Anyone who’s hosted guests from out of town is likely to tell you that, yes, they’ve already taken them to see the monuments at night. They’ve been to Arlington National Cemetery. What about the Tidal Basin, have they seen that? You bet.
We figure you’ve got those sites covered. For those expecting visitors, we offer the following tips on where to go and how to make the most of some of Washington’s tried-and-true sights, along with some lesser-known gems worth going out of your way for, whether it’s your guests’ first time in town or they’ve been here before.
It can still be a challenge to snag tickets to the eight-story museum, which opened last year and can take days to experience fully. But this long-overdue exploration of the country’s African American history is an immersive and stirring collection worth seeing. Even if you can’t score tickets in advance, it’s worth trying to walk in, especially if you’re already on the Mall. 1400 Constitution Ave. NW. Free.
The second most popular museum in the world in 2016, the Air and Space Museum holds the Spirit of St. Louis, the Wright Brothers’ Flyer and other famous flying machines. To escape the crowds, go to Dulles for its sister museum, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, home to the space shuttle Discovery. 600 Independence Ave. SW. Free.
The vast national art museum features Renaissance masterworks, modern art and an enticing sculpture garden that's perfect for snapping impromptu family portraits. Don’t miss the Ginevra de’ Benci portrait, the only painting by Leonardo da Vinci on display in the Western Hemisphere. Sixth Street and Constitution Avenue NW. Free.
When it opened in 1921, the Phillips Collection was America’s first museum dedicated to modern art. Explore the museum collection, which includes such famous works as Renoir’s “Luncheon of the Boating Party” and Jacob Lawrence’s “Migration Series,” during the week, when the admission fee is a donation of your choice. 1600 21st St. NW. Free-$12.
The Renwick Gallery, the Smithsonian museum dedicated to contemporary crafts and decorative art, has been smashing attendance records since it reopened in 2015 after extensive repairs. Much of this is because of the nature of its major exhibitions: immersive, large-scale works that draw viewers in while providing colorful backdrops for tens of thousands of selfies. The underrated museum offers out-of-towners an easy way to freshen up their social media profiles, while its relative small size and location makes it an ideal stop after seeing the White House. 17th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW. Free.
Far from the bustle of the Mall, the Kreeger is one of the most beautiful museums in Washington. The private, nonprofit collection includes important impressionists, Picassos, members of the Washington Color School and displays of African, Asian and pre-Columbian art. The building is as interesting as what’s on the walls, with airy galleries, a sculpture terrace, a reflecting pool and a new art trail that winds through the woods. 2401 Foxhall Rd. NW. Suggested donation: $10 for adults, $8 for military, students and seniors.
Sitting on 8.5 acres, this house in Anacostia, where Frederick Douglass lived from 1877 to 1895, is a testament to the legacy of the abolitionist. The 21-room mansion (accessible only with the purchase of a $1.50 guided tour) features artifacts such as a piano and violin original to the home, while the visitors center displays a book of hymns that Douglass had when he escaped slavery as a young man. Go for the history and the vista: Perched atop a hill, the site offers sweeping views. 1411 W St. SE. 202- 426-5961. $1.50 for a tour.
Once you’ve seen the space shuttle, where can you take a budding astronaut? The visitors center at the Goddard Space Flight Center is a treasure trove for space fans: Watch storms and climate change projections move across a six-foot globe; learn about the scientific discoveries made by Hubble and the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter; and see a collection of full-size rockets, including an Apollo crew module that visitors can climb into. Don’t forget to hit the gift shop for astronaut ice cream and mission patches on the way out. 8800 Greenbelt Rd., Greenbelt. Free.
Food halls are popping up everywhere lately, and in the District, we have Union Market, where more than 35 vendors provide a global culinary tour. When you’ve had your fill of arepas, Burmese noodle bowls and poke, stop at Salt & Sundry for some serious home design inspo — and great souvenirs. 1309 Fifth St. NE. 301-347-3998.
Though it’s hardly the best in town, the half smoke at Ben’s Chili Bowl has been a staple on U Street since 1958. Over the years the eatery has endured riots, drug wars and subway projects to host such notable guests as Bruno Mars, Bono, Chris Rock and Barack Obama. Pro tip: To bypass the line, grab a seat at the counter. 1213 U St. NW. 202-667-0058.
Sure, D.C.’s dining scene has cooler spots, but for the out-of-towner who wants to take in a scene a la “House of Cards” or “Veep,” this downtown stalwart is synonymous with power dining. Slurping oysters and rubbing elbows with Washington’s most influential names — watch that martini glass! — doesn’t come cheap. Our advice: Stop by weekdays from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. or 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. to enjoy half off all oysters. 675 15th St. NW. 202-347-4800.
Are the cupcakes from this as-seen-on-TLC sweet shop really worth the long waits? That’s debatable. But if your guests love reality TV, it’s worth swinging by to marvel at the queue. And if you simply must try them, skip the line altogether by placing an order online in advance (there’s no minimum), or have the cupcakes delivered anywhere in the Washington area for a $10 fee (minimum six). (For better cupcakes, those in-the-know go to the nearby Baked & Wired — a more well-rounded, multifaceted shop that’s no one-trick pony.) 3301 M St. NW. 202-333-8448.
This greasy spoon has been going strong since 1944, when founder Lacey C. Wilson Sr. opened the Shaw diner using the tips he’d saved from shining shoes. Despite changing hands in ownership, it has drawn constant crowds. The best dishes are those made-to-order on the griddle: scrambled eggs, fluffy pancakes and strips of bacon so crispy they crumble when bitten. While you eat, be sure to tell your crew they’re dining at America’s oldest continuously operating soul food restaurant. 1100 Florida Ave. NW. 202-265-1586.
Fans of Korean food have long flocked to Annandale, home to the area’s best iterations of the cuisine. But now there’s another reason to dine in the Virginia suburb: The small but trip-worthy food hall the Block has five stalls, plus a full bar. Highlights from the predominantly Asian offerings include fresh fish over rice at Pokéworks, Asian comfort food at Balo Kitchen and Taiwanese-style shaved ice in such flavors as pandan and taro at SnoCream. Eat your meal family-style to sample the most. 4221 John Marr Dr., Annandale. 703-942-5076. No website.
You can now actually treat your guests to a great meal on the water, a feat practically impossible in years past. This bright riverside restaurant features a New England-inspired menu that includes a hearty clam chowder, johnnycakes and a lobster roll overflowing with meat. The raw bar, one of the finest in town, includes at least six oyster varieties that rotate daily as well as a seafood charcuterie plate. Grab a seat on the large outdoor patio, which overlooks the Anacostia River. 79 Potomac Ave. SE. 202-506-2368.
The Georgetown Waterfront — made up of 10 acres of riverside park and alfresco restaurants — lures the seersucker-clad crowd like a magnet. For that, you can thank the nautical views, seafood towers and recreational boat rentals. Note: The park doesn’t have public restrooms, so be sure to use the loo at one of the nearby businesses before wandering around. 3303 Water St. NW.
At 24 acres, the Wharf dwarfs Georgetown’s offerings. The new neighborhood is part of a multiphase development expected to wrap up next year. Visitors can dine at restaurants owned by some of the city’s best-known chefs, including Del Mar, a glitzy Spanish restaurant from Fabio Trabocchi, and Requin, a French bistro from Mike Isabella. (You can also find more affordable options, like Shake Shack and Taylor Gourmet.) And if you really want to impress your guests, buy them tickets for a show at the Anthem, the hottest music venue in town. 1100 Maine Ave. SW. 202-314-5759.
The Kennedy Center is home to the Washington National Opera and the National Symphony Orchestra, not to mention the host of Broadway musicals, comedy shows and concerts. It's worth visiting just for the terrace: Grab a drink at the bar, then make your way outside for views of the Potomac River, Georgetown and beyond. Don’t want to shell out for a show? The venue’s public stage features free music, dance, theater and comedy performances every day at 6 p.m. Show up early to ensure you get a seat — this fills up fast.
2700 F St. NW.
If you want to give theater-loving visitors an experience they can’t replicate back home, take them to the Folger Library’s Elizabethan Theater, a timbered, atmospheric space modeled after the galleried playhouses William Shakespeare knew. Its resident company takes chances, performing such lesser-known, enjoyable works as “Timon of Athens” and “Antony and Cleopatra.” The theater, also used for poetry readings and lectures, is open free with daily tours, along with the neighboring library, which has an astounding 82 copies of Shakespeare’s first folio. 201 East Capitol St. SE.
The world’s largest library has an eclectic schedule of concerts, meaning you might hear a Grammy-winning Latin rock band from Los Angeles, baroque concertos by a European ensemble or influential jazz pianist McCoy Tyner. The theme of the 2017-2018 season focuses on works in the library’s vast holdings. Many programs feature pre-concert talks with the artists. 101 Independence Ave. SE. Free. Reservations required.
Considered one of the best cocktail bars in the country, the Columbia Room puts breathtaking thought and detail into every nuanced drink. For those who enjoy cocktails with a side of knowledge, the bar regularly leads booze-based workshops, such as how to make warm seasonal tipples or mix drinks with champagne. 124 Blagden Alley NW.
DC Brau was at the front of the local craft brewery trend: When it opened in 2012, it became the first production brewery in Washington since the 1950s. At the upper Northeast tasting room, pick up some of the coolest brewery merch in town. In addition to T-shirts bearing a variation on the D.C. flag, there are pint glasses shaped like DC Brau cans and adorable onesies — which can make for great souvenirs. 3178-B Bladensburg Rd. NE. 202-621-8890.
Fun fact: Anxo, which made its name producing dry, Spanish-style ciders, had to get a winery license to open in the District, making it the city’s first winery since Prohibition. The flagship bar and restaurant in Truxton Circle is fun, but for a look at what the cidermakers are doing, head to the Brightwood Park tasting room, where about a dozen of their releases — some bright and acidic, others funky and rustic — are available by the glass or in flights. Spanish wines, meats and cheeses are available, as is a selection of local craft beer. 711 Kennedy St. NW.
It can be easy to miss this gem of a lounge, tucked behind an unassuming facade on Florida Avenue NW. With the vibe of an upscale hotel bar, Truxton Inn looks fancy, but it’s equally welcoming to cocktail experts and neophytes alike. Every other month, head bartender Brian Nixon shakes up the theme of the “suggestions” on the drink menu: Through the end of December, it’s focused on concoctions with just three ingredients. 251 Florida Ave. NW.