In autumn, the District is awash in color, creativity, and coziness. Take in vibrant foliage in the expansive urban parks; explore the personality-rich neighborhoods, including colorful buildings and outdoor murals; experience live performances, fun fall festivals, and thrilling sports; sample the delicious seasonal bounty in DC’s outdoor markets and stellar restaurants; and discover the beauty of majestic National Mall monuments at night.
Immerse Yourself in Bright & Bold Foliage
DC is spectacularly scenic in every season, but as the leaves change color and the air is tinged with a crisp freshness, the city’s beauty reaches a whole new level—Instagrammers, get ready to snap away. Reds, oranges, and yellows blanket everything from the National Mall’s American elm trees, the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool where fallen leaves float, and the U.S. Capitol to the banks of the Potomac and Anacostia rivers, Georgetown’s cobblestone streets, and the grounds of the Washington National Cathedral. Even the Tidal Basin, typically touted for its springtime cherry blossoms, wears the bold cloak of fall.
For doses of pure nature, the hardwood trees of 1,800-acre Rock Creek Park, which cuts through Northwest DC, will give you an eyeful of brilliant hues wherever you walk or jog. And the 446-acre U.S. National Arboretum, a living tree and plant museum that can only be described as an oasis, is another great place to spot foliage, not to mention 14,000 different plant species and a riveting installation of sandstone Corinthian Columns (once part of the U.S. Capitol’s portico). Also stroll through the lovely gardens at Tudor Place, a Federal-style home on 5.5 acres in the Georgetown neighborhood that housed six generations of Martha Washington’s descendants and the enslaved workers and servants who lived and worked there. These days, the mansion showcases 18,000 decorative objects.
Explore DC’s Neighborhoods and Their Vivid Murals
Each neighborhood in DC has its own unique character and multiple treasures worth uncovering, from historical sites and fabulous eateries to shopping and performance venues. Fall is an ideal time to delve into their most colorful aspects, from the rowhouses of Georgetown and Capitol Hill to the outdoor street murals found throughout the District.
Some street mural highlights you won’t want to miss: Artist MADSTEEZ’s mural of George Washington funk-a-field in NoMa; Aniekan Udofia’s portrait of DC-born musician Marvin Gaye in Shaw and his famed mural on iconic Ben’s Chili Bowl restaurant in U Street depicting African American figures, including Dave Chappelle, abolitionist Harriet Tubman and Barack and Michele Obama. Be sure to sample the half-smoke—the town’s signature half beef, half pork sausage, when you visit Ben’s Chili Bowl. Head to Downtown DC to Black Lives Matter Plaza to see the mural featuring the words “Black Lives Matter” in yellow, 50-foot-tall letters along a two-block area of 16th Street NW—just outside the White House.
Explore the City’s Farmers Markets
The agricultural bounty of fall is legendary and DC’s farmer’s markets are a wonderful way to experience it. FRESHFARM markets operate multiple locations in the nation’s capital, all featuring sustainably farmed fresh produce. Two of the largest markets: the Dupont Circle market on Sundays, 8:30 AM to 1:30 PM, and Mount Vernon Triangle market on Saturdays, 9 AM to 1 PM. At these markets, you’ll find more than 50 farmers purveying everything from fruits and vegetables, meat, poultry, fish, cheeses, bread, and more.
Another great market to visit is Eastern Market, listed on the National Register of Historic Places and located seven blocks east of the U.S. Capitol. Here you’ll find mountains of local farm-fresh produce along with handmade arts and crafts, from Tuesday to Sunday—oh, and Market Lunch’s legendary blueberry buckwheat pancakes, too. For more DC farmers markets, check out this page.
Pay Tribute to Servicemen and Woman on Veterans Day
DC is home to numerous monuments and memorials that honor servicemen and women: the National World War II Memorial, the Vietnamese Veterans Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, and the Native American Veterans Memorial. Visit any time to pay your respects but, each year, on Veterans Day (November 11th) you can witness special tributes—wreath layings at numerous sites throughout the District as well as at Arlington Cemetery.
Museum Exhibits and Performances
Arts and culture explode in the fall in DC’s museums, theaters, performing arts centers, and music venues. See gripping exhibits at the free-to-visit Smithsonian Museums—a family of 17 free museums with specialties that range from Asian art and space to contemporary masterpieces, iconic portraits, and natural history.
Listen to live music from go-go, jazz, punk, hip-hop, and dance at cutting-edge music venues like The Howard Theatre, Pearl Street Warehouse, 9:30 Club, The Anthem, Union Stage, Black Cat, and The Hamilton Live.
And catch a show, from an edgy dramatic play to a Shakespearean classic to a Broadway musical, at spots like Arena Stage. Or soak up the stirring artistry of the National Symphony Orchestra and the Washington National Opera as they perform on their home stage.
Ghost Tours and Nighttime Tours of the Monuments
One of the best ways to engage in the sights and experiences of DC in autumn is to take a dedicated guided tour—any time of day. Whatever your interest may be, there’s a tour that focuses on it.
The crisp evenings invite nighttime adventure; devote at least one evening to an after-dark tour of the monuments when special lighting sets them aglow and there are few crowds to contend with. Pay special attention to the newest addition to DC’s amazing collection of monuments and memorials—the Frank-Gehry-designed Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial, which honors the nation’s 34th president and Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during WWII, is located in a new park next to the National Mall.
WalkingTown DC, a signature Cultural Tourism DC event that takes place every September, features 50 bite-size lunchtime tours, post-work “happy hour” tours, and longer weekend tours that introduce visitors to the DC’s arts, culture, and history. The expertise of the guides will amaze you.
And with Halloween being the season’s signature holiday, a DC ghost tour couldn’t be more apt. Get spooked and shocked—in a good way, of course—as you experience the vaunted haunted sites of the nation’s capital, including the Georgetown steps from the 1973 horror movie, The Exorcist; the Old Stone House; and Oak Hill Cemetery.
More Good Times and Game Time
There are numerous festivals held in DC during the fall season—check out the event options available during your visit here. And football fans can root for the Washington Football Team at FedExField through the autumn while hockey aficionados can watch the Washington Capitals play at Capital One Arena starting in October. Both stadiums offer an awesome sports experience! You can also see the Washington Wizards play at Capital One Arena (basketball season starts in October) and catch the tail end of the WNBA’s Washington Mystics season—they play through September at the Entertainment & Sports Arena.