Smithsonian Museum – This is a hard decision as they are all great and I have the luxury of seeing them leisurely instead of 3 per day for 4 days. The three most popular and must dos if it is your first time to DC are the Air and Space Museum; Natural History Museum; and Archives. As a local, the Portrait Gallery is my favorite. It is in a beautiful building and is huge so it takes multiple trips to see everything on display.
Other Museums – National Museum of Women in the Arts and the National Geographic Museum are two that I go to over and over again every time they have a new exhibit.
Walks – There is nothing like seeing DC on foot and I love to walk the mall. If you walk the entire route starting at McPherson Square Metro near the White House up past the Washington Monument, WWII memorial to the Lincoln Memorial; to the MLK, Roosevelt and Jefferson; up to Capitol Hill ending at Eastern Market it is about 5.5 miles. It is worth it! You will see all of the sights, get an outstanding walk and can then eat at any of the fabulous restaurants in Eastern Market guilt free. Try this early morning to beat the crowds and then enjoy brunch or lunch at Eastern Market or early evening and grab a late dinner. If you walk in the morning you can also stop at the Capitol, Library of Congress and Supreme Court for a tour (reserve in advance if during peak times).
Neighborhoods – Even if you have never been to DC, you have heard of Georgetown and Old Town Alexandria. Both are wonderful places to walk around, eat, and see some sights. But if you have more time or want an alternative, think about a visit to Del Ray or Eastern Market. You can reach Del Ray as an easy walk from Braddock Road metro or on the 10A bus. Del Ray is our favorite family spot on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. And when I have visitors in town, after walking around the mall and up to the Capital, we always end up at Eastern Market for a bit to eat or a cocktail.
Brunch – I have tried at least several dozen different brunches in DC. Some of my favorites and most memorable include: 1) You can’t go wrong with the “urban farmhouse” Founding Farmers. 2) Georgia Browns downtown DC has a huge brunch with fantastic live jazz (make sure you go hungry and don’t plan to eat the rest of the day!). 3) The Jefferson Hotel The Greenhouse is classic elegance with great food at a reasonable price. 4) Boqueria is my top choice for a large group – brunch is a fixed price with unlimited tapas and drinks. 5) Outside of the city, in Shirlington, Cooperwood Tavern is a favorite spot.
Dinner – This is hard as the DC area has a ton of wonderful places to eat. Some that I have liked enough to visit half a dozen times each: 1) Old Ebbitt Grill – located near the White House, with its dark paneling and many bars, nothing feels more “DC” to me. 2) Match Box just opened a third location in Pentagon City, along with their existing restaurants in Eastern Market and China Town. I don’t know if Match Box is my favorite or Old Ebbitt is my favorite, but they both have a secure spot in the top 5! 3) Best bowl of pasta is Portofino on 23rd Street in Crystal City. 4) I also love the food and ambiance of the Balkan restaurant Ambar at Eastern Market.
Donuts – Hands down; Sugar Shack in Old Town Alexandria!
Happy Hour – Another hard decision. Off the Record, in the basement of the Hay Adams hotel was chosen by Forbes as one of “World’s Best Hotel Bars” and is very DC! Tortilla Coast on Capitol Hill is a perfect stop for pitcher of margaritas with chips and salsa. But frankly, I love Béarnaise up on Capitol Hill where you can have champagne with bottomless fries! It is an awesome combo!
Travel Tips: Reservations are needed at any DC location.
Books Store – Capitol Hill used book store at Eastern Market; Politics and Prose on Connecticut Ave; and Kramerbooks & Café on Dupont Circle.
View of the City – Sky Dome bar on the roof of the Doubletree hotel in Pentagon city rotates and provides an awesome view of the city. They don’t open until 5 pm and stay relatively empty until 7 or 8 pm. The Air Force Memorial offers wonderful views of the city. POV, the roof top bar of the W hotel has an amazing view of the White House. And of course, nothing beats the view from the Washington Monument. Travel Tip: While you can wait in line for same day tickets, you can also get them online for a small fee 3 months in advance.
Shopping – I am not much of a shopper. If you love the traditional mall, Tyson’s Corner runs on the Orange metro line is one of the biggest malls in America. For eclectic open air shopping, Eastern Market is the place to go on Saturday or Sunday. You can also find some beautiful things at some of the cities Art museum gift shops – specifically the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Portrait Gallery and the National Gallery of Art.