Your friends are visiting you in DC. It’s up to you, the local, to put together a perfect trip that everyone loves and that won’t have you lapping the National Mall for the 11th time. We know you know how to have fun in the District, but it always feels like when friends or family visit, you must be the all-knowing entertainer. And with so much to do in the nation’s capital, the task is a daunting one.
But we’ve got you. Below is a list of unique things to do when your friends visit that we’re confident they – and maybe even you – might not know about. Sure, your pals will want to see the historic landmarks and Smithsonian museums on the Mall, and you should absolutely show them; they’re awe-inspiring and amazing. But here’s what to do and where to go afterward. Just please don’t panic and bring them to Madame Tussauds or something.
OK, yes I’m mentioning more museums, because this is DC after all. These are a few that are a little lesser-known to visitors and off the literal beaten path of the National Mall. These are perfect for that friend who wants to show off with a *fire* Instagram story.
Unlike any other museum you’ve visited, ARTECHOUSE is a wonderous, immersive
experience. This interactive art space in Southwest is dedicated to featuring tech-driven works by disruptive new artists. It also houses an augmented reality bar, where you can grab delicious drinks that come to life with the magic of your cell phone.
Inside one of the coolest-looking buildings in DC is the Blind Whino. This old Baptist church-turned-funky-gallery is dedicated to community-based arts programs and cultural events. Multiple rooms make up the art gallery, performance area, and lounge space. There’s even an urban farm that grows and serves local food markets throughout the region.
When swinging by the White House, don’t miss the Renwick, the nation’s first collection of American art. Exhibits showcase visionary artists and some truly absorbing pieces. Don’t miss the new exhibit, Disrupting Craft, on display through May 5, 2019, which features work from four artists who challenge the conventional definitions of craft. Oh, and it’s free!
This free Northeast art space is an intimate indoor-and-outdoor showcase of local artists. Currently on display is a gallery full of vintage pictures showing DC in the 1970’s.
Recently expanded, the Glenstone Museum in Potomac, Maryland combines art, architecture, and landscape. It’s a serene and gorgeous gallery unlike any other in the area.
There are so many amazing places to eat in DC, especially in recent years. I cannot even begin to compile a full list, but here are some places to get you started.
Food halls seem to be all the rage, and for good reason. Where else can you get a range of local creations under one roof? Union Market near NoMa is probably your go-to in this category, followed closely by Eastern Market in Capitol Hill and Mess Hall in Brookland.
Great International Cuisine in Columbia Heights/Petworth
Take your pick from family-owned restaurants in this rising food community, from Ethiopian, to Salvadoran, to Vietnamese. Heat Da Spot, Little Havana, Himitsu, and Bad Saint are some must-trys.
Whether you get it on top of fried chicken wings from a Yum’s carryout at 2 a.m. or as a side at some new local upscale restaurant, your friends need to try this truly native condiment.
Michelin Star Dining
If you’re really trying to stunt, the DC area fine dining scene has some options for you. The Inn at Little Washington boasts the only three star rating in the region. Other spots, though, like Tail Up Goat, Sushi Taro, and Pineapple and Pearls are not far behind. Find a full guide here.
If your friends are anything like mine, drinking will be involved. And they won’t be disappointed with what DC has to offer.
Just across the river in Northern Virginia is a slew of great wineries with amazing views. Winery at Bull Run and Paradise Springs Winery are just a couple great options under a one-hour drive from the city. Don’t feel like venturing out too far? Check out City Winery DC or District Winery, both located in the city.
DC has become a craft beer-lover’s dream city. Here’s a list with a great lineup in the Northeast.
#FrayLife Tip: Too many beers to choose from? We have narrowed down this season’s must-haves for you! Check out our seasonal faves here.
Impress your classiest of friends with a menu of District distilleries. Ivy City in Northeast is a good one-stop shop, with favorites like One Eight Distilling, Cotton and Reed, and Jos. A. Magnus & Co.
DC is chock full of great local bars. Find a plethora of dive bars, classy lounges, and speakeasies in hip neighborhoods like Adams Morgan, H Street, U Street, and DuPont Circle.
Sometimes the easiest way to entertain guests is to let others do the entertaining. Here are some great local jumping off points fit for a variety of interests.
It can be easy to forget that Washington does have some prime real estate on the water. The Wharf brings to life the city’s connection to with the Potomac. It’s a hotspot with restaurants, live music, great views, boating, and shops to keep you busy for a full day.
Improv in DC
Improv has its own thriving underground scene in DC. There are tons of free and super cheap shows to catch at venues like Washington Improv Theatre, Unified Scene Theatre, DC IMPROV, and Dojo Comedy. Better yet, make your friends uncomfortable and sign up for a free/cheap improv class at these local theatres.
The Kennedy Center
You can’t mention DC entertainment without mentioning the Kennedy Center. They always have an impressive program of symphonies, ballets, Broadway shows, and other live events.
This gritty music venue in Shaw is a local staple. You’ll find anyone from niche genre artists to music icons performing at the 9:30 Club. Look out for the occasional dance party on weekends.
The Greater DC area is a topographical dream for those active friends of yours. Rivers, mountains and trails make for and endless menu of sweat-inducing activities.
Hiking at Great Falls
Take in the beauty of roaring Great Falls, a quick 45-minute drive from downtown DC. Straddling the Maryland/Virginia border, the river is entwined with pristine hiking trails that go for miles. Whether a beginner or an expert, there’s a trail for every level of experience. The Billy Goat Trail is a great starting option.
Bike to Alexandria
Just south of DC, along the wide Potomac, is quaint Old Town Alexandria. On a nice day, there isn’t a more perfect way to get there than by bike. Take a Capital Bikeshare and hop on the Mount Vernon Trail to pedal your way along the river to reach the gorgeous cobblestone streets of Old Town, all in under an hour. Once there, walk, shop, and eat along King Street. Can’t bike? Another scenic option is the DC Water Taxi, which can get you there from DC for under $20 round-trip.
Festivals and Events
There are plenty of can’t-miss festivals and events that happen year-round. It’s a safe bet that there’s something for everyone on any given week. Here are some that are coming up in the next few months.
Experience a curated exhibition of light art installations in DC’s oldest neighborhood. Special programming and tours available. Happening this year from Dec 1, 2018 – January 6, 2019.
A hallmark activity of winter. Grab a cup of hot cocoa and take a spin around one of several public ice rinks in DC. The rink in the National Mall Art Sculpture Garden is iconic, but don’t forget about the rink on Georgetown’s waterfront or on the rooftop of the Watergate Hotel.
A rotating cast of local vendors makes this a great stop for visitors to grab that perfect holiday souvenir. Open daily from November 23 through December 23.
We hope this list eases your itinerary planning just a bit for the next time your friends are in town. Let us know your favorite go-to spot for visitors in the comments or on social media using the #FrayLife tag.
Like I said, if your friends are anything like mine, there will be drinking involved during their visit. Use this guide to some of the best local beers in the District to show your friends what brews are all about here!
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