It would be remiss (and
unpatriotic!) not to tell you to see the things you think of when you think of
Washington: the Capitol, the White House, and every memorial. Most of them are, after
all, remarkable examples of historic architecture and design. But herewith, a
small sample of the other cool things to see when you (and your sensible walking shoes)
have tired of traipsing up and down the Mall.
The Renwick Gallery: Named for its architect, James Renwick, Jr. (of St. Patrick's Cathedral fame), the
Renwick is the Smithsonian’s gallery for American craft and decorative art.
It’s a gorgeous, easily digestible space (pictured above), and only a stone’s throw from the
White House. Four times a year they host Handi-hour — “DC’s
premier crafty hour” — with craft projects, craft beer and live music.
Jazz in the Garden: After a day spent museum and monument hopping,
wind down with live jazz and a picnic in the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden. The free performances take place from 5:00-8:30 on Friday evenings
during the summer.
Mount Vernon: An easy and historic afternoon escape from the city. George
Washington’s home and gardens do not disappoint, and the museum is fun and
informative. About 15 miles from the city by car, or, if you’re feeling
adventurous, 18 miles by bike.
: Is there anything so romantic as a
summer afternoon spent wandering the gardens at Dumbarton Oaks? (No.)
Afterwards, cool off inside the museum
as you browse their collections of Byzantine
and Pre-Columbian art. Architect nerds: don’t miss the Pre-Columbian wing,
designed by Philip Johnson. (Pictured above: The Orangery
in the gardens.)
Woodrow Wilson House: Like a time capsule. I was giddy with delight the
first time I swept through this place, which has been preserved, seemingly
untouched, since the former President’s death in 1924. In light of the many
recent re-interpretations of the 1920s (ahem: Julian; Baz), this one feels especially
charming and real.
New Columbia Distillers: Shake the prohibition-era blues that you might catch
at President Wilson’s and swing by New
Columbia Distillers, the first craft-distillery to open in the District and the
maker of the highly acclaimed Green Hat Gin. The distillery offers free tasting
and tours on Saturdays from 1-4.
Union Market: Revitalized and reopened in 2012, this historic indoor market is now
home to 40 new artisan retailers (the exterior is pictured above, and interior below). Stop at Salt & Sundry to browse one of
the coolest collections of home décor items in the city, and don’t leave
without an ice cream cone from Trickling Springs Creamery. On summer Friday
nights, the parking lot transforms into DC Drive-In — Washington’s only
drive-in movie theater.
14th Street NW in Logan Circle: Your one-stop shopping destination for contemporary
and cool housewares and home furnishings. Retailers lined up along this
corridor include Home Rule, Miss Pixie’s, Muleh, Room & Board and Urban Essentials. Conclude your day of shopping with small
plates and a good glass of wine at Cork.
Cady’s Alley: Georgetown’s design district (pictured at end of post). Spend an afternoon (window) shopping
at Waterworks, Design Within Reach and Janus et Cie. Break for a savory lunch
at Leopold’s (their watermelon salad is a personal fave), and then walk a few
brick blocks north to see some of Georgetown’s finest and most historic Federal
Tabard Inn: Their Eggs Benedict is legendary.
Swing’s: When you take your stroll past the White House, skip the usual suspects (Cosi, Caribou, Starbucks)
and get your coffee fix at Swing’s. Located on the corner of 17th
and G Streets, they’ve been serving craft-roasted coffee in DC for nearly 100
Le Diplomate: Dinner at Le Diplomate will situate you smack in the middle of
bustling 14th Street, with easy access to some of DC’s best bars
(and the aforementioned design stores). The French brassiere-style restaurant feels like
an appropriate little homage to Pierre L’Enfant, to whom we owe our wide
boulevards, sprawling Mall, and other gorgeous grassy interludes throughout the
The Jefferson: Built in 1923, this Beaux
Arts beauty underwent a top-to-bottom renovation and reopened in 2009 as one of
the city’s finest small luxury hotels. Guest rooms are decorated with American
and European antiques and Jeffersonian artifacts. The hotel’s cocktail bar,
Quill, is the perfect spot for a cozy nightcap and, adding to the ambience, talented
local pianist Peter Robinson tickles the ivories on Tuesday through Saturday
nights starting at 9 pm. The hotel is located at 16th and M, just a
few blocks from the White House.
Donovan House: A sleeker alternative to some of DC’s more staid and historic
hotels. Donovan House is located downtown on 14th Street, within
walking distance of the aforementioned design stores and Le Diplomate.
Design-wise, Capella strikes a balance between the contemporary look of
Donovan House and the old-school elegance of the Jefferson. Relax upstairs on the rooftop
(which boasts some of the best views in Georgetown), or canal-side at The Rye Bar, where a rare selection of whiskies are served up in the spirit of the
Founding Fathers, many of whom were in the whiskey trade themselves. The hotel is
located in the heart of Georgetown.
Add to our list in the comments — what are your DC
(Images: Natalie Grasso, with the exception of #2, The Renwick, by Oliver Devine.)