Washington DC is more than simply the nation’s capital. In this vibrant, historic and surprising city, newcomers have a wide range of well-known things to do. But to fast-track becoming like a local, you should also try out some of the more unusual attractions the District has to offer.
DC is always likely to attract new arrivals. Enticements include a median wage of $78,345, per the latest US Census figures, and while the city’s average apartment size is not huge at 741 square feet, per Yardi Matrix data, that is still larger than New York and Chicago offer. Living in Washington DC, you will also have plenty of opportunities to enjoy museums and sports and arts venues, but we want to show you a selection of the District’s hidden gems, places and activities that only insiders know about. We asked some top DC bloggers to give us tips.
1. Embassies are not just for passports and visas
You surely won’t miss the flowering of the famous Japanese cherry trees in springtime — or the Washington Monument, the world’s tallest obelisk, which stands just behind them — but immediately following that is an event particular to DC. Dozens of the District’s embassies open their doors in May and provide tasty food typical of their countries, so take the tour and educate your palate — what’s more, it’s absolutely free!
2. For DC’s historical significance try Ford’s Theater
Washington DC is certainly historic, and if the name Ford’s Theatre is lodged in the back of your mind, it is probably because one of America’s most famous presidents, Abraham Lincoln, was fatally shot here in 1865 at the end of the Civil War. To get a better feeling for America’s history, visit the museum beneath the theater to see exhibits about Lincoln, the plot to assassinate him and even the gun that was used.
3. DC is one US city where you may not need a car
Washington’s Metro is the 2nd-busiest such transit system in the country, and there are also some free bus services. In addition, with its flat terrain, the city is one of the most walkable, and DC blogger Keryn Means adds that “Washington, D.C. was made for runners.” Vehicle owners will need either their own parking space or a residential zone sticker, and with 19% tax imposed, parking prices can really add up. Maybe you could manage without your car in DC.
4. Washington has access to plenty of beaches
You might expect to see all the many golf courses in the DC area, but its proximity to the coast could come as a surprise. DC blogger Melissa Terzis recommends Rehoboth Beach, DE, less than 3 hours from DC and with an amusement park, as being “one of the best vacation spots on the east coast.” For all this, you might want to hang on to your car. To avoid those parking issues, consider storing it — and much else besides — at a Washington DC self storage facility.
5. Georgetown is more than multi-millionaires’ mansions
DC’s oldest neighborhood, with its historic architecture and cobblestone streets, is famous for fancy shops and a swish lifestyle, but it has aspects that everybody can enjoy. Strolling around is an excellent way to take in the atmosphere, and, as Keryn Means suggests, “there are even biking trails you can tackle that will wander you along Georgetown Waterfront Park, across the canals.”
6. Explore DC’s up-and-coming neighborhoods
While Downtown is where you will find many museums and the Capitol Building, and Georgetown might be DC’s most celebrated neighborhood, districts such as Logan Circle and U Street Corridor have seen considerable renovation in recent years. They make for a pleasant stroll with their historic buildings, shopping opportunities, cafés and cultural activities. Self-guided walking tours are available for both these neighborhoods and they are a great way to learn about their history.
7. Surf the waves on the Potomac!
Riding the waves may not be the first activity you associate with living in Washington DC, but a few miles further inland, at Mather Gorge and other places, river surfing has become a popular activity. The Potomac River then flows past Georgetown and near by the city center, where you can join the local standup paddleboarders and kayakers. The equipment is bulky, so to avoid cluttering your apartment, a 5’x10’ storage unit should be large enough to hold your boards.
8. You need a (furry) friend in the District
One of America’s first cat cafés, Crumbs and Whiskers has been operating in Georgetown since 2015. Not only can you get a catty cuddle while you sip your cappuccino, but you can also adopt one of the felines — they are all rescued animals that are looking for a home. That is probably a better bet than the ghostly ‘Demon Cat’ which is said to haunt the Capitol Building!
9. Or hang out with the cool cats at the zoo
The Smithsonian National Zoo is in the city’s northwest quadrant and is free, so it’s also a great place just to relax. We are now beyond DC’s grid system of streets named with letters and numbers and the names of flowers and other things appear. DC blogger Kaitlyn Tumminello says there is a trick for not getting lost, as these longer street names are also alphabetically ordered. And she reminds us that “there is no J Street in any DC quadrant” — it would have looked too much like the letter ‘I’!
10. May the force be with you!
Star Wars fans might like to know that Washington National Cathedral’s northwest tower has unusual carved figures on its walls, including a representation of Darth Vader. It was one of the winning designs of a competition for children and can only be properly seen using binoculars. Then hurry over to the National Air and Space Museum at the National Mall, where an X-Wing Starfighter is on long-term loan from the filmmakers.
If you are moving to DC, you already live there or you are simply wondering where in the world to make your next home, you will want to maximize your lifestyle. After visiting all DC’s museums and checking out some major league sports and theater performances, you can try the lesser-known activities and start to feel even more at home. We hope we have helped make a Washingtonian out of you!