Many visitors who come to Washington, DC barely scrape the surface of all the city has to offer. They stick with the well-worn path along Pennsylvania Avenue, eating at chain restaurants and museum cafeterias, buying souvenirs at Smithsonian gift shops and only seeing about 1/16th of what the city has to offer. This is a guide to DC’s neighborhoods: the places the locals call home, where we live and play after work.
Northwest of downtown Washington is one of the city’s many neighborhoods that popped up around a traffic circle: Dupont Circle. Part of the original city designed by Pierre L’Enfant, Dupont Circle is now a vibrant neighborhood of shops, coffeehouses, restaurants, and many of the city’s LGBT residents.
Grab dinner at Al Tiramisu, an Italian restaurant that serves some of the best homemade pasta around. After dinner, go for a stroll around the circle, admiring the famous fountain commissioned by the Du Pont family. For an after dinner drink, head up to Veritas wine bar, where you can taste wine by the glass or by the flight.
In the early 20th century, U Street was the largest African American community in the country, a vibrant neighborhood of music, restaurants, and culture. Following Martin Luther King, Jr’s assassination, the neighborhood fell on hard times and was the scene of many riots, but now is back and better than ever.
During your visit, make a pit stop at the famous Ben’s Chili Bowl for a half-smoke (sorry, you only eat free if your name is Bill Cosby or Barack Obama!). Head to Marvin — named after Marvin Gaye, one of DC’s favorite sons — for dinner and the best chicken and waffles in the city. A nightcap can be found at Local 16 bar and lounge. If it’s warm out, make sure to visit the rooftop patio.
In addition to being the location of the U.S. Capitol Building (and yes, it really is up a rather large hill!), the Capitol Hill neighborhood is full of young professionals, cafes, and the best public market in the city. Barracks Row, on 8th Street SE (named after the Marine Barracks that are still in use today), is home to a cluster of restaurants offering everything from amazing Turkish pides (Cafe 8) to the best pizza and mini-burgers in the city (Matchbox).
On weekend mornings, the whole neighborhood turns out for the Eastern Market farmers and flea markets. One of the oldest continually operating markets in the country, vendors at Eastern Market sell everything from produce to popcorn to paintings. If you’re there on Saturday morning, queue up for blueberry pancakes at Market Lunch – some say they’re the best in the country!
Just north of the Braddock Road Metro station in Northern Virginia is the neighborhood of Del Ray. Originally part of the incorporated Town of Potomac, this neighborhood didn’t lose its charm when it was taken over by the City of Alexandria.
Stroll through local boutique shops and a hardware store that sells a little bit of everything before snacking on the best frozen custard outside of Wisconsin at the Dairy Godmother (there’s always three flavors: chocolate, vanilla, and a flavor of the day). The BBQ pork sandwiches at Pork Barrel BBQ are satisfying, as are the deep dish pizzas at Del Ray Pizzeria (keep an eye out for President Obama!). Finer dining can be found at Evening Star Cafe, and be sure to grab a cup of coffee and enjoy the nightly live music at St. Elmo’s Cafe.
This is my neighborhood, and I’m madly in love with it. You’ll often find me cozied up to the bar at Fireflies Cafe, noshing on a BBQ chicken pizza and drinking Alexandria-brewed Port City Monumental IPA.
All photos are courtesy of the author.