Washington DC may be our nation’s capital, but it’s also a melting pot of diverse cultures and ethnicities that all play an intrinsic role in the American identity. Here, Latin American and Mexican experiences are highlighted through a one-day itinerary featuring both famous landmarks and off-the-beaten-track cultural hotspots where the Latinx heritage is alive and well; and still inspiring generations of DC visitors who want an immersive, educational, and fun(!) experience—and an insider’s look at how the Latin American community continues to inspire and contribute their distinctive voices to the cultural fabric of American society.
Start the day off right with a visit to the delightfully chic Republic Cantina. A cafe by day and a bar by night; who, in addition to serving up delicious Tex-Mex fare from brunch through dinner, also has a coffee menu that can’t be beat—including the Cajeta, a specialty in Celaya, Mexico, made with caramelized goat’s milk and is akin to dulce de leche. And for those that like their mornings a little spicy, the Mexican Mocha is also an excellent choice for a morning pick-me-up. You can also grab a delicious breakfast taco on-the-go, too.
A Cultural Celebration At The National Postal Museum
Next, head to the Smithsonian National Postal Museum for the Music & Stamps Family Day Event. A celebration of Latino heritage through music, stories, and crafts, the event also commemorates the United States Postal Service (USPS) release of five new stamps earlier this month depicting mariachi musicians. Meant to encapsulate Mexico’s vibrant culture through the joys of mariachi, the stamps were designed by National Postal Museum Guest Artist Rafael Lopez, who will also be on hand to share stories and lead visitors through crafts and assorted games.
A cornerstone of Mexican culture, the Mariachi was chosen as the colorful emblem for the stamps to celebrate it both as an art form and as a cultural emblem of Mexican history and heritage. Dating back to the 18th century, mariachi has evolved over the years to reflect regional styles throughout the Mexican countryside and various influences from both Spanish and European traditions. Throughout the 20th century, mariachi transcended its regional and often rural status and cemented itself firmly into the mainstream music scene, thereby becoming a de facto representation of the country itself and a symbol of ethnic pride for Mexicans not only in Latin America but in the United States, as well. Over time, many of the more traditional sounds of mariachi were lost as the music evolved to fit more mainstream music. However, despite its various iterations throughout its long and storied history, it has always remained a cornerstone of Mexican culture; and throughout Mexico (and beyond), it is celebrated to this day through festivals, museums, events, and the talented musicians who tour and perform to the delight of fans all over the world.
While you’re at the National Postal Museum, be sure to explore their exhibit Baseball: America’s Home Run. The collection of exceptionally rare objects and the personal histories of players such as Roberto Clemente are at the intersection between our national past time and our exploration of the cultural influences of Latinos on contemporary American society.
Getting There: The Smithsonian National Postal Museum is about a half hour from Republic Cantina—a ten-minute walk to the Green Line at Navy Yard Metro Station toward Greenbelt. At the Gallery Place Chinatown Metro Station, exit to board the Red Line toward Glenmont, just a short trip to the Union Station stop, where visitors can exit the train and walk just a few short minutes to the event.
After the event, stop by the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, a collection featuring a collection of portraits that allow guests to get up close and personal with history in a myriad of ways, from rare 19th-century daguerreotypes to digital video available to download (and share) via Smithsonian Open Access. While there, search the collection for Hispanic American portraits to see (and learn about) the likes of famous and influential figures like Dennis Chavez, the first-native born Hispanic elected to the U.S. Senate and Florida’s first delegate to the House of Representatives.
Lunch Time Mexican Vibes
Next, it’s time for a late lunch. There are a number of delicious Mexican restaurants within walking distance of the Smithsonian—and those that are equally as easy to access by either subway, car, or bus for travelers who want to embark on a foodie adventure to some of the capital’s coolest spots.
The waterfront gem Mi Vida is just a 25-minute ride by subway from the Smithsonian—but definitely worth the trip to experience the authentic food, drinks, and atmosphere of this District Square spot with an elevated atmosphere and stunning views.
Want to stick to the neighborhood? A short 20-minute walk away is the creatively delicious Oyamel Cocina Mexicana, a fantastic spot serving up authentic Mexican street fare, including an inventive taco menu with fresh, eclectic ingredients served on a handmade corn tortilla. A little farther away, but still, only 15 minutes by public transportation and under a half hour on foot, is the rustically fabulous MXDC Cocina Mexicana packed with traditional faves from regions throughout Mexico—a whose who of eclectic dishes bursting with flavorful flair and inventive authenticity.
Afternoon Adventures Exploring Mexican and Hispanic Heritage
After an amazing lunch, it’s time to choose your adventure and decide what’s next for this exciting day-long exploration of Mexican, Latin American, and Hispanic culture and history in Washington, DC. Travelers can also choose what to do throughout the rest of the afternoon based on where they decided to have lunch; however, DC’s public transportation and its overall walkability make anything possible for those willing to have an adventure throughout several neighborhoods. Below are some afternoon options, dinner recommendations, and nightlife perfect for those looking to explore Washington’s vibrant Hispanic and Latin American culture, cuisine, and history.
The Afternoon: Option One
On-foot explorers will revel in the plethora of options for exploring Latino heritage in the neighborhoods surrounding the Smithsonian. For example, the National Mall is just a short walk away—and here, travelers can take an amazing self-guided walking tour showcasing some of DC’s best examples of Hispanic heritage. Stops along the tour include statues of famed Hispanic heroes and liberators Simón Bolívar, Benito Juarez, and more; a visit to the Organization of American States (OAS) Building; and the General José de San Martín Memorial.
Additionally, the Smithsonian complex also houses The National Museum of the American Latino. This new museum opened in 2020 with the aim of exploring both the historic and ongoing contributions of the Latino community to U.S. culture, history, science, and music—and have helped to shape America’s diverse national identity. Current events include the ¡Presente! The exhibit presents a Latino history of the United States and ¡Pleibol! In the Barrios and the Big Leagues examines the contributions and impacts Latinos had (and continue to have) on the national pastime
Optional Stop(s): Art Museum of the Americas, the oldest museum of modern and contemporary Latin American and Caribbean art in the United States; afterward, explore more statues of famous Latin American figures scattered throughout the grounds. Additionally, The Library of Congress Hispanic Reading Room has a wealth of historical gems available, including newspaper clippings from the Mexican Revolution and readings from famous figures in the Spanish-speaking literary world.
For dinner, it’s time for tequila tastings and authentic Mexican cuisine at El Sol Restaurante & Tequileria to sample their house-made favorites and specialties—and, of course, their vast selection of over 50 tequilas. And for those that prefer mezcal, Espita is another neighborhood option whose stylish vibes and bright, fresh takes on the traditional evoke the bright flavors and vibrant vibes of Southern Mexico.
The Afternoon: Option Two
An alternative take on the itinerary has visitors branching out and exploring other DC neighborhoods—all beginning with a visit to the Mexican Cultural Institute. Aiming to share Mexico’s vibrant past and present with the local community, the institute is a home for diverse cultural programs; art; and ongoing exhibitions that are housed in a historic 16th Street mansion that’s been on the National Register of Historic Places since 2013 (and has an illustrious history in and of itself). Be sure to check out Cuevo del Río’s bold, colorful murals and The Kimberly Collection, an amazing representation of Mexican art from the likes of Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and more.
Optional Side Stop: La Cosecha contemporary Latin American market
Getting There: The Mexican Cultural Institute is about 35 minutes away from the Smithsonian via public transportation and less than 20 minutes by car.
After exploring the Mexican Cultural Institute, it’s time to grab some Happy Hour drinks at Haydee’s, a casual Georgia Avenue spot serving up signature margaritas. Next, head back south for dinner at The Royal, about 30 minutes away by public transportation, 15 minutes by car, or 35 minutes on foot. A hip, all-day eatery that’s the perfect spot to grab some dinner and a craft cocktail (The Botanist’s Punch is a must!), The Royal is a relaxing way to settle in for some authentic DC bar vibes/upscale, Mexican taqueria-esque feels.
Optional Stop(s): Teatro de la Luna, The Spanish Steps
Dance The Night Away
Night owls will want to finish this fantastic one-day itinerary with some dancing—and Toro Toro is the place to do it. With bottle service, late-night snacks, and a club level complete with International DJs, this hip spot makes for an exciting end to a day exploring some of DC’s best Hispanic attractions.
Similarly, Cafe Citron is also a fun after-dark spot to grab some post-dinner salsa lessons, available every Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday starting at 7:30, and afterward, dance the día away when the bar/restaurant transforms into a nightclub after 10 PM.
Getting There: Toro Toro is a less than a 20-minute trip via public transportation and a quick nine-minute drive from The Royal; At the same time, Cafe Citron is 20 minutes via public transportation and about 12 minutes away by car.
This one-day itinerary is a choose your own adventure inspired by the Smithsonian National Postal Museum’s Music & Stamps Family Day Event, a celebration of Mexican culture and heritage through the unveiling of their bright, bold mariachi stamps—and subsequent exploration of attractions, restaurants, and more that showcase the many Latinx and Mexican contributions to the unique cultural tapestry of both Washington DC and America.
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