Regardless of your stance on politics, Washington, D.C. is a charming town worth getting to know. After all, beyond the curtains of unsavory political theater, the city is also a bona fide cultural capital full of luxurious fine-dining restaurants, world-class art galleries, and intimate cocktail bars where you might just rub shoulders with lawmaking elites.
Of course, you can get your required dose of history and government touring the majestic, marble-columned attractions downtown, from the White House to Capitol Hill. But don’t forget to explore to the city’s trendy neighborhoods to see how locals unwind off the clock. From brasserie brunches to Filipino delicacies, we’ve broken down an ideal 48-hour itinerary for first-time visitors and D.C. regulars alike.
Opened this past September near the National Mall, Eaton Workshop's D.C. hotel, Eaton D.C., is the first of a new global lifestyle concept that bridges hospitality, design, and social activism. The brainchild of Langham Hospitality Group heiress and former executive director Katherine Lo, the groundbreaking property goes far beyond the usual hotel fare, showcasing expansive murals and artwork curated by renowned U Street artist Sheldon Scott, screening films in its 50-seat cinema, and broadcasting a radio station from its in-house studio.
At Eaton’s on-site restaurant American Son, chef Tim Ma, known for his work at the Michelin Bib Gourmand-recognized Kyirisan, delivers a stunning, vegetable-forward ode to his tough Chinese-American upbringing using produce from an on-site garden. The beverage program includes a third wave coffee shop and wellness cafe, Kintsugi; a sprawling indoor-outdoor rooftop music venue, Wild Days; and a lobby speakeasy, Allegory.
D.C. is a work-hard, play-hard city with some of the country’s best bars and nightlife. You could start your night in a more intimate setting at Bloomingdale’s Truxton Inn, modeled after an old-school inn and fitted with an outdoor patio. Here, veteran barman Brian Nixon oversees a rotating selection of classics and originals like the standout JFK on Vacay, fusing white rum and rhum agricole with pineapple, passionfruit, and mulling spices. Or head over to Jack Rose Dining Saloon, the acclaimed Adams Morgan gastro-bar touting an extensive whiskey selection, craft beers, and cocktails to be soaked up with gut-sticking ham biscuits.
Later, don your night-on-the-town look and head south to Dupont Circle, a nightlife hub, for drink and dance at the vintage-fitted Eighteenth Street Lounge, a refurbished townhouse divided into a series of small bars and one downtown cocktail lounge called Addendum. Music lovers will also appreciate the nearby Decades, a spacious four-level bar paying homage to the hits of the past three decades. Or, if a champagne parade is more your speed, try the award-winning Heist, an opulent, bank heist-themed (yup) nightclub where the DJ booth features a 24-karat gold buffalo skull.
Beyond the usual club-and-lounge staples, plan your trip to D.C. around one of its many events and festivals—notable among these is the Opus Merriweather, an immersive woodland gathering of some 15,000 revelers near Columbia, Maryland. (This year’s theme promises a 75-foot laser cathedral and 16-foot-tall animated owl inspired by the hit film, Blade Runner).
Enjoy a brasserie-style brunch in the shaded sidewalk seating area at Le Diplomate, the beloved restaurant of James Beard-awarded Stephen Starr—highlights range from poached eggs basquaise to a trussed-up take on jambon beurre. Or trade classic French for coastal Italian at Fiola Mare, a Georgetown stunner where the smartly-dressed enjoy plates like Alaskan king crab spaghetti and decadent raviolo carbonara filled with egg yolk. Afterwards, take a walk around the nearby waterfront ‘hood—once home to JFK and Jackie Kennedy—too see some of the city’s most famous Federalist architecture.
For dinner, brave the lines at Bad Saint, the Filipino-American critical darling boasting a rotating menu of traditional classics and modern interpretations, including catfish with kalamansi and longganisa sausages. (Note that the restaurant only accommodates walk-ins, in parties of four or less). Or, if you’re a David Chang fan, head to Momofuku CCDC, where a new executive chef, Tae Strain, is making waves with his innovative, rotisserie-centric fare—think dry-spiced chicken, porchetta, and prime beef. Sides skew global, from Mexican street corn to a now-iconic Chinese-inspired flatbread accompanied by cultured butter and Carolina trout dip.
First timers should take time to visit D.C.’s political and historical sites, found along the grassy strip called the National Mall—here, the Washington Monument obelisk and Lincoln Memorial provide plenty of outdoor photo opportunities. For those wishing to pay respects to our veterans, the World War II Memorial and Vietnam Veterans Memorial stand proudly in memory of those who sacrificed their lives for our freedoms.
History buffs will do well to check out the exhibits at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and the National Archives Museum, while culture vultures head to the National Gallery—the museum’s West Wing spans the medieval period to pre-20th century American artists, while the East Wing, designed by I.M. Pei, spotlighting the modern works of Picasso, Pollock, Warhol, and others. Contemporary art lovers should also plan a stop to the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, offering the likes of artists ranging from Matisse to Rothko.
After you’ve had your fill of museums, venture to D.C.’s vibrant up-and-coming neighborhoods for a taste of local culture. In Brookland, the Arts Walk at Monroe Street Market hawks locally-crafted goods, ceramic wares, and jewelry. Meanwhile, Ivy City’s once rough-and-tumble streets are now home to a burgeoning food and drink scene: the Michelin-nodded Ivy City Smokehouse naturally celebrates all-things smoked while City Winery and New Columbia Distillers present ample boozing opportunities. End your trip to D.C. paddleboarding and kayaking along the Potomac at sunset.
Photography via Facebook.com/TruxtonInn; via Facebook.com/lediplomatedc