I had the wonderful opportunity to live in Washington D.C. for roughly two months this past summer and, needless to say, I grew to utterly adore this city and its surrounding areas. D.C. caught me off guard and blew my socks off – I was in disbelief at just how much this place has to offer EVERYONE. The options for just about EVERYTHING are boundless. Travel for mouthwatering food? The food scene here is off-the-chain amazing. Wish to delve into art and history? The museums are endless. Nightlife? You bet – it’s fantastic! Whatever it is you seek throughout your travels you are sure to discover in Washington D.C. and this is exactly why it is a stellar destination for EVERYONE to explore…
An Endless Sea of Museums and Monuments to Visit
(Pssst, here’s a bonus: a lot of them are FREE!)
One can effortlessly spend an entire weekend roaming around these national treasures and it just so happens to be the perfect activity for those pesky bad weathered days. The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History is a massive, multi-leveled museum full of halls and exhibits ranging from: Human Origins to Bone Hall; Ancient Egypt to the Hall of Geology, Gems and Minerals; Dinosaurs to Sea Monsters plus so much more. As a visitor, you will witness the evolution of life and learn invaluable information regarding our impact, both in the past and present. It’s such a fascinating and world-class museum. Oh, and the cost of admission? $0. 🙂
Need some art in your life? Another must-see and FREE museum to check out is the National Gallery of Art. Stunning collections of paintings by world-renowned artists (van Gogh, Rembrandt, Monet, Picasso, da Vinci, and Raphael to name a few) will captivate you for hours.
One of my favorite works that completely enchanted me was a collection by Thomas Cole titled “The Voyage of Life”. Each piece represents a stage of life, beginning with childhood and ending with old age. Furthermore, each piece brought about incredibly different yet poignant feelings of nostalgia, melancholy, hope, joy, wonder etc. Perhaps what fascinated me most about these pieces were the way they were able to simultaneously fill me with a sense of relatability and mystery. I’m not sure I’ve ever been so captivated by a paint collection before in my life. Thus, this was a monumental experience for me.
“The Voyage of Life” by Thomas Cole
I’ve briefly covered history and art, how about a museum to whet your explorative and adventuresome appetite? The National Geographic Museum was another personal favorite of mine where I read about mind-blowing and inspirational discoveries and ground-breaking explorations all accompanied by unparalleled photography. Even more, the museum changes its featured exhibition seasonally so there’s always something new to uncover here! I happened to stumble in during their “Queens of Egypt” exhibit and was extraordinarily delighted, especially since I’ve recently been infatuated with traveling to Egypt (talk about the perfect inspo). Now, to enter the seasonal exhibit, the museum does charge $15 but, even though this isn’t a free museum like the others, it was undoubtedly worth the paid visit.
The final place I’m going to cover in this segment before redirecting you to a more comprehensive museum list is, of course…
The National Mall
The National Mall and Memorial Parks is perhaps one of my favorite areas for exploring, learning, relaxing and deep-thinking in all of D.C. Overflowing with profundity, the National Mall contains an impactful array of monuments and memorials including but not limited to: Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, WWII Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial, Thomas Jefferson Memorial, Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial and more! All of these places are beautiful and haunting – evoking emotions of pride, gratitude, sadness, love and loss. The mighty Potomac River runs through and an abundance of flora line these scenic grounds. Picnic, anyone?
What’s even more spectacular regarding the National Mall? There’s always an event or gathering to attend such as a live concert or a live showing. Care to watch a live showing of the moon landing projected upon the Washington Monument? This place is chock-full of such rad experiences.
Since I could easily write an entire post on the museums alone, I’ll spare the endless list and direct you to this fantastic site which contains fifteen of D.C.’s FREE, can’t-miss museums → Free Museums to Visit in Washington D.C.
The Places and Opportunities for Recreational and Outdoor Fun are Aplenty
If you are at all similar to me, then you certainly crave some good ole fashioned outdoor adventures when you travel. Who would’ve thought there’d be so many stunning naturescapes next-door to D.C.? I know I was definitely taken by surprise when I discovered such gems as Great Falls Park. Here I spent the most magical day hiking in the woods alongside the rapid Potomac + cascading falls. Furthermore, I climbed all over the jagged, steep and abundant rocks of Mather Gorge. The entire scene magically pulled me into another world far removed from the hustle + bustle of the city (even though it’s only 15 miles away). Not only did I feel far removed from the city, but I felt as if I had been transported to Central/South America. Great Falls is a land that refuses to fit in with the crowd and unconventionally stands out amongst it’s neighboring lands in the most beautifully unique way.
Although there’s a plethora of trails, I most enjoyed hiking the River Trail which runs along the clifftops of Mather Gorge offering top notch views the whole way through. It’s a rather short hike (approximately 3 miles roundtrip) but rated moderate-difficult due to some required scrambling.
There is an entrance fee to the park as it is a part of the NPS. It costs $15 for a vehicle permit or $7 for an individual permit (if you are not entering via vehicle). However, if you happen to have an annual park pass, that’ll get you into the park just the same.
Shenandoah National Park is another beautiful haven located 75 miles from the city – a worthwhile day trip, no doubt! You get the best of both worlds: climbing on boulders along a river gorge one day (Great Falls) then visiting the rolling mountains full of wildlife and adventure the next (Shenandoah)! Shenandoah offers its visitors the simplicity of driving along Skyline Drive, stopping at one jaw-dropping scenic vista after another, or simply having a serene picnic in a secluded hollow. Yet, if it’s adventure you’re after, she has 500 miles of hiking trails for you to choose from as well – she is famous for being a massive hiking hub.
Park entrance fee (unless you already have an annual pass) costs $30 per vehicle.
Not satisfied with merely hiking gorge + mountain trails? No worries! There’s an adventure to suit every person’s desires from playing paintball to kayaking along the Potomac.
Speaking of paintball, I highly recommend playing some fun-filled rounds at Hogback Mountain Paintball with friends and/or family. We happened to gather a big group from our tv crew forming two teams of ten players each. We played a dozen or so matches in a variety of courses; army crawling through the woods and ducking behind tree piles to climbing over wooden bridges and standing behind barrels. It was a total RIOT. The immense fun I had justified my many bruises in the end.
On the subject of fun..
It’s easy (and fun) to get around in D.C.
Not only does D.C. offer a multitude of public and private transportation methods (metro, public bus, Uber, Lyft, taxi etc), but it’s also impressively stocked with electric scooters available for public use via smart phone apps. On every block, you’re guaranteed to find scooters scattered along the sidewalks. All you have to do is pick one, scan it with the appropriate app and be on your way! The scooters range from 12-16 mph (at top speed) and last for up to 15-20 miles. The existing electric scooter brands/apps I’ve come across are: Bird, Lime, Razor, Uber (Jump), Lyft, Spin, and Bolt. My go-to scooter being the Lime ones due to their condition, size and reliability. However, I swear to you that the Birds go the fastest (perhaps tied with Bolt). The Razors have the largest wheels which make off-roading (like in grass) much easier AND you’ll feel any road cracks/potholes much less. Regardless of which you choose, you’ll have more fun commuting around the city than ever before thanks to these bad boys! I swear these scooters made my time in D.C. exponentially greater.
The Food Scene is UNREAL
No matter what kind of dish you’re looking to dive into, D.C.’s food scene has got you covered. Want delicious, unrivaled dessert? Head to the gourmet and famous Georgetown Cupcake. Looking for a treat to cool off with? Make a pit stop at Nicecream for a scoop (or two) of their hand-crafted and locally sourced ice cream frozen right on the spot. It’s pretty darn cool (no pun intended) to watch your dessert being made in front of your very own eyes.
There are no shortages of healthy options and vegan restaurants either! One of my favorite food stops I’d swing by on the regular was a French Cafe called Le Pain Quotidien where I’d order a refreshing + freshly squeezed lemonade paired with either a tasty tartine or their delectable Zucchini Noodle Pad Thai.
Speaking of Thai, I had a super scrumptious and solo Thai dinner outside on the patio while people-watching at Sawatdee Thai Restaurant and I enjoyed the best Bao I’ve eaten to-date at the nearby restaurant, Bar Bao (both located across the river from downtown in Arlington, VA).
The food truck variety in D.C. is equally as impressive as its restaurant selection. In the National Mall area, alone, there are streets lined up and down with trucks to choose from. This is a super convenient way to have a meal on-the-go OR to have a spontaneous picnic.
On trend with my above museum + memorial segment, this food portion could also go on and on forever (warranting a post all of its own). Thus, I will leave you with another stellar link to check out featuring some of the best restaurants in D.C. → Best Restaurants in Washington D.C.
The Nightlife is Lit
From rooftop bars to sophisticated cocktails, from grungy dives to swanky cigar bars, from college bars to Irish pubs – there’s a scene for EVERYONE and a scene to cater to ANY type of night you’re looking to have.
Ellipse Rooftop Bar is the perfect place to kick off a night! Watch the sun set over the city from an awesome vantage point while sipping a draft or cocktail in a chill and comfortable setting – complete with leather couches and soft music. Guests here dress anywhere from business casual to cocktail attire so it doesn’t matter where you’re headed next – you’re sure to fit in just fine.
I had my best-loved cocktail at the downtown bar (not far from Ellipse Rooftop Bar) called Opaline. This rather upscale joint is worth the extra money because…you get what you pay for, duh! And I happily sipped on their to-die-for FRENCH APERITIF cocktail made with Hendrick’s Gin, Lillet Blanc, St Germain and Lemon Zest. It was the perfect mix!
Shelly’s Back Room is a cigar bar complete with an extensive whiskey list. Though I’m no cigar aficionado, I still puffed on one my husband picked out while enjoying some drinks with friends in a comfortable, old-school atmosphere. In fact, the atmosphere was so old-school that I almost thought I shouldn’t be “allowed” there – it looked uncannily similar to all those “men only” cigar lounges I’ve seen in countless movie scenes from the early 1900s.
Enough of the boujee scene..let’s really party! Take a Lyft to Arlington and hit up Bar Bao (yes, the delicious restaurant I mentioned above incredulously turns into a hopping night club after 11pm). OR, my bar of choice, head on over to the lively Whitlow’s on Wilson for some live music, dancing and even a spacious rooftop tiki bar.
For more of D.C.’s Best Bars, check out this link → Best Bars in Washington D.C.
Or how about taking it up a notch? → Best Nightclubs in D.C.
Charming Neighborhoods You Could Explore for a Full Day, Alone
Georgetown. Holy wow! Georgetown is the cutest neighborhood I’ve quite possibly ever walked into among the entirety of the United States. Not only is it cute, but it’s full of things to see and do! In attempt to keep this short, let me make a quick list of musts in Georgetown:
• Play with adorable kittens who are up for adoption while you get a caffeine buzz (and who knows, perhaps take home a furry new family member) at Crumbs and Whiskers. Be sure to make a reservation beforehand via their website (linked above).
• Shop until you drop thanks to the plentiful shops that line the streets of Georgetown. If you’re fashion-obsessed, don’t miss these stylish shops → 14 Stylish Shops in Georgetown
• Obviously, grab a cupcake from Georgetown Cupcake (mentioned above) or buy some of the amazing seasonal-flavored macarons at Olivia. (I could eat these all day, every day).
• Visit Dumbarton Oaks Park
• See D.C.’s oldest standing structure: Old Stone House
• Support a cause by grabbing a pastry at Dog Tag Bakery. Its employees are veterans who work at the bakery while pursuing entrepreneurship courses through a partnership with Georgetown University.
• Rock out to some live Music at Blues Alley.
• Climb up and down the Exorcist Steps. That’s right, these stairs were the actual filming location of the infamous Father Damien Karras’ death scene in the horror classic, “The Exorcist”.
It’s Safe and Diverse
Coming from a girl who is paranoid wandering city streets alone: I FELT SO SAFE. In fact, I felt safer exploring D.C. alone than almost any other city in the U.S. I scooted and walked all over the town by myself and not once did I ever feel threatened. Not to mention, I was there for two months so I feel I’m pretty darn accurate with this assessment.
D.C.’s diversity is beautiful. You’ll meet people from all over the world and are able to share in their culture via fashion, art, food, music, communication and teachings. It’s truly a beautiful place.
In conclusion: Washington D.C. has food, art, history, nightlife, adventure, nature, recreation, transportation, culture… FOR EVERYONE. You’ll never say, “I don’t think D.C. is right for me” because, as I hope I’ve shown with this post, you’re sure to find something just for YOU and your trip. Let me know (in the comments below) what places you’ve been to that make a great destination for every type of traveler! Also, are you as in love with D.C. as I am? I swear to you, it went from being carelessly off my radar to a newfound favorite USA destination within those two months (honestly, within the first month) of me being there. ❤
Much love and happy travels,
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