Everyone knows we have a magnificent display of cherry blossoms that lasts as long as most DC relationships (3 days). But does the nation’s capital offer any totally unique experiences that won’t remind you of that 8th grade field trip when Ashley P. wouldn’t hold your hand? Yes, yes it does. Here are 15 things you can only do in DC. Not New York, not… Philadelphia, just here.
1. See the most important structures in America by water
Walking by monuments is so pedestrian. Grab a kayak, canoe, or stand-up paddle board from the Key Bridge Boathouse and cruise past the bustling Georgetown Waterfront and eye-catching Kennedy Center before reaching the optimal viewing territory of the Lincoln Memorial. If, in the midst of your journey, you find yourself in dire need of gelato (you will!) hit up DC’s first floating food truck, Nauti Foods.
2. Drink ALL the whiskey
The “library” at Jack Rose Dining Saloon is stocked with 2,000 whiskeys. They claim to have the best collection in North America, and we’re not arguing — scrolling through all of the options online will leave your pointer finger in need of an ice bath. Since DC considers itself the South (when it’s convenient), have a bite of Chef Russell Jones’ food while you’re there. His ham & biscuits, skillet corn bread, fried chicken skins, and shrimp hushpuppies will have you humming “Georgia On My Mind”.
3. Exorcise while exercising
You’re cool if you run up Georgetown’s Exorcist steps once. You’re cool as Bill Clinton if you run up them more than once. Located where Prospect Street meets Canal Road, the steep 75 are often used as a test of physical fitness for Georgetown Hoyas, still trying to exorcise Fred Brown to James Worthy.
Visit Ecuador, Fiji, Tunisia, South Africa, etc. without tussling with an airline’s aggressive seat-recliners, thanks to the annual Around The World Embassy Tour. The spring event has most embassies opening their doors for tours, cultural demonstrations, and most importantly, snacks.
5. Go on an Ethiopian food crawl
Other cities might have an Ethiopian spot here and there, but DC has one of the largest populations of Ethiopians outside of Ethiopia, and restos ranging from white tablecloth to neighbourhood hangs with meat-scooping injera. If you run into anyone of Ethiopian descent, ask them where they take their family for dinner, and stress it’s because you love the food and you’re totally not a stalker. Whether they say Meskerem, Keren, Ethiopic, or Dukem, you know you’re gonna get some of the world’s best cuisine.
6. Visit a museum of drugs?
The Drug Enforcement Agency Museum is a small but mighty museum just across the river in Arlington, VA, making it off the beaten trail for the typical I <3 DC tourist. Tues-Fri from 10am-4pm you can learn everything you’ve ever wanted to know about drug field booby traps, opium dens, narco-terrorism, celebrities who overdosed, cartel trafficking, and more. Unlike drugs, admission comes at no cost.
7. Find peace/party in a cemetery
The Historic Congressional Cemetery sounds like an utmost serious place, but they’re not afraid to get weird with everything from “Outdoor Yoga Mortis” and a “Dead Man’s Run 5K” to boozy soirees and German beer fests. Yes, that’s how a red Solo cup ended up on James Greenleaf’s grave. Downright creepy, but cool. All of it.
8. Tackle the ultimate late-night Frankenfood
U Street’s two most famous “dude I am so hungry” offerings are Jumbo Slice and a chili-soaked half-smoke from the iconic Ben’s Chili Bowl. Thank god for the indecisive; an enterprising soul at the Washington City Paper invented the “U Street Taco”: simply wrap your dog in a steaming hot slice of pie the size of the Oval Office and enjoy… in an alley where no one is looking.
9. Be a naval aviator without joining the Navy
The Navy Yard’s just about the most spectacular location in America for trapeze lessons that’ll have you flying high without having to earn whatever rank Maverick had (it was lieutenant, btw). It’ll cost you $49-$59 depending on the day, plus whatever you spend congratulating yourself with premium local brews at Bluejacket across the street when you’re done.
10. Find 70 secret doors in one “house”
The Mansion on O Street is America’s quirkiest way to spend a Sunday: wandering through three adjoining row homes that come together to form one insane dwelling full of secret doors and themed rooms, including one dedicated to John Lennon. You can even rent some rooms like in a hotel, like the two-story log cabin that includes a timber bed, big screens, an aquarium, and a Jacuzzi tub that morphs into a sauna. Of the many daily tour options, some include Champagne. Go for those.
11. Watch movies while desperately trying not to fall asleep immediately after eating the biggest/best meal you’ve ever had
Wear those sweatpants that kind of look like real pants to Union Market so you can feast on Korean tacos from Takorean, an oyster Po’ Boy from The District Fishwife and a “porkstrami” from Red Apron, then either catch a Market drive-in movie (June 5, 12, 19 & 26), or a show at the Angelika Pop-Up Theatre across the street.
12. Admire order and discipline!
No, seriously, in what other city would you actually sit around admiring order and discipline? The U.S. Marines’ Evening Parade on Barracks Row is a must-see. Every Friday night (8:45pm-10pm) from May through August you’ll be able to ogle perfect marching to music from the United States Marine Band. There are options to watch with tickets or without. If you dig it, you’ll also like the U.S. Army’s Twilight Tattoo.
13. Drink like a President
Since 1847, no watering hole has attracted more Commanders-in-Chief than The Round Robin & Scotch Bar inside the Willard Intercontinental, aka “The Little White House,” aka “Yo, did you see Grant last night?”. Legend Jim Hewes has been tending bar for 30 of those years, so make sure you get a seat directly in front of him for amazing stories as you work through his menu, filled with drinks that capture each president’s term in office. Oh but also… get a mint julep.
14. Do LGBrunchT
Every city does brunch. Not every city has made “drag brunch” a thing, with so many fine establishments getting in on the divine action. Perry’s in Adams Morgan has been offering it since 1991, and host Xavier Onassis Bloomingdale has been there since the beginning. Everyone — gay, straight, and all points in between — is welcome, but they don’t take reservations, so line up around 9am, and maybe consider not wearing heels because you’re gonna be standing out there a bit.
15. Ogle the most important photos ever taken
There are a lot of museums in DC. Most are free. However, the best exhibit of all is not. Located inside The Newseum is an exhibit containing every single Pulitzer Prize winning photo taken since photos became a thing. Accompanying each is often a video or a placard discussing the ethics of the photo, the story behind it, probes as to whether the photographer should have aided the subjects in the photos and more. Oh and while you’re there, take a shot at giving a weather report, and try not to Brick it.
This feature originally appeared in Thrillist.