Travel Like You Mean It: 52 Things in DC

Washington, DC is a grid interrupted by states running crosswise and roundabouts taking you in circles. That’s not a metaphor - supposedly Major Pierre Charles L’Enfant designed DC to be confusingly laid out to intimidate foreign dignitaries and would-be attackers alike. I’m not sure that's true; I’ve never looked it up. I like the mystery.

But DC is also a city of intersections. The District is one of the most internationally diverse cities in the country, and it has an infrastructure and culture that celebrates this fact, one that makes a concerted, if imperfect, effort to give platform to professional, demographic, state, and nation-specific organizations from around the globe. If you can’t travel the world, travel to DC. It’s the next best thing.

In my application to be the New York Times 52 Places Travel Writer, I did 52 Things in DC in one weekend. I don’t actually recommend this full itinerary; what I do recommend are the items marked with an asterisk. Click through them below, and use the resources section to design a trip that's tailored to you. Walk or bike where you can, and keep an eye out for unexpected finds along the way.

Have recommendations of your own? Share with the class - find me @LiaPoteet

  1. Georgetown Spooky Tour

    This was a cute way to get in the mood for Halloween and that's about it.

  2. Dumbarton Oaks

    Instead, amble around the area yourself. Dumbarton Oaks Museum is free (the gardens reopen in March 2018), then visit Book Hill Park, a surprise tucked away at the public library. Beautiful in summer, prime sledding in winter, it's a free respite from the ritzy consumerism of Georgetown.

  3. Embassy of Montenegro*

    3a. Learn to say cheers with the Ambassador. Živeli!

    Embassy events are uniquely DC: the culture, the politicians, the excuse to dress up. Even better, they're often open to the public - you just need to know about them. International Club of DC sells tickets to many of them, ranging from poetry readings to Viennese balls. It's the best hidden gem in DC.

  4. Halloween Costumes

    DC has no shortage of opportunities to dress up, dress out, dress down. From tweed themed bicycle rides to masquerade balls to killer fashion on the street, you don't have to wait for Halloween to make a statement.

  5. Bar Charley

    If you're a local, it's a friendly neighborhood bar that's cool and comfy at the same time. If you're a visitor, do something more interesting.

  6. Jack Rose

    The rooftop is packed, fratty, with watery drinks. The basement is a dim speakeasy with quality, but expensive, cocktails. The main floor is the biggest selection of whiskey in the Western Hemisphere - just right.

  7. Spooky Tropixxx at Songbyrd

    Songbyrd is four experiences in one: Coffee shop, record store, bar, and basement music venue. Skip the coffee, but go to the bar for the scene and the drinks, equally delicious. Then, go downstairs from some basement grooves far removed from the fratty vibes in AdMo.

  8. Salsa at Habana Village

    There was one couple dancing, a handful more standing on the perimeter like a middle school dance. I've heard from others it's a great time, but apparently only some of the time. Cafe Citron, however, has never failed me.

  9. Amsterdam Falafel*

    There are lots of DC spots for late-night cravings, but when it comes to a fun toppings bar, spicy comfort food, and a well-loved divey atmosphere where you make friends with he other night owl at the next table, Amsterdam Falafel (the original, in AdMo) is tops. The weed jokes and ball puns abound, and nobody's complaining. But don't sleep on the fries' literally. They're warm and pillowy, but you're not that far from your bed. You can make it! Besides, you want that curry ketchup in your mouth, not on your face.

  10. Insomnia Cookies

    Your heart tells you you need cookies. Follow your heart. Regret following your heart. Contemplate the ups and downs of love.

  11. Test Capital Bikeshare

    The bikes are heavy but generally well-stocked throughout the city. Mediocre, but reliably so.

  12. Colony Club

    Colony Club has established itself as a community space, welcoming events and entrepreneurs. Rise and Flow Yoga leads donation-based classes on the bright second floor, where a ping pong table is replaced with mats on Saturday morning. The excellent instructor, Corinne Matti, is looking to open her own practice, and helped me get into crow pose (for a few seconds, anyway).

  13. Test Lime Bikes Bikeshare

    One of four dockless bikeshares that just launched in the city, I was eager to try it. Then the map showed that getting to the nearest available bike would take longer than walking. So I walked.

  14. Republic Kolache at Reliable Tavern*

    Chris Svetlik introduced the National Pastry of Texas to the District, and it was love at first sight. In true DC style, it was the mashup that stole the show - the Tex-Mex Saag Paneer kolache will make you wish the pop-up wasn't only open on the weekends.

  15. Petworth Farmers' Market

    One block long and packed with farmers' market staples, you don't need to come to Petworth for the same effect. Instead, visit the market in the DC neighborhood you're already in. They're everywhere - it's 'the cutest infestation ever.'

  16. Dia de los Muertos Celebration

    This is another benefit of checking the events pages, not just the landmarks. Festivals and holiday parties abound in DC no matter what time of year.

  17. Mexican Hot Chocolate from Ruta del Vino

    You don't need me to tell you to pick up a sample where you can, do you?

  18. Learn CPR in 60 Seconds

    The local fire department had a table full of plastic torsos, and we learned how to deliver mouth-free CPR to the beat of 'Stayin' Alive,' which was on repeat. The poor guys are probably sick of that song.

  19. Short Eats

    At the Short Eats tent we split a vegan Sri Lankan breakfast Roti. My compatriots complained that it tasted like a frozen burrito; I ate it happily.

  20. Hunt for Spin Bikeshare, Find a Used Bookstore Instead

    Trying to find these dockless bikes is kind of like an Easter egg hunt. Which is fun if you don't have somewhere to be. In this case, we happened across a great used bookstore called Wall of Books. We learned that young families have made it to Petworth, dockless bikes haven't.

  21. Find Spin Bikeshare, Bike to Union Market

    DC is an immensely walkable, and increasingly bikeable, city. Take advantage of it if you can.

  22. Stop at Mexican Fruits Wholesale

    22a. Eat papaya so ripe it melts on your tongue.

    Union Market has two signs, and two sides. If you go either, go to both.

  23. Union Market Patio

    It's a lovely place to enjoy lovely weather, complete with an Airstream trailer serving alcoholic slushies to groups gathered around picnic tables.

  24. See a Mural

    Get to know a city by its public art. DC is lately taking a cue from Chicago and Miami, with a public and private commitment to fostering street art rather than stigmatizing it. It makes for a thought provoking scavenger hunt, and Blagden Alley in Shaw is famous for it. But after last month's mural fest, at least 10 new ones have gone up around the city. Maybe you'll come across one while you're looking for your dockless bike.

  25. Get a Beer at Red Apron in Union Market

    Red Apron is known for its meat. But I was just there for a post-bike brew.

  26. Don't Buy Something from Bougie Vending Machine

    There's a 'High-End' vending machine in Union Market that features $13 hot sauce, fancy beef jerky, and other luxury items that are more fun to talk about than actually buy.

  27. One Eight Distilling

    DC is having an alcohol moment. Ivy City, a 20 minute walk northeast of Union Market, is the hub. It also makes for a very convenient walking tour.

  28. Republic Restoratives

    DC's first women-owned distillery, upped the game with Rodham Rye. It's everything I want in a whiskey: spicy and empowered. Also, meet Doug.

  29. Jos. A. Magnus & Co. Distillery

    Many of the brewers and distillers do free tastings, tours, or both. Try some Navy Strength gin at Jos. A. Magnus and think about how you'd fare on a ship.

  30. Atlas Brew Works

    This is the perfect last stop for your tour. The beer is solid, there are food trucks for soaking up all those samples, and it's right below Jos. A. Magnus.

  31. Smithsonian Food History Festival at the American History Museum

    Festivals are usually a great call, but we got there close to closing and the food and talks were wrapping up. We did tour the museum, though - the pop culture mementos are neat, but much of the content is wanting for meaningful context. The First Ladies' exhibit, for example, displays centuries of inaugural dresses and china patterns across two rooms, but only mentions a few of the broad policy issues they championed in the fine print. Visit another museum instead, especially the National Museum of African American History and Culture (see below).

  32. Crash a Watch Party for a School We Didn't Go To at Solly's Tavern

    The Ohio-Penn game was that Saturday. If you want to meet people, watch parties are practically cheating - drink specials and tater tots with people who can't wait to talk about this thing they're all doing together. Where else can you be so immediately welcomed into a local bar?

  33. Habesha Market*

    DC has the biggest Ethiopian population in America, and the best Ethiopian food. Habesha Market is some of the best and most affordable places to eat way too much of it. Wash it down with an Ethiopian beer and check out the dry goods for sale in the front. Try to resist buying a stack of injera to take home with you.

  34. DCDW Popup at Cherry Blossom Creative

    DC Design Week showcased art and design made in the District, and we've made some beautiful stuff. Not that we need more stuff.

  35. Sofar Sounds Concert*

    For a taste of the local music scene wherever you go, check if Sofar Sounds is active in the city. Secret shows with the next big thing make you feel cooler than you deserve. On this night, Margot MacDonald shocked the room with a voice alternately hymnal and tumultuous - that is, with the help of her loop pedal, Ella.

  36. Detour to the Cathedral at Night

    37a. Meet a flying racoon

    Leaving the show, we noticed the tops of the National Cathedral peeking over the rowhouses, so we decided to visit and walk around. On our way we met a flying racoon.

  37. Ramen Cocktail at Nocturne

    Managed to snag a reservation on opening weekend. You have to be taken through a doughnut shop to a secret elevator that takes you to a basement. The blue-hued bar is behind a mahogany (I'm guessing) door. The cocktails are creative and mostly fantastic - I got the Jockey Full of Bourbon for the name and ingredients, but fortunately for my cohorts I quickly tired of talking like Tom Waits. But the real reason we were there: Nuac the Casbah. It's ramen with a broth that's spicy with scotch. The novelty was delightful, but you could also just pour Jack in your Cup O' Noodles.

  38. Sugar Shack

    The doughnuts are creative and pretty good, but brilliantly located above a bar.

  39. Lucky Bar

    We walked to Dupont Circle and chatted with a few other Halloween revelers headed the same way. Dupont was even more of a madhouse than usual, but Lucky Bar didn't have a line or a cover. Skip it unless you're watching Arsenal on a weekend morning.

  40. Russia House

    This vodka bar, with rich fabrics, hushed voices, and an intense vodka list, feels like you're conducting business. Get the flight (but only with a group who can hold their liquor), and take in the scene.

  41. Kramerbooks and Afterwords

    A late night bookstore! That serves pie!

  42. SweetScience Coffee*

    Filled with books and homey textiles in the capacious basement of Lapis, it's delicious for every sense. If you're spending a day in the neighborhood, no one would blame you if you stopped for coffee in the morning, and chose the door to the left in the evening for inspirational Afghan food at Lapis. The air is redolent with heady spice, while the decor and warm service welcome you as neighbors.

  43. Makers Mart Fair at the National Museum of Women in the Arts

    Another piece of DC Design Week, the National Museum of Women in the Arts hosted local women-owned businesses selling art, food, and other goods. The museum is housed in a beautiful building and filled with thought-provoking art, all by women.

  44. National Mall

    The hub for all things touristy, the National Mall also plays host to recreational games throughout the week. BYOBall, or see if you can crash a game of ultimate frisbee.

  45. The Magic Of Morocco Festival

    On the mall we cruised through a short block celebrating Moroccan culture, hosted by the Moroccan embassy. The tents were beginning to shut down ahead of some storms, but we had time to thumb through piles of heavy tapestries and admire an outdoor mini garden.

  46. U.S. Capitol

    We didn't have time for a tour, so we just looked at it. I take it for granted, as I frequently run jog walk past it. But this tour made me remember the sense of awe, that something big is happening right at your fingertips. It strips the cynicism from you, even if for a moment.

  47. Washington Monument

    If you're anywhere within several blocks you have a great view of the monument. It's not worth paying for a ticket to the top, where views of the city are obscured by thick layers of smudge on awkwardly small squares of window.

  48. National Cat Day at the Freer Sackler Gallery

    Who doesn't like cats? (Don't answer that.) The newly reopened Freer Sackler Gallery celebrated #NationalCatDay with films, an amulet-making workshop, and a scavenger hunt that I lost to a bunch of kids. Meouch. The gallery itself has more artifacts than the other art museums - think ornate china and gold plated walls of script. It's beautiful, but may not hold the attention of children... Or someone who's done 48 things in DC in one weekend.

  49. National Museum of African American History and Culture*

    Set your alarm for 6:29 so you can compete for the tickets released online at 6:30 every morning. If you can get any of the passes, which are free, GO. It is a profoundly moving museum that embraces the latest trends in interactive exhibits - your seat at an updated Greensboro lunch counter allows you to explore a menu of movements on a touchpad embedded in the counter itself. We spent several hours there but only made it halfway through - going back to finish is now on the top of my DC To Do list.

  50. Bohemian Caverns Concert at the Millennium Stage*

    The Millennium Stage at the Kennedy Center hosts concerts for free, every evening, across a range of genre and geography. It is a uniquely DC resource, and certainly worth the visit.

  51. Kennedy Center

    The Kennedy Center is a destination itself, host to the National Symphony Orchestra and a hub of performance art. But don't take my word for it. Ben Folds, who speaks music like a language and masters seemingly every instrument he picks up, was recently named Artistic Advisor to the orchestra, a position created for him. If you're musically in the know, you know Folds is worth following.

  52. Beer and Bananagrams at the Board Room

    By this point, it was cold and storming and 8:00 p.m. We needed cozy, we needed welcoming, we needed the Board Room. With an armoire of board games that overflows into piles on the floor, it's the ideal place to gather 'round when a roaring fireplace just isn't available. We toasted, we laughed, we daydreamed about sleep. It was the perfect way to relax before catching some well-deserved shuteye' or at least before starting to build the website to host an extensive travel writeup.


Doing your homework will help you make sure you’re making the most of your travel. Wherever you go, the agenda pages can make the difference between checking a box and truly interacting with a place. For DC, here are a few resources to help you Travel Like You Mean It:

DC Map - Now with NYT 52 Things layer

Brightest Young Things Agenda

730DC Scheduler

International Club of DC

DCist This Week in Jazz

Now go forth, and choose your own adventure.

Stay hydrated, y’all,