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Washington DC: The Complete Guide To The City

January 12, 2019

Washington DC Travel Guide

I was fortunate enough to be able to spend a summer in Washington DC.  Living here for the summer gave me the opportunity to really learn to love this amazing city.  I was a political science major in college, and I truly loved being immersed in the political climate of the city.  Plus, happy hours after work happen on the regular and people really make the most of their weekends as Washington DC has so many activities, festivals, and brunch spots.  Just make sure to make a reservation wherever you plan on eating, since all food establishments are always packed with people.   


Getting ready for a tour of the West Wing of the White House

Getting ready for a tour of the West Wing of the White House



1) Founding Farmers– This is the perfect lunch spot if you are near the White House.  Founding Farmers is a super trendy and very delicious “Certified Green Restaurant.” It serves amazing food like chicken n’waffles, mac and cheese, fried green tomatoes, and delicious desserts.  Make a reservation as soon as you can!  

2) Georgetown Cupcake-  I went to Georgetown Cupcake about once a week and stood in a ridiculous line for multiple hours all in the name of cupcakes.  And Sprinkles is right down the street!  Try and go at an off time if you don’t want to wait in line, but definitely grab at least two cupcakes for yourself and two for later as you walk the streets of Georgetown or on your way to check out the memorials.  

3) Baked and Wired- A much more “mom and pop type” feel than Georgetown Cupcake, come to this trendy spot for some high quality, handcrafted baked goods.  This is a perfect place to grab an iced coffee before kayaking down the Potomac river.   

4) Good Stuff Eatery- If you are nearby Capitol Hill, check out celebrity chef Spike Mendelsohn’s hamburger joint.  They have awesome “village” fries with rosemary and thyme herbs and amazing sauces.  And of course, they have delicious burgers.  Plus, Obama has frequented this spot, so it has to be good.  

5) Shake Shack- This is the East Coast “In N Out Burger,” (probably gonna get a lot of flack for that one).  You must try their amazing shakes—they are super custardy— and delicious burgers if you are in need of a quick fix. 

6) Busboys and Poets- A hipster brunch spot with an open mic, visiting lecturers, a bookstore, and many displays of visual art, come here especially for a vegan meal or an omelette.  There are various locations throughout Washington DC.  

7) Chop’t and Sweet Greens-  These are the two best salad places, in my opinion, if you are taking a quick lunch break from sight seeing, and don’t have a lot of time.  There are many different options on the menu as well as seasonal salads at both of these eateries.  

8) Kramerbooks & Afterwords Cafe- Right in the heart of Dupont Circle, this adorable book store also has a cafe with delicious food and a desserts.  



Washington DC Georgetown cupcakes at the Lincoln Memorial

Eating Georgetown Cupcake at the Lincoln Memorial


Things to Do:


Here is a list of many of the memorials in Washington DC that you can check out.  My favorites are the Lincoln Memorial, FDR memorial, and WWII Memorial; however, this is really a personal preference.  I especially love visiting the monuments at night, as it is a bit more peaceful than in the day. 

Lincoln Memorial- The Lincoln Memorial speaks for itself, and is a must-see!

Jefferson Memorial- Across from the Tidal Basin, the memorial is a nice, relaxing spot away from all the tourists. 

Washington Monument– You can purchase tickets online for $1.50 each to go up the Washington Monument or line up at 8:30 AM for distribution of free, same day tickets (max 6).  I personally have not been up to the top as the day I had my tickets to go, there was an earthquake in DC and the Washington Monument shut down for a few years for reconstruction.  

MLK Jr. Memorial- One of the newest memorials, it has only been opened for 5 years! 

FDR Memorial- People don’t typically rush to see this memorial as opposed to the others, but I really enjoy seeing FDR in many different areas of his life.

National WWII Memorial-A beautiful exhibit with both water and land, try and find your state when you visit.  

Korean War Memorial- You will find statues emulating the troops trudging through the rice paddies.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial- Stop by to see the many names etched in the wall of this memorial.



The ornate detail found at the Library of Congress

Ornate detail at the Library of Congress


1) Newseum- This is such a fantastic museum that you will end up spending a whole day here, which really puts a cramp in your sightseeing style.  Personally, my favorite part was seeing all of the famous newspaper prints from significant events in our world’s history.  

2) United States Holocaust Memorial Museum- I have been here three or four times throughout my life and am always inspired and devastated at the same time by how well this museum expresses the horrific tragedies that happened during the Holocaust.  

3) Library of Congress-  A beautiful building with obviously a ton of books, a little known secret is that you can get a library card from here!  There are exact instructions on the website, but basically you go in person and take a picture and they print you out a card.  Good luck on getting a decent picture out of it though, I look like a banana in mine.  

4) National Gallery of Art, Smithsonian’s: Air and Space Museum, Museum of Natural History, National Portrait Gallery, American Art Museum,  Smithsonian Institution Building- I am lumping all of these museums together because truthfully, I am not a huge fan of museums and even though I am sure I have been to all of these at least once, nothing really stands out in my mind except for the First Lady dresses exhibit.  However, if you are interested in museums, then you must check out the Smithsonian museums  that spark your interest.

5) Ford’s Theatre- I actually really enjoy going to this museum which also features a presentation by either a National Park Service Ranger or a play entitled One Destiny which features actors as historical figures explaining the events of the evening Lincoln was assassinated.  There is also a tour of the home that he died in across the street as well as nighttime performances held here.

6) National Archives Museum- It is free to go in and see the Constitution and Declaration of Independence with a whole lot of other people who are trying to do the exact same thing.   You can reserve your spot online for $1.50 or go the day of except for Thanksgiving and Christmas. 

7) International Spy Museum- The museum holds an event called Operation Spy which is for adults and is an absolute blast.  I was completely lost in what we were supposed to do (a few drinks right before also didn’t help) but it was awesome running around the museum on a mission escaping compounds, decrypting conversations, and pretending that I was Jack Bauer.  


Jazz in the Park Washington DC

Jazz artist at the Sculpture Garden in Washington DC


1) Kayaking the Potomac- One of my favorite summer activities is taking a kayak out along the Potomac with friends.  Just be careful not to fall in!  The first time I went my friend fell in because my other friend’s boat propelled him into the water…and that water is not the cleanest looking.  You can rent the kayaks on the banks of Georgetown.  

2) Going to a free concert at the Kennedy Center- The Millennium Stage at the Kennedy Center has free shows every day starting at 6:00 PM.  It is a great way to see what the Kennedy Center is all about, especially if you aren’t a fan of the main stage production that is playing while you are there.

3) Drinking sangria and watching jazz in the National Gallery of Art  Sculpture Garden- A beautiful way to spend a summer evening, you can purchase pitchers of sangria and sit on the grass and picnic while watching jazz musicians play.  

4) Watching an outdoor movie in the National Mall- Who doesn’t love an outdoor movie?  And it’s even better when you are sitting outside in the summertime in the middle of the National Mall watching a classic with the Capitol building in front of you.

5) Embassy Week- Every year, a multitude of embassies in Washington DC open their doors for an “around the world” tour.  You can experience cultural dances and demonstrations, art, music, and eat food of different countries.  

6) Take a walk through Georgetown- My favorite walk is from the Dupont Circle area all the way up to Georgetown.  The main streets of Georgetown are beautiful, but so are the more “off the beaten path” streets which are found further up.  For example, “R,” “S,”  and “T” streets.

8) Visit during the Cherry Blossom Festival- Fly into Washington DC just in time for hopefully perfect weather and beautiful trees filled with gorgeous cherry blossoms.  This festival usually coincides with spring break, so make sure to plan your trip early.

7) Attend a Washington Nationals baseball game or a Washington Nationals hockey game- No explanation really necessary.


Looking out at the construction of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building and the West Wing

Looking out at the construction of the EEOB and the West Wing


Three Branches of Government

1) Visit the White House:  There is a West Wing and an East Wing of the White House.  The West Wing is where the Oval Office and Situation Room can be found.  Tours of the West Wing are by personal invitation only and usually given by someone who works at the Executive Office of the President.  However, you are able to visit the East Wing.  Here you can see the dining room where they hold state dinners, and invite championship sports teams to visit.  You will also see the red, green, and blue rooms where the first family holds small receptions and where the Christmas tree is displayed.  It is a self-guided tour.  However, if you have any questions, there is a Secret Service officer in each room that will probably know the answer.  To receive a tour, you must submit a request through your Congressman.  They are first-come first-serve and can be requested up to six months in advance.  If you know someone that works for the EOP, ask if they can reserve a spot for you at the Truman Bowling Alley or if they can take you to the private gift shop in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.  

2) Visit the Capitol:  I would recommend booking through your Congressman as well for the Capitol tour, as many offices offer their own staff-led tours to constituent groups.  This booking should be planned far in advance.  I would also suggest looking on your Senator’s and Representative’s respective websites to see if they offer any special activities.  For example, Senator Dianne Feinstein holds a complimentary constituent breakfast when Congress is in session between March and July every Wednesday or Thursday.  

3) Visit the Supreme Court- Supreme Court visits occur Monday through Friday 9am-4:30.  Here you will see a variety of courtroom lectures, visitor’s films, and exhibitions.  You can also attend an hour-long oral argument from October-April although the schedule varies.  Be sure to check the calendar for the exact days in which these arguments are taking place.  Seating is very limited and on a first-come, first-serve basis, so you would need to get up very early to make sure you get a spot in Court.  


Have you been to Washington DC?  What was your favorite eatery, memorial, or museum?  Were you able to visit any of the three branches of government in Washington DC?


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