Kongos’ bassist Dylan and drummer Jesse soak up the fans exaltation at the end of their 930 club set earlier this year. (Sam Kittner/for the Washington Post)

Best place to hear live music

9:30 Club
There are a few simple reasons that this 1,200-person capacity club, which just turned 35, wins this category every year. There’s variety: The vaunted venue has hosted everyone from Adele to ZZ Top. Musicians love it: In September, psych-rock group Animal Collective released a live album, “Live at 9:30,” recorded at the 9:30 in 2013. And, how many music venues have a signature cupcake? R.G. 815 V St. NW; 202-265-0930.
2nd: Wolf Trap, Filene Center, 1551 Trap Road, Vienna; 703-255-1868.
3rd: Birchmere, 3701 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria; 703-549-7500.

Best place to see a locally produced play

Arena Stage
Arena Stage is well known as a testing ground for Broadway and off-Broadway plays, such as this summer’s hit musical “Dear Evan Hansen.” Charles Randolph-Wright, who has directed 10 Arena productions, is more inspired by Arena’s diverse audience. “When you’re doing real work that speaks to every type of person, it pushes you to do even more,” he says. Take his next Arena play, “Akeelah and the Bee” (opening Nov. 13), for example: “When you see these young black, Latino, Asian kids competing in a spelling bee, it gives you hope.” L.M. 1101 Sixth St. SW; 202-554-9066.
2nd: Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington; 703-820-9771.
3rd: Round House Theatre, 4545 East-West Highway, Bethesda; 240-644-1100


Best place to see an indie movie

Landmark E Street Cinema
This perennial Best Of winner remains your favorite place to watch a future Oscar winner, that low-budget documentary your friend has been dying to see, or the bizarro cult phenom “The Room” for the 57th time. E Street will have more competition to win Best of 2016: Landmark opened a fourth D.C.-area branch, Landmark Atlantic Plumbing, in the U Street area this week. R.G. 555 11th St. NW; 202-783-9494.
2nd: Landmark Bethesda Row, 7235 Woodmont Ave., Bethesda; 301-652-7273.
3rd: Angelika Film Center and Cafe at Mosaic, 2911 District Ave., Fairfax; 571-512-3301.

Best place to trick your kids into learning

National Air and Space Museum
“I think humans are curious by nature — especially children,” says Maureen Kerr, chair of the National Air and Space Museum’s education department. That’s why the walls of the kid-friendly “How Things Fly” exhibit are peppered with questions. Kids can learn the answers by keeping a ball aloft on a stream of air, test-flying paper airplanes or climbing into the cockpit of a Cessna 150. “We don’t do a lecture on physics,” Kerr says. “We start with the questions.” B.M. Independence Avenue at Sixth Street SW; 202-633-2214.
2nd: National Museum of Natural History, 10th Street and Constitution Avenue NW; 202-633-1000.
3rd: Newseum, 555 Pennsylvania Ave. NW; 888-639-7386.


Best place to test out your stand-up act at an open-mic night

DC Improv
The Improv’s 285-seat main showroom generally features stars like Todd Glass, but on one evening each month (it varies from month to month), local comics can get five minutes on the big stage. “The room has a lot of history and great energy, but the open mic isn’t totally open, it’s more for established local comics,” spokeswoman Allyson Jaffe says. If you do get on the bill, your friends will be super-impressed when you post photos of yourself standing in front of that famous brick wall. S.D. 1140 Connecticut Ave. NW; 202-296-7008.
2nd: Arlington Cinema & Drafthouse, 2903 Columbia Pike, Arlington; Saturdays at 10:30 p.m., free; 703-486-2345.
3rd: Washington DC Comedy Writers Group, Judy’s Bar and Restaurant, 2212 14th St. NW; Mondays at 8:30 p.m.


Best place to discover a local artist

Torpedo Factory Art Center
With 82 artist studios, seven galleries and an art school, the Torpedo Factory Art Center
gives visitors an unparalleled chance to see painters, ceramicists and other artisans in their natural habitats. “You can come in, engage with the artists, ask what they’re doing and purchase their work,” CEO Eric Wallner says. S.D. 105 N. Union St., Alexandria; 703-838-4565.
2nd: The Fridge DC, 516 1/2 Eighth St. SE; 202-664-4151.
3rd: Blind Whino, 700 Delaware Ave. SW.


Best museum where you can get hands-on

Chief among the Newseum’s hands-on exhibits is the NBC News Interactive Newsroom, where visitors can take on the role of editor, photojournalist, reporter or anchor. At the Be a TV Reporter stations, select a backdrop and read a news report from a teleprompter; clips are posted to YouTube. S.D. 555 Pennsylvania Ave. NW; 888-639-7386.
2nd: National Museum of Natural History, 10th Street and Constitution Avenue NW; 202-633-1000.
3rd: National Building Museum, 401 F St. NW; 202-272-2448.


Best piece of D.C. architecture

Washington National Cathedral
Washington is mostly a neoclassical city, but it’s the Gothic-style cathedral wrapped in flying buttresses and grotesques that we really love. Once construction started in 1907, it took 83 years to complete, which makes sense considering they had to get 112 gargoyles, 288 angels and 231 stained glass windows up there. Bring binoculars to spy the sculpted Darth Vader head on the northwest tower. B.M. 3101 Wisconsin Ave. NW; 202-537-6200.
2nd: Library of Congress, 101 Independence Ave. SE and 10 First St. SE; 202-707-5000.
3rd: National Building Museum, 401 F St. NW; 202-272-2448.


Best underrated tourist attraction

U.S. National Arboretum
If you thought the Arboretum was your own private getaway, your secret’s out — for the fourth year in a row. Highlights of its 446 acres: the National Grove of State Trees, where you’ll discover that non-state D.C. has a state tree; the mini trees at the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum; and lots of free parking. Holly J. Morris (Express). 3501 New York Ave. NE; 202-245-2726.
2nd: Library of Congress, Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First St. SE; 202-707-9779.
3rd: Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, 400 West Basin Drive SW.


More Best of 2015:





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