Ultimate Guide to Visiting Washington, DC Like a Local

Washington, DC, The Nation’s Capital is a must visit for anyone traveling to the US or looking for a roadtrip. It is a beautiful, walkable city, (just about all of the attractions outlined here are within walking distance of each other) with a ton to do and the best thing, most activities are FREE! This blog is filled with things to do and see and all the links to find out more information about visiting Washington, DC our Nation’s Capital.

Metro Map Washington, DC

Metro Map

Transportation – Getting around the city. Though the city is incredibly walkable, there are many options to get yourself around, Uber, Taxi, Metro, Capital Bike Share, first half hour is free. Site Seeing Buses, like BigBus Tours, allow you to jump on and off the bus all day at attractions around the National Mall. Duck Boats, gives you a ducks eye view of city with their amphibious vehicles that drive on land and water. The best way to get around is the Metro, it’s the DC subway system made up of a number of lines servicing the District, Virginia and Maryland. Pro Tip: The DC Circulator now has a National Mall Route. The cost is $1, which is way cheaper than bus services like BigBus, the only difference is, you won’t get the site-seeing tour guide, just good old transportation. If you use a SmartTrip card, you can re-board the bus for free if you are within 2 hours of first boarding. You can buy the SmartTrip card for $10 in any Metro Station.

District Doughnut Washington, DC

District Doughnut

Eat – Our favorite place to eat in DC? District Doughnut at 749 8th St. SE near Eastern Market. Their gourmet donuts are tremendous and the coffee is not bad either. Our second favorite place is Busboys & Poets, which has 6 locations throughout the city. The restaurants were created as community gathering spots and feature an excellent beer selection, specialty drinks, lots of vegan options, entertainment, book stores and local art for sale. They even have an open mic night for poetry, check their schedule for more information. Pro Tip: Make sure to eat at the Mitsitam Native Foods Cafe at the National Museum of the American Indian, it’s a treasure that many people are unaware of with creative twists on traditional Native American cuisine.

Washington Monument Washington, DC

Washington Monument

1. The National Mall – There are no shops at this mall, just 2 Miles, of open green spaces that can be used for athletics, picnics, concerts and organized assembly. Part of the National Parks Service, it runs from the U.S. Capital Building to the Lincoln Memorial and separates the North West and South West quadrants of the city. The Mall includes the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial and the White House. It also includes memorials to veterans of foreign wars, World War II, Korean War and Vietnam Wall, as well as many of the Smithsonian Museums. There is no charge to visit the park and it’s open open 24 hours per day, except for some memorial closures on Christmas Day. Rangers are available daily from 9am – 10pm.  Since the Mall is part of the National Parks Service, they offer the Junior Ranger program to kids visiting the park. The Junior Ranger program is an educational program with a free book that includes games and scavenger hunts around the Mall. At the completion of the activities kids are given a National Mall badge and are sworn in as Junior Park Rangers. Pro Tip: Yes, cannabis is legal, no you can’t smoke on the Mall, it’s Federal property and they will arrest you. Use this guide from NORML to stay out of trouble.

Cherry Blossoms at the Tidal Basin Washington, DC

Cherry Blossoms at the Tidal Basin

2. Cherry Blossom Festival – The festival is held at the end of March into April and hosts food tents, entertainment and Ranger guided walks. Peak bloom is typically between March 20th and April 11th, use this link to find the latest peak bloom estimate.  The cherry trees were a gift from the Japan. The original gift of trees in 1910 had to be burned because of disease. The current trees were a subsequent gift made two years later. Pro Tip: Rent a paddle boat on the Tidal Basin, near the Jefferson Memorial. The tidal basin is flanked by cherry trees and is the nucleolus for the Cherry Blossom Festival.

National Museum of the American Indian Washington, DC

National Museum of the American Indian

3. Smithsonian Museums – The Smithsonian is made up of 19 different museums including, Natural History, Air & Space, National Gallery of Art, American History, hint it’s not all about the American Revolution, National Museum of the American Indian, the current feature exhibit is The Inka Road and it runs through June 1, 2018. Here’s a video about the Bridge at Q’eswachaka, this bridge is part of the Inka Road and has been rebuilt by locals every year for 500 years. If you like music and happen to be visiting on a Friday night in May through August, check out Jazz in the Park at the National Gallery or Art Sculpture Garden from 5pm – 8:30pm for some amazing live music to kick off the weekend. Get there early, the place fills up quick and don’t try to bring in wine and beer, they check your bag and they will confiscate it. You can purchase wine and beer in the Pavilion Cafe for about $400 each:)  Pro Tip: enter the museums from the street entrance, not the mall entrance, the lines are much shorter. Regular hours 10:00am – 5:30pm daily, Summer Hours are expanded, 10:00am – 7:30 daily.

Nationals Park Washington, DC

Nationals Park

4. Nationals Park – America’s favorite past time. Scratch another baseball stadium off your bucket list. Nationals park is home to Major League Baseball’s Washington Nationals. The team plays April through September and into October, when they make the playoffs. The park is located in South East near the Navy Yard along the Anacostia River. The address is 1500 S Capitol St SE and you can take the Metro’s Green Line to the Navy Yard station or the Orange, Blue or Silver Line to the Capitol South station. Plenty of parking lots are available in the area, if you are driving into the a game as well. There are usually tickets available at the gate, and you can use this link to Buy Tickets OnlinePro Tip: Hit the Bullpen before the game for live music, beer and corn hole. It’s located just outside the main gate and its freight container walls are hard to miss. Tip 2: Hit Yards Park, right next door to the Nat’s stadium, on Friday nights at 6pm for live music, BYOB, and you and the kids can beat the heat by playing in the splash pool and fountains.

Alexa's Fruit Smoothie Stand Washington, DC

Alexa’s Fruit Smoothie Stand

5. Eastern Market – It’s a hidden gem in the city’s South East quadrant, located at  225 7th St SE. The market is open daily, but is best visited on the weekends when 7th street is closed off and vendors fill it with their goods, from art to produce, to soaps and clothing. The market is about about 3/4 mile walk from the US Capital building and also has a Metro Stop, Eastern Market Stop on the Blue and Orange lines. The market is a great place to pick up Cherry Blossom photos from local artist and plenty of prepared foods and produce. Check out Woven History/Silk Road, a store located at 311-315 7th St. SE selling rugs and village art.  Pro Tip: Make sure to grab a fruit smoothie from Alexa’s on 7th St. they’re to die for.

White House Washington, DC

White House

6. White House – Want to see where the big man lives? Contact your Senator or House Members office at least 21 days prior to your visit to DC, to try to schedule a tour. I say try because only about 10% of requests are excepted. Even if you can’t get a tour, it’s pretty amazing how close you can get to White House on foot. The back yard with it’s organic garden and bee houses, is just a short walk from the Washington Monument and in fact the Washington Monument, being on a hill, is not a bad spot to get a glimps of the most famous house in the world. Pro Tip: Don’t try to jump the fence, the Security Service recently added reinforcement to the fence and I can tell you it will end badly for you and ruin your vacation.

7. Arlington National Cemetery – United States military cemetery just across the river from D.C. is the burial site of the 35th President of the U.S. John F. Kennedy, his brother Robert F. Kennedy, his wife Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and brother Ted Kennedy. The 27th President of the U.S. William Howard Taft and boxing legend Joe Louis, the World Heavyweight Champion. Make sure to visit The Tomb of the Unknown Solider located on the top of the hill over looking D.C. The plaza contains the remains of unknown soldiers from World War I, World War II, Korean and Vietnam wars and are marked by marble slabs. The 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) guards the unknowns 24/7. They honorably change guards in a ritual called The Changing of the Guards every hour from October – March and every half hour from April – September. The cemetery is open daily from 8am – 7pm (April-September) & 8am – 5pm (October-March) and has it’s own Metro stop on the Blue Line, The Arlington National Cemetery Station. If you are planning to drive to the cemetery, there is plenty of paid parking. Bicycle use is permitted in a few sections of the cemetery, please reference the bike policy found on the cemetery website, http://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/

Panda at the National Zoological Park Washington, DC

Panda at the National Zoological Park

8. National Zoological Park – Is a fantastic zoo with an incredible selection of animals and best of all, it’s free! You’ll come face to face with Pandas, watch Orangutangs swing over head and see Reptiles from every temperate zone. Visit the Amazon Rain Forest for an aquarium experience and learn about plant medicine in the indoor jungle. The zoo is open daily from 10am – 6pm, except from Christmas. Parking at the zoo is limited and will cost you $22 per day. Your best bet is to take the Metro to the Woodley Park or Cleveland Park stop and you can always use Capital Bike Share. The L1 and L2 buses stop right at the main gate. There are a number of cafes and restaurants through out the zoo and it’s a great place to have a picnic or go for a run. Pro Tip: You can bring tripods for your camera, but selfie sticks are prohibited. Link http://nationalzoo.si.edu/

United States Botanical Garden Washington, DC

United States Botanical Garden

8. United States Botanical Garden – a great place to visit during the winter months, it’s always summer in the Botanical Garden. The garden was established by Congress in 1820 and has been administrated by the Architect of the Capital since 1934. You’ll find the garden in the large glass atrium at the bottom of the US Capital Building hill, 100 Maryland Ave. SW. The conservatory is made up of distinct collections from around the globe, like Hawaii, World Deserts and the Tropics as well as an out door National Garden and the Bartholdi Park across Independence Ave. from the Botanical Garden, which has an amazing water fountain. Be sure to take the stair case in the Tropics to the top of the canopy and get a birds eye view of the collection, just watch your step. Pro Tip: The Botanical Garden hosts yoga in the National Garden Saturday mornings at 10:30, bring your yoga mat and pose away your Jazz in the Park hang over, Namaste!

U.S. Capital Building Washington, DC

U.S. Capital Building

10. U.S. Capital Building Want to see where the U.S. government makes all those bills? Visit the U.S. Capital Building at the top of Capital Hill on the end of the National Mall. You can’t miss it, especially right now as it’s wrapped in scaffolding to repair earthquake damage to its dome. The visitors center is open from 8:30am to 4:30pm, Monday through Saturday and is only closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s and Inauguration Days. The tours are free and are conducted form 8:50am to 3:20pm, though you must have a tour pass. Check out this short video about visiting the U.S. Capital Building.

Hidden Spring, Washington, DC

Hidden Spring

Pro Tip: You can NOT bring daypacks, backpacks or luggage into the Capital Building, follow this link for a list of prohibited items. Also, check out the hidden spring on the NW section of the lawn, it’s a brick looking building with water fountains and the remnants of the old spring.

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