By Ocean Malandra
Want to see the local side of the nation’s capital? Beyond the presidential monuments and the White House itself, Washington D.C. is a dynamic and multifaceted city. Dining, nightlife, and cultural activities are as cosmopolitan as it gets and the historical side of D.C. is more fascinating than almost anywhere else in the country. Here’s a quick rundown of off-the-tourist path things to do in the capital, including what tourist sights you must-see and which you should avoid!
Best Old School D.C. Restaurant
1789 Restaurant – This Georgetown area dining hotspot has been a city magnet since it opened its door back in 1962. The historic upscale eatery was even featured in the 1985 blockbuster romance St. Elmo’s Fire.
Best Local Watering Hole
Raven Grill – A local gathering place in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood, the Raven Grill is a no-nonsense dive bar where new friends are easily made. A part of DC’s nightlife scene since 1935, this is the kind of place where every bar stool tells a story.
Best Hidden Gem
The Spanish Steps – Built during the City Beautiful movement in the early 20th century, the Spanish Steps are a great place to relax away from the tourist bustle. Located in the Kalorama neighborhood, this peaceful fountain and stepped street in a garden-like setting feels like something out of Mediterranean Europe.
Best Selfie Spot
Capitol Hill – The steps of the U.S. capitol overlook the entire National Mall, making it a spectacular place to grab a selfie that shows off the majesty of Washington D.C. The steps also give you some height to really capture the beauty from a good vantage point and the whole area turns orangish gold just before sunset.
Favorite Touristy Thing to Do
Smithsonian Museum – This massive collection of 20 different museums and galleries is a true national treasure and absolutely should not be missed by any visitor to Washington D.C. While it can take days to explore it all, the Natural History Museum, with its life-sized dinosaurs and wooly mammoths, and the Air and Space Museum, with its collection of aircraft and rockets, are sure to blow your mind.
Worst Tourist Trap to Avoid
Madame Tussauds – This wax museum is full of semi-accurate depictions of Hollywood celebrities and DC politicians. With so many other interesting museums to check out in town, this place is simply a waste of time.
Favorite Local Lore or Fun Fact
Gator Love – For some reason U.S. presidents love to keep alligators as pets. Both John Quincy Adams and Herbert hoover kept them right in the White House!
Top Day Trip Destination
Mount Vernon – A visit to George Washington’s palatial home overlooking the Potomac River is a great escape from the city for a day. Be sure to check out the 3,000-acre farm and dine at the onsite restaurant that sources from it.
Best Free Thing to do
The National Gallery of Art – Many of the museums in D.C. are absolutely free every day, making choosing just one a pretty tough choice. But the National Gallery of Art is a must-see affair, a world-class collection of European and American art housed in a spectacular historic building.
Most Outlandish Attraction
Darth Vadar Gargoyle – The National Cathedral in Washington D.C. actually has a stone gargoyle carved in the likeness of Darth Vadar. It was created in 1980 by Jay Hall Carpenter and adorns the north side of the cathedral.
Most Underwhelming Attraction
The Printer Tour – Want to see giant printers from yesteryear? Not really, right? Then skip the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printer tour and focus on more interesting things instead.
Most Incredible Attraction
The Washington Monument – The bird’s eye view out over Washington DC is well worth the often 2 + hour wait to get inside the Washington Monument. The 555 feet tall obelisk has both an observation deck and a small museum near the top.