12 Washington DC, USA – How to enjoy like a local

Now that you got some sense of the neighborhoods in D.C., perhaps I should tell you a bit of useful secrets how to enjoy D.C. like a local. There is already enough tourist information about D.C. and I wanted to write something different. So I started to question ‘what information would be useful for travelers to enjoy D.C. as locals enjoy D.C.?’ Because of the unique political nature of D.C., I feel like it would be hard to appreciate D.C. the ways locals would if you are not an active part of this political or international relations cycle. I started jotting down some information in hope that visitors and new comers to D.C. can easily enjoy D.C.

So what should you know? WELL……let’s start with using transportation.

Starbucks in Washington DC
Starbucks in Washington DC

1. Transportation

Getting a proper sense of public transportation usages is something I’m always curious of when I visit a city for the first time. So I thought of putting few useful facts for visitors to DC.

Complicated looking D.C. metro and bus line. It's time to untangle that and make full use of it.
Complicated looking D.C. metro and bus line. It’s time to untangle that and make full use of it.

METRO – Though not always on time, D.C. has a reasonable useful metro system. Just remember that Peak Hours will have higher prices, so if you are able to schedule your metro usages during OFF PEAK Hours you’ll save a bit of money. But it’s nice that you can easily visit Bethesda, Maryland or Old Town, Alexandria, Virginia without driving. Plus, if you do take it early in the morning, you can get the taste of how ‘good morning dc political world’ metro ride feels like: pretty packed with people wearing suites. DC Metro map can be found here.

BUS – if you have a smart phone download DCNextBus to make full use of bus hours. But if you have a set time frame it will be better to rely on the metro line than the bus. There are more buses during rush hours because many commuters will use either bus or metro to get to work.

BUT, if you happen to be around an area that you see the CIRCULATOR BUS, I strongly recommend you taking it. It’s only 1 buck! Yup, there is still something that is only a dollar outside of the McDonald dolar menu. It’s easy to use and comes pretty frequently. For instance, there is a route from Dupont Circle to Georgetown which is really convenient because Georgetown street does not have a metro or bus that goes directly from Dupont Circle area. So I’m thankful that the circulator offers that service! Here is the more detailed map to see if you are lucky enough to make use of it!

Talking about buses, if you plan to make a visit to the Kennedy Center or Georgetown University, don’t forget to make use of their shuttle buses. The Kennedy Center offers shuttle service from Foggy Bottom metro stop near George Washington University. Georgetown University/ Georgetown University Hospital has free shuttle service from Dupont Circle, Rosslyn, Wisconsin Avenue, Law Center, and Arlington.

Walking – Now if you are someone like me who LOVES to walk everywhere, you’ll be happy to learn that a lot of places in D.C. are walk-able! Ok, it depends on how much you want to walk. But if you have a look at the map, you’ll notice that you can easily walk around Capital Hill/Library of Congress/Union Station/Botanic Garden area OR Georgetown/Waterfront OR Downtown/Dupont Circle OR National Mall/Smithsonian OR Chinatown/White House/ Downtown…AND this list continues. But if walking is not your thing, that’s fine too. Make use of the public transportation or the private one called taxi!


2. Food & Drinks

Now here is a super important topic: FOOD and DRINKS!! Because this is so important, I’m going to write a separate post on this. But to sum up the general food culture in D.C. it’s usually expensive, overpriced, or hard to get a place at good places. Make use of YELP if you can, for food recommendations. For a number of fancy places, if you are certain you want to go, try to reserve your spot in advance (for lunch or dinner). You can do that using OpenTable. There are a lot of different cuisine options, but it’s not easy to get really good authentic food at a reasonable price (note emphasis on reasonable price!) because the taxes are high(?).

Some evening drinks to enlighten your evening
Some evening drinks to enlighten your evening

So what is the solution? You want to enjoy your food but don’t want to spend too much. This is what you should remember to enjoy good food in D.C. 1. HAPPY HOUR DEALS – note that a lot of bars and restaurants have happy hour deals. Make use of it! They usually post it. 2. ONLINE DEALS – if you have some familiarity of the area, do a quick look to see if your restaurant has a coupon on Groupon or LivingSocial. Maybe today could be that lucky day. 3. FOOD TRUCKS – now this is a thing that became THE popular thing. There are number of locations in D.C. that different food truck bring out their delicious food. While not all of them are necessarily cheap, you could get some fun, variety, and easy food options if you are rushing. 4. If you really want more information, maybe you can explore Washington Post’s list of budget foods in D.C.

Ah, and we can’t forget drinking culture. In addition to happy hour, one thing to remember is that D.C. is  a city full of government, political, and international relation studying graduate/undergraduate students..which means if you were expecting to see some fun unforgettable night, you will horribly fail your mission if you do that on a Monday, Tuesday or a Wednesday night. Sometimes some bars get a good crowd. But the real crazy funness starts more on Friday and Saturday night. Plus, because of the government and school calendar many places are generally empty in mid-December and early January and in the summer time. I mean, Congress goes out of session and that means a large chunk of D.C. locals are gone. All you have is some sticky weather. Not sure if that’s the impression you want to have of D.C. Nope.


4. Free (or almost free) Things to do in DC

I know there is no such thing as free lunch. But there is a lot of things that are FREE (or free because we all paid taxes) in D.C. that visitors and locals can enjoy! The classic examples are visits to the Smithsonian museums and the national mall area where the monuments are.  Here are some sites that are worth checking out to see what are some free (or almost free) events in town during your visit in D.C: 365thingsDCFree and Low cost in DC, 100 free thing list from DCwishlist, and National Geography’s recommendation. Don’t forget that the Kennedy Center offers a small, but FREE, performance everyday called the Millennium Stage. The Library of Congress, and other museums also offers some free tours and some events once in a while. The National Zoo, though I admit I haven’t been since I was a baby, is free for those who have kids.

Corcoran Gallery of Art in Summer 2011
Corcoran Gallery of Art in Summer 2011

5. Jog , Walk OR do an evening stroll along the National Mall/Monument/Waterfront/Georgetown/or White House 

I know this sounds random but as someone who loves to run outdoors this is one fun thing to do. It’s especially fun in D.C. because there is a lot to see and a lot to admire. And really it’s rare that tourists will take the time to jog around the city and explore. But if you are someone like me, I recommend you to do it.

The Potomac Sunset from Waterfront in Georgetown. Spring 2012.
The Potomac Sunset from Waterfront in Georgetown. Spring 2012.

WHERE? Well, pretty much anywhere I listed above. A jog along Capital Hill-National Mall-Monument area is a pretty nice one. Another favorite is a run from Dupont Circle (or Columbia Heights)-White House-Monument or Georgetown-and crossing the bridge to VA to-Rosslyn. If you want more wood and nature, another popular area is Rock Creek Park. Check your map and see where your hotel or accommodation is located and see what is doable. If you are not a jogger, you can still enjoy the city by walking around – sounds like good work out too right?

Plus, if you are up after sunset and don’t mind exploring, take a stroll near the National Mall or go up have a drink at the top of W Hotel. You will be glad to see this beautiful evening view of the D.C.

Washington D.C. evening view from W hotel. Spring 2012.
Washington D.C. evening view from W hotel. Spring 2012.

Anyway, talking of running and walking outdoors, that reminds me of this gym advertisement I saw in 2011. I mean this is really what makes D.C. unique. Because this is a city full of politicians and international relations lovers, even gyms will use references like this to attract membership. Are you laughing? You must understand D.C. Welcome!

D.C. gym advertisement in summer 2011 after the political scandal.
D.C. gym advertisement in summer 2011 after the political scandal.

P.S. If you have other suggestions, please share!


14 thoughts on “12 Washington DC, USA – How to enjoy like a local

  1. What a useful post, Monica — all kinds of good tips — and the WSC ad is hilarious, as is the video clip. Thank you for all the great information about visiting Seoul, which must have taken ages for you to put together. I have forwarded it to my friend, who will be so grateful. I wish I were going with her!

    Love, Mrs. Bernstein

    1. Thank you Mrs.Bernstein! I’m glad to hear of both news – of the DC post and of Seoul information. I hope they have a wonderful trip to Seoul! And I hope you get to make a trip there in the near future too!

      Love back, Monica

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