Now far more than just the world’s most powerful city, DC has hit the big-time, with Broadway shows, the latest bands jamming, and major-league baseball in front of positively giddy fans. Visitors to the nation’s capital often think they’ve seen it all after a tour of the White House and the Lincoln Memorial. But locals and savvy travelers know that DC is a thriving international metropolis and that monuments and museums are just the beginning of what this city has to offer. Washington’s diamond-shaped borders encompass a bewildering array of world-class cultural and culinary delights, including the avant-garde galleries of Dupont Circle, the glittering mosaic of Adams Morgan nightlife, and the colonial chic of Georgetown.
DC’s diamond-shaped borders stretch in the four cardinal directions. The Potomac River forms the southwest border, its waters flowing between the District and Arlington, VA. North Capitol, East Capitol, and South Capitol Streets slice the city into four quadrants: northwest, northeast, southeast, and southwest. DC is ringed by the Capital Beltway (I-495). The Beltway is bisected by US 1 and meets I-395 from Virginia. The Baltimore-Washington Parkway connects the city to Baltimore, MD. I-595 trickles off the Capital Beltway toward Annapolis, MD, andI-66 heads west into Virginia. Although DC’s streets are spacious and relatively easy to navigate, on-street parking is usually limited to 2hr. in the downtown area. A good idea is to park at a Metro station outside of the District of Columbia; once you’re downtown, the subway and bus systems will get you where you need to go.
Postcard-perfect Capitol Hill is home to the white marble Capitol building, the Supreme Court, and the Library of Congress, which all face one another. Extending west from the Capitol building is the grassy pedestrian Mall, which is punctuated by the Washington Monument and World War II Memorial before it ends at the Lincoln Memorial. The Mall is flanked by the Smithsonian museums and the National Gallery of Art. Cherry trees ring the Jefferson Memorial and the Potomac River Tidal Basin, just south and directly across the Mall from the White House, which is north of the Mall at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. The State Department, the Kennedy Center, and the infamous Watergate Complex make up Foggy Bottom, on the west side of the city. The Federal Triangle area is home to a growing commercial and banking district. Adams Morgan, in the northwest, is a hub of nightlife and good food. In Chinatown, authentic Chinese restaurants bump up against the vast Verizon Center and its ring of sports bars. Though its cobblestone backstreets are home to Washington’s power elite, picturesque Georgetown pairs its high-end shops with enough nightlife to keep any college student entertained. Dupont Circle, the city’s cultural nexus, has developed a powerful trinity of good food, trendy clubs, and cutting-edge art galleries. Another nighttime hotspot is the U District, with clubs that blast trance and techno until the sun rises. Be careful in this area at night. Upper Northwest, a residential neighborhood, is home to American University and the National Zoo.
Of course a visit to Washington, D.C. must include a trip to the White House and the Lincoln Memorial, but there is much more to see (and definitely eat). D.C. is packed with museums, monuments, gourmet foods of every culture, rich nightlife, theater, and much much more. It is impossible to soke in everything this city has to offer, but that shouldn’t stop you from trying!
With so much to see, a good plan of action to try and get a variety of sights and activities into your schedule. Here is our list of favorites to help you decide. Click the links to explore and book tours or local guides.
Check the Weekend section in the Friday edition of the Washington Post for details on upcoming concerts, shows, and other events. Larger mainstream events take place at the sports arenas: RFK Stadium in summer and the Verizon Center year-round. In its 73rd season, the National Symphony Orchestra continues to delight DC, primarily in the Kennedy Center’s concert hall. D.C. also has a diverse and thriving jazz and blues scene, with venues perfect for any budget. The Kennedy Center and Smithsonian museums often sponsor free shows, especially in the summer.
The 20,000-seat Verizon Center in Chinatown is D.C.’s premier sports arena. Having finally earned some respect with their 2005 season, basketball’s Wizards are no longer the laughingstock of the NBA. The WNBA’s Mystics play from May to September. The Capitals are back with the rest of the NHL for the 2009 season, running from October to April. Washington’s most successful and least-known pro sports team is soccer’s D.C. United, with a strong local fan base and several MLS championship titles. A new stadium for D.C. United is planned, but for now the team uses RFK Stadium. Will Washington always remain a football town? Its beloved, if politically incorrect, Redskins still draw the faithful to FedEx Field, in Raljon, Maryland, from September to December. Baseball’s Nationals have just moved into newly constructed Nationals Stadium. Don’t miss $5 grandstand tickets!
Don’t be fooled by the sea of shirt-and-tie-clad bureaucrats who flood Washington during the day; D.C. is a work-hard, play-hard city. With hordes of interns, campaign staffers, journalists, and other young political types, nights and weekends in the city are anything but quiet. If you ache for a pint of amber ale, swing by the Irish pub-laden Capitol Hill. Dupont Circle is home to glam LGBT nightlife, while bars in Adams Morgan and the U District stay packed well past 3am on weekend nights. The Washington Blade is the best source for gay news and club listings; published every Friday, it’s available in virtually every storefront in Dupont Cir. Metro Weekly, a gay and lesbian Washington-area magazine, is another good reference for weekend entertainment and nightlife.
In the US, good table manners means quiet eating. Loud chewing, talking with food in your mouth, or slurping are seen as rude, and burping or flatulence is not seen as complementary to the chef. Servers at sitdown restaurants usually expect to be tipped 15-20%.
Dress in the US tends to be more modest than in Europe. Toplessness, particularly in women, should be avoided. Many establishments will require a customer to wear a shirt and shoes. The most acceptable forms of public affection are hugging and holding hands; kissing in public will usually draw some glances. Although most cities are tolerant of homosexuality, gay or lesbian couples should be aware that they may receive unwanted attention for public displays of affection, especially in rural areas. Also, note that many American will say “see you later” without really intending to make future plans.
One of the most offensive gestures in the US is extending your middle finger at someone. Known as “giving someone the finger,” this gesture is considered not only rude, but obscene. On the other hand, a “thumbs up” gesture is a sign of approval and a widely recognized signal for hitchhiking, which Let’s Go does not recommend.