I searched.
posted by vignettist to Travel & Transportation around Washington, DC (38 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I thought the White House is still off-limits (after 9/11) unless you are in a school group, but the Post says otherwise. More information about it available from that link. I'm certain you would have to go through your congressperson or some other security/identity check, rather than just show up at the door. But, I haven't done it yet so I may be assuming too much.

The Washington Post has a decent Visitors Guide that covers all the touristy things. Also check though the CityPaper for event listings, restaurant recommendations, etc. Any other details you can give to help us make recommendations? (i.e. do you like art? science/techy stuff? theater? sushi?)

If you're interested in visiting the Holocaust Museum, drop me a line.
posted by arco at 2:49 PM on June 14, 2004

I would highly reccomend a trip to the 18th Street Lounge. I was there a few years ago on a visit - and have been searching for a place as cool here in SF ever since. All the reviews talk about the door men turning you away if you aren't cool enough - but I'm a big dork - and I had a group of other big dorks with me - and no one seemed to care. 1212 18th St. NW no address on the door - it's next to a mattress place if i remember correctly.
I've never been but have a lot of friends who really like Pharmacy Bar 2337 18th St Nw.
Went to a great Cuban restaurant with a salsa dj and dance floor upstairs in the Adam's Morgan neighborhood. Seemed like a cool up and coming 'hood
The 9:30 club is the place for alterno- live music.
posted by Wolfie at 2:59 PM on June 14, 2004

Regarding food, read Tom Sietsma's columns and chats in the Washington Post. He's one of my favorite critics.

The White House is a pain to get into, but the Capitol building is open for tourists. If you're lucky you might be able to bum a ride on the Capitol Subway, one of the most exclusive mass transit systems in the world. There's nothing quite like being smushed onto a seat with Ted Stevens!
posted by PrinceValium at 3:13 PM on June 14, 2004

Go to Kramer Books (near Dupont Circle I think). It has a bar in the bookstore; I repeat: a *bar* in the *bookstore*. It also has an attatched restaurant with a pretty good brunch. If I could smuggle in a cot, I would totally vacation in their basement at least twice a year.
posted by dame at 3:35 PM on June 14, 2004

The Pharmacy Bar has a great jukebox and good beer but is extremely smoky.
Ben's Chili Bowl is a late-night classic. Also has very good milkshakes.
Chez Antoine's is a crepe place in Adams Morgan that's also open for brunch on weekends. There's also the similar L'Enfant Cafe down the street.
The Black Cat is a cheaper and usually better place to see bands than the 9:30 Club. For more folky music see Iota in Arlington.
The Brickskeller carries several hundred bottled beers. Its cousin RFD has the most beers on tap in DC.
The Library of Congress is probably a less well-known or visited landmark, but I think it's really nice.

The cabs in DC are not metered. You can look up fares between points here. Or at least ask the fare in advance. Unless you're black, in which case you may not be able to catch a cab. :(
posted by mookieproof at 3:48 PM on June 14, 2004

Go and see The Awakening, AKA "The Drowning Man." He's cool, and you can probably still climb all over him. It's near the Jefferson Memorial. Which is also cool, because he swore eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:04 PM on June 14, 2004

My favorites from a lot of weekend trips to DC:

California Tortilla for quick/cheap/healthy eats.
Wheaton Regional Park.
Live music at the Birchmere.
US Botanic Garden.
posted by mbd1mbd1 at 4:10 PM on June 14, 2004

We went to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum and got a library tour c/o arco and I strongly recommend it if you have the time and the inclination. Impressive place, well put together.
posted by jessamyn at 4:33 PM on June 14, 2004

i second Ben's Chili Bowl and Kramer Books. I used to live a few blocks north of Ben's and went there *all* the time. Cheap and good.

Also, a cool coffee bar/lounge is Tryst on 18th Street in Adams Morgan, and the 24 hour "The Diner" is right next door. The food isn't superb, but it's cheap and open 24 hours.

Also, have some Ethiopian food while you're in DC. It's fantastic, and plenty of places to choose from. My fave is Meskerem in Adams Morgan, butthere's plenty of good ones around.

I would avoid Georgetown, but that's just me...i find it overly pretentious and preppy, overpriced, undiverse, and filled with visiting suburbanities.

Adams Morgan is a really good neighborhood to explore (Woodley Park/Adams Morgan) on the Red, as is Dupont Circle. If you have some time, you shoudl also check out the U Street area (U Street/African American Civil War Memorial/Cardozo on the Green -- quite possibily the longe st station name ever). really great history, as well as lots of nightlife on U and 14th --- though much of the latter is now coming at the expense of the existing residents as gentrifiers move in.
posted by jare2003 at 4:45 PM on June 14, 2004

I love the Phillips Collection, and the Freer and Sackler on the Mall (I have to make a pilgrimage to the Peacock room every time I go to DC).
posted by amberglow at 5:06 PM on June 14, 2004

Seconds and thirds for Meskarem, the Awakening, Kramerbooks, bar hopping in Adams Morgan and visiting the Capitol.

I used to hate Georgetown but it makes a nice stroll if you leave the tourist-clogged shopping streets (M st and Wisconsin Ave) and just wander the lovely little brownstone back ways. There's also a pretty canal and a long boat ride through the locks if you want to kill an afternoon. And the steps from the Exorcist is a popular stop.

If you like gargoyles, go to the tour at the Cathedral.

Gotta do the Lincoln memorial, and I really like the FDR one too.

For the DC dining experience, which has nothing to do with food:

If you're the type who can recognize senators, try a weekday lunch at The Palm. If you can recognize senators and have a lot of dough, go to lunch at Monocle.

Drinks or dinner, depending on finances, at the Capitol Grille is a must.

Also, if you go to Tryst, don't forget to tell your companions this is where Gary Condit took Chandra Levy.

If you can drop 15 bucks a drink, the Caucus Room is fun to go see all the Rolex wearing lobbyists whispering evil things to each other.

Also, the bar at the Mayflower Hotel is a classic stop. Piano player, other kinds of players, and a bartender who does magic.
posted by CunningLinguist at 5:18 PM on June 14, 2004

Good views from the Old Post Office tower on Pennsylvania Ave. The place looks abandoned, but just open the front door and go through security, then look for the "Tower Tour" elevator, and you'll have a great vantage point from which you can survey all of DC from the only structure other than the Washington Monument which is taller than the Capitol.

To my knowledge the White House is still off-limits to tours unless you pre-arrange with your congressperson. To make matters worse, Pennsylvania Ave in front of the north face of the White House is being dug up for a new tourist park, so not much of a photo-op there right now. The south side of the White House facing the Ellipse is still open, though, where the Zero Marker is, and that's always good for cheap thrill.

If you want to get into the Washington Monument, be sure to get tickets early! (Info here.) Sadly, the Washington Monument grounds are fenced off for the next 1-2 years for security enhancements and relandscaping, so while the monument itself is still open, lounging about on the benches around it or sitting in the grass is out of the question. :(

The US Capitol tour also needs tickets, which you can get at the small tourist kiosk to the right of the Capitol Lawn (from the Mall). Every night, if you're able, be sure to get a look at the top of the Capitol Dome; if the light is on under the statue of Freedom, that means the House is in session.

Of course, the whole National Mall is there, with Smithsonian museums and the standard DC monuments, all free. Air and Space is like the Disneyland of DC.

If you're up for some off-the-beaten-path outdoorsy fun and you like hiking, take the Metro Red Line to the Cleveland Park stop, and walk two blocks north. Somewhere along the way, you'll see an apartment driveway which gives you access to a nice little wooded trail, about half a mile long, which leads to a picnic area in Rock Creek Park. There's a much more challenging trail near the Van Ness Metro stop, but it's hard to find. Plus, there's also the Zoo, which is five minutes' walk north from the Woodley Park Metro stop.

There's good food, gay pride, and Kramerbooks at Dupont Circle. Pretty okay shopping at Union Station, Pentagon City, and Friendship Heights.

If you're into biking and planespotting simultaneously, I heartily recommend the Arlington-to-Airport segment of the Mt Vernon Bike Trail. Starting from Memorial Bridge behind Lincoln Memorial, follow the trail south for about 3 miles, and you'll end up at Gravelly Point, a little park right beside the National Airport runway (I still don't call it "Reagan), where you can watch planes zoom literally right over your head.

Oh, and when you're on the subway escalators, WALK LEFT AND STAND RIGHT. The importance of that rule can never be stressed enough.
posted by brownpau at 5:49 PM on June 14, 2004

Oh, by cheap thrill, I mean photos in front of the White House. Don't jump the fence.
posted by brownpau at 5:50 PM on June 14, 2004

That taxi fare calculator is great - wish I'd had that when I lived there.

The Raven on Mount Pleasant St. in the neighborhood of the same name (north of Adams Morgan) is one of the most classic dive bars in the city.

On a Tuesday night, catch the Quizzo pop-culture quiz game at the Politiki bar on Pennsylvania Ave in Captiol Hill - maybe win free drinks!

HR-57 on 14th Street NW near the Black Cat is a great zero-frills place for live jazz, with soul food to boot.

Another vote for Tryst, and one for Teaism in Dupont - great food and teas, quite comfy vibe.

The salsa place in Adams Morgan is Habana Cafe, excellent.

The Jefferson Memorial at night is wonderful, as is the Korean War Memorial. Just wander around down there after dark (with a friend or two).

There's a gargoyle of Darth Vader on the National Cathedral, but you need binoculars to see it. Check their website.
posted by gottabefunky at 6:31 PM on June 14, 2004

Oooo, yes, the Vietnam memorial is also great at night - no one ever goes then, but it has a whole different feel.

is Habana Cafe the place with about four different lounges and dance areas on different floors? Someone took me to a place like that in AM once but i've never been able to find it again
posted by CunningLinguist at 6:44 PM on June 14, 2004

Oodles Noodles on 19th NW downtown.
posted by Dean King at 7:35 PM on June 14, 2004

In fact, unless you are planning to go up into the Washington Monument, plan to visit all the monuments at night. The crowds are gone, the weather is much cooler, and all of the monuments (including the new WWII Memorial) look much more lovely at night.

And in case you missed it when brownpau said it, WALK TO THE LEFT, STAND TO THE RIGHT on the Metro escalators. To really feel like a local, be sure to yell "EXCUSE ME!" at some hapless Iowan* in an FBI shirt who's standing to the left on one of those ridiculously long escalators (like Dupont Circle north).

*Not that all Iowans are hapless, or that all tourons* are Iowans.

*tourist + moron

posted by arco at 7:43 PM on June 14, 2004

Do NOT miss the current 3d IMAX film at the Space Museum.

It's all about the International Space Station.

posted by tomierna at 7:45 PM on June 14, 2004

Set aside some time to read the latest "Got Plans?" from the Washington Post. Lots of good ideas in there.
posted by NortonDC at 8:04 PM on June 14, 2004

If politics is your game (specifically, the Democrat kind) you could check out the Clinton Book Release Party at Politics and Prose on the evening of the 21st.
posted by arco at 8:14 PM on June 14, 2004

Fourth for Meskerem, Adams-Morgan, monuments at night (climbing up to the top of the steps at the Lincoln Memorial and looking out over the Mall is magical), Kramerbooks & Afterwords, Teaism, and Ben's Chili Bowl.

We walked from Adams-Morgan (where our B&B was) down to Dupont Circle, Lafayette Square, then down the Mall to the Lincoln Memorial. A wonderful (if long) night walk.

I've also enjoyed Bistro du Coin in Dupont Circle, the National Geographic museum, the Renwick Gallery, sandwiches at the Breadline, the Corcoran, the Arts & Industries building of the Smithsonian, the American History museum's less-visited nooks and crannies, et cetera, et cetera. (Oh, and Julia Child's kitchen is fun to see, if you're a foodie.)

Check out Eastern Market on a weekend morning, too.
posted by Vidiot at 8:45 PM on June 14, 2004

Response by poster: Thank you for all of the good advice! I've always enjoyed a vacation more when I can move around a city more like a local and less like a tourist. I haven't had a chance to check out the links yet, but I'll definitely get to do that tomorrow.

Arco - thanks for the offer, I was there 10 yrs ago but didn't budget enough time so I'd like to go again. I'm still negotiating with the SO on that one, though. I'll let you know within a day or two.

tomierna, how did you know that going to IMAX is one of my favorite things to do? We'll be checking that out.

In terms of food, we live in L.A. and so have access to a lot of different ethnic foods (we have a great Ethiopian district here too), so, is there a particularly "east coast" food we should try? Soft-shelled crabs? Crab cakes?
posted by vignettist at 8:52 PM on June 14, 2004

I recommend visiting the longest escalator in the Western Hemisphere at the Wheaton Metro station (coming in at about 70m long, and with about a 4 minute ride time top to bottom)... just in case you're wondering the escalator is about the only thing to see in Wheaton, but well worth the trip
posted by mhaw at 8:58 PM on June 14, 2004

If you can get to Baltimore for a blue crab feast, do it.
posted by Vidiot at 9:04 PM on June 14, 2004

there a particularly "east coast" food we should try? Soft-shelled crabs? Crab cakes?

Yes and yes. (And while Vidiot wishes you do so at its heart -- Baltimore -- you don't need to go there for some fine crab-pickin'.)

I think soft-shells are in season further south but I have seen them on the menu already at a restaurant on the upper Potomac. (Technical note: this is not east cost food but mid-Atlantic food. /yankee talk)
posted by Dick Paris at 3:41 AM on June 15, 2004

Dude, kill two birds with one stone. Get crab cakes at Eastern Market--the best in the city. Drop me a line if you'd like a personal tour of Eastern Market and environs, or if you're planning on visiting the Library of Congress. Really!
posted by MrMoonPie at 6:19 AM on June 15, 2004

A loud 2nd to the advice to visit the Old Post Office tower because it's a way shorter wait than the Washington Monument for nearly as nice a view.

For pure chill-out value, the 18th Street Lounge really is the best. I haven't been in a while, but if it's still there, hit Dragonfly bar + sushi for the scenery and The Big Hunt for fun.

The only bar in DC with dj music as good as 18th St might well be Cobalt, a club that is about 90% gay male most nights... not that there's anything wrong with that ;) Great music, room looks like a Banana Republic with a bar. What's not to like?

Perry's in Aimless Moron (Adams Morgan to the more humorless locals). Great food -- was on "Food Network" a couple times -- a roof deck, and Sunday brunch has a drag show, which is one of those things like a peanut butter and tabasco sandwich that really just works.

For a nice walk and view, take the Metro to Rosslyn, consider a stop on Roosevelt Island for the view of the city, Georgetown, the Watergate. Then walk back to Georgetown over the Key Bridge. For a real nice historic mini-getaway, preface this trip with a stroll through Old Town Alexandria, "George Washington's Hometown", and on the same Metro line as Rosslyn.

All my other favorites have been said, although I would add that unless you're an escalator freak, Wheaton is too far out of the way and a waste of time for tourists, and you should instead go for the slightly shorter but steeper-looking Rosslyn Metro escalator, or the visually impressive Dupont Circle Metro escalator (lit south exit is cooler).
posted by Stoatfarm at 8:33 AM on June 15, 2004

This may be best for newsgeeks like me, but the collection of the day's front pages from around the world outside the Newseum's future home on Pennsylvania Ave is fun to check out.
posted by Vidiot at 10:00 AM on June 15, 2004

Oh, I dunno, Stoatfarm -- the north exit can be neat, too.

I can't really add much more to what everyone else has said -- though I will disagree with nothing of worth being in Georgetown. There's a nice little Japanese place on Wisconsin south of M Street called Chopsticks -- little pricey, but their bento boxes are great. There are also some nice restaurants down there, from American to Vietnamese to Indian, that are nice if you want to take your SO for a nice dinner.

Also, there's a seafood market on the Southwest waterfront, if you like that sort of thing. Definitely the place for seafood about as fresh as you'll find anywhere in DC.
posted by armage at 10:05 AM on June 15, 2004

there a particularly "east coast" food we should try?

It won't be the 100% real deal*, but you might as well have some pulled-pig barbecue when you're there. Red Hot and Blue is okay and there are a few in the area (I think. I know there is/was one in Rosslyn anyway).

*Memphis style, which is too tomato-ey for my taste (but still yummy). I prefer Lexington/Piedmont-style with the vinegar-and-pepper sauce.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:49 AM on June 15, 2004

If you're even considering BBQ, go to Capital Q, located near the Chinatown Gate and MCI Center. It also happens to be near the Spy Museum; has anybody visited it yet? With all the free museums in this city that I haven't had time to visit yet, I haven't convinced myself I should pay for this one.
posted by arco at 11:47 AM on June 15, 2004

If you're even considering BBQ, go to Capital Q

But that seems to be Texas-style, which is not even the right animal. Grilled brisket is tasty, but barbecue it ain't. And ribs are just ribs.

Pulled pig, the One True Q.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:01 PM on June 15, 2004

Argh. What I meant to add, regional snarking aside, is that you can probably get Texas-style in California. What will be rarer there is the pulled-pork kind, so they should go get that.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:09 PM on June 15, 2004

you can probably get Texas-style in California

True. I just think Red Hot and Blue is so. . .eh. What's the best pulled-pork BBQ place in the extended DC area (say, down to Fredericksburg)? This might not help our out-of-town guests (unless it's really worth the drive), but as a relatively recent BBQ convert I'd like to explore some places myself.
posted by arco at 1:36 PM on June 15, 2004

I just think Red Hot and Blue is so. . .eh.

I don't disagree, and I'd be likely to get a snausage or some ribs if there.

But I don't know the area, and telling people to go down to the A&M in Mebane, NC, or to King's in Winston-Salem didn't seem helpful.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:27 PM on June 15, 2004

Old Glory in gtown has semi okay barbecue - the best part being the 25 sauces they give you to try. Has anyone been to Hogs on the Hill? I'd heard of it but never even knew where it was until I zipped past it on NY ave coming back from balto the other day. (It's behind the burger joint on the right just when you come off the highway)
posted by CunningLinguist at 5:41 AM on June 16, 2004

now, ROU, is the A&M in Meban really better than the Chapel Hill location of Allen & Son?

Back on topic, my girlfriend and I went to the Spy Museum in October. It was cheesy in the extreme, but fun and informative. Could have been a bit more informative, as there was stuff that I'd heard a buncha times in reading David Kahn and James Bamford, not to mention watching documentaries on TV. The discussion of spies seemed to also be a bit on the simplistic side -- no discussion of the morals of espionage or the lack thereof, very black-and-white presentations of issues. But as straight history and for a chance to see interesting artifacts, it was good.

The museum cafe there also happens to be uncommonly good, with lots of variety.
posted by Vidiot at 10:43 AM on June 16, 2004

I just went to the Spy Museum - it's terrific fun and very extensive. A kid would love it I think.
posted by CunningLinguist at 10:48 AM on June 20, 2004

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