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Washington, D.C., the capital of the United States of America and the seat of its three branches of government, has an unparalleled collection of free, public museums, and the lion's share of the nation's most treasured monuments and memorials. The vistas on the National Mall between the Capitol, Washington Monument, White House, and Lincoln Memorial are iconic throughout the world. Beyond the Mall, D.C. has in the past two decades shed its old reputation as a city both boring and dangerous, with shopping, dining, and nightlife befitting a world-class metropolis. Travelers will find the city new, exciting, and decidedly cosmopolitan and international. (less...) (more...)

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Points of Interest in Washington

If you are sightseeing, chances are you are on the Mall. The National Mall is a unique National Park, filled with an intense concentration of monuments, memorials, museums, and monumental government buildings instantly recognizable to people all over the world. The White House, the US Capitol Building, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial and Reflecting Pool, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, the Vietnam War Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, the National Gallery of Art, the National Air and Space Museum, the National Natural History Museum, and the Holocaust Museum, are just a few of the top national attractions here, all within walking distance of each other. The tourist-designated sights are just half of the attraction, though—to walk down the National Mall is to thread the halls of world power in the modern era. Here powerful politicians and their staffs fill the grand neo-classical buildings of the three branches of US Government, making decisions that reverberate in the remotest corners of the world.

There are multiple maps along the Mall, especially by Metro stops, but the place is so jam-packed with things you'll want to see that you should probably take a map with you to avoid missing highlights obscured by other highlights. For a more detailed and larger map than the Wikivoyage version, print out the official National Mall map (pdf). The Mall is larger than it looks, and a walk from the Capitol Building to the Lincoln Memorial or the Tidal Basin will take a while and may wear you down a bit. Plan ahead what you want to see and concentrate your activities in one section of the Mall each day.

The eastern section, home to the majority of the museums, is covered in the National Mall article, as are the western portion of the Mall and the Tidal Basin. Many more museums await just north of the Mall in the East End, ranging from the new, flashy Newseum and International Spy Museum to the time tested National Portrait Gallery, American Art Museum, and the home of the Constitution at the National Archives. The White House is located in the West End along with several excellent smaller museums, and the Capitol Building is on Capitol Hill.

While the Mall has more than enough sights to keep a traveler busy for a while, the city itself has plenty of big attractions for a visitor who wants to leave behind the sandy paths and flocks of tourists and pigeons of the Smithsonian. The National Zoo in Woodley Park is one of the nation's most prestigious, and the nearby National Cathedral is an awe-inspiring mammoth. Dupont Circle is home to much of Embassy Row, an impressive stretch of some 50 foreign-owned historic and modernist mansions along Massachusetts Ave, as well as several brilliant small museums, such as the Phillips Collection, the Textile Museum, and the Woodrow Wilson House. Another attraction that shouldn't be missed is the Library of Congress, which has some of the most beautiful architecture that can be seen in the city.

The historic neighborhood of Georgetown is another great sightseeing destination, full of beautiful old colonial buildings, the 200+ year-old Jesuit campus of Georgetown University, a pleasant waterfront, and the infamous Exorcist steps. By car (i.e., taxi), you can get to some of the capital's more far-flung and less-frequented attractions, like the National Arboretum in the Northeast, or the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens in eastern Anacostia. By taking the Metro red line to Brookland-CUA, you can easily visit the magnificent Catholic Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. This is the largest Catholic church in North America.

Views and Panoramas

D.C.'s famous height restrictions—no taller than the width of the street the building is on plus 20 feet—have resulted in a skyscraper-less downtown, giving D.C. a distinctly muted feel for what is actually the heart of a huge metropolis. The obvious downside to this law is that it limits the supply of housing and office space, which sends the cost of living and running a business downtown soaring, sparking runaway suburban sprawl, which has helped cause terrible traffic congestion, erode the city's tax base (since suburbs are in Maryland and Virginia), and undermine the vitality of the city's downtown. On the upside, though, this means that you'll have a great view over the city if you make your way to just about any old rooftop or even a nice hill.

There are several classic spots to get a look out over the city. Starting with the cheapest and easiest, the Old Post Office Tower is free and centrally located, just off the National Mall in the East End, with a good view of the nearby federal buildings and a helpful map explaining what you're looking at. Also free, the Kennedy Center rooftop terrace (in the West End) provides a nice skyline somewhat removed from the city, with the Lincoln Memorial prominent in the foreground. The Washington Monument (currently closed due to damage caused during the August 23, 2011 earthquake) is another free option on the Mall, though as a vista point its small, bunker-like ports covered with scratched plastic make it less inspiring than might be expected. If you have some money, the Newseum (East End) is a good place to see a remarkable museum and get a close up view of downtown. Finally, the W Hotel (West End), just a block from the White House, has a rooftop terrace, bar, and lounge. While the bar and lounge are expensive, a single cocktail gets a table for several people long enough to take in the view, and suave cheapskates can simply wander around long enough to get a load of the White House from above (close enough to make out the Secret Service overwatch) before heading back to the elevator.

National World War II Memorial

United States Capitol

Smithsonian Castle

Smithsonian Institution

National Mall (The Mall)

Washington Monument

Bartholdi Fountain

Lincoln Memorial

United States Navy Memorial

Hirshhorn Museum

Arthur M. Sackler Gallery

White House

Korean War Veterans Memorial

Freer Gallery of Art

Supreme Court of the United States

Enid A. Haupt Garden

Arts and Industries Building

United States Botanic Garden

National Gallery of Art

Peterson House

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About Washington

History

Washington, D.C., is a city borne of politics, by politics, and for politics. It wasn't the first national capital: Baltimore, Lancaster, York, Annapolis, Trenton, and even New York City all tried their hand at hosting the national government. For a time, it seemed like Philadelphia would stake a claim as home to the federal government. However, Congress soured on the "Cradle of Liberty" after disaffected American soldiers, with the tacit sanction of the Pennsylvania government, chased the legislators out of the city to Princeton. That incident made clear that the nation's capital would need to be independent from the then-powerful state governments and that the southern states would refuse to accept a northern capital.

Three of the nation's founding fathers, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and Alexander Hamilton, agreed in 1790 to a compromise location for a new national capital on largely uninhabited land along the Potomac River in the Mid-Atlantic. The exact location was left up to George Washington, who carved a diamond-shaped federal district out of land donated by the states of Maryland and Virginia, which just so happened to be near his plantation at Mount Vernon. The new territory also included two existing settlements: Georgetown, on the Maryland side of the Potomac, and Alexandria, Virginia, at the district's southern tip.

The French-born architect Pierre L'Enfant was charged with planning a new federal city located on the north side of the Potomac, next to Georgetown. L'Enfant's plan, modeled after some of the leading cities in Europe, envisioned large parks and wide streets, including a grand boulevard connecting the "President's House" to the Capitol building. However, L'Enfant was an eccentric and fought bitterly with the commissioners appointed to supervise the capital's construction. President Washington ultimately dismissed L'Enfant, but the problems didn't end there. Issues with financing and a lack of skilled craftsmen slowed the construction of the city. The commissioners ultimately relied on African slaves lent from nearby plantations to complete construction. The federal government finally moved to the new capital in 1800, which by then had been named Washington in honor of its founder, though he still preferred to call it the "Federal City."

British forces invaded the city during the War of 1812, burning and gutting the Capitol, Treasury, and White House. And things didn't get much better for the new national capital. When he founded the city, President Washington originally thought that a flourishing trade would help support the capital, but the idea was short-lived. The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal was built in 1831 to move goods from the western territories all the way to Georgetown, where they could then be loaded onto ships. However, the canal was unable to compete with the new and more efficient Baltimore & Ohio railroad. Alexandria suffered disproportionately, since the government's plans favored the port at Georgetown and all government buildings were, by law, built in the City of Washington. The economic stagnation, combined with fears that the federal government would ban Alexandria's thriving slave trade (and it eventually did), caused Congress to return all the District's land originally donated by Virginia. The 1846 "retrocession", as it is now known, spoiled the city's fine diamond shape, leaving only the land originally donated by Maryland under federal control.

Washington's compromise location on the border of North and South proved precarious during the Civil War. Caught between Confederate Virginia on one side of the Potomac, and southern sympathizers in surrounding Maryland, President Lincoln established a network of forts surrounding the capital. As the center of war operations for the Union, government workers, soldiers, and runaway slaves flooded into the city. Despite the city's growth, Washington still had dirt roads and lacked basic sanitation. After the war, some members of Congress suggested moving the capital further west, but President Ulysses S. Grant refused to consider such a proposal.

In 1871, Congress created a new territorial government for the whole District of Columbia charged with modernizing the capital. Sewers and gas lines were installed, streets were paved, and the town was transformed into a modern metropolis. However, the high cost of the initiative (and alleged cronyism) ultimately bankrupted the District government and later public works projects could not keep up with the city's growing population. By the early 1900s, L'Enfant's vision of a grand national capital had become marred by slums and randomly placed buildings, including a railroad station on the National Mall. A plan enacted by Congress in 1901 beautified Washington's ceremonial core, re-landscaping the Capitol grounds and the National Mall, clearing slums, and establishing a new city-wide park system, finally developing the city into L'Enfant's intended grand design. The New Deal spending of the 1930s led to the construction of even more federal buildings, memorials, and museums. Government activity only increased with the coming of World War II and the city hasn't looked back since.

Climate

D.C.'s climate has a bad reputation, the city having supposedly been built on a swamp with the purpose of discouraging a large bureaucracy—after all, if no one wanted to live in D.C., then there wouldn't be too many bureaucrats.

This is all a huge crock. There was no swamp here, and the weather is actually quite lovely throughout the year. The myth of bad weather in the capital comes from the fact that most visit at the height of the summer, when the pleasure of relatively moderate temperatures is completely drowned out by the miserable, impenetrable humidity. On a hot day on the Mall in July, you'll sweat like a dog, the kids will complain incessantly, and you'll want to spend as much time indoors as possible. It's not the best time to visit.

But the rest of the year is lovely. It's hard to beat spring in D.C. The northerly subtropical climate results in cool breezes, moderate temperatures, lush growth, flowers, budding trees, and, of course, the cherry blossoms. The most beautiful time of spring usually falls from April to mid-May. Domestic tourists know this, though, and you can expect the cherry blossom walk around the Tidal Basin to see (pedestrian) traffic jams that put the Beltway to shame. (A truly savvy tourist can escape the crowds but still enjoy the cherry blossoms at the National Arboretum.)

Fall rivals spring for perfect temperatures. It's also a lovely time for a walk in Rock Creek Park, where the dense forest bursts with multicolored confetti. Winter sees few tourists, but it's actually a great time to visit. While it's less attractive in December, the Gulf Stream ensures that the temperatures remain mild, with very sporadic snow. But the best thing about the season is that the museums are practically empty, and theater season is in full force.

It's worth considering the political climate as well. Before heading to D.C., research which events will coincide with your visit. Major international conferences, political events, or protests can hinder your sightseeing tour in dramatic fashion and also send lodging prices through the roof. The holiday season from Thanksgiving to New Year's is a much calmer time to visit, when the U.S. Congress takes its extended vacation. This means fewer official visitors, elected officials, and staff members; the Metro becomes less crowded and there are overall fewer people in the city.

Activities

Parks

The District is home to many large parks that offer hiking and biking. Many of the downtown parks are crowded with soccer, football, rugby, kickball, baseball, and ultimate frisbee players. The Mall may be the most famous park, but there are several other beautiful places worth noting, like the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, the National Arboretum, Meridian Hill Park, and the C&O Canal Towpath.

Rock Creek Park

If you look on a map, Rock Creek Park is evidently the District's central respiratory system, bisecting the city north of the Anacostia River, and covering nearly 2,000 acres of thickly forested hills. It's a national park, full of deer (who overpopulate, due to lack of predators), squirrels, rabbits, raccoons, birds, and even a few coyotes. The paved biking/running trail is one of the nation's best, and it extends all the way from the Lincoln Memorial way out into Maryland (it also connects with the Mount Vernon trail in Northern Virginia). But there are tons more paths, from the hiking trail network to bridle paths, as well as a boatload of picnic spots, a golf course, a variety of Ranger-led/educational programs, and even a boat rental center on the Potomac.

There are plenty of nice outdoor spaces just beyond the park itself. South of Massachusetts Ave, you can take a path west out to the beautiful Dumbarton Oaks estate and gardens, and then on to enormous Archibald-Glover Park, where the trails can lead you as far south and west as the C&O Canal and Palisades Park. Following the main Rock Creek trail along the creek itself all the way south will take you under the Whitehurst Fwy and down to the Mall, where joggers avail themselves of the incredible path right along the Potomac beneath the monuments.

  • Peirce Mill, Tilden St & Beach Dr NW,  +1 202 282-0927. A historic water-powered mill in the park and a national historic site, Peirce Mill and restrooms are currently closed to the public for repairs. The restrooms located at Picnic Grove 1 are still open.
  • Rock Creek Golf Course, 16th St & Rittenhouse St NW,  +1 202 882-7332. dawn-dusk daily. The eighteen holes of golf in Rock Creek Park are a bit rough—some would say the fairways are starting to look like pasture. That's not to say you can't have a good experience here, as it is quite a novelty to play golf deep in the woods, despite being in the city. Golfers might want to consider the other two major courses in the city, though, at Hains Point (just across the water from the Mall) and at Langston. $16/nine holes, $23/eighteen.
  • Rock Creek Horse Centersee district article.
  • Rock Creek Park Nature Center and Planetarium, 5200 Glover Rd NW,  +1 202 895-6070. W-Su 9AM-5PM. Deep inside the park, the Nature Center offers hands-on exhibits, guided nature walks, an "observation beehive," and a full planetarium. Especially good for kids. All free.

Roosevelt Island

Roosevelt Island, ☎ +1 703 289-2500. This is another one of those gems just far enough out of the way where most tourists miss out. The Teddy Roosevelt Memorial is at the center of the island, housing a memorial to the president as well as a couple fountains and several stone obelisks inscribed with his quotes. The rest of the island is a nice natural park of woods and swamp (the swamp has a boardwalk) in the center of the Potomac, with great views of Georgetown University on the northwest side and of the Kennedy Center on the east. What could be better befitting the great outdoorsman than an island park memorial!

To reach the island, walk down the stairs at the Rosslyn side of the Key Bridge—which connects Rosslyn with Georgetown—then head east on the trail (the Mount Vernon Trail) to the footbridge to the island. Rosslyn has the nearest Metro stop. By car, you can access the parking lot just north of the Roosevelt Bridge from the northbound lanes of the George Washington Pkwy only.

Festivals

With all the government money around, D.C. is awash in free public events all throughout the year, but especially in the summer, many of them right on the Mall. A few highlights include:

  • A Capitol Fourth. 4 July. There is nowhere better to celebrate Independence Day than in the nation's capital. Fireworks over the Potomac River, the National Independence Day Parade, and a huge orchestral concert on Capitol Hill all make for a big time celebration. Expect enormous crowds.
  • Monday Night at the National, 1321 Pennsylvania Ave NW,  +1 202 783-3372. M 6PM,7:30PM, fall. You can see just about any type of big musical, dramatic, or dance performance right at the National Theatre in the East End for free in the fall! Tickets are required, and they start handing them out 30 minutes before the performance, so you'll have to stand in line.
  • National Book Festival, National Mall. One Saturday and Sunday in Mid to Late September. Sponsored by the Library of Congress, this festival celebrates books, authors, and reading. Highlights include listening to your favorite author speak, queuing up to have a book signed, taking the kids to visit their beloved PBS Kids characters, and collecting stamps from all the US states and territories in the Pavilion of the States.
  • National Cherry Blossom Festival. Late March–early April. Note that Washington's cherry blossoms do not necessarily bloom during the festival—the bloom varies every year, depending on the winter weather. When the blossoms are out (and they don't stay out for long—a good rain will wash them away), Washington is at its prettiest. The traditional cherry blossom promenade is around the Tidal Basin, although it is absurdly crowded down there. You will pay top dollar to stay at hotels during cherry blossom season.
  • National Kite Festival (at the Washington Monument). March 2010. The main attraction is of course all the people showing up to fly their kites by the Washington Monument, but there are also a bunch of tent exhibits on topics from things like West Indian kitemaking to U.S. wind power projects. There are several kite flying competitions throughout the day, the most popular being the Rokkaku Kite Battle.
  • Screen on the Green (On the green between 4th & 7th St NW). M 7PM, July–August. Classic films, often with a political angle, are shown for free on the Mall. Watching 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington' with the capital dome in the background is classic D.C. It's good to show up a little early to stake out a good spot, lay down the picnic blanket, and socialize.
  • Shakespeare Free for All, 610 F St NW (Harman Hall),  +1 202 547-1122. 18 Aug–4 Sep. The locals' choice for best summer festival might be the free annual performances by the renowned Shakespeare Theatre Company in the new Harman Center for the Arts. No longer held at Carter Barron Theatre, the shows now are ticketed using an online lottery in addition to the same-day tickets available at the door (via queue) in the morning.
  • Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Late June–around 4 July. This annual festival normally has three topics: a country, a region of the U.S., and another subject, which varies from year to year. Previous festivals have featured the country of Oman, the ancient Silk Road, and music in Latino culture.

Sports


Football

The Washington Redskins are one of professional football's most established and storied clubs, boasting five NFL championships. Valued at $1.6 billion, the team is the second most valuable franchise in the country. The team plays at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland. To get there, take the Blue Line Metro to the Morgan Blvd stop, then walk one mile straight up Morgan Blvd to the stadium. The team has survived movements and lawsuits trying to get rid of what some consider an offensive term for Native Americans. However, polls have found that the vast majority of American Indians do not find the team's name offensive.

The Maryland Terrapins, representing the main campus of the University of Maryland, also has a large following in the area. The team plays just outside DC in College Park.

Hockey

The Washington Capitals, under coach Adam Oates and led by superstar Alexander Ovechkin, are having their best years yet. The team plays at the Verizon Center, located in Chinatown

Basketball

The Washington Wizards also play at the Verizon Center. The Wizards were known as the Washington Bullets until 1995, but the name was changed by then-owner Abe Pollin due to the unpleasant irony in the homicide-heavy 1990s.

The Washington Mystics are the WNBA women's basketball team, and are (in)famously the league's regular "attendance champions." That is, they don't actually have winning seasons, but they do have plenty of fans. The team also plays at the Verizon Center.

The Georgetown Hoyas men's basketball team are far and away the most popular college sports team in the city, and they often sport a more exciting season than even the Wizards. The team also plays at the Verizon Center since the crowds for the Hoyas' games are too big for the University to hold.

The Maryland Terrapins also have a large following in the area. The team plays just outside DC in College Park.

Three other NCAA Division I teams play in the District, and a fourth plays in the immediate metropolitan area. The District also has the George Washington Colonials in Foggy Bottom, the American Eagles in Tenleytown, and the Howard Bison in Shaw. The George Mason Patriots are in Fairfax County, Virginia, just outside the city of Fairfax.

Baseball

The Washington Nationals, a.k.a. the Nats, formerly the Montreal Expos, have been playing in DC since 2005 and at a new stadium by the Waterfront since 2008. The new franchise has finally pulled the city out of its ages old slump (they had been dead last in their division all but one season), with the acquisition of enormous new talent in 2010. Star pitcher Stephen Strasburg has brought baseball fever back to DC for the first time in 100 years, selling out games (at least until being sidelined by Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow) and leaving the city abuzz with baseball talk. Previous DC baseball teams include the 1901–1960 Washington Senators, who later moved to Minneapolis as the Minnesota Twins. Both the original Senators and their second incarnation in the 1960s (now playing in Arlington, Texas as the Texas Rangers) suffered from a singular inability to win, though. The first incarnation was quite successful for its first twenty years, but by WWII they earned the city the slogan "first in war, first in peace, and last in the American League."

Soccer

Americans often forget that the country has a professional soccer league, but that's not the case in D.C. D.C. United is the MLS' most dominant team, with 4 MLS cups under its belt (out of the league's 13 seasons), as well as successful international competition in CONCACAF and CONMEBOL, where the club has both a CONCACAF championship and a Copa Interamericana. D.C. is a big soccer town, owing to the metropolitan area's very international population and its big Latino communities, as well as to a home-grown affection for soccer in this section of the Mid-Atlantic, and the games are high-energy and well attended. United are the last team still playing at over-the-hill RFK Stadium, though they are looking for a new home, possibly across the river at Poplar Point.

Theater

For your big-ticket downtown theater, there are basically two options: the enormous, government-run Kennedy Center in the West End and the private Theater District in the East End. The Kennedy Center also houses the Millenium Stage, with free daily performances at 6PM! (Truly, D.C. is spoiled for free activities.) The Theater District houses the Ford's Theatre, the National Theatre, and the Warner Theatre, all of which put on big, well-known Broadway and other dramatic performances, as well as the beloved and internationally acclaimed Shakespeare Theatre Company, which has residency at both the Lansburgh Theatre and brand new Harman Hall. On any given trip to D.C., it would be hard to do better than to see one of their performances. But in this Shakespeare-crazed town, you have your choice of Shakespeare theater companies—you can also see top-notch, smaller performances of the Bard's work at the Folger Shakespeare Theatre on Capitol Hill.

For smaller theaters with more local, less-known, diverse, and avant-garde performances, the options are more spread out. The Woolly Mammoth Theatre in the East End is the best known, but you can also try your luck away from the Theatre District in theaters as diverse as the Atlas Theatre on H St NE, the GALA Hispanic Theatre at the Tivoli in Columbia Heights, or the Studio Theatre in Shaw. If you'd like to soak up some great local flavor, look for one of the intensely physical, dance-heavy performances by the Georgian-owned Synetic Theater Company, which most often performs across the 14th Street Bridges in Crystal City.

Music

Classical

Classical performances are a dime a dozen in D.C., largely thanks to the efforts of the Kennedy Center, where you'll find the Washington National Opera and National Symphony Orchestra in residence. The Kennedy Center dominates the local classical arts scene with its fame and money, to the point where there aren't really any other major venues in the city. There are more intimate concerts citywide on a regular basis (try the Dumbarton candlelight concerts in Georgetown!), but you'll have to hunt for them—the Washington Post's online Going out Guide is probably the most comprehensive source for up-to-date listings. The concerts that are the most fun are a bit exclusive—if you are well connected, or simply very good at schmoozing, try to get an invitation to any of the daily social events at the embassies—the Europeans are always having magnificent chamber performances.

Pop & rock

The two big music venues in the city are the 9:30 Club and the Black Cat, both of them in Shaw. Several other smaller local music venues are right in that area — DC9, U Street Music Hall and Velvet Lounge are both right around the corner from the 9:30 Club. A couple of new, edgy venues catering to the local rock crowd have also just opened up in the Atlas District, such as the Red Palace and the Rock and Roll Hotel. Other big-name touring acts often show up at larger downtown venues such as DAR Constitution Hall, the National Theatre, the Warner Theatre, and of course the Verizon Center downtown. Just outside of the city limits, and Metro accessible in the suburb of Silver Spring, the Filmore recently opened, which features mid to large scale acts.

Jazz & blues

It's a rather well-kept secret that D.C. holds one of the world's best jazz scenes outside of New York City. Blues Alley in Georgetown remains the flagship club, with atmosphere straight out of a Spike Lee movie. But the jazz scene is unquestionably centered in the historic African-American neighborhood of Shaw along and around the U St Corridor, where native son Duke Ellington once played along with the likes of Charlie Parker, Louis Armstrong, and Ella Fitzgerald.

Blues lovers will have to look harder to find a good show. There is a good regular jam session across the street from the National Zoo, of all places, as well as one off in a Presbyterian church in Southwest. But the biggest event is clearly the annual outdoor summer Blues Festival at Carter Barron in Rock Creek Park.

Food

Washington has a little bit of everything, from really good inexpensive ethnic takeout (no problem getting Ethiopian or Afghan or Jamaican food here) to high-dollar lobbyist-fueled places that will cause your credit card to burst into flames. Most of the high end cuisine is available downtown in the West End and East End, in Georgetown, and especially in Dupont Circle—offering dining experiences ranging from steakhouses packed with powerful suits to a science-powered, six-seat restaurant offering a $120, 30-course meal.

For cheaper dining, there are endless options scattered around the city. The two most notable "ethnic" enclaves include wonderful Ethiopian food in Little Ethiopia and some solid Chinese in what remains of D.C.'s disappearing Chinatown. Salvadoran cuisine is near-ubiquitous throughout the northern reaches of the city, with an unbelievable concentration of pupuserías in Columbia Heights. Pupusas are thick corn tortillas stuffed with cheese, optionally fried pork, refried beans, or all sorts of other things, then topped with a tart cabbage salad and an Italianesque red sauce. But truly, you can find just about any cuisine you want in this city if you look for it—D.C.'s international might draws representatives from all corners of the globe, and they all need ex-pat cafes and restaurants to haunt. A few cuisines seem to be missing (notably Southeast Asian & Korean), but they are just across the D.C. borders in Maryland and Virginia.

But despite featuring cuisines from all over the world, D.C. seems to lack a cuisine of its own. The city, realizing this, went through a brief period of soul-searching, wondering why it lacked any unique regional culinary traditions, and realized that it indeed has one: the D.C. hot dog stand. They're everywhere, especially around the Mall, and they sell the unique-to-D.C. smoked half-beef, half-pork sausages appropriately named half-smokes. They have a firm "snap" when you bite into one, are served on a hot dog bun, and are often topped with chili. Most hot dog vendors are mere shells of the half-smoke greatness served out of WWII-era aluminum shacks. If you want a true, quality half-smoke, you should visit Ben's Chili Bowl on U St, which is universally understood to serve the best.

Cupcake fever has hit the District in recent years, first as a local craze, and now a national one fueled by pilgrims lured by shows like Cupcake Wars and DC Cupcakes. The star of the latter show, Georgetown Cupcakes has lines running around the block, with patrons coming from throughout the city and now the whole country. Other cupcakeries that do not have their own shows, however, easily give Georgetown Cupcakes a run for their money in terms of quality. If you're in Georgetown and not up to the lines, try the delicious Baked & Wired or LA transplant Sprinkles instead. If you're downtown, hit the Red Velvet Cupcakery for some of the best little sweet muffins in the city.

Kosher dining

There are currently only two kosher restaurants in D.C., and they are very casual: Eli's Restaurant (meat) near Dupont Circle and Distrikt Bistro (meat) inside the JCC. However, there are several other options for kosher dining in neighboring Montgomery County. Metro accessible kosher restaurants in Montgomery County include: Max's Kosher Cafe (meat) and Nut House Pizza (dairy) in Wheaton; Siena's Restaurant (dairy) near the Whiteflint metro; and Cafe Shawreen (meat) near the Twinbrook metro. There are also a number of other kosher restaurants in Montgomery County accessible by car, mostly in Rockville and Kemp Mill.

Drinks

Whatever bar or club scene you favor, D.C. has it aplenty. The hottest clubbing spots are in Adams Morgan around 18th St, Dupont Circle and nearby Logan Circle, and increasingly (and improbably) on K St near McPherson Square. Adams Morgan's scene is the edgiest (and likely most exciting) of the three, and draws a really young, diverse crowd. Dupont Circle's scene is probably the biggest and most established, with sometimes frighteningly upscale clubs catering to extremely wealthy foreign clientele, as well as a more happy-go-lucky gay scene. Logan Circle is less established as a nightlife hot spot than Dupont, but the two areas otherwise resemble one another.

If these destinations are all a bit too high-octane, you should definitely explore the clubs around U St and 14th St in Shaw, which cater to an older, diverse, and self-regardingly more sophisticated crowd. Shaw is also a fantastic destination for live jazz, with echoes of Ellington ringing out from nearly every restaurant, bar, and not a few world-class music venues on Saturday nights. Georgetown is another major nightlife destination, although the emphasis here is less on dancing and more on drinking. It has tons of bars, most of which have a "privileged" and sometimes rowdy collegiate atmosphere. Back on the topic of live jazz, Georgetown is home to the city's most prestigious venue, Blues Alley.

But that's hardly the end of things. D.C. at the end of the 90s and into the current decade went from being one of the blandest, shut-down-at-ten-o'-clock American cities to having a thriving nightlife scene pretty much city-wide. Aside from the north central neighborhoods listed above, Barracks Row, Woodley Park, and Chevy Chase each have their own nice "strips," mostly filled with upscale bars, that are worth visiting. The downtown nightlife is lacking, to put it mildly. Foggy Bottom, despite the huge quantity of students, remains pretty quiet, and the Penn Quarter is a den of tourist traps. If you're looking for nightlife downtown, research carefully.

Long lacking anything even resembling a bohemian neighborhood, a successful Adams Morgan club owner decided to manufacture one along H St NE around the newly renovated Atlas Theater in the Near Northeast. The result is strange. It may never be properly "bohemian," but the Atlas District is intriguing. It's a poor but quickly gentrifying neighborhood, and is dead quiet most of the week, but now there are blocks worth of crazy dining/clubbing options, and even a few upscale joints, that fill the street on Friday and Saturday nights. The biggest attraction has to be the Palace of Wonders, a vaudeville/sideshow/burlesque bar with sword swallowing bartenders and a "museum of oddities," but there are also a couple surprisingly cool rock clubs, a mini golf bar, Belgian mussels and pommes frites, and even an upscale wine bar and lounge. Streetcar service is expected to begin in 2014, with cars running from Union Station.

Gogo clubs (the funk/hip-hop genre, not dancing in 60s miniskirts) were once probably D.C.'s most distinctive nightlife scene, concentrated in Anacostia, but today all indoor gogo performances have been banned in D.C., due to a backlash at the staggering number of homicides occurring at clubs and events. If you're looking for live gogo today, look for big outdoor events or head out to the Takoma Station in a homicide-free section of the Northeast, which seems to get away with regular gogo acts by claiming to be a jazz club.

Shopping

Few think of D.C. as a major shopping destination, but it will surprise you, having shrugged off its time-old, politically-influenced staid and bland culture over the past ten years. Beyond the expected souvenirs, the District's fashion scene has grown by leaps and bounds. The most exciting boutique, eclectic, and vintage shopping is to be had in Georgetown, Adams Morgan, and the U Street strip, with Georgetown being the most traditional, established, and famous of the three. For more traditional upscale shopping, the meccas are in Georgetown and Friendship Heights. Both are also excellent destinations for gift shopping, whether trendy-eclectic or high-end.

The most centrally located department store is the Macy's at Metro Center, which is surrounded by many other smaller clothing stores. The closest and most accessible shopping mall, anchored by Macy's, Nordstrom's, and Nordstrom's The Rack is at Pentagon City metro station in Arlington. For much cheaper bargains, try outlet shopping; however, the DC-area outlets, Tanger Outlets at National Harbor, Potomac Mills, and Leesburg Corner, are not accessible by metrorail and are inconvienient, although possible, to access without a car.

Another recent surprise in the city has been the explosion of a large, cutting-edge art scene. Its heart beats just north of Logan Circle, but Georgetown retains the largest quantity of art galleries. The latter is the more popular for casual buyers, as the Logan Circle boutiques are contemporary and universally expensive. Both make for great browsing, though.

Book Hounds will find much to enjoy in the over-educated western portions of the city. Barnes & Noble has a lock on the bulk of the business, but specialty shops abound. Favorites include Kramerbooks, Lambda Rising, and Second Story Books in Dupont Circle, as well as some great options in Capitol Hill and the East End. If you are willing to make the trek, Politics & Prose in Chevy Chase has a rightful claim to be the city's favorite.

As you would expect, there are endless souvenirs found by the National Mall and nearby East End, many of them sold by street vendors, and even more of them a bit cheap and hokey. Several large, but pricey, souvenir shops are located at 10th & E St NW. A better bet are the Smithsonian museums, all of which have excellent gift shops.

Lastly, the city's one big market, Eastern Market on Capitol Hill, is a favorite Saturday or Sunday afternoon shopping destination for antiques, secondhand books, local produce, and works by local artists, photographers, and craftspeople. Even if you're not buying, it's a great time.

This article is based on Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike 3.0 Licensed text from the article Washington, D.C. on Wikivoyage.

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