Elissa moved to DC to start her career in international relations after graduating from college in May 2013. While she was physically new to living in the city, she had family there who taught her all the secrets as well as the best places to visit! She left in May 2014 to travel and teach in South Korea, but with her career goals, she knows she’ll be back to the capital sooner than later. Here’s her local guide to Washington DC.
Elissa’s Local Guide to Washington DC
Where to Eat
Ben’s Chili Bowl is a DC institution and has been around since 1958. The history is fascinating. They donated food to participants in the March on Washington, obtained special permission to remain open after curfew in order to provide food and shelter to those working to restore order after the 1968 riots, and even President Obama ate here! You can even see a sign at the seat he sat in. They also ship their food to all 50 states. Order the Original Chili Half-Smoke with a milkshake!
Original Location Address: 1213 U Street NW Washington DC, 20009 | Use the Green or Yellow line and get off at the U Street/ African- American Civil War Memorial/ Cardozo Station. It’s directly across the street from the exit.
I love taking friends and family who are visiting from out of town here on Saturday and Sunday mornings. FYI, they take cash only! My personal favorites are the Brick sandwich (egg, potato, meat, and cheddar cheese) and the Blueberry Buckwheat pancakes with real maple syrup.
Address: Inside The Eastern Market, 225 7th St. SE Washington, D.C., 20003 | Take the Orange, Blue, or Silver Line to Eastern Market Station. It’s about a 3-minute walk inside the Eastern Market.
If you love books and coffee this is the place for you! It’s a cafe with the bookstore Politics and Prose located inside. Busboys and Poets was established in 2005 by Iraqi-American artist, activist, and restaurateur Anas “Andy” Shallal. The cafe also hosts public and private events such as author discussions and readings.
Original Location Address: 2021 14th St, NW Washington, D.C. 20009 | How to Get There: Use the Green or Yellow Line and get off at U Street/ African- American Civil War Memorial/ Cardozo Station. It’s about a 5-minute walk.
While all the tourists are standing in long lines in the DC summer heat at the famous Georgetown Cupcakes, all the locals are relaxing here. Baked and Wired is a cafe with unique cupcake flavors and other baked goods! It’s also near the Georgetown Canal, so you can take your cupcake to go and stroll along the Canal on a nice day.
Address: 1052 Thomas Jefferson St NW, Washington DC 20007 | The metro doesn’t run to Georgetown, but you can look up different buses or use Uber or Lyft
I’ve heard the food is really good but I’ve only had the milkshakes from here. Honestly, the milkshakes are reason enough. They have traditional flavors like chocolate and vanilla but the true gems are flavors like Toasted Marshmallow, Black Forest, Black and White, and, my personal favorite, Milky Way Malt.
Address: Capitol Hill: 303 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, Washington, DC 20003 | Use the Orange Line and get off at Capitol South Metro Sation. It’s about a 5-minute walk. There’s also a location in the Reagan National Airport, Terminal B if you’re flying locally!
If you’re into politics and bars this is the place for you. It’s across the street from the White House and there are caricatures of politicians both past and present on the walls.
Address: 800 16th St NW, Washington, DC 20006 | Use the Blue, Orange, or Silver Line and get off at Farragut West Station or McPherson Square Station
This cafe is located inside of the National Museum of the American Indian and serves food found in the Americas. Different food stations feature different regions of North America (Great Plains, Mesoamerica, Northern Woodlands, and Northwest Coast) and only serve food native to those regions. Check-out dishes like fry bread, dark mole chicken tacos, butternut Squash soup with maple and toasted pumpkin seeds, and apple cobbler.
Address: Independence Ave SW & 4th St SW, Washington, DC 20024 | Use the Orange or Silver Line and get off at Federal Center SW Station. It’s about a 5-minute walk.
** LOCAL TIP: If you drive in DC, street parking is free on Sundays! If you get into the city early enough, there is plenty of parking. **
Favorite Places to Visit
National Mall at Night
Nothing beats the National Mall at night. I love walking among the illuminated monuments when it’s quiet and peaceful. I have done this in every season and although it’s ridiculously cold, I especially love doing it in winter. But, beware of the ice on the smooth walkways!
Gems and Minerals Room in the National Museum of Natural History
This is mainly because I like rocks and sparkly things. The museum is free, so if you’re near the National Mall, pop into look at the gems and rocks. The exhibit has the Hope Diamond and, my personal favorite, the Marie Louise Diadem, a crown given to Empress Marie-Louise by Napoleon when they married.
U Street Corridor
I have not been to this street enough but every time I go discover some cool new cafe, restaurant, or museum. Also, the history of the neighborhood is fascinating! It’s the birthplace of Duke Ellington, and Ella Fitzgerald was a regular performer.
What to Wear
DC has four distinct seasons, so dress according to the season you’re visiting in. If it’s winter bundle up because you’ll be doing a lot of walking. As for summer, DC is hell for someone who hates humidity (me!). I recommend wearing light natural fabrics like cotton and linen and be prepared to sweat. Drink lots of water because you will be in the sun!
Also, you CAN put your feet into the fountains (i.e. World War II Memorial) to cool off. Just don’t stand up and wade in them. As long as you dress accordingly and wear comfortable clothes and shoes, you’ll be fine. The town is always filled with tourists so don’t worry about looking like one.
Where to Shop
As I was a poor, unpaid intern I didn’t do much shopping but the main shopping areas are:
Pricey but super cute to even just walk around in.
The Fashion Center at Pentagon City
Basic mall for everything you may need. How to Get There: Use the Blue or Yellow Line on the metro and get off at Pentagon City Station. Address: 1100 S Hayes St, Arlington, VA 22202
There are a farmer’s market, flea market, and various food stalls. How to Get There: Use the Orange, Blue, or Silver Line on the metro and get off at Eastern Market Station. It’s about a 3-minute walk.
Favorite Touristy Things to Do
It’s a must do and it’s free! Some recommendations: See the Korean War Veterans Memorial at sunset as the sun hits the rock slabs making them resemble rice patties. Visit the Hirshhorn Museum for modern art. I am not usually a fan of modern art but this museum has some really interesting sculptures, paintings, and exhibits. Also, rent a bike from Capital Bikeshare and ride around the Mall on a summer evening when it’s cool and quiet.
How to Get There: Use the Blue, Orange, or Silver Lines and get off at either Smithsonian Station, Triangle Station, L’Enfant Plaza Station or Foggy Bottom Station. You can also use the Gren Line and get off at the Archives Station.
Riverfront Rhythm at Yards Park
Every Friday evening at about 6:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m. from early May to late August you can listen to local bands on the Anacostia riverfront in the Naval Yard. The music is diverse (bluegrass, Latin, reggae, rock, etc), and you can picnic or buy food from food trucks.
How to Get There: Use the Green Line and get off at the Navy Yard/Ballpark Station. Use the New Jersey Ave. Exit.
Guided tours from the National Park Service
Free talks or tours given by National Park Rangers on a variety of topics such as history, culture, and politics. I went on a great and informative walking tour of George Washington and it totally changed my perspective of our first president (and not really in a good way). Basically, these Rangers know their stuff, and it’s a great way to learn more about U.S. history and the DC region. If you are on an evening tour during the summer, wear mosquito repellent. DC is built on a swamp so you will be eaten!
Best Washington, D.C. Moment
It was twilight and I was wandering the National Mall with a friend visiting from out of town who loves DC and politics as much as I do. At this point, I had been in DC for about ten months, survived my first true winter (the Polar Vortex no less!), and knew I was going to be leaving in three months. I had finally felt like a local and it hit me how much I loved and will miss the city. It’s truly a special place and I have had many special moments in the city. It will always be a second home to me after LA.
What do you think? Have you been before? Thanks, Elissa, for putting this local guide to Washington DC together! If you’d like to contribute your own local guide, let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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