I’ve lived in the Washington, DC metro-region for almost 18 years. There’s a reason for that; I love it here. In looking through the content on my site though I came to the sad realization that I almost never write about my beloved city. Since I also get a lot of questions about what to do and see in the nation’s capital, I decided to share some insider tips, places and experiences not all tourists know about and which make me love my hometown even more. To everyone who has not yet been to this vibrant city on the Potomac, I hope this encourages you to make visiting Washington, DC a priority.
Smithsonians are great but…
The National Mall and the many Smithsonian Institution museums that line it are indeed a national treasure. They’re free, open to anyone and are amongst the best in the world. But D.C. is home to a whole host of wonderful museums and sites, NOT on the Mall. The most popular is probably the International Spy Museum, a really well done museum that does a great job of relating the stories and importance of espionage in the U.S. and around the world. The Newseum is also worth an entire day of exploration. Devoted to telling the story of media and its importance through the ages, it’s not to be missed. But that’s not my favorite, no, that honor goes to the National Building Museum. While it may not sound exciting, it’s really a fun place to visit thanks in large part to their special exhibits that have included everything from a look at transportation in the District, to a full-scale maze.
Stand on the right, walk on the left
Washingtonians definitely fit into our stereotype, which is smart, driven and slightly Type-A. (Very) We’re a little persnickety and that includes when using our oft-maligned Metro system. While not perfect, many of us love the network but there is a certain etiquette visitors should know before they board. First, no matter where in the world you are, it’s best as a tourist to stay away from public transportation during peak rush hours. Most systems around the world are a madhouse and tourists just get in the way. Everyone knows where they’re going except for you, a disruption to the daily urban ballet that is navigating the escalators and tunnels of the Metro. Which takes me to my second point, the escalators. There is a mostly unspoken rule to the DC Metro, which is if you don’t want to walk up the escalators, that’s fine, but you must stand on the right. If you want to walk, then do so on the left. Anyone breaking this rule will very quickly raise the ire of all locals, some of whom aren’t so polite at correcting the mistake.
Not EVERYTHING is politics and yes, we do have our own culture
It always annoys me when people assume that DC revolves around politics. Sure, many Washingtonians are involved with the government in some way – the Federal government is the top employer after all. But not that many of us are involved with the day to day machinations of the dumpster fire that has become our political system. Once you broaden the scope and look at suburban Maryland and Virginia, you’ll find a wide variety of professions, including the massive tech sector in Northern Virginia. That means the city is like any other, with a life all of its own away from Capitol Hill and like any other large community, we have a lot to see and do. I’ve always considered Washingtonians to be especially interested in the arts, and any weekend of the year you can find art exhibitions, gallery open houses, concerts and stage productions. So when you visit, do more than walk around the monuments, head out to Wolf Trap to see a show or pick up the local paper to see what’s on and about in the area.
We finally have a great food scene
When I first moved to D.C. we were not a city known for our food culture. The most popular restaurants were the same, old, tired establishments, serving up gigantic steaks, bourbons and other dishes fat politicians favored. That’s because for a long time people didn’t actually live in D.C. They lived in the Virginia or Maryland suburbs and commuted in to Washington during the day. Evening restaurants and fine dining establishments just weren’t needed. But as the demographics of the city began to shift, so did the culinary landscape and the results have been nothing short of amazing. Either in DC or within an easy driving distance we have celebrity chefs like José Andrés, Bryan Voltaggio, Spike Mendelsohn and Michel Richard all creating amazing and innovative food here in the nation’s capital. You have to understand how inconceivable this was back in 2000 and as a longtime resident it’s a great thing to witness, and taste.
Locals call our lovable region the DMV, short for the District of Colombia, Maryland and Virginia. Since the physical size of DC can never change thanks to the Constitution, our incredible growth over the years has naturally spread out to bordering states. These are areas where the typical tourist doesn’t venture, but they should. Maryland and Virginia both have a lot to offer from Civil War battlefields to some of the best shopping in the country. You can stop by F. Scott Fitzgerald’s gravesite in Rockville or go hiking in Great Falls. One of my favorite not-too-far from D.C. things to do is to visit the National Air and Space Museum, Udvar-Hazy Center next to Dulles Airport. This massive, hangar shaped building is where the Smithsonian houses all of their massive aircraft that just can’t fit anywhere else. There you can see the first Boeing passenger jet, one of the Concordes and they even have a space shuttle on display. You’ll need a car to get there, but it’s well worth the extra effort.
What other questions do you have about visiting Washington, DC?