Located midway along the eastern seaboard of the United States, south of Maryland, north of Virginia, Washington's District of Columbia encompasses 67 square miles and is divided into four quadrants: Northwest, Southwest, Northeast, and Southeast. The U.S. Capitol building marks the center where the quadrants meet.
Washington D.C.'s history began to take shape in 1791 when Congress decided to build a capital city on the Potomac, chosen as a natural midpoint that would satisfy both northern and southern states and its close proximity to George Washington's home in Mount Vernon. At this time, it was already being referred to as "the city of Washington." Maryland and Virginia agreed to cede land to create the District of Columbia (named for Christopher Columbus). Construction began two years later on the U.S. Capitol in 1793.
Washington, D.C. is a city of approximately 600,000 people, which combines the core elements of the nation's history through its many renowned government buildings, monuments, memorials, and museums, while also possessing an abundance of colorful neighborhoods, art, theater, music, and contemporary culture. It welcomes millions of tourists every year, packing its famous sights and free attractions.
Washington D.C. embodies all four of the seasonal extremes, experiencing warm weather usually from April until as late as October when temperatures reach into the mid to upper 60s F, and drop to just below 50. The summer weather peaks in June through August with high temperatures to the upper 80s, while winter remains relatively short with temperatures from December through February ranging from just below 30 degrees to the upper 40s, with a usual result of more rain than snow.
Beyond the inspiring monuments and political public figures, Washington D.C. is a city filled with historic homes and hip boutiques, small museums and spectacular gardens. Its many neighborhoods are ideal for walking tours.
Constitution Gardens ( ; www.nps.gov/coga), located at The Mall, near 19th Street, are a testament to the founding of the republic as well as a 50-acre oasis in the middle of a busy city. The gardens were dedicated in May of 1976 as a living legacy American Revolution Bicentennial tribute. On September 17, 1986, in honor of the Bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution, President Ronald Reagan issued a proclamation making Constitution Gardens a living legacy tribute to the Constitution. As a means of interpreting and celebrating the Constitution, the National Park Service hosts an annual naturalization ceremony for new citizens. Constitution Gardens is open dawn to dusk year round and is home to a wide variety of urban wildlife.
The largest building in Washington D.C. may not immediately come to mind to most people, nor may it be on the top of everyone's "must-see" list of monuments at first glance. But at 3.1 million square feet and housing a multitude of politically significant events and visitor friendly attractions, the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center (1300 Pennsylvania Ave., NW; ;www.itcdc.com) is worthy of both. The center brings together the country's best public and private resources to create a national forum for the advancement of trade. Weekly tours are available where magnificent architectural design and major works of art can be viewed. Open-air dining and entertainment can be found in the nearby Woodrow Wilson Plaza. In the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, students of international trade are welcome to peruse a variety of onsite learning resources.
Explore interactive exhibits about disguise, surveillance, threat analysis, and more at the International Spy Museum (800 F St., NW; ; www.spymuseum.org), where the world's largest collection of international espionage artifacts appear for public display. The museum's programs chronicle the history of spying up to the present through a variety of lectures, symposiums, screenings, and family-friendly events. Learn about agent recruitment and living undercover, decipher top-secret codes, test your skill with the essential spy gadgets, and more. Museum operating hours vary; visit the website for more details.
The Discovery Theater (1100 Jefferson Dr., SW, S. Dillon Riple Center; ;www.discoverytheater.org), located in the Ripley Center on the National Mall, specializes in live performing arts for young people. More than 300 performances of 30 different programs are produced annually in a variety of forms and topics that include music, storytelling, puppets, dancers, actors, musicians, and mimes all presenting classic stories for children.
A relaxing change of pace can be found slightly below sea level in the basement of the U.S. Department of Commerce Building. The National Aquarium (14th St. between Pennsylvania Ave. and Constitution Ave., NW; ; www.nationalaquarium.com) is the oldest aquarium in the country, having first arrived in 1889. The aquarium contains 50 tanks displaying more than 200 species of salt and fresh water fish. Daily events include animal keeper talks and animal feedings. Special events such as Shark Day and Reptile Day take place throughout the year. The National Aquarium is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The nation's capital is more than just a mass of marble. There is an active cultural community in D.C. with special exhibits spanning the arts, history and science, plus a performing arts segment that rivals that of New York City in number of theater seats.
The Smithsonian Institution (www.si.edu), located on the National Mall, is the world's largest museum and research complex, featuring 19 museums and galleries and the National Zoological Park. The Smithsonian Institution Building, commonly known as the "Castle," is the symbolic standout of the Smithsonian's first home and the oldest of the museums. It is a Norman-style red sandstone building which houses the administration offices of the Institution as well as a visitor's center, an orientation theater, scale models of Washington's monumental core, interactive touch-screen programs and electronic wall maps, plus multilingual information and assistance. Call for more information.
A block away from the U.S. Capitol lays a striking Art Deco building that houses the world's largest collection of early Shakespeare plays. Opened in 1932, the Folger Shakespeare Library (201 E. Capitol St., SE; ; www.folger.edu) features a collection of more than 275,000 items including rare Renaissance books, paintings, musical instruments, costumes, and films. It is a center for scholars as well as public activities. The Shakespeare Gallery welcomes visitors with a 17-minute video wrought with Shakespearian film scenes. Nearby, exhibitions are presented in the Great Hall where material from the library's vast collections is continually displayed. The 250-seat Elizabethan Theater is the site for numerous plays, concerts, poetry readings, and family programs.
Presenting plays and musicals that highlight family values and celebrate the character of America's cultural heritage, Ford's Theatre (511 10th St., NW; ; www.fordstheatre.org) stands proudly as a living tribute to Abraham Lincoln's love of the performing arts. On the fateful evening of April 14, 1865, President Lincoln was in attendance for Our American Cousin when John Wilkes Booth fired a shot that shocked the nation and shut down a landmark. Nearly a hundred years later, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a Congressional act to restore the theater, which reopened in 1968. With productions taking place from September through June, Ford's is both a working theater and a historical monument open to the public.
Every year millions of visitors come to hike or bike the C&O Canal (1850 Dual Hgwy., #100; Hagerstown, MD; ; www.nps.gov/choh) to enjoy the natural, cultural and recreational opportunities. The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal stretches 184.5 miles from Georgetown to Cumberland, Maryland. Ranger-led programs and Canal boat trips are available April through October, and wide towpaths that run alongside local towns with scenic views of the Potomac are open to bikers, joggers and hikers. Serving as a primary transport route for coal in the early stages of the nation's history up to the early 20th century, hundreds of the canal's original structures serve as reminders of its initial significance. A variety of special events take place throughout the year.
Known locally as the "Best Drive off I-95," the Cross Creek Golf Club (12800 Bay Hill Dr., Beltsville, MD; 301-595-8901 ; www.crosscreekgolfclub.net) offers 18-hole championship golfing in the heart of the Baltimore/Washington corridor amidst a naturally forested and challenging landscape. Located in a quiet residential community, the course is carefully laid out to provide a balance with the area's environmental beauty among its numerous creeks, ponds and elevation changes, with a unique design that's more akin to the spirit of the Southwest than the lowlands of Maryland. The Clubhouse offers an outdoor patio for dining or cocktails along with a scenic view of the course.
Enjoy a family outing and soak up some sun in your own pedal boat from Tidal Basin Paddle Boats(1501 Maine Ave., SW; ; www.tidalbasinpaddleboats.com). View magnificent landmarks and scenic landscapes like the Jefferson Memorial and Washington Monument or the beautiful Japanese Cherry Trees right from the water.
From historic luxury hotels and charming inns to family-friendly hotels from national brands, Washington, D.C.'s ever growing hotel inventory is certain to meet the needs of every traveler.
Located in the heart of Washington, D.C.'s most fashionable district, The Georgetown Inn (1310 Wisconsin Ave., NW; ; www.georgetowncollection.com) is within easy reach of world-class shopping, dining and entertainment, This European boutique-styled property offers easy access to all of the city's monuments, museums, theaters, and main transportation arteries. A relaxing stroll along the historic C&O Canal is only moments away. Since 1961, The Georgetown Inn has been recognized among the finest in Georgetown, providing accommodations to guests such as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.
The Jefferson - Washington, D.C. (1200 16th St., NW; ;www.thejeffersonwashingtondc.com) is an intimate, eight-story, 100-room luxury hotel centrally located in the heart of the nation's capital, just four blocks from the White house. Rich in old-world accents and historic details, the hotel's interior design features elegant antiques that meld a stately setting with timeless comfort. The Jefferson is also home to an exceptional collection of American art and rare documents signed by Jefferson on display. The AAA-rated Four-Diamond award winning property also features theZagat-rated Jefferson Restaurant and presidential style lounge suitably attired for a 17th-century Founding Father.
Known as the "Crown Jewel of Pennsylvania Avenue" as characterized by its majestic columns and artful mosaics, the Willard InterContinental Washington (1401 Pennsylvania Ave., NW; ; http://washington.intercontinental.com) combines heritage and luxury with modern comfort. The AAA-rated Four-Diamond hotel offers 334 guest rooms, including 40 suites, nearly 20,000 square feet of function space, and the historic Round Robin Bar, where Henry Clay first introduced the city to the mint julep. The hotel is within walking distance to several Washington theater districts and sightseeing attractions.
Upscale boutiques, cozy antiques shops and vibrant outdoor markets abound in Washington, D.C.'s neighborhoods. From great malls in Georgetown to Bohemian shopping in Adams Morgan and world-famous outlet complexes, Washington, D.C. is truly a shopper's paradise.
The Shops at Georgetown Park (3222 M Street, NW; www.shopsatgeorgetownpark.com) is a Victorian-style shopping center housing more than 100 shops and boutiques. Built in the 1800s, this historic site once held horse-drawn omnibuses and was later used for servicing electric streetcars and trolleys.
Looking beyond the intersection of Wisconsin Ave and M St., NW, shoppers will find block after block of clothing boutiques, antiques dealers, galleries, gourmet-food shops, bookstores, and salons. Although the neighborhood is swank, many stores are moderately priced to attract tourists and Georgetown University students.
The National Mall is as much a shopping destination as a sightseeing one. All the museums here-even the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum-operate gift and souvenir shops. Federal agencies on the Mall's fringes also have shops, which sell publications and souvenirs related to their functions. Don't miss the vendor carts that set up on the Mall's fringes along Constitution and Independence avenues, especially if you are looking for any D.C.-related articles.
The main drag of the Adams-Morgan area, on 18th St., NW, is lined with old townhouses where shoppers will find vintage and modern clothing boutiques, music stores, and funky thrift shops full of retro treasures. Ethnic markets and omnibus discount stores yield votive candles, frilly dresses, housewares, Latin food items, and even CDs and videos. The New U area, around U and 14th streets, NW, has a much smaller but similar collection of shops, several of which specialize in African items such as masks and wooden carvings.
Arundel Mills (7000 Arundel Mills Cir., Hanover, MD; ; www.arundelmills.com) is the Baltimore-Washington, D.C. area's ultimate shopping, dining and entertainment destination, featuring more than 225 specialty retailers, a variety of theme and casual dining restaurants, and cutting-edge entertainment venues including the Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament.
Although the capital has plenty of classical music, D.C.'s music scene really thrives in bars and clubs. Washingtonians have long had a love affair with jazz and blues, but in this most international of American cities, you'll also find abundant places to groove to reggae, salsa, African beats, and world-music fusion.
Georgetown's preeminent jazz and blues club, Blues Alley (1073 Wisconsin Ave., NW; ; www.bluesalley.com) sits in a modest brick building in an alley off Wisconsin. This elegant, candlelit supper club has attracted such artists as Ahmad Jamal, Nancy Wilson, Wynton Marsalis, and the late Dizzy Gillespie. A $10 minimum per person purchase from Blues Alley's New Orleans and Creole-influenced menu is required. That, coupled with a $25 to $35 range in ticket prices, can make Blues Alley an expensive evening out, but the food and music makes it worthwhile. Open until 12.30 a.m. daily.
Metrorail and Metrobus provide the safest and most efficient way of getting around Washington, D.C. and the metropolitan area. Five rail lines and an extensive bus system connect the District with the Maryland and Virginia suburbs. Route maps are posted at each station and inside each subway car. For more information including schedules for connecting Metrobus service, locations of Metro sales offices and other public transportation call Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority at or visit www.metroopensdoors.com.
A service of the Cultural Alliance of Greater Washington in partnership with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the TICKETplace (407 Seventh St., NW, between D and E streets;www.ticketplace.org) is Washington's only authorized discounted ticket outlet for arts organizations. Service charges do apply varying from point of purchase, and tickets for events are sold on a first come first served basis.
Bangkok Joe’s, on Georgetown's waterfront, marries Thai street food to American home cooking. The result: a lively presentation of rice, noodle and grilled items in a trendy but comfortable setting. The oversized windows, high ceilings and cream-colored walls create an airy feel and the booths on raised platforms lining one wall offer cozy seating for four and creates an altogether chic extravagant design to the interior. The must-have item: dumplings. The menu states that “Life without dumplings is not worth living” and the innovative delicacies, available from a menu of more than 12 types, prove the proverb. Choose from such interesting combinations as lobster and pine nuts with the fruit plus a spicy ginger soy sauce and tarragon.
3000 K St., NW
The Bombay Club serves impeccable Indian food within an upscale atmosphere. With its potted palms, piano player and leather banquettes, the place feels more like an English club in the Colonial era than a restaurant. The downtown location near the White House, as well as its cuisine, made the Bombay Club a favorite evening out for the Clintons, and it has been the recipient of numerous awards in culinary excellence and service from such sources as Conde Nast Traveler, The Washington Post and USA Today. You won't be able to resist the Bombay thali, an assortment of seven vegetarian dishes. Cap off dinner with any one of a dazzling display of desserts including the gulab jamun, which is a dumpling dipped in rose flavored syrup, or carrot halwa, an Indian carrot pudding.
815 Connecticut Ave., NW
Officially, Cafe Atlantico dubs its menu “contemporary cuisine inspired by the Nuevo Latino cooking style.” That translates to innovative dishes that mix and match the sauces, herbs, fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, and cooking styles of the Caribbean and Central and South America. Beef might be accompanied by fried yuca with a chile, lime and garlic sauce and a grilled salmon might have a garnish of tropical fruits. Cafe Atlantico, just blocks from the Shakespeare Theater, also offers a nicely priced pre-theater menu as well as an upstairs "minibar" offering an intimate tasting adventure presented by the chef; advance reservations are required.
405 8th St., NW
At Ceiba, chef Jeff Tunks works his magic on contemporary Latin American-Caribbean cuisine, especially the dishes of the Yucatan, Brazil, Peru, and Cuba. Named after the region’s umbrella-shaped tree, the restaurant has a decor of earth tones—rust, cream, ice blue, and sage—with splashes of color from Mexican tiles, murals of scarlet macaws and banquettes upholstered with a palm frond and orchid print. Standout appetizers include the shrimp, halibut or tuna ceviches, the carpaccio of smoked swordfish, the Jamaican crab fritters as well as the duck empanadas with raisins and olives. Good bets for entrees are the whole crispy red snapper Vera Cruz topped with tomatoes, olives and pickled jalapenos as well as the seared scallops La Planacha served with black bean masa gnocchi and roasted sweet corn sauce.
For dessert try the Cuban flan and cinnamon-dusted Mexican churros served with a hot chocolate shooter, and top it all off with an excursion into a Latin American spirit.
701 14th St., NW
Known mainly for its seafood offerings, DC Coast remains one of Washington’s favorite restaurants, and under the direction of executive chef Brendan Cox it continues to serve an inventive menu. The classic Beaux-Arts style architecture makes for a sophisticated environment for the lovely meal to come. Start with the steamed Blue Hill Bay Mussels as an appetizer, or perhaps go for the DC Coast Salad, a clever combination of Benton smoked bacon, hard-boiled egg, radish, and tomato all mixed together with blue cheese and Lorenzo dressing. Or try the classic Caesar salad with a twist, a heap of crispy fried oysters. The mains include a Chinese-style lobster, line caught striped bass and plenty of other options. Classic food in a classic setting—DC-style.
1401 K St., NW
Authentic Spanish tapas, some 60 different hot and cold varieties, are on offer at Jaleo, where Jose Andres directs the menu. In Spanish, Jaleo means “uproar, revelry, merry-making” and that aptly describes the atmosphere of this popular casual, yet upscale restaurant. With Downtown, Bethesda and Crystal City locations, each venue offers a mix of Spanish “little plates” as well as Spanish wines.
480 Seventh Street, NW
Elegant, intimate, sophisticated. These words describe a Washington restaurant that brings French cuisine to a city where menus offer visitors and the newly local politicos a wide range of great options. Marcel’s is a quiet spot with cozy, completely elegant red banquettes and soft lighting. The chef prepares all the best sauces, and three-, four-, five-, and seven-course menus are on offer with Alaskan crab legs or medallions of lamb in phyllo with spinach among the tasty dishes. Or try the three-course pre-theater dinner for a great deal.
2401 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Oceanaire Seafood Room
Oceanaire Seafood Room suggests a 1930s ocean liner. Each oversized entree can easily feed two people. Share a salad or soup such as the New England clam chowder, then check into one of the signature items including the pan-roasted Chilean sea bass with cous cous, pesto and sun-dried tomatoes, grilled yellowfin “ahi” tuna with wild mushrooms, whole crispy Icelandic Artic char, and a virtually all-crab Chesapeake Bay crabcake nearly as big as a baseball. The portions are indeed hefty and the price is in kind, but it's all so very satisfying.
Oceanaire Seafood Room
1201 F Street, NW
With its Art Deco-like curvilinear booths, cherry walls and lighting fixtures, the Palena, located in a strip mall uptown in Cleveland Park, looks plain on the outside, but walk in anyway. The Italian-inspired decor features a well-placed table under a wall fountain in the back room. The restaurant serves a memorable mix of Italian and French-inspired fare from a constantly changing menu that features several non-traditional pairings, which can be sampled with the nightly tasting menu. The gnocchi is to die for. Other specialties include the Arctic char and lobster served over lentils and the squab grilled with Moroccan spices.
3529 Connecticut Ave., NW
Georgetown’s 1789 Restaurant has an old-fashioned setting, an old stone hearth and inviting meals. But now, with a young chef, Daniel Giusti, and a young pastry chef, Travis Olson, it’s the place to be today. It’s also a great place for a private meal and traditional fare. Try the classic rack of lamb served with crisp zucchini blossoms, roasted eggplant puree, pattypan squash, olives, and white anchovies or indulge in the Chesapeake Bay rock fish served with crispy pork belly, heirloom tomatoes, local white corn, and Belgian endive. A great dessert choice is honey fritters served with raspberry and vanilla ice cream.
1226 36th St., NW
Located in the heart of Washington, D.C. at Tenth Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, TenPenh is inspired by the bistro-style restaurants of Hong Kong in the 1930s. With a bar shaped like an Asian gate and décor directed by a Feng Shui Master, the owners of this upscale southeast-Asian restaurant also run three other D.C. establishments including DC Coast and Acadiana. Try the signature crispy whole fish with cucumber salad and tamarind dipping sauce or the five spice chili tea rubbed steak tenderloin. For savory side dishes, order the jasmine rice or wasabi mashed potatoes, and don’t overlook dessert especially the Saigon cinnamon sugar dusted donuts.
1001 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Zaytinya, a Turkish word for olive oil, is a trendy Penn Quarter restaurant of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine built to handle the crowds that come for Wizards games and rock concerts, yet still manages to feel friendly despite its large scale. Rows of candles cast a soft glow on diners, and the place is atmospheric and fun. It's also noisy and boisterous, especially if you find yourself seated near the bar. Mezze, appetizer sized portions of Mediterranean-inspired food meant for "middle of the day" dominate the menu with hot and cold selections that are both classical and contemporary. The restaurant's rhythm is taste and talk as you sample plates of eggplant with tomatoes and olive oil, rice with pistachios and dates, octopus in red wine sauce, braised rabbit with lentils, spanakopita, zucchini cakes, and lots more. Outside seating is available during summertime.
701 Ninth St., NW