My conversations with new clients often fall into the same rut:
"What do you want to do in your time in DC?"
"I don't know, the Air and Space Museum, the Capitol, lunch with the Obama's, the rest of the Smithsonian, and then something to fill in the rest of the day".
It's my fault, because it's a dumb question (of course there are dumb questions, don't be silly). If you knew what you wanted to do in DC, you wouldn't be hiring a guide now, would you? So, what I'm going to do to help you in your vacation planning, and, more importantly, to help me with new clients, is to propose some sample itineraries for everyone to use as a tool to build a good, solid day in DC.
I'll roll these out over the next several weeks. My intent is to have each day to be a logical whole, with a pace that takes things in but doesn't overwhelm you, and allows plenty of flexibility to substitute items of more interest to you.
For starters, let's kick off with a day on Capitol Hill, the neighborhood I know best. This itinerary will combine a good mix of grand National sites and more relateable local color. Of course, this would be a full day of touring, so feel free to pick and choose what parts appeal to you.
View A Day in DC: Capitol Hill in a larger map
8:00 AM: Take the Blue/Orange Line to Capitol South. As you exit the Metro, take a right and head down C ST SE one block and turn left on 2nd. You have a couple of excellent options for breakfast here. I'd recommend Pete's Diner for a good solid breakfast or Le Bon Cafe next door for a French cafe type of experience.
8:30 AM: Don't rush, but if you're done we should at least walk by the Capitol Building. Now that we're properly fortified, and perhaps more importantly, caffeinated, let's head up Pennsylvania Ave to the main attraction. I've discussed before the ins and outs of visiting the Capitol, so I would certainly read that post if you are interested in getting in. Let's say you are. Head in, and get your tickets. For our purposes let's assume you've received 9:20 tickets. You can kill a little time by checking out the excellent museum in the Visitor Center. If the time is significantly later, take the tunnel over to the Library of Congress and come back at the appointed time. Astute readers of this blog know that "on time" varies subtly from place to place.
10:20 AM: Wowed by your trip to the Seat of Democracy, we have time for one more thing before lunch. I'd say you want to head through the ready made tunnel to the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress. While you're free to wander the building on your own (and you should), if you make it in time for the 10:30 tour, don't miss it. No kidding, I'd rather skip the Capitol tour and make this one. If you have teenagers with you, you can always bribe them with "this is where National Treasure II was filmed". The exhibit halls on the second floor are top notch as well.
If you've skipped the tour of the Capitol, or just have more time you might want to swing by the Supreme Court, assuming, of course, it's a weekday. There's a small exhibit space downstairs and they do a nice little presentation every hour on the half hour (assuming they're not in session). I wouldn't make a special trip for it, but if you happen to be there, you might want to sit in.
12:30 PM: Ok, you've been good. No whining, you've seen you're share of cultural sights, but it's lunch time. Pete's is a distant memory, and you're threatening a sit down strike if you don't get fed. If it's dire, and I wouldn't blame you if it is, there's many a good option in the immediate vicinity. But if you can hold out fifteen minutes, let's take a walk down East Capitol Street. One of the main avenues radiating away from the Capitol, you'll get a sense of what DC was like in the 1900s. Many of the original houses still exist and this is a gateway into the heart of the Capitol Hill neighborhood. For now, we're leaving what you think of as Capitol Hill, the locus of Federal decision making and the seat of our government, and entering what I think of as the Hill, the neighborhood where I live, raise my kids, and generally enjoy life. While interconnected, they are very separate realities, and I hope you'll come away with the sense that Washington, DC is not just filled with faceless bureaucrats and greedy Congressmen, but also includes real people living life with much the same concerns and joys that you do. Often, people fall into both categories.
12:45: Ok, enough of that, I promised you lunch if you behaved, and you have, mostly (I'll ignore the grumbles under your breath). Take a right on Seventh St and you will see Eastern Market in all its glory. We can explore the Market later, for now, let's get some food. If you feel like sitting down, Tunnicliff's Tavern across Seventh from the Market is my go to place. Good food, and a staff that is perpetually helpful, make this a great place to hang out for a bit. And if you wish to linger for a few minutes over a beer or two, well it's vacation and you've earned it. I also mix it up with Prego, an Italian deli and sandwich shop (try the nr 4 on a hard roll), and Tortilla Cafe, a Salvadorean and Mexican place with excellent fish tacos and a weird cole slaw thingy that I don't like but wake up in the middle of the night craving. And, of course, for a authentic Eastern Market experience, try out Market Lunch, inside the Market itself. Known for their crab cakes and blueberry pancakes, the Market Lunch often has a line, but it moves quickly. I'd recommend knowing what you want before you hit the cash register and if you want to linger over your food, take it outside.
2:00 PM: Now that's we've had some lunch, and I hope you've taken a few minutes to relax, let's take some time to explore the Market. If it's a weekend, you might wish to plan an hour or two to explore the Flea Market, set up in the school parking lot down Seventh. A variety of crafts, artists, antiques, and others less definable sell their wares Saturday and Sunday at the Market. Of course, you'll want to duck into the Market proper to take in the sights and smells, and perhaps to grab a snack for later. There are also several good traditional bricks and mortar stores in the area. It is not impossible to spend an hour in Capitol Hill Books, to the point where your wife wonders if you've run off with someone else (which would probably be cheaper in the long run). I also recommend Hill's Kitchen, a new cooking store on the Hill. Even if you have everything a home chef could possibly want, stop by to get a cookie cutter of DC, and you're home state (unless you're from Hawaii).
3:00 PM: If you done shopping and exploring, and don't feel you have to be, perhaps a self-guided walking tour of the area is in order. Tour of Duty: Barracks Row, one of Cultural Tourism DC's many well laid out, clearly marked walking tours, starts off on the Eastern Market Metro plaza (up Seventh and across Pennsylvania). Look for the large sign near the Metro escalator. This 90 minute walking tour takes you down Barracks Row (8th St) by the Marine Barracks and Navy Yard, by John Phillip Sousa's home, and through the neighborhood before finishing back at Eastern Market.
4:30 PM: I imagine we're done now, and you need a break. This is one of the most dangerous times in tourdom. You might feel like you can still push through, don't want to miss a thing, and want to make your time in DC count. This is a mistake. Take an hour or so and rest. If you're staying nearby, go back, take you shoes off, and freshen up before dinner. If not, swing by the Sweet Shop in Eastern Market, where you can buy cookies by the 1/4 pound, and head to Lincoln Park for a break (take a right on North Carolina and walk four blocks). Take a minute to see the statues of Lincoln and Mary McCloud Bethune, but mostly just stop walking. This is where that visit to the book store comes into play.
6:00 PM: Dinner time: Many great options exist along Barracks Row. I tend to visit Matchbox, a great pizza place; Belga Cafe, Belgian, yes Belgian food; Trattoria Alberto, a quiet and intimate Italian place; and Banana Cafe, for Cuban food. Many other good options exist, and this list is not comprehensive. On Friday and Saturday nights, waits can be long at some places (i.e Matchbox) but feel free to just head down the street for a shorter line.
Evening: If you've still got energy, and if you do I'm clearly not doing my job, you might find a few options on the Hill. Generally, the Hill is not known as a wild night spot, but if you want to grab a drink you can find several decent bars along Barracks Row or Pennsylvania Avenue towards the Capitol. H Street is a nice walk/short bus/quick cab ride away. Or there are a few evening attractions:
Marine Barracks Evening Parade: We're almost done with this year's, but during the summer months, the Marine Barracks at 8th and I conducts a concert followed by a display of their silent drill platoon on Friday nights. It really is an impressive showing and if your schedule fits, you will be rewarded. I would recommend attempting to get reservations early in the year.
Folger Shakespeare Library: A great way to spend the evening on the Hill. Check their website for showings, but their next run is Taming of the Shrew October 21-November 29.
I hope you enjoyed our little jaunt. Now, before we go, a little discussion of when to do this. The Capitol and Library of Congress are closed Sundays, and Eastern Market is closed Mondays. The Flea Market at the EM only runs on the weekends. So if you want to see everything above, I'd recommend Saturday, but obviously your schedule will have to remain flexible. Any day of the week is fine, just make sure you do your research as to what is open then.