We lived in Washington, DC for a little over two years and we absolutely loved it. DC has all the big city amenities with a small-town feel. There is a height limit on buildings in DC so you don’t get massive skyscrapers like in New York. What adds to the small town feel is the incredible number of parks and green spaces. My (David) dad visited once during our time there and one of the first things he commented on was how the city was designed to encourage people into the parks.
As unfortunate as it is, DC is pretty segregated, with the vast majority of minorities living in the Northeast and Southeast. We lived in Northwest DC. Since most of our experiences and time spent were in the Northwest, that is where most of our advice will be focused.
Here are brief rundowns of the other three quadrants:
Southwest: This is where the Washington Nationals stadium is. The Southwest Waterfront is also a lively area and hosts the Fireworks Festival as part of the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival.
Southeast: The majority of Southeast DC is located across the Anacostia River, and is likewise nicknamed Anacostia. We never once went to Anacostia since this is generally considered to be one of the more dangerous parts of DC.
Northeast: Eastern market is located in this quadrant and is one of the more funky, hipster neighborhoods in DC. The neighborhood’s name is appropriate as there’s a very large outdoor and indoor street market there. It’s a fun place to visit but we suggest going in the summer (or at least not in the winter) as more people are out and about, customers and vendors alike.
Neighborhoods within Northwest DC
Within Northwest DC, we lived in the Georgetown neighborhood. Georgetown is historic and incredibly charming but also has a reputation for being snobby and pretentious. Georgetown mostly consists of extremely expensive homes owned by affluent upper-middle class folks and Georgetown University students who likewise come from upper-middle class families and have the reputation of being pretty douchey. There’s a degree of truth of these perceptions, but as with any stereotype, it’s far from the whole story. One of our very best friends went to Georgetown University and he was a completely normal guy, and I’m sure there are many more like him.
These half-true stereotypes didn’t bother us much and we fell in love with the charm, the brick sidewalks, and the tree-lined streets. Living in an affluent neighborhood also has it’s perks like cleanliness and safety.
Most of our 20-something peers, however, choose to live in some of DCs more gritty and vibrant neighborhoods like Adams Morgan and Columbia Heights. These are commonly referred to as “up-and-coming neighborhoods.” Just south of Columbia Heights is the popular U Street corridor (usually just called U Street). This is a popular place to go for a night out as there’s bar after bar and tons of people around and socializing.
Foggy Bottom, the neighborhood southeast of Georgetown is where George Washington University is. American University is also close by in Tenleytown, north of Georgetown.
The far west corner of DC is where the super-rich live. Vice President Joe Biden lives in the Palisades.
Dupont Circle is a major social hub of Northwest DC. Like U Street, it’s a popular place for bar hopping and a fun night out. It is a very gay-friendly neighborhood as well.
Our Favorite Places
Click on the “Our Favorite Places” box.
A: M St in Georgetown is the major tourist street. There’s tons of shopping, restaurants, and bars here. Expect big crowds on the weekends.
B: The Georgetown waterfront is great for people watching. You can also rent kayaks or stand up paddle boards and explore Roosevelt Island. There’s almost always a Groupon available for this.
C: The Dumbarton Oaks Gardens are insanely beautiful. Entry is free in between October 31 and March 15, but otherwise it costs $8 to get it. It’s well worth it.
D: The DC zoo is awesome. Like almost all of the tourist attractions in DC, it’s free. The panda is a pretty big deal.
E: This public pool is free to enter as long as you’re a DC resident. A nice summertime weekend activity. Make sure to bring your ID and a piece of mail with your DC address on it.
F: As mentioned above, Nationals Park is where the Washington Nationals play baseball. Weekday games usually start at 7PM, perfect for catching a game after work, and weekend games start at 2PM most of the time. Be warned: I’ve never sweated more than during a day game in the middle of summer and have never been as cold as a night game in spring to kick off the 2013 season.
G: The Air and Space Museum is my third favorite museum in the whole world.
H: My second is the Natural History museum. These two are by far the best museums in DC, and they’re both free. If you’re wondering what my favorite museum is, it’s the British Museum in London.
I: The tidal basin is beautiful any time of the year and you can rent a paddle boat and get interesting perspectives of the monuments any time of the year, but spring is when the basin really shines. The cherry blossoms that line the tidal basin are so beautiful.
J: Tudor Gardens are the little brother to Dumbarton Oaks. It’s a beautiful, romantic place to walk around during a fall or spring weekend afternoon.
K: Sections of the Rock Creek Park trails will make you feel completely removed from the city. They are a nice respite and perfect for a weekend morning walk or an afternoon run.
L: Embassy Row is where the vast majority of other nation’s embassies are located. The buildings themselves are cool just to look at from the outside, but once a year during Passport DC, the embassies open their doors for non-government issues and people can tour the inside and learn about that country’s culture.
M: The Kennedy Center is beautiful at night. Sitting at the edge of the Potomac, it’s white marble exterior lights up at night. Inside, the center hosts a number of events including free concerts every Friday night. We scored free tickets to the National Symphony Orchestra once too.
N: The Verizon Center is where the Washington Wizards play. We were lucky enough to witness Linsanity at its height a couple years ago when the Knicks were in town. It honestly was Linsane. Most big concerts are also held in the Verizon Center.
O: The National Cathedral is beautiful with its gothic architecture and towering spires. It’s free to enter, and try to do so on a Sunday morning to hear the choir singing in the building’s amazing acoustics.
Besides the many tourist attractions, DC is very much a brunch and happy hour city. This style of socializing fits our lifestyle so well. We’re old people at heart so staying out until 2 or 3AM is not our ideal. Luckily for us, in DC, most people do happy hour after work, which means you’re home by 8 — much more agreeable with our 10PM bedtime. We also like to sleep in and take it slow on the weekends, which make 11AM brunches the best. Keep reading for some can’t-miss spots for both.
Happy Hour Must-Dos
Click on the “Happy Hours” box.
A: Affectionately known as Chaddy’s, Chadwicks is as close to a dive bar as you’ll find in Georgetown. It has the cheapest happy hour specials we found in DC at $2.50 a drink.
B: Tony & Joe’s has an outdoor seating area that is so choice in the spring and fall. Situated right on the waterfront, you’ll get to enjoy beautiful happy hour sunsets. Drinks run $4 a piece at happy hour.
C: Mr. Smith’s is a fun place and they have a piano man playing most nights (after HH). Happy hour drinks are $3 or so.
D: Thunder Burger has a more eclectic variety of beers on tap for happy hour. This is nice place if you are a beer connoisseur.
E: Buffalo Billiards has a decent happy hour and their sliders are a good deal, but the reason to go is their bar trivia on Thursday nights.
F: Old Glory prices aren’t super cheap by any means, but they have a fun outdoor terrance/balcony area above the restaurant. Get there quick though as it gets packed for happy hour.
G: The Bier Baron boasts one of the more massive beer menus I’ve ever seen. I think they have over 200 available. They also have a Thursday night bar trivia that we found much more challenging than Buffalo Billiards. Our claim to fame is that for a brief period in time one Thursday night, we were in second place.
H: It breaks my heart to say that Froggy Bottom is not the beauty it once was. It used to be an absolute piece of crap in this dingy basement, and it was perfect. They’ve since moved locations, expanded, and now have an atmosphere that makes you feel like you aren’t going to get hepatitis.
Brunch Places Not to Miss
Click on the “Brunches” box.
A: I drool thinking of Open City’s hashbrowns. Not to mention suffer some crippling nostalgia. Nothing beats a spring Saturday morning of walking through the Rock Creek Park trail pinned above in the Our Favorite Places section, sitting outside in the sun with friends at Open City, and devouring the OC Royal. They don’t accept reservations and are always packed, so expect to wait for 30-45 minutes for a table. In fact, that’s the rule for every place on this list.
B: Cafe Bonaparte is a tiny little place that has great crêpes.
C: Kafe Leopold gets a cool vibe from being in this back alley in Georgetown. Even though it’s always packed, you feel like you’re escaping the tourists shuffling around just above you on M St. Like Open City, sitting outside on a spring morning can’t be beat.
D: Farmers Fishers and Bakers is delicious and always fresh. They source all their food from local farmers, fishers, and (shocker!) bakers.
E: From the Farmer is basically the same thing as Farmers Fishers and Bakers as they are owned by the same people and have the same philosophy on food. You can’t go wrong with either. From the Farmer is the exception to the no reservations rule, but they’re usually booked up days in advance.
Public transportation is really easy to figure out in DC. We didn’t have a car the entire time we lived there and had no problems getting around the city. Your day-to-day options are the metro and the bus (officially known as metrorail and metrobus). Both are run by WMATA, thus you pay for both using a reloadable SmarTrip card. Buy the card from that site, create an account, and you’ll continually be able to add money to your card online.
Metro: The metro is more reliable in terms of schedule, but it costs more and is also limited on stops. Click here for a downloadable metro map. You might notice that the names of the metro stations are usually the same as the neighborhoods they are in. You might also notice that not all neighborhoods have a metro stop, including Georgetown, where we lived. The closest metro station to us was Dupont Circle, about a 20 minute walk away. This was almost never an issue though, because we had a number of bus lines running through our neighborhood.
Bus: The bus gets a bad rap for being late or just not showing up, but despite the amount of complaining people do, it’s a really good system. Most bus lines run in 30 minute intervals. Your two best friends when riding the bus will be Google Maps and WMATA’s NextBus. All the bus routes are synced with Google Maps so simply type in your origin and destination and click the public transportation icon and it will tell you exactly which bus to catch and where it will pick up and drop off.
The reason you need NextBus is because Google Maps shows you the published schedule of the bus and does not factor in delays or no-shows. All busses have GPS in them which NextBus tracks and provides live updates on how many minuts a bus is from a certain stop. So whenever we were going somewhere, we’d look up how far away a bus was and once it was five minutes away, we’d walk outside to the bus stop. Simple. Protip: Add a NextBus icon to the homepage on your phone and it will not only track the bus’ GPS, but your location as well to tell you which bus is closest to you and how far away it is.
The other two public transportation options are cabs and Uber. Cabs are pretty frequent, and they all accept credit cards now by law. Uber was just starting up when we left DC, but it sounds like it has gotten really popular. Both are necessary from time to time when you’re out late and the bus and metro have stopped running. The bus stops around midnight while the metro runs until midnight Monday through Thursday and until 3AM Friday and Saturday.
The most popular bus companies are:
- Megabus: They have the most frequent flash sales with $1 fares each way. I would say their reputation is generally the worst of these three, but we’ve never had a problem with them.
- BoltBus: Middle of the road price, middle of the road service. That’s the reputation at least. Our lone experience on BoltBus included really uncomfortable seats that slanted forward so you constantly had to push yourself back into the seat. Not the most comfortable for four hours.
- BestBus (formerly DC2NY): They are generally the most expensive, but also provide the most amenities like free water and wifi on board. They also have a pick up location in Dupont Circle which was much more convenient for us than Union Stations which is the main bus and train terminal in DC. We cared more about finding the cheapest rates though, so we never rode with them.
A few times every year, all of our friends would get together over a long weekend and head out to a cabin. The cabin was different every time, but always within a few hours of DC. We would find the houses on sites like vrbo or homeaway. With 10-15 people splitting a 5-bedroom house, the total for each person was usually well under $100 for the whole weekend.
Trips like these are a fun way to get out of the city for a bit. What’s so great about DC is that the landscape gets so rural really fast once you start to head out of the city. Drive south for not even 30 minutes and you’ll feel completely removed from the hustle and bustle.
We usually looked for houses with big yards for games of wiffle ball, a hot tub (super fun when it’s snowing!), and a pool table or game room. An outdoor grill is also a must.
One of the many perks of being able to leave DC and very quickly be in the country brings is a countless number of Virginia vineyards. There’s a handful within an hours drive from DC and there’s always multiple options to choose from on Groupon.