If there’s any city where you possibly can feel the activism and sense that change is feasible at every corner, it’s Washington, D.C. But true locals know this place isn’t all about politics. Transcend the tourist stops on the National Mall, and also you’ll discover a bustling metropolis boasting a formidable food scene, among the country’s most stunning waterfront areas, and unforgettable (and largely free) museums. D.C. has evolved immensely over the past decade alone, with recent hotspot neighborhoods emerging like 14th Street and The Wharf. Here, get to know the capital’s real highlights, beyond what the news or Schoolhouse Rock told you.
When you’re in search of a guaranteed good time, head to Swingers. Part bar, part mini golf experience, the venue boasts nine holes of golf, hand-crafted cocktails, and a few of one of the best street food vendors within the District. Did we mention there’s also a live DJ? It’s so popular, in reality, that there’s one other location opening within the Navy Yard next yr. Run, don’t walk.
The Georgetown Waterfront
While admittedly a bit out of the best way, D.C.’s best shopping, hands down, might be found on Georgetown’s important streets (particularly M Street and Wisconsin Avenue, which have every luxury store conceivable for some true Soho vibes). But head south toward the Potomac River, and you could have a picturesque, waterfront park to unwind after your designer shopping spree. You should definitely grab a cupcake from Baked and Wired (1052 Thomas Jefferson St NW) on the best way—it’s considered one of D.C.’s most impressive bakeries that has been serving up giant, daydream-worthy cupcakes for over 21 years.
The National Museum of Natural History
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While they’re all free and well worth the visit, should you only have time to see one museum, take a look at the Natural History Museum. Come for its newly renovated dinosaur hall, stay to catch the Hope Diamond glimmering within the glass. One other very educational and more doable-in-a-day museum, this one will tap into your inner child with its fossils, animals, and science galore on display. Other highlights on or near the Mall: The U.S. Botanical Gardens, the Tidal Basin (a shocking jogging route), and the Library of Congress, which boasts D.C.’s most gorgeous interior (reserve a ticket upfront). For a change of pace, try trying out the monuments at night.
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When you’re in search of a culinary experience to vary the best way you consider Japanese food, Shōtō is well well worth the price of its high-end cuisine served in a shocking, posh space. Featuring a decadent but modern tackle the normal izakaya kind of informal dining, the restaurant boasts a robata grill and sushi island—and truly sumptuous dishes to come back out of each. To best experience the restaurant’s highlights chosen by its executive chefs, go for the omakase menu (starting at $115 per person). Going à la carte? The wagyu tacos, calamari, scallops, and sake are great additions to the table. You should definitely save room for dessert too: the restaurant’s yuzu cheesecake is price splurging on.
Venezuelan chef Enrique Limardo’s Latin American restaurant, tucked away on 14th Street NW, excels in its flavor-packed small course meals—and truly deserves all its critical buzz. With food offerings that change every day, the chef’s tasting menu is your best bet. Standouts from our visit include the guava cheesecake, scallops, and fourth course seafood-packed rice. But what really sets Seven Reasons apart is its top-notch, attentive service and eye for detail. Sampling each of the 4 courses will make it clear to you that each ingredient was chosen for a superb reason.
Steps away from the superb D.C. Alley Museum, Unconventional Diner is the sort of approachable, cool-kid brunch and dinner spot that packs big taste. Dishes have unique twists here, but that’s exactly what makes this restaurant a necessary pit stop. Lunch favorites include the chop salad, a flavorful yet light combination of kale, hummus, pomegranate, and almonds; the super fluffy blueberry lavender buttermilk pancakes; and chicken and waffles, featuring a cheddar-chive cornbread waffle and habanero butter. Bottom line, what’s clear is that the chefs within the kitchen know exactly what they’re doing, with every surprise twist and mix of flavors at a price point ($13-$22 for a brunch entrée) that feels too good to be true given how delicious the food is.
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An intimate but buzzy cocktail bar in the center of bustling 14th Street, Jane Jane is the proper pre-game or post-game spot to unwind and meet up with friends. The classics, including the bar’s espresso martini, hit, but don’t skip the home specials either. The aptly-named Patio Szn (dark rum, traditional Jamaican rum, and créme de cacao) is enjoyment of a glass, while the Shorts Shorts (infused pepper vodka, lemon juice, chareau, easy syrup) packs a pleasant, surprising cooling sensation. For non-drinkers, the Rozata (grapefruit juice, lime juice, orgeat, agave, sparkling water), stands out as considered one of D.C.’s most unforgettable, tangy mocktails.
Courtesy the Riggs
Silver Lyan, nestled within the basement of the Riggs Hotel, is a speakeasy that feels straight out of a movie—and price spending a night in. The vibe is dark, sexy, chic, and fashionable . And the cocktails are masterful takes on the classics that completely embody the high-end theme. The martini-for-two service is very noteworthy, with sides to the cocktails that make the drink a real experience (think: oysters, lemon peels, pickled onions, and olives). Fruit basket shots, featuring a standout strawberry daiquiri Jell-O shot on a citrus rim, give a university go-to a complicated, grown-up and debonair twist. Save room for snacks too: the donut holes with miso caramel dipping sauce are a pleasant sweet side to an after-dinner drink.
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Positioned right round the corner to Planet World in the center of D.C., Immigrant Food will satisfy any wanderlust you could have (at the least temporarily). With a really original and extensive cocktail and mocktail menu inspired by different flavors world wide, the bar is a laid-back place to lose hours in. What to drink? You’ll be able to’t go incorrect with the Asian-inspired Siddhartha, featuring basil, jalapeño, cucumber, fresh lime juice, honey, and Japan’s shochu blended perfectly together. Or, should you’re feeling nostalgic, go for the Skittles, a tart-forward cocktail that’s just as sweet because the candy.
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Riggs Washington DC
Originally the Riggs National Bank inbuilt 1891, this converted hotel offers a melange of traditional, colonial American style that’s been given a dose of contemporary flair. With a friendly staff whose kindness will remain with you long after you take a look at, that is luxury in one of the best sense of the word. Stay in considered one of the 181 jewel-box rooms with cozy beds and palatial bathrooms, and also you’ll be as amazed by your temporary home as you’re by the view outside its windows. Positioned in Penn Quarter, the Riggs will put you in the middle of every little thing, so your exploration of D.C. is straightforward, with the Mall, Smithsonian Museums, and White House mere blocks away. Amenities include a gym, bar (Silver Lyan), and restaurant (Cafe Riggs) on the premises.
Courtesy Hotel Washington
Steps from the White House and the National Mall, Hotel Washington gives an artsy and refreshingly playful tackle D.C.’s history. Fresh off a 2019 renovation, the hotel’s rooms are chic art exhibits themselves, with artist Amit Greenberg creating cherry blossom-adorned headboards for beds and floor-to-ceiling murals in some suites. Along with amenities like a spa, the hotel also has considered one of D.C.’s best rooftop bars and restaurants, Vue. You should definitely partake in considered one of its signature cocktails (the First Lady Lemonade and Power to the Peaches are favorites amongst its guests).
Courtesy Hotel Zena
Positioned in Logan Circle just south of the 14th Street’s buzziest restaurants and bars, but just north (and removed enough) from the bustle of the White House and its surrounding area, Hotel Zena astutely bills itself a “urban retreat.” The hotel is amongst D.C.’s most feminist—if not the entire country’s—celebrating through its art and décor the accomplishments of girls and the movement for gender equality. But what makes it the actual dream spot for a girls’ trip, along with its design and placement, is its idyllic rooftop pool with cocktail bar Hedy’s Rooftop alongside it. Good eats aren’t far either, with Figleaf Bar & Lounge, built to be inviting but spacious, with COVID-era safety in mind, contained in the constructing, too.
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Senior News and Strategy Editor
Alyssa Bailey is the senior news and strategy editor at ELLE.com, where she oversees coverage of celebrities and royals (particularly Meghan Markle and Kate Middleton). She previously held positions at InStyle and Cosmopolitan. When she’s not working, she loves running around Central Park, making people take #ootd pics of her, and exploring Recent York City.