Did you know there are things to do in Washington DC that don’t involve learning how a bill was passed or talking politics?
As a city known for being the very seat of power– where rules and regulations are made– you may be surprised to learn that thrilling night life, romantic date night spots, underground art galleries and museums, exciting restaurants, and bucket-list worthy experiences exist in this very city.
While the majority of visitors come with the unified goal of seeing the monuments, exploring the Smithsonian, and eating Georgetown cupcakes (although Red Velvet Cupcakery is better), there are many more gems to discover for those wishing to walk and talk like a local.
But perhaps just as important as what to do, is when to do it. Washington DC is, after all, a city where you will experience each season in its fullness. No matter what season it may be, here are all the coolest things to eat, see, and experience in DC.
The Coolest Spots in Washington DC
The key to enjoying Washington in the summer is staying cool. On those unforgivably hot days traipsing around the National Mall in sweltering heat is the last place you want to find yourself. Avoid the elements and throngs of summer tour groups with the following picks.
Tour the Monuments at Night
The monuments are, hands-down, the most popular and heavily frequented sights in Washington. The National Mall is undoubtedly the epicenter of tourism, making it difficult to enjoy the monuments leisurely as busloads of sightseers jostle for the best vantage points or congregate on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
What’s more, undertaking the monuments circuit in the midday heat can feel like hours spent in a sauna.
For a far more comfortable and laid-back outing, wait until evening to tour the Capital’s most iconic landmarks. Around sunset, the crowds have gone and the heat has dissipated. The backlit monuments guide the way through the National Mall creating a picturesque contrast between the silhouettes and evening sky.
From the Smithsonian metro station, this loop brings you by Washington DC’s most celebrated landmarks and takes just over an hour.
Whether you start with the Jefferson Memorial or follow the Reflecting Pool towards the Lincoln Memorial, you’ll be around water for the golden hour.
Visit: 900 Ohio Drive SW, Washington DC 20024 | (202) 426-6841 | NPS.gov
Go Kayaking on the Potomac
See the city from a sea-level perspective. A limit on building heights enacted in 1910 preserves the city’s open garden character envisioned by Thomas Jefferson. Ensuring a nonexistent skyline beyond the Washington Monument.
Bring a waterproof camera to capture scenery from your nautical vantage point, or sit back and let the current rock as you work on a suntan.
Visit: 3500 Water St NW, Washington DC 20007 | (202) 337-9642 | Boating DC
Listen to Jazz in the Gardens
Running every Friday from Memorial Weekend to Labor Day, Jazz in the Garden is a popular alternative to happy hour throughout the summer season.
Located in the Sculpture Garden at the National Gallery of Art, the show runs from 5:30-8:30 and is free to attend.
And don’t let the title fool you– each performance features artists from a wide variety of genres. From classic blues to Brazilian jazz, you’ll be in for a treat.
If you get peckish, the Pavilion Cafe hosts an outdoor grill cooking up BBQ sandwiches and jerk chicken, while carts to purchase mimosa pitchers are scattered throughout the garden. Get there early and bring a blanket for seats on the grass.
Visit: Constitution Ave NW & 7th Street, Washington DC, 20408 | 202-289-3361 | Pavilion Cafe
Sip Craft Cocktails at Le Diplomate
Philadelphia’s famous Starr Restaurant chain’s first location in D.C. is Le Diplomate. It’s a classic French restaurant with a Parisian atmosphere and an extensive menu featuring popular classics and a seemingly endless selection of wine. Choose between succulent Steak Frites or Skate Grenobloise, or for light fare, take your pick of Salade Lyonnaise or a gourmet omelet.
Whatever you pick, don’t forget to indulge in dessert, as Le Diplomate’s options are like heaven in your mouth. The profiteroles offer vanilla ice cream sandwiched between sweet puff pastry topped with bittersweet chocolate, while the warm Apple Tarte Tatin’s delicate flavor rivals your grandmother’s beloved apple pie.
Visit: 1601 14th St NW, Washington DC, 20009 | (202) 332-3333 | Le Diplomate
Explore Dumbarton Oaks
Possibly one of the most stunning sites in Washington DC, The Harvard University owned Dumbarton Oaks is sits quietly in bustling Georgetown.
The site currently serves as a research ground and intellectual niche for history and landscape design. This institution hosts scholars from around the world and provides resources for research on topics such as the Byzantine Empire, Pre-Columbian Studies, and Garden and Landscape Design.
The gardens are stunning, making them perfect for a romantic picnic. Going solo? Benches scattered throughout the grounds provide peaceful spots to write, draw, or get lost in your thoughts. Boasting elegant aesthetics and natural scenery, the property is the perfect locale for a photo excursion.
Dumbarton Oaks is considered to be one of the hidden gems of D.C. and is surprisingly affordable – a rarity for Georgetown. The entry fee is $5 for students and children, $8 for seniors, and $10 for regular admission.
Visit: 1703 32nd St NW, Washington DC, 20007 | 202-339-6401 |Dumbarton Oaks
The peaceful ambiance brought on by autumn provides a welcome relief from the brutal heat of summer. Fall’s crisp smells and pleasant sweater weather seem to magnify the city’s historical significance as gorgeous foliage accentuates the National Mall and banks of the Potomac.
If you’re looking for a perfectly curated immersion into art and architecture, you’ll want to make your way to Glenstone museum. The museum staves off crowds by requiring scheduled visits complete with tickets. Scheduling a visit is strongly encouraged as you may be turned away without one.
Admission to the stunning and ultra modern Glenstone Museum is free. The museum is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Days.
Picnic at the National Arboretum
Boasting plants from around the world, the National Arboretum will inspire botanical curiosity, or at the very least help you decompress. There are plenty of ways to explore this 446-acre park: brave it on foot, rent a bicycle, or take a tram tour.
To make a full day out of your visit, bring a picnic lunch and eat at the National Grove of State Trees. You can also see the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum, visit the Aquatic Garden, or hike the winding network of trails that connect sections of the park.
Visit: 3501 New York Ave NE, Washington DC, 20002 | (202) 245-2726 | USNA
Eat Breakfast in Eastern Market
A few blocks from the Eastern Market metro you’ll find Market Lunch. The popular counter-serve eatery is situated among an eclectic array of vendors. But their Blue Buck Pancakes (made with blueberries and buckwheat) sets them apart. If you have a penchant for seafood, go for the Crab Cake Ben.
If you go on the weekend or during prime breakfast time, be prepared for a wait-worthy line.
Visit: 225 7th St SE, Washington DC, 20003 | (202) 547-8444 | Eastern Market
Grab Mezes at Zaytinya
Billed as one of D.C.’s top dining establishments, Zaytinya offers world-class Mediterranean cuisine at a reasonable price. The restaurant has been mentioned in Michelin’s Bib Gourmand list, a nod to exceptional restaurants that are moderately priced (roughly $40 per person). Savor the splendors of Mediterranean cuisine with Turkish, Greek, and Lebanese influenced mezes (small plates) offered here.
Enjoy the posh modern atmosphere with friends over shared dishes such as oyster saganaki, lamb bahar, and mushroom couscous. Zaytinya is also known for its inventive cocktails and unique wines; the knowledgeable staff can offer recommendations based on your palate, so don’t hesitate to ask.
This restaurant offers brunch seating, so you can sip mimosas with your spanakopita and homemade lamb bacon. No matter what time of the day you visit Zaytinya, it’s advisable to call ahead for reservations; the place is quite popular and fills up quickly.
Visit: 701 9th St NW, Washington DC, 20001 | (202) 638-0800 | Zaytinya
Winter is for cozying up with friends and family. When the temperature drops, there’s still plenty to do with those you care about.
Go Ice Skating in the Sculpture Garden
Ice skating is a polarizing winter activity that people either stay far away from or seek out with fervor. But skating at the National Gallery’s Sculpture Garden is something everyone should try.
During the day the cheerful holiday music fills the air. During the winter it’s one of the best options for things to do this weekend.
Nearby, the Pavilion Cafe serves sandwiches, salads, and hot drinks to warm you up after being out on the ice. During the day, you can warm up by heading into one of the nearby Smithsonian museums or National Gallery.
A two-hour skating pass is $8.50 for adults and $7.50 for seniors, children, and students. Skate rentals are an additional $3.
Visit: Constitution Ave NW & 7th Street, Washington DC, 20408 | (202) 426-6841 | NPA
Visit the Botanical Gardens
The Botanical Gardens are definitely a must see in the District.
Located right by the Capitol, it’s easy to fit into a day of activities. It’s also one of the most Instagrammable spots in the city. Plants are housed in a greenhouse. Which makes visiting any time, regardless of weather, that much more possible.
Visit: 100 Maryland Ave SW, Washington DC, 20001 | (202) 225-8333 | USBG
Grab Lunch at Union Market
Union Market offers a plethora of dining options, making it the perfect place to go with a group of people with different preferences. The warehouse type building is filled with vendors and pop-up shops.
The most raved-about spots in the market are Peregrine for coffee, Panorama Bakery for pastries, and Rappahannock Oyster Bar for seafood. The casual vibe and diversity of Union Market make it a welcoming place to wander around and try new delicacies.
Visit: 1309 5th St NE, Washington DC, 20002 | Union Maket
Feast at China Chilcanco
The blended flavors and aromas of Peruvian-Chinese fusion are sure to warm you up on the most frigid winter evenings.
Choose from a vast menu of dim sum, noodles, soups, and sushi – each with a new unexpected flavor. Try the yucca fries with bonito flakes or yaki udon with spicy aji amarillo.
Visit: 418 7th St NW, Washington DC, 20004 | (202) 783-0941 | China Chilcano
As colors reinvigorate scenery throughout the District, the city becomes abuzz with new activity – mirroring nature’s seasonal change in tandem. This is a great time to walk whenever possible; you’ll likely happen upon impromptu concerts or street performances as you go about your day.
Enjoy the Cherry Blossom Festival
From the early March to late April, Washington DC holds its breath in anticipation for the peak of the cherry blossoms. Guests have the pleasure of watching the annual cherry blossom parade, participating in the kite festival, or attending Sakura Matsuri – a traditional Japanese street festival.
Eat at Daikaya
This dual restaurant offers two distinct dining experiences within an overarching theme. The first floor (Ramen) is a wildly popular Sapporo ramen shop. The second floor (Izakaya) has a broader selection of Japanese comfort foods. Select from miso salmon, chicken kara-age, and rice balls, that can be paired with sake and Japanese beer. While Izakaya accepts reservations, Ramen does not, so be prepared for a lengthy wait during peak hours and on weekends.
Visit: 705 6th St NW, Washington DC, 20001 | (202) 589-1600 | Daikaya
Immerse Yourself in Passport DC
Visiting during the month of May? Then there’s simply no reason to miss out on Passport DC. This series of embassy open house events is your ticket to food, culture, and fun from around the world, without having to board a plane. Embassies open their doors and allow visitors to tour the diversely styled buildings. Visitors attend cultural festivals and participate in a wide range of contests.
Show up early. Over 200,000 people attend annually, so it’s best to plan your visits in advance. For convenience, the program provides multiple bus routes to shuttle participants from one end of Embassy Row to the other.
Visit: (202)-661-7581 | Cultural Tourism
Featured photo courtesy of Columbia Room’s Cherry Blossom Cocktail
Planning Your Trip
Now go explore!