An inauguration visitor’s guide to D.C. food, drink and sightseeing

January 15, 2013

Hi, tourists — welcome to Washington. We’re glad you’re here to see President Obama get sworn in for the second time. Whether you’re in town for just a day or two, or for the entire week, we've got you covered. Here’s how you should spend your non-inaugural time — and a few tips to make your trip smoother.

[Before you do anything, you'll want to grab a copy of this PDF pocket guide to the 57th inauguration. It's mobile friendly and can be viewed without a data or cellular connection.]


The Old Post Office, foreground, is your best bet for an elevated view of the city while the Washington Monument is closed for repairs.

When you arrive: Coming in on Friday or Saturday? Those will be your best chances for sightseeing before the city is completely enveloped in inaugural frenzy. Take these days to see some of the sights in our Three Days in D.C. guide, such as the National Zoo, the view from the top of the Old Post Office (since the Washington Monument is closed for repairs) and especially the Smithsonian Museums.

While some museums on the Mall will be open the day of the swearing-in, the whole area will be very hectic, and you’re more likely to use them as a bathroom pit stop than to get the educational and artistic experience you desire. Go earlier in the weekend, and you’ll have more time to check out the exhibits, which range from the ever-popular Hope Diamond to the art of Chinese dissident Ai Weiwei. No matter which museums you see on the Mall, be sure to have lunch at the National Museum of the American Indian’s excellent Mitsitam Cafe (though it won't be open on Jan. 21).

If you’re staying longer than the weekend and would like to explore further afield, we also have a suggested list of day trips for kids, history buffs, and lovers of the outdoors alike.

Hungry? You don’t have to go to the White House to eat like the president in D.C. President Obama has frequented many local restaurants, from upscale bistros to casual sandwich joints. One of the most famous is Ben’s Chili Bowl, a D.C. landmark, which has also served Bill Cosby, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Miles Davis since its opening in 1958. It’s best late at night, after a drink or two from the many bars that line U Street.

You can also eat Obama-inspired meals: the Obama Burger, a creation of Top Chef contestant Spike Mendelsohn, at his Capitol Hill burger and shake restaurant Good Stuff Eatery, pays homage to Obama’s highbrow taste with onion marmalade, roquefort cheese and horseradish mayo.

For fancier fare, there’s much more to D.C. dining than Obama-themed dishes — in fact, by coming to inauguration and dining out, you’ll be checking off one item on the New York Times’s list of 46 places to go in 2013. Since the last time Obama was sworn in, many excellent restaurants have arrived. Our critic Tom Sietsema offers up his picks for the best ones here, and if you’re looking for a specific cuisine, check out our best bets lists for a taste of everything from banh mi to gumbo.

Thirsty? Bars in D.C. have special permission to stay open late all weekend, so you'll have more time to take in our city's favorite watering holes. U Street is a vibrant place to start, and since the neighborhood was a hub of activity on election night, the bars there, such as the U Street Music Hall and Marvin will be in a celebratory mood. Adams Morgan is another neighborhood full of nightlife, though the atmosphere there may be more frat party than inaugural soiree. Take a cab to H Street Northeast, and you'll be able to sample some of D.C.'s quirkiest bars: The eclectic Little Miss Whiskey's and Sticky Rice, or the Jewish-Irish pub Star and Shamrock.


A bartender pours beers at ChurchKey. (Leah L. Jones/The Washington Post)

If you're looking for something a little more highbrow, with better odds for spotting one of the many celebrities that will be in town this weekend, head to the hotel bars, like the lobby of the Ritz-Carlton Georgetown, and the rooftop terrace at the W, which boasts an excellent view of the White House.

The main event: If you have tickets to the swearing-in on the Mall on Monday, that will take up most of your time (and you’ll want to build some downtime at your hotel into your day afterward — the early wake-up and standing in the cold will make you tired). No ticket? You’ll still be able to stand further back on the mall and watch the swearing-in on the big screens. The Inaugural Parade down Pennsylvania Avenue is a ticketed event as well. For any inauguration event, be sure to arrive early, as security checkpoints are often overwhelmed. Don’t expect to fit anything else into your day other than inaugural activities.

Get your ball gown and tux ready for Monday night, if you were able to snag a ticket to the many unofficial balls, or the few official ones (and be sure to check out our guide to road closings and public transit, to prevent delays). If not, there are still plenty of low-key ways to celebrate: Local bars and party planners have put together dozens of alternative inaugural parties, from all-night karaoke to a beer brewer’s celebration.

• Inauguration events on the Going Out Guide.

Want to volunteer for the inauguration weekend’s Day of Service? Here’s how.

• State Society balls: What are they, and which ones are worth the trip?

• President Obama’s second inauguration is still a big deal -- just not as big.

• National Portrait Gallery to display Obama artworks during inauguration weekend.

• Reliable Source: Our guide to the official bashes, unofficial parties and too-good-to-be true pitches

Maura Judkis covers culture, food, and the arts for the Weekend section and Going Out Guide.
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