Washington D.C. Ultimate Travel Guide

Washington D.C. is one of my favorite places in the U.S. Think white, massive, picturesque, and symmetrical marble buildings straight out of the neoclassical era with beautifully landscaped lawns. D.C. will forever hold a special place in my heart. My experience in D.C. extends roughly four years of breathing, sleeping, and eating in our Nation’s Capital while my hubby and I both finished post grad school here.

Despite your view on politics, everyday life living in our Nation’s Capital was exciting. Matt had the experience of getting his hair cut next to Paul Ryan (former Speaker of the House) at a local salon. Protests and marches were frequent exercising their rights to free speech, and I witnessed a remarkable day in history when the ruling on same sex marriage passed in the U.S. Supreme Court. The next time you’re looking for a getaway, think about visiting D.C. It is an expensive place to live, but with proper planning, it can be an affordable place to travel (most of the museums are free!). I’m excited to share a few secrets from a local to make your visit one to remember.

{Best Time to Visit}

Summer: The weather in D.C. is blistering hot and humid, and definitely more busy since school is out of session. Many people visit D.C. in the Summer and just brave the heat, but it’s also an expensive time to come. Cost for flights and hotels are at their peak.

Fall: Good time to come as flight and hotel costs will be lower. Crisp, cooler temperatures are perfect for walking around. Crowds can still be high, but most likely have thinned out since school is back in session. This is a great time to visit D.C!

Winter: Weather during winter can be freezing, snowing, raining, or all the above. It’s unpredictable and an inside joke with the locals. However, the positive side is crowds thin out, especially on a rainy and cold day. Flights and hotels will be lower compared to other seasons during this time. This does not apply during winter break, as many people visit during this time and prices are expected to be high near Christmas and New Years.

Spring: My favorite time of year in D.C. is spring because of cherry blossom season. The season varies each year, but typically the flowers bloom between April – May. After World War II, Japan provided cherry blossom trees to D.C. as a symbol of friendship. Although this is an expensive time to visit, it’s worth seeing the cherry blossoms. It’s a beautiful time to come visit!

{Getting There and Beyond}

I recommend flying to Reagan National Airport (DCA). It’s only a 10-12 minute drive to the heart of D.C. You can either take the metro rail from the airport to downtown or hire a car service. An Uber, Lyft, or taxi from the airport shouldn’t be more than $15 (one-way) to the heart of D.C.

1) Walking

The main sites are all within walking distance. When I say walking distance, you could be walking upwards +3-6 miles roundtrip if you saw (almost) everything in one day. It would be an exhausting day, but you would get your 10,000 steps in for the day. Wear comfortable shoes and bring a refillable water bottle.

2) Hop on, Hop off bus

I’ve taken this before and it’s perfect for those who don’t have a lot of time to walk the +5 miles roundtrip. The service is affordable and convenient. It’s a fully narrated tour while they visit the top sites in D.C.

3) D.C. Circulator

This is similar to a public bus with possible wait times, but with cheaper fares. The Circulator has limited service to specific areas within D.C., but it’s still used by all types of D.C. locals. You may notice a man in a suit or woman in workout clothes. I’ve taken the Circulator many times while I lived in D.C., especially when I needed a ride to the Union Station (there’s a stop right near it!). If you time it perfectly, it’s a great option to get around town. You’ll time it perfectly using the app. That way, you’ll know when the next bus will arrive. The Circulator accepts exact cash or coin, or even better, use your SmarTrip Card.

4) Metro Rail System

The metro rail is another great way to get around the city, and even surrounding cities outside of D.C. such as Alexandria, Virginia or Bethesda, Maryland at a low cost. Although you can purchase a SmarTrip card at any metro station, it would be best to save time and purchase the SmarTrip Card in advance (allow 1 week to ship to your house!). Most locals use the metro for everyday transportation. If you take the metro during rush hour (both morning and evening), be aware of fast walking pedestrians, especially on the escalator. There’s an unwritten rule for pedestrians to stand on the right, and walk on the left. Locals will have no issue educating any newcomers or tourists of this unwritten rule.

5) Uber, Lyft, Taxi

There are plentiful in the city. Keep in mind, if you are requesting a car service during rush hour (in the morning between 7:00am-8:30am, and evening 5:00pm-6:30pm), the cost will be higher and you will probably could have arrived at your destination had you walked. Traveling by car after 8:30am or after 6:30pm will have traffic, but it will be lighter.

{Where to Stay}

The farther you stay outside of D.C., the cheaper the accommodation will be. If you are visiting D.C., I highly recommend you stay in D.C. My favorite neighborhoods are Capitol Hill, Dupont Circle, Georgetown, Foggy Bottom. The cheapest accommodation is Airbnb.

1) Capitol Hill

Capitol Hill is one of my favorite neighborhoods, but I’m also biased. I lived in Capitol Hill for four years. It has everything you need all within walking distance including many highly rated restaurants, and several government buildings (such as U.S. Capitol, Supreme Court, Library of Congress), and of course my favorite, Eastern Market. Plus, it’s just a very short Uber ride to H Street, which has tons of activities during the weekends and many top rated restaurants popular among locals. In fact, many of the restaurants I love can be found on H Street. Finding a hotel in Capitol Hill can be tricky since there is only one good one. Depending on the season, it can be affordable, but during high season, forget it. Although it’s in the heart of Capitol Hill, and recommended in terms of location, Airbnb may be a cheaper alternative. Regardless, I highly recommend staying in Capitol Hill.

2) Dupont Circle

I absolutely love Dupont Circle. It’s the perfect blend of historical homes, local and commercial shops, and government buildings. It’s centrally located to everything such as restaurants, coffee shops, and even clubs. It’s even close to Embassy Row where over 170 embassies and their respective ambassadors reside in multimillion dollar mansions. If you’re visiting in May, check out Around the World Embassy Tour. I highly recommend this area. 

3) Foggy Bottom

Foggy Bottom is centrally located as well. If you stay here, you’re in the heart of D.C. It’s a bustling, yet safe neighborhood comprised of federal buildings, George Washington University, and within walking distance to the National Mall and the area of Georgetown. It’s also a 20 minute walk to the White House. If you like a more downtown, busy feel, this is the neighborhood for you.

4) Georgetown

Georgetown is a quaint, charming neighborhood home to Georgetown University, cobblestones, high-end shopping, oceanfront fine dining, and the location where part of the Exorcist was filmed! Although it’s one of my favorite areas in D.C., I would stay in another neighborhood because it’s pricey.

{Where to Eat}

Washington D.C. is a hub for some of the best food in the U.S. From budget-friendly to fine dining, there’s high quality food at every corner in our Nation’s Capital that can suit any budget. There are a ton of delicious, mouth-watering restaurants, many of which I did not list (I would be typing for years!). Although I have many favorites, I’ve listed restaurants or places that I’ve been to multiple times while living in D.C.

Breakfast/Brunch:

1) Founding Farmers

A farm-to-table concept, this is a top local favorite. Tourists have caught onto this gem as well, making reservations well in advance an absolute must (even months in advance), especially on weekends. Although they serve food all day, my favorite time to visit is brunch. Be prepared for a food coma afterwards.

My Brunch Favorites:

Cappuccino (coffee is local)

Breakfast Chicken & Waffles (a must!)

Uncle Buck’s Beignets

Spinach & Tomato and Smoked Salmon Benedict

Bloody Mary

2) Ted’s Bulletin

This family-style diner is not your typical diner. Think more upscale comfort food. This place is popular with the locals, especially in Capitol Hill. Reservations may be necessary during the weekends. Can’t make it for a meal? That’s okay. Grab a few of Ted’s homemade desserts or breakfast pastries.

My Favorite Pastry:

Ted’s Homemade Pop Tarts (any, and plus, they have seasonal flavors)

3) Farmers, Fishers, and Bakers

Owned by the same group as Founding Farmers, this is also a local favorite with the farm-to-table concept. Reservations are a must during the weekend ( may need to book a few months in advance). They serve food throughout the day, but brunch (only served on weekends) is where it’s all happening. Located in Georgetown, it’s no surprise the cost of brunch buffet runs steep at $32 per person. Alcoholic drinks are not included. You won’t be disappointed, the food is high quality, locally and seasonally sourced, whenever possible. By supporting the restaurant, you’re also supporting local farmers, fishers, and bakers. Get it?

Pro Tip:

It’s a buffet. Try a little of everything.

4) Union Market

Don’t be confused with Union Station. Union Market is completely different and truly a hidden gem in the city of D.C. You’ll find everything local here from artisans to craft breweries to books. Need a unique gift? You’ll find it at the Union Market. With over 40 local vendors, it’s the hot spot for unique, culinary and artisan creativity, all found here, at Union Market.

Lunch/Dinner:

1) Rasika

Fine dining mixing with modern Indian food, it’s no wonder this is a top spot for celebrities, high ranking officials, and of course, everyone else in between (us!). Rasika takes authentic Indian dishes and creates innovative dishes for the modern world. “Rasika” which means “ flavors” is true to its name. Check out the Yelp reviews.

My Dinner Favorites:

Cauliflower Bezule

Mango Chutney

Malai Seekh Kebab

Dal Dhungaree

2) Rose’s Luxury

Eclectic. Quirky. And damn delicious. It’s still a mystery how Rose’s Luxury can take unconventional combination of ingredients and make them explode a mouthwatering, tasty, and delightful flavor in your mouth. From the customer service, presentation of food, and ambience,, you’ll be dreaming about this place for days after one night of dining. There is a catch. They don’t accept reservations in advance, unless you’re a group of six or more (if you are, book the rooftop deck!). If it’s just you, plus one, I’d recommend making a same day table reservation, or better yet, wait in line for 2 hours like I did. It’s actually worth it. Check out the Yelp reviews.

Pro Tip:

Menu changes seasonally, ask the server for recommendations on most popular dishes.

3) Toki Underground

This tiny ramen joint, located on H Street NE, second floor, above the Pug Bar (look for the blue logo design on the door) is another local favorite. Toki Underground is loved so much by the locals, many of them are willingly to wait over an hour to grab a seat in the mostly counter and bar seating restaurant. It’s ramen Japanese noodle at its finest. Reservations are accepted Monday – Friday at a specific time, or you can call ahead and take it to-go. Check out the Yelp reviews.

My Toki Favorites:

Fried Chicken Steamed Buns (a must!)

Sake – battered Cauliflower Steam Buns

Toki Classic Ramen

4) Ethiopic Restaurant

Also located on H St NE, this was our go-to spot for local, affordable, authentic Ethiopian food. Ethiopian cuisine consists of flavorful vegetables and spicy meat, which combined with injera (a flat sourdough bread) made the combination mouthwatering. Reservations can be made online, but we always ordered take out, which worked for us.

My Favorites:

Vegetarian Sampler for Two (samples all 7 vegetarian dishes)

5) Las Placitas

It was difficult to find authentic Latin American food in D.C. until we found Las Placitas. Serving both Salvadoran and Mexican Cuisine, it’s a hidden, low key restaurant right on the main street in Capitol Hill on 8th Street (same street as Rose’s Luxury).  You’ll find all of your Latin American food here at a somewhat D.C. appropriate price.

My Favorites:

Vegetable Burrito

Fajitas De Vegetales

6) Zaytinya

Small plates of Mediterranean food inspired from countries including Greece, Turkey, and Lebanon, this place is well known as an exceptional restaurant in the D.C. area. In fact, it’s one of Chef Jose Andres restaurants. The food is authentic Mediterranean dishes paired with a modern dining experience. Reservations are recommended, especially during the weekends. Take a taxi or exit the metro center station for a four minute walk to the restaurant. Check out the Yelp reviews.

Pro Tip:

Get a taste of everything and enjoy the food tour $65 pp

{Best Museums to Visit}

Pro Tip: The museums can easily get packed with people. If possible, avoid weekends. Try to go first thing in the morning or go against the traffic and start from the top floor and make your way down. The museums are massive, so expect to explore each museum for 2 – 3 hours, maybe even longer. Although I’ve listed must-see museums, there are still many more highly rated museums and galleries not included in this post. Visit the main Smithsonian website for a full list.

1) Newsuem

This is the only museum that charges for admission because it’s not part of the Smithsonian. Don’t skip this one. It’s one of the few museums with a ton of galleries and interactive components showcasing the evolution of free speech. It’s 100% worth the money spent. The raving reviews should be plenty to convince you.

2) Smithsonian Natural Museum of Natural History

FREE ADMISSION. If you love animals and natural history, you won’t want to miss this one. The museum features a remarkable 126 million natural science specimens. More specifically, the museum houses 30 million insects, 4 million plant species, 7 million fish, 2 million cultural artifacts, and ancient life forms of dinosaurs, just to name a few.

3) Natural Air and Space Museum

FREE ADMISSION. This is another highly rated museum. Here, you’ll find the largest and most awe dropping aviation and space artifacts, both from recent and past expeditions. Even if you don’t have a love for space or aircrafts, you’ll find this museum pretty awesome after you step in a spacecraft that landed on the moon. Don’t forget to look up as there are floating, now retired, spaceships hanging from the ceiling.

4) United States Holocaust Memorial

FREE ADMISSION. This is a heartfelt memorial, one that may leave you teary eye. But, the creators of the memorial want it that way. The museum is referred to as a “living memorial,” one that inspires citizens and worldwide leaders to take a stand against hatred and prevent genocide. More importantly, the memorial hopes to instill a sense of human dignity. Although heavy focus is on what happened to the Jews in Europe, there is significant emphasis on past and present genocide from all over the world, and is a must see by any human living on this planet.

5) National Museum of African American History and Culture

FREE ADMISSION. This was being built while I was living in Washington D.C. and I moved away before time of completion. According to the website, it’s “the only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, history, and culture.” Check out the raving reviews here.

{Additional Sites to Visit}

1) Lincoln Memorial

FREE. Majestic and enormous as the memorial, Lincoln represents both. The nineteen-foot tall statue is enclosed in a chamber inspired by a temple in ancient Greece called the Parthenon. Best time to visit Lincoln memorial, is at sunrise or sunset. And, who knows, it may just be you and Lincoln hanging out.

2) Washington Monument

FREE. The 555-foot monument that towers over D.C. was built to honor our first President, George Washington. As the tallest monument in D.C., many believe George Washington will always be able to keep a close eye over the country he helped built. Before the 2016 earthquake, visitors were able to walk to the top of the monument for a bird’s eye view of Washington. Unfortunately, the monument is [still] under construction until Spring 2019. For now, it’s a monument to admire from afar.

3) World War II/Korean/Vietnam War Memorial

FREE. You most likely will pass one, if not all war memorials while exploring the other monuments. Take a few minutes, and give thanks to the men and women who served our country, who are still serving our country, and for all the lives lost for the price of freedom. For any war vets from WWII, Korean, or the Vietnam war, there is a service called Honor Flight that will pay for a vet’s flight to visit their war memorial.

4) The United States Capitol

FREE ADMISSION. Located at the eastern end of the National Mall, it’s a building worth visiting. It’s home to Congress men and women, house of representatives, and senators. It’s where laws are voted in or out. Tours in the U.S. Capitol are free, and recommended that you make a reservation in advance. If Congress is in session, I would highly suggest contacting your state representative or senator to obtain passes to see legislative history being made.

5) Eastern Market

FREE. Operated since 1873, this is one of the oldest markets still going strong today with farmers, artists, florists, bakers, and other vendors selling their goods and crafts. Eastern Market indoor market is open Tuesday – Fridays (check the schedule). Over the weekends, the market becomes alive with tons of outdoor vendors parked on the streets and all over the terrace.

**Download a 3-day itinerary for your trip to Washington D.C.

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Comments
  • RADBRO

    great post! Great city!

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