Be honest – when your friends come to visit you in D.C., how difficult is it to decide on the best spots to take them? For me, it’s almost impossible. Not because I can’t think of anywhere perfect, but because every place is precisely that. Perfect.
We live in a city with dozens of museums, hundreds of monuments, and thousands of delectable restaurants serving insta-worthy dishes for every palate, so it can be difficult to know where to start. Personally, I tend to overwhelm my friends with options – I can’t help it. I’m determined to make them love D.C. and I want to show them everything. I was born and raised in Richmond. VA, a city home to dozens of breweries, unbeatable river views, and an art scene like no other, so when my friends from home come to visit, it’s hard to compete.
That’s why I spent my weekends discovering my favorite places in D.C. until I had created a perfect snapshot of the city, honed down to the top restaurants, bars, and touristy activities that any visitor would enjoy. I’m particularly fond of my new home base, H Street Corridor, so this list will be perfect for anybody with a passion for dive bars and hidden restaurants. To keep it all-encompassing, I’ve made sure to include spots from throughout the city for a perfect weekend tour of D.C.
After a tiring work week, it’s good to keep things relaxed on a Friday night. Once your friends drop off their bags wherever they’re staying, head over to Copycat Co. on H street for a relaxed atmosphere and some killer old-school cocktails. This place is especially unique for the fact that it has no decoration or distinct theme. This is intentional as the bartenders firmly believe the guests define the atmosphere, even going so far as to subtly change the playlist based on the collective energy of their patrons.
I highly suggest going off-menu when you’re prompted for your drink order. Have fun describing something unique like ‘a drink that tastes like the color purple’ or ‘something that tastes like I’m sitting on a mossy log in a forest next to a raging campfire’ and watch as they whip up something impeccably like your description. And if your friends haven’t eaten since their arrival, the menu of unbelievable pot stickers, bao, and skewers (veggie options available) will lull you into a food coma for the rest of the night.
#FrayLife Tip: Snag a seat at the bar so you can talk to the bartenders. They have some unbelievable knowledge about every cocktail you can think of – as they should since they’re apprentices for three months before they’re allowed behind the bar.
Don’t let the snooze button tempt you because to truly enjoy DC, your friends will need to blend in with the locals and fit quite a few great spots into their day. Start off with brunch at Espita Mezcalaria in Shaw – holy guacamole is their food delicious! No, seriously, try their guacamole. And their salsa. And everything else on the menu. They’re one of a few places I’ve discovered with a set brunch menu that still allows for variation. Add on the bottomless drink option to test out some tasty mezcal cocktails (have a few in true DC fashion).
The museum, monuments, and obvious history of DC may be what this city is best known for (and we’ll get to that on Sunday), but the hidden beer gardens make our city notable. While Dacha is a definite go-to beer garden, bring your guests to the lesser-known Calico hidden within Blagden Alley and watch them swoon over the gorgeous floral arrangements and fairytale décor.
If you’re a fan of open air and yard sports, head over to Wundergarten in NoMa instead. This gem is essentially a redesigned parking lot, upgraded in the best way possible and taking up a significant footprint in a bustling part of town. You’d never know it, though, once you walk through the ivy-covered archway into this beautiful oasis. Grab a beer (cider, wine, and liquor available for those with diet restrictions) and play some cornhole, giant chess, or connect four. If the sun becomes too much, relax (a.k.a. take a nap) in one of the many covered lounge areas hidden in pockets around the perimeter. Food is also available in the form of a CaliBurger food truck stocked with the perfect bar eats. Seriously, this place has it all and just might be my favorite spot in D.C.
#FrayLife Tip: Visit Wundergarten at night to sip on brews around their cozy fire pit, and revel in the quiet atmosphere it naturally creates.
Don’t fill up too much on beer and CaliBurger, because as the sun starts to set, you’re going to have to try one of two delectable, authentic ramen shops in the city. (Additional bonus: both locations have truly mind-blowing vegan options).
If you chose to enjoy the open space of Wundergarten, head a little further east to the H Street Corridor and grab a spot at Toki Underground. This ramen shop, located somewhat concealed above The Pug bar is home to the most authentic Ramen I’ve ever tried in the city. In typical H street fashion, the restaurant can only seat 15-20 people at a time, but this is one of those unforgettable places that’s worth the wait. I have yet to disappoint a friend with their noodles, and the decor is mostly a blend of bumper stickers and tasteful graffiti, with a contrasting domed ceiling of reclaimed wood. For an intimate setting and authentic ramen, this is the place to be.
#FrayLife Tip: Reservations are only allowed at lunch and from 5 – 6 but once you give your name and number to the host, head down to grab a drink at The Pug. Once your table is ready, you can take your drink glass with you upstairs to continue enjoying during your meal.
If you’d like to move to another area of the city, put your name down for a table at Daikaya Izakaya in Chinatown. While the downstairs ramen shop still only allows for perhaps 25-30 patrons at a time, it is a brighter, more open space than Toki Underground and also has authentic Japanese ramen dishes, with its own twist of deliciousness (definitely recommend adding the spice ball). If you decide you’d like something more refined than ramen, head upstairs to the main restaurant, which hosts a menu chock full of poke, bento boxes, and various other traditional Japanese comfort foods.
#FrayLife Tip: While the 2nd-floor Izakaya restaurant takes reservations, the downstairs ramen shop does not. Place your name at the counter and head across the street to Penn Commons to sip a beer (or two) while you wait. Download the Nowait app to literally watch your place in line so you’ll know when to close your tab.
If you’re still awake after the long day of brews and eats, head back to Penn Commons or up the street to the U street area and bar hop until your legs give out (I don’t mean that literally, that would be awkward).
Ah, Sunday, the proverbial day of rest! Sorry in advance, you won’t be resting if you keep following my list. And let’s be honest, if you want your visitors to have a true D.C. experience, they’ll need to adapt to the fact that ‘rest and relax’ isn’t a phrase ever spoken in D.C. – there’s too much to do, too much to see!
Wake up late (or whenever your food coma/probable hangover allows) and seek out some Bullfrog Bagels. Retail locations range from Adams Morgan to Woodley Park and Eastern Market but to have a true Bullfrog experience, head over to their brick-and-mortar location on H Street, right in my backyard.
Bullfrog Bagels is hilariously unique in that it shares its space with the Star & Shamrock bar, which opened its arms to the authentic Jewish-style bagel company back in 2014. When the bar closes up in the earliest hours of the morning, the bakers stroll in to start their work in the small shared kitchen – I can only imagine the comical ‘Good Night, Good Morning’ exchanges that ensue during the daily transition. Using D.C. tap water, these are considered the truest D.C. bagels, and once you try one you’ll understand the business’s raging success.
#FrayLife Tip: My favorite menu selection is the house-smoked salmon sandwich, but even just a plain bagel or bialys will have you addicted.
After filling up on bagels and bialys, resist the temptation to crawl back into bed. Let me suggest something more intriguing and, again, uniquely D.C. About 10 blocks southwest of Bullfrog Bagels, right in the heart of Capitol Hill, is the wonderful world of Eastern Market. An institution in the city since 1873, the market is one of the only buildings specifically dedicated as a market in D.C. (and, fun fact, it’s a National Historic Landmark)!
Grab some eats from the various pop-up tents of local restaurants and stroll the aisles of fruits and veggies straight from the tri-state area (spoiler alert: free samples available from all of the fruit stands). Don’t miss a walk through the actual Eastern Market building, which houses fresh cuts of raw meats, fish, and cheeses. If you’re not hungry, seek out the artist stalls for some paintings and gifts from around the world. And it’s worth noting that these aren’t kitschy tourist gifts I’m talking about, but truly unique paintings, sewn art, and worldwide staples like masks and silks meticulously designed by artists who have been selling at the market for decades.
#FrayLife Tip: Don’t forget to stop by Capitol Hill Books to peruse their three-story selection of used books, with witty index cards left by the owners to designate each section. You’ll see what I mean when you go there (and you really should go there).
From Eastern Market, hop on a bikeshare and continue on to the Capitol and National Mall. You’ll have a plethora of options here. Take your guests on a tour of the Capitol or visit a few free museums. My personal favorite? The American Museum of Natural History, of course (lions and tigers and dinosaurs – oh my). Whatever your guests’ interests, there is a Smithsonian to match.
When you tire of world-renowned art and Neanderthal skulls – if that’s even possible – hop back on the bikes and watch the sunset over the Tidal Basin. Extra points if you’re there during cherry blossom season.
While D.C. residents are totally used to seeing a giant obelisk jutting out into the sky between blocks, our monuments will never fail to amaze visitors. So if you have time to spare before dinner, be sure to check out the Lincoln Memorial at night. That’s when the reflection of the Washington monument is at its best in the reflecting pool.
#FrayLife Tip: For any photographers out there, stand on the corner of the reflecting pool closest to the Lincoln Memorial to catch a glimpse of the Capitol and Washington Monument side by side, with a perfect reflection!
It’s almost time for your guests to leave, so head back over to the H Street Corridor for some delicious eats. Smith Commons is always my go-to and should be yours, too. What used to be a carpet warehouse is now an industrial loft-style beauty, with fancy accents of houndstooth and brass. Stepping inside is how I’d imagine being invited into some of the bougiest D.C. restaurants to feel (I’m sure I’ll never really know). I highly recommend the salmon entree. I don’t know what they do to it to make it so delicious, but it’s probably the best salmon dish I’ve ever had.
As your final stop, pop into Sospresso across the street from Smith Commons. This new Mediterranean restaurant has a first-floor casual bar area that includes both liquor and espresso. Take my advice and skip the liquor – their cappuccinos are to die for, and a perfect pick-me-up before your guests head back home.
By the time your friends are on the road, they’ll be feeling all the FOMO and scouring Craigslist for apartments in the District. Or they may be asleep because let’s be honest, you just took them on a glorious tour of the city in one short weekend. Let’s both hope for the former.
If you and your friends are still ballin’ on a budget, check out these ideas for how to experience DC on a Dime!
View More Articles By Laura Giuffrida