Alistair Wearmouth is Travel Editor at Away.com, a site that offers travel tips customised to travellers’ specific interests.
“Washington, D.C. may boast one of the most instantly recognisable front yards of any world capital, but this Mid-Atlantic hub offers more than just of parade of monuments, memorials, and wide-open spaces. Although small by comparison to the likes of London or New York, Washington, D.C. and its eclectic mix of neighborhoods is brimming with award-winning eateries, edgy pubs and clubs, and more character than your average politician in a suit. Here’s a guide to the best spots for hanging out and getting in on the local scene.
Ground zero for D.C.’s famed LGBT scene, the neighborhood also boasts boutique clothes shopping, second-hand bookstores, upscale nightclubs, and a handful of local pubs. The circle itself is one of the best places for people watching. Just south of Dupont Circle itself, the historic Tabard Inn is a relaxing spot for treats including Maine oysters, fresh ravioli, house-made sorbet, and an extensive wine list. Eighteenth Street Lounge is where the hipsters hang; head to Lucky Bar, the Big Hunt, or Townhouse Tavern for a mellower dive-bar vibe.
Adams Morgan (as shown above)
On weekend nights this becomes one of the city’s busiest spots for nightlife, with loads of college kids and out-of-towners parading up and down the central corridor of 18th Street. Brave that if you dare; otherwise, visit on a weekday night, or during the day, and you’ll find things more serene—and be able to enjoy eclectic shopping and a hybrid of Ethiopian, Salvadorian, and West African cuisines that makes for one of D.C.’s more diverse dining spots. Hit the Reef for locally sourced, seasonal gastro-pub food in a laidback setting. Across the road, The Diner does brisk business in burgers and breakfast foods 24/7.
As the mural of Duke Ellington and the profusion of live-music venues demonstrates, the U Street Corridor once served as the heartbeat of D.C.’s famed jazz scene—and that scene is still alive today, with loads of free, and low-cost, music playing nightly up and down 16th and U streets, all the way east to 9th Street. The ‘hood has since expanded to include the array of hipster shops, bars, music venues, and restaurants along 14th Street. HR-57 is best for live beats, Ben’s Chili Bowl for late-night eats, and Local 16 for a happening rooftop scene.
What was once a pretty sketchy spot in D.C. has since benefited from urban development. Now, locals dub Chinatown D.C.’s answer to Times Square (complete with the influx of tourists). Look closer and you also find some of the city’s larger downtown nightclubs, not to mention one of the city’s epicurean centers—some of the best restaurants include Oyamel, Zaytinya, DC Coast, TenPhenh, Café Atlantico, PS7, and lower-key spots like Capital BBQ and Full Key, a divey Chinese spot with remarkably authentic cuisine.
Fashionistas likely already know about this upscale ‘hood—and with good reason. This is the best spot for all sorts of shopping, from mainstream brands to up-and-coming boutiques to one-of-a-kind finds. The scenic streets, nearby university, casual cafés and bistros, and the C&O Canal, complete with park rangers in period dress at the canal locks, also attract all ages, though a dearth of subway access can make it tricky to visit. Try Pizzeria Paradiso for delicious wood-fired pies or Blues Alley and Mr. Smith’s for drinks and live music.
Capitol Hill/Eastern Market
As the name implies, this is where both the bigwigs and the interns go to let their hair down after a hard day’s politicking. You can find bipartisan camaraderie at old-school institutions like the Hawk and Dove and Bullfeathers, plus eat at any number of fun and festive restaurants like Good Stuff Eatery, Banana Café, and Montmartre. It’s close to Union Station for easy in-and-out access. Head to Eastern Market at the weekend to browse second-hand knick-knacks at the outdoor marketplace, the city’s oldest operating fresh-food market, and craft stalls from local vendors. Salvador Café here is perfect for coffee and cheap and cheerful breakfast burritos.
Old Town’s King Street drag is an eclectic mix of touristy standbys and local faves, offering everything from darkened 19th-century hostelries to nouveau American cuisine to its very own speakeasy. Restaurant Eve and the Majestic Café regularly top best restaurant lists, while bars like O’Connell’s, Union Street, and King Street Blues go late and loud at the weekends. Try nearby Del Ray for a more mellow local’s vibe, including Taqueria Poblano and Evening Star Café.”
For more of the best places to visit and stay in Washington, D.C., check out Away.com’s full Washington, D.C. Travel Guide; www.away.com
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Image: Courtesy of dctourism