Moon Washington DC

Neighborhood Walks, Historic Highlights, Beloved Local Spots


By Samantha Sault

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From strolling the National Mall to hobnobbing at happy hour, get to know the nation’s capital with Moon Washington DC.
  • Navigate the Neighborhoods: Follow one of our guided neighborhood walks through the National Mall, Dupont Circle, U Street, and more
  • Explore the City: Snap the perfect photo of the Washington Monument, stand where MLK delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech, and visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. Walk the halls of Frederick Douglass’s home, journey through the incredible Smithsonian museums, or tour the U.S. Capitol from dome to crypt. Paddleboat along the Potomac during cherry blossom season and shop the boutiques in Georgetown
  • Get a Taste of DC: Chow down on a late-night half-smoke at Ben’s Chili Bowl or grab brunch and a new book from Busboys and Poets. Dig into diverse, authentic fare from Ethiopia, Afghanistan, the Philippines, and more, savor Michelin-starred seafood at a waterfront restaurant, or order up a Chesapeake crab cake at a neighborhood joint
  • Bars and Nightlife: Watch a groundbreaking performance at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, catch a live band at the 9:30 Club, or dance to a DJ set at the Black Cat. Sip scotch where former presidents once did, try a five-course cocktail tasting menu, or kick back with a beer and fries at a quintessential DC dive bar
  • Local Advice: DC journalist Samantha Sault shares her love of the nation’s capital
  • Strategic, Flexible Itineraries including the three-day best of DC, four days with kids, and day trips to Alexandria, Annapolis and Easton, and Shenandoah National Park
  • Tips for Travelers including where to stay and how to navigate the Metro, plus advice for international visitors, LGBTQ+ travelers, seniors, travelers with disabilities, and families
  • Maps and Tools like background information on the history and culture of DC, full-color photos, color-coded neighborhood maps, and an easy-to-read foldout map to use on the go
With Moon Washington DC’s practical tips and local insight, you can experience the best of the city.

Expanding your trip? Check out Moon Virginia & Maryland. Visiting more of America’s cities? Try Moon Boston or Moon New York City.



Oh, you’re from Washington DC? It’s changed so much. It’s gotten so cool.

This common trope is pushed by residents, those who’ve come and gone and everyone whose kid interned on Capitol Hill, by media and Hollywood and glossy travel magazines and the Michelin Guide. Waxing poetic about the newest starred fusion restaurant where you can’t get a reservation, or off-the-beaten-path gallery in a “redeveloped” neighborhood far from the tourist drags, is a sign you’re a tastemaker, that you’re in the know.

It misses the point—and it’s not true.

To say new, slick, high-tech concert venues and galleries and museums have made Washington DC a cultural center brushes aside the capital’s rich history as a center of black theater and jazz before Harlem and Motown, of performance halls and parks and churches that have witnessed world-changing events. And sure, there are more restaurants now, but Washington’s always had a unique flavor, a blend of soul food and Ethiopian and sizzling Chesapeake Bay seafood served in the backrooms of classic steakhouses where history was made over martinis. And yes, celebrity chefs and slick shopping developments and scores of social media influencers have brought revenue and new visitors, but they’ll never, ever be as influential as former residents like Frederick Douglass, Duke Ellington, Toni Morrison, Eleanor Roosevelt, Marvin Gaye, Langston Hughes, Katharine Graham, and José Andrés.

Never mind the intoxicating political intrigue, which has drawn so many to the capital, and enticed them to stay, not because they don’t want to live anywhere else, but because they truly can’t imagine a life without that pulse.

Yes, Washington’s changed so much—it changes every four years. But it’s always been cool, in its own way. And no matter which way the political winds blow, it always will be.

18th Street in Adams Morgan

Georgetown and Foggy Bottom

Women’s March on Washington

Smithsonian Institution

Senate office building

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial


1 Stroll the National Mall: Get up close and personal with monuments—and see if you can spot the tiniest monument on the National Mall.

2 Walk the Halls of Power: Ask your Member of Congress for a tour of the U.S. Capitol Building.

3 Experience the Magnitude of the Washington Monument: Visit the tallest structure in the city then ride the elevator to the top.

4 See the Lincoln Memorial at Night: After the crowds have dispersed, the interior monument light casts a dramatic glow on the Great Emancipator.

5 Admire the Cherry Blossoms: Spring in DC means an explosion of cherry blossoms. Brave the crowds at the Tidal Basin to rent a paddleboat during the National Cherry Blossom Festival.

6 Take a Memorable Selfie: Make your friends jealous with a photo outside the White House.

7 Walk in the Footsteps of Frederick Douglass: Visit the historic site of one of the country’s most important abolitionists, where he lived during the end of his life.

8 Visit the Smithsonian Institution Museums and Galleries: Find the Star-Spangled Banner, the Hope Diamond, Chuck Berry’s red Cadillac, and a real lunar module at the Smithsonian Institution’s museums and galleries.

9 Pay Your Respects at Arlington National Cemetery: Visit the Tomb of the Unknown Solider and JFK’s gravesite.

10 Become a Washington Insider: Partake in happy hour in a Capitol Hill pub or a posh cocktail bar—and keep your ears open for political gossip.



History, politics, power—and the world’s best free museums. To experience the best of Washington DC in a few days, stay downtown in a hotel like Penn Quarter’s Hotel Monaco, a short walk or just a few Metro stops away from the halls of power and the best restaurants and nightlife. You don’t need a car; everything in this itinerary is accessible by Metro, a taxi or ride-share, or walking.


Start your day at Pete’s Diner, one block from the U.S. Capitol. You’ll be joined by Hill staffers and perhaps a few lawmakers; former Speaker of the House John Boehner famously had eggs and coffee here almost every day.

Public Transit: To get from downtown/Penn Quarter to the U.S. Capitol, take the Metro Blue, Orange, or Silver Line from Metro Center to Capitol South.

Head west on Independence Avenue SE to the U.S. Capitol. You can explore the grounds and see the imposing dome from every angle; get a spectacular up-close selfie on the west side. No matter how many times you’ve seen photos—or passed by on your way to work—it’s always awe-inspiring. If you’d like a tour, reserve one in advance via the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center or through your member of Congress; same-day passes are sometimes available at the information desk on the visitor center’s lower level, but don’t count on it. The visitor center has public exhibits about the Capitol and Congress, as well as a gift shop.

U.S. Capitol



It’s not easy to get a tour of the Capitol building’s dome, but it’s worth the trouble. You’ll have to plan in advance—and perhaps have a close connection in your member of Congress’s office—to climb the winding staircase to see the amazing view from the exterior walkway.


The abolitionist spent the last years of his life at his Anacostia mansion, perched on a 51-foot hill offering expansive views all the way to the U.S. Capitol.


The posh rooftop bar and lounge at the W Hotel overlooks the White House—though you’ll pay dearly for the only-in-Washington view, especially if you want a preferred table on the edge.


The Watergate Hotel’s huge rooftop bar has 360-degree views, including the Washington Monument, Pentagon, Georgetown, and Potomac River.

Across from the visitor center entrance on 1st Street, get a glimpse of the Library of Congress and the Supreme Court of the United States. If you did not take a Capitol tour, you’ll have time before lunch to pop inside the United States Botanic Garden, a hidden gem on the Capitol grounds full of thousands upon thousands of plant specimens from around the world.

For lunch, go to Eastern Market on 7th Street SE between C Street NE and North Carolina Avenue SE, 15 minutes from the Capitol by foot. The crab cake at Market Lunch, the casual counter inside the main market building, is one of the best in DC, but if you prefer finer dining, try Acqua Al 2 across the street. On the weekend, people-watch and shop for local, DC-inspired artwork at the outdoor market; on weekdays, drop by Bullfeathers back at 1st Street and D Street for happy hour and political gossip.

Public Transit: To get from Eastern Market to downtown/Penn Quarter, take the Metro Blue, Orange, or Silver Line from Eastern Market to Metro Center.

Celebrate your first night in the city with the seafood tower at Old Ebbitt Grill. Before you sit down, however, detour one block past the restaurant to see the White House and Lafayette Square during the golden hour. End with a nightcap at the historic Round Robin Bar at the Willard InterContinental.


If you have tickets to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, grab coffee at Compass Coffee on 7th and F Streets NW, then beeline to the museum to be in line a few minutes before your entry time. You’ll need the better part of a day to see everything, but it’s worth it; start in the basement and work your way up, then have lunch at Sweet Home Café before the pop culture exhibits.

Public Transit: To get from downtown/Penn Quarter to the National Mall, simply walk south on 7th Street or 9th Street to Constitution Avenue. It’s 10-20 minutes by foot to the major museums.

If you didn’t get tickets, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and National Air and Space Museum are the other must-see museums. If you try to do both, don’t miss the Star-Spangled Banner and first ladies’ dresses at the former and, of course, the spaceships at the latter. Mitsitam Native Foods Café at the National Museum of the American Indian is a good option for lunch.

You can stay in the museums if you have foul weather, but otherwise, explore the memorials on the National Mall. Follow the walking tour to hit the Washington Monument, Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, Thomas Jefferson Memorial, and Tidal Basin.



The park on the north side of the White House is a popular gathering spot for tourists and protesters alike.


The park at the center of the traffic circle draws all kinds of people to read the paper, picnic, exercise, sunbathe, play chess on the permanent boards—and even get married.


This famous steakhouse is frankly better for the people-watching than the food, especially during the lunch hour, when the Washington VIPs whose faces are painted on the walls pack the tables.


This historic park is a prime spot for impromptu soccer games, engagement photo shoots, or just relaxing on a blanket. Since the 1970s, every Sunday afternoon around 3pm a drum circle has drawn musicians, dancers, and a crowd of spectators.

Public Transit: To get from the memorials on the southwest side of the Mall back to downtown/Penn Quarter, take the Metro Green or Yellow Line from L’Enfant Plaza to Gallery Pl-Chinatown.

Relax before a late dinner at Jaleo, the José Andrés Spanish restaurant that ignited the nation’s tapas obsession. After, grab a taxi or ride-share to the Lincoln Memorial, which absolutely must be seen at night.


Start the day at the National Gallery of Art. If you didn’t have breakfast, grab coffee and a pastry in the Pavilion Café in the Sculpture Garden. There’s something for every art lover here: Choose the West Building for the French Impressionists and Da Vinci’s only painting on view in the United States, or the East Building for modern art.

When you get hungry, head to CityCenterDC, where you can parse the works over leisurely brunch or lunch at Centrolina or DBGB Kitchen & Bar, or grab a healthy juice at Fruitive. Enjoy an afternoon of window shopping the luxury stores, or walk about 15 minutes south to the National Archives Museum to see the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution in a new light.

Public Transit: To get from downtown/Penn Quarter to U Street/Shaw, take the Metro Green or Yellow Line from Gallery Place-Chinatown to U Street/African-Amer Civil War Memorial/Cardozo, or grab a taxi/ride-share.

Spend the evening in U Street and Shaw, DC’s nightlife hub, bustling with trendy restaurants, cocktail and wine bars, and dance clubs. This is the neighborhood to try Ethiopian food—the Washington area has the largest Ethiopian population in the United States, and restaurants here include Dukem Ethiopian Restaurant and the more upscale Chercher. For the definitive DC nightlife experience, catch a show at the 9:30 Club, followed by a late-night half-smoke (a spicy half-pork/half-beef sausage, served on a bun and smothered in chili) at the famous Ben’s Chili Bowl.

With More Time

You could spend days—weeks—touring DC’s museums and memorials, and if you’re visiting for more than a few days, it’s worth choosing one or two museums to explore at a more leisurely pace.

With more time, spend a morning in Dupont Circle. Take your coffee in the park at the center of the circle, a great spot to people-watch among locals, and meander to Kramerbooks, one of DC’s essential bookstores, stocking top fiction and nonfiction, including the latest political tomes. The Phillips Collection, the country’s first modern art museum, is worth a few hours.

Spend an afternoon in Georgetown, shopping top brands on the brick-lined streets or, in exceptionally beautiful weather, renting a boat on the Potomac River. Enjoy a predinner drink at one of the neighborhood’s stylish hotels—The Lounge at Bourbon Steak at the Four Seasons has good cocktails and people-watching—before dinner at Fiola Mare, where you should ask for a table in the see-and-be-seen dining room for some of the best Italian seafood in the city.

Before you go, make time for a performance, because DC has a vibrant theater scene on par with the world capitals. Get tickets for anything at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts before your Georgetown dinner, or better yet, see a thought-provoking new play at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in Penn Quarter or Studio Theatre in Logan Circle.


Washington DC is a wonderful city to visit with children, with a plethora of interactive museums and easy-to-use public transportation. And parents won’t feel like they’re missing out, because the top museums and attractions for kids are among the top museums and attractions in the city, period.

There are lots of family-friendly hotels, but two stand out. Steps from the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and the Metro Red Line, the Omni Shoreham Hotel is a quiet hideaway with an outdoor pool and children’s amenities; if you want to be closer to the National Mall, the Mandarin Oriental is a surprisingly kid-friendly choice, with a peaceful spa for tired parents.


Whether you have dinosaur-loving toddlers or hard-to-please teens, the museums and memorials are sure to wow the entire family. Head to Union Station for breakfast at one of the many quick-serve restaurants, then pick up the DC Ducks tour out front to see the major sights, including the Washington Monument, White House, and Thomas Jefferson Memorial by land and water. The 90-minute tour will take you back to Union Station, from where you can walk to the National Mall by heading southeast on Louisiana Avenue past the U.S. Capitol and Reflecting Pool, or catch the DC Circulator.

Union Station


Architecture lovers should first fly into Dulles International Airport in Virginia. The main terminal, designed by Eero Saarinen, evokes flight. Here are just a few of the architectural highlights of the city:


The city’s major railroad station was designed by Daniel Burnham, architect of New York’s Flatiron Building. Don’t miss the restored Main Hall with soaring granite arches.


The imposing, neo-Gothic cathedral is an architectural delight, with 215 stained glass windows and 112 unique gargoyles.


The circular contemporary art museum is a striking work of art itself, designed by Gordon Bunshaft.


Reopened in 2016 following an extensive renovation, the gallery’s modern art wing was designed by I. M. Pei.


Completed in 1972, DC’s flagship library was Mies van der Rohe’s last building.

Public Transit: The Metro Red Line goes directly to Union Station, where you can walk to the National Mall and Capitol Hill. The DC Circulator National Mall route goes from Union Station to the National Mall; take the bus in the direction of Lincoln Memorial.

The National Museum of Natural History is a good choice no matter your kids’ interests, with dinosaurs, mummies, and sparkling gems, as is the National Air and Space Museum, with amazing aircraft and spacecraft. When hunger pangs strike, skip McDonald’s at the latter; the Natural History Museum has a standard food court, with burgers, pizza, and barbecue, or if you’re feeling adventurous, try Mitsitam Native Foods Café at the National Museum of the American Indian. Food trucks often cluster on Constitution Avenue around 15th Street and 17th Street. Round out the day in another museum, or head to the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, a kid favorite with larger-than-life statues and waterfalls.

National Air and Space Museum

Public Transit: To get from the National Mall to Capitol Hill, take the Metro Blue, Orange, or Silver Line from Smithsonian to Capitol South. If you’re closer to the FDR Memorial, you can catch the DC Circulator National Mall route from the Lincoln Memorial toward Union Station four stops to Jefferson Drive and 12th Street, then transfer to Metro.

After a long day of sightseeing, have a casual dinner at Good Stuff Eatery or We, the Pizza on Capitol Hill, serving inexpensive, tasty, kid-approved food with local, farm-raised ingredients (and adult beverages for you). You can walk by the U.S. Capitol illuminated in the evening before turning in.


After breakfast at your hotel, head to The White House. You can get a good look, and teach your kids a lesson about the freedom of assembly, from Lafayette Square, where you may see (calm, peaceful) protesters on any given day. The White House Visitor Center is open to the public daily, though more suitable for older children.

Public Transit: The Metro stations closest to the White House are Farragut West and McPherson Square, serving the Blue, Orange, and Silver Lines; you can transfer from the Red Line at Metro Center or walk from Farragut North.

A few blocks away, you’ll find several good lunch options, including the bustling Old Ebbitt Grill, which has an expansive menu that will satisfy even picky eaters, or Astro Doughnuts and Fried Chicken, a fast-casual spot for yummy fried treats. After lunch, visit the highly interactive International Spy Museum, which has lots of flashy, fun exhibits about free speech and major news events, or take older children to learn about the past at the National Archives Museum or the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. If you’re visiting during the holiday season, the magical production of A Christmas Carol at Ford’s Theatre will appeal to children of all ages, and children at heart.

International Spy Museum

For dinner, the energetic Jaleo is a good restaurant to introduce the family to tapas, especially if you can get one of the glass-topped foosball tables; after all, pan con tomate (grilled bread with tomato), patatas bravas (fried potatoes), and croquetas de pollo (chicken croquettes) are Spanish riffs on kid palate pleasers, and parents can kick back with refreshing gin and tonics or a pitcher of sangria in the famous hot spot.


Start your day in Upper Northwest at Open City, which serves breakfast all day, plus sandwiches, salads, pizza, and a full bar in a casual, family-filled diner. From there, it’s a half-mile, 10-minute walk up Connecticut Avenue to the main entrance of Smithsonian’s National Zoo. There’s tons to explore: the great ape house, grand cats, and lots of indigenous American beasts, like bald eagles and chipper California sea lions. The zoo has a train and carousel, as well.

Open City

Public Transit: The Metro stations closest to the zoo are Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan and Cleveland Park, serving the Red Line. The main entrance is about the same distance from both stations, but it’s an uphill walk from the former and a flat walk from the latter.

After relaxing at your hotel, get a taxi or ride-share to Cathedral Heights to see if you can find the Darth Vader gargoyle at the Washington National Cathedral, before enjoying D.O.C.-certified pizza at family favorite 2 Amys, one of the city’s best pizza joints.


If time permits, the day trip to George Washington’s home, Mount Vernon, is a fantastic family outing, no car required, where you can learn about Washington and how he lived. When visiting with children, don’t miss the farm and the 4-D film about life during the American Revolution; the estate frequently hosts story hours and special holiday events.

The best route from DC is by boat; you can take the Spirit of Washington river cruise from the Southwest Waterfront directly to Mount Vernon from March to October. It’s also reachable by car/taxi or public transportation (see the Day Trips chapter for details). Detour through Old Town Alexandria on the way back to DC for dinner on the waterfront.


Whether you have a pet issue you want to discuss, or simply want to say hello, you, too, can play lobbyist for a day and visit your member of Congress. Afterward, see the city like the VIPs do.


If you want to say hello to your senator or representative, visit their website to get the office location and hours; some host weekly or monthly meet-and-greets for constituents, while others explicitly welcome you to drop by when you’re in Washington. Regardless, Senate and House office buildings are open to the public, and anyone, including international visitors, is free to visit even without an appointment, though there’s no guarantee the representative will be available.

If you have a specific issue or bill you want to discuss, contact the office to see if you can arrange a 15-minute meeting with the member or relevant staffer. If you get a meeting, here are some tips from the pro lobbyists: First, make a clear “ask”—such as how you want them to vote on a bill. If possible, bring a one-page document or other materials with facts to make your case. You may get a vague answer, but follow up with a thank you note. And keep in mind House representatives will be easier to meet than, say, a senator or someone in a leadership position.

If you contact the office in advance, they can arrange a U.S. Capitol tour led by an intern, as well as tours of the White House, Pentagon, and other major sights.

view of the White House from Lafayette Square




On Sale
Nov 17, 2020
Page Count
352 pages
Moon Travel

Samantha Sault

Samantha Sault

About the Author

Samantha Sault has covered the intersection of politics and culture for more than a decade. She began her career on the low rungs of the mastheads of policy journals, including The Weekly Standard, where she wrote about national politics as well as fashion and pop culture. For nearly three years, she wrote a weekly column for The Washington Times with her arts, culture, and nightlife picks for locals. She has covered international fashion weeks in New York, London, and Hong Kong and has also managed communications for the organization that lobbies on behalf of American fashion brands and retailers.

After growing up in the metropolitan DC area, Samantha has a deep understanding of both how Washington works and has evolved, and a genuine love for the swamp. She learned how to use the Metro from a young age, first to visit Smithsonian museums as a child, and later to attend concerts and break curfew as a teenager. After graduating from the University of Maryland, College Park, with a BA in government and politics, she moved to Dupont Circle, where she has lived for more than 10 years.

In addition to The Weekly Standard and The Washington Times, Samantha’s writing has appeared in Washington Life magazine and Independent Journal Review. Her work can also be found at

Learn more about this author