Travel Tips

Ask the Locals Travel Guide: Washington, DC

Exterior Capitol buildingThink Washington, DC is only about power lunches and educational tours?

Think again.

Peter is broadcasting his radio show from the Four Seasons Hotel Washington, DC, so we checked in with some locals to see what’s hip and happening beyond the White House.

Emily Leaman, Community Editor of The Washingtonian


Did you know that DC has its own local delicacy? It’s the half-smoke. Somewhere between a hot dog and a sausage, the half smoke is big, spicy, and President Obama likes it—need any more prompting?

Ben’s Chili Bowl“The most obvious, yet quintessential DC dining spot is Ben’s Chili Bowl on U Street, NW, which dishes up the half-smoke with helpings of Ben’s famous chili,” says Leaman. The President’s visit made national headlines, but this hole-in-the-wall diner has long been on the DC map. 202-667-0909,

Among the less obvious dining spots, Hook is the place to for fresh seafood—as evidenced by the starter plate of seafood crudo. Don’t get hooked on just one dish though, as the menu changes regularly based on what’s fresh, available and in season. 202-625-4488,

Vidalia, on the corner of 20th and M streets, features upscale cuisine with a unique mix of both French and Southern American influences. Think shrimp and grits and stuffed, poached suckling pig with radishes, kumquats and violet mustard. 202-659-1990,


“DC has a surprisingly robust consignment scene where you can find some treasures at a fraction of the price,” says Leaman. Two recommendations are Inga’s Once Is Not Enough (, which specializes in high-fashion for bargain prices, Secondi ( which has a great selection of secondhand brand names.

When it comes to nightlife, Leaman recommends skipping the crowded Adams Morgan neighborhood, especially on a weekend, and instead head to the Atlas District on H Street, NE. “It’s DC’s up-and-coming nightlife gem,” she says, “with all sorts of bars, music venues, and restaurants to check out.”

Washington DC Maple Trees Specific recommendations include the tiny Rock and Roll Hotel ( for live music and the Palace of Wonders ( for burlesque and sideshow acts.

And here’s a new one … the best make-out spots in DC.

The Washingtonian has an entire roundup dedicated to this topic, but Leaman specifically points visiting lovebirds to Constitution Gardens Lake, “a strange, yet welcome little oasis on the less busy side of the mall near the Lincoln Memorial,” and the Spanish Steps, “where they can see some of the beautiful embassies when they come up for air.”

Lee Foster, photographer and co-author of The Photographer’s Guide to Washington, DC: Where to Find Perfect Shots and How to Take Them

Don’t miss Lee Foster’s 10 Tips on How to View, Photograph the Icons of Washington, DC


Lincoln MemorialDC Coast is my favorite fine-dining experience here,” says Foster. Housed in an elegant, salon-like room, the restaurant emphasizes three coasts, meaning the East, West, and Gulf Coasts.

“I start with the iced blue point oysters,” he says. “Maybe I then continue with the Chinese-style smoked lobster, first blanched and then stir-fried with a pleasing peppery sauce before being reconstructed and served on a bed of crispy flash-fried spinach.” 202- 216-5988,

A DC institution, Kramerbooks is also one of Foster’s favorite haunts and a great place to hang with the locals. Located in Dupont Circle, this independent bookshop is lively from early morning to late nights, with locals buzzing about the packed bookshelves and over lattes or wine in the cleverly-named Afterwords Café and Grill. 202-387-1400,

Ken Budd, Features Editor, AARP Magazine


“The National Portrait Gallery is probably the easiest to overlook of all the Smithsonian museums,” says Budd. After all, it’s not as glamorous, and not on the Mall.

Capitol domeBut according to Budd, “the Portrait Gallery has one of my favorite exhibits of all the Smithsonian museums: two life masks of Abraham Lincoln—one made in 1860, the other in 1865. The masks sit side by side, so you can see also the toll the war took on him.” Take a break and enjoy a drink in the Gallery’s covered courtyard. 202-633-8300,

Internationally acclaimed Chef Jose Andres has a number of restaurants in DC. “My favorite is Jaleo, which serves Spanish tapas on the corner of 7th and E downtown,” says Budd.

He notes that this establishment has a “warmer vibe than some of his other restaurants—like hanging out in someone’s family room rather than their living room.” Check out the $4 sangria and tapas happy-hour specials. 202-628-7949,

“Our Washington Nationals baseball team is struggling, as usual—they have the worst record in the majors—but Nationals Park has great sightlines, fun diversions (including a video game area) and a Ben’s Chili Bowl stall. On games days you can get upper deck seats for $5.”  202-675-6287,

Ann Cochran, Washington, DC-Based Freelance Writer

Ann Cochran is the author of our Off the Brochure Travel Guide: Washington, DC–read it here. She also described more great activities when you’re in town in Washington DC Travel for Obama’s Inauguration and Beyond.


Washington Monument at night“Finally, the long-awaited U.S. Capitol Visitor Center opened in December,” says Cochran. Although tickets are required to tour the Capitol itself, the Visitor Center is entirely free. The sprawling center features original documents and artifacts, videos, interactive experiences and two small theaters where visitors can watch short films that explore the House and the Senate.

Don’t miss historic tidbits like a financial ledger the Senate used between 1790 and 1881 that was discovered by construction workers a few years ago in a basement storeroom.


The Sewall-Belmont House on Capitol Hill is a brick monument to the spirit of women who fought for the right to vote and equal rights. “This is a great educational place to take young girls,” says Cochran. Early 20th-century newspapers, cartoons, and banners are on display, as is Susan B. Anthony’s desk where she drafted the 19th Amendment. 202-546-1210,

“Tourists rarely make it out to the glorious Hillwood Estate, Museum & Garden 
north of the Zoo,” says Cochran. The 36-room Georgian mansion was purchased by Post Cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post to display her world-class collections of imperial Russian and French fine and decorative arts. In addition to a collection of gardens, there is a greenhouse full of exotic orchids. 202-686-5807,


Delicious and cheap cafeteria food? Cochran uncovered a DC treasure at the National Museum of the American Indian. “The food court has delicious, healthful and culturally authentic food that is inexpensive to moderately priced.” The museum part is pretty nifty too. 202-633-1000,

By Sarika Chawla for Photos by Lee Foster (except top two).

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