Sure, any tourist knows what to see for a weekend in DC. But what about those of us who aren’t just any tourist?
As a nomad we have time to explore, but we’re there for a lot longer than the typical tourist. While I’m free to spend an afternoon in a museum or enjoying a long lunch, I might also have to find a quiet spot for a call or to pull out my laptop to get a little work done.
I love asking for advice on what to see and do. Like, to a weird degree. I’ve asked dozens of people for suggestions and waded through the trite ones (have you heard of the Smithsonian Museums?! Ben’s Chili Bowl?!). I’ll leave it to Autostraddle and the locals to keep up with what’s cool right now. Don’t forget Atlas Obscura.
As someone who is most certainly not pulling in six-figures while working four hours a day, my suggestions are heavy on free and inexpensive activities. Washington DC is awash in free museums, but the ones with admission fees tend to be far less crowded on the weekends so I was happy to have my reciprocal museum memberships.
DC is a government town, so it’s a short on the mom-and-pop and DIY spaces I’m drawn to. Georgetown, Capitol Hill, and Alexandria have all the same stores as the mall in your local suburb (as does downtown DC), but they’re still charming neighborhoods to walk around. Go to Georgetown to check out the C&O Canal.
DC is full of lively community bookstores. I’m partial to Loyalty on Upshur, maybe because the Reading Room is right next door, but there are a number of great bookstores. If you’re looking for something to do on a Tuesday night, see what’s happening at the book shop closest to you. DC is also great for political and social justice meetups, of course. It also has a lively CouchSurfing community.
If you’re in DC for a while, you might want to take a day trip to Baltimore. If you can’t sneak away that long, check out the Maine Avenue Fish Market.
Here’s what you’re not going to find in Lonely Planet:
Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage
Every night at 6pm Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage hosts a free performance.
L. Ron Hubbard House
Curious to learn about the life of L. Ron Hubbard and the history of Scientology? Call ahead and you can get a free private tour of the founding site.
NPR offers free tours. You need to register online ahead of time and they can fill up pretty far in advance, so plan ahead.
Lesser known museums
Enjoy art without the crowds at the Dumbarton Oaks Museum, Phillips Collection, Katzen Arts Center, Art Museum of the Americas, and Kreeger Museum. There are also tons of small art galleries scattered around the city.
George Washington University has a Textile Museum.
Get your nerd on at the United States Naval Observatory, the Folger Shakespeare Library, and the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum.
Brush up on your history at America’s Islamic Heritage Museum, the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, and U.S. Navy Museum. There are museums for each branch of US law enforcement, including the Drug Enforcement Agency Museum.
If touring old mansions are your thing, DC has plenty: the Mansion on O & O Street, President Woodrow Wilson House, President Lincoln Cottage, Society of the Cincinnati, Dumbarton Oaks, Hillwood Museum, Decatur House, Heurich House, Pierce-Klingle Estate, and others.
There are some gorgeous houses of worship in DC. There’s the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America, Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, among many others.
Embassies & consulates
Embassies and consulates often host events, art galleries, and museums. The most active might be the House of Sweden, but DC Embassy Events saves you from having to join a dozen mailing lists to hunt them down.
Malcolm X drum circle
Meridian Hill has a drum circle on Sundays each afternoon.
You know how Maho Beach has planes flying right overhead? Gravelly Point is like that, sans beach. It’s a good spot to picnic.
Escape the city
In addition to obvious spots to get some greenery in your life like Rock Creek Park and the Arboretum, the Kenilworth Aquatic Garden is lovely. People like Crispus Attucks park for its secret feel — from 1st and V St NW you walk towards N Capitol St and turn right into the first alley.
Keep your followers happy by visiting the Spanish Steps, D.C. Alley Museum, technicolor church, and that statue of Einstein. You owe it to them to keep an eye on the calendar of events at the Dupont Underground and Blind Whino Arts Club.