Travel

Actually Cool Things You Can (Still) Do in Washington DC Right Now

Even locals love this stuff.

We get it. You’re probably beyond tired of hearing about how we’re living in unprecedented times. You may also be tired of rewatching Netflix specials on Saturday nights instead of hitting the bars, or who knows, maybe you’re not (we’re looking at you, introverts). The silver lining? All that time spent at home is helping to keep people safe, which means the more of us that live cautiously and follow safety guidelines now, the sooner we’ll all feel safe once the city is fully reopened for business.

For now, DC is still nestled squarely into Phase 2 of Mayor Bowser’s reopening plan, with guidelines for moving onto Phase 3 only becoming stricter in an effort to hopefully avoid a second wave of COVID-19 cases in the city. Those who feel safe venturing outside are legally required to wear masks, but are now able to return to their favorite outdoor dining destinations, as well as some of the best Smithsonian attractions like the National Zoo and the National Gallery of Art’s West Building and Sculpture Garden.

So, while we’re still maintaining a healthy level of caution, we’re happy to report that all hope for enjoyable end-of-summer activities are far from lost. From a brand new picnic-friendly wine garden by the river to nostalgic drive-in movie dates, here are some actually cool things to do in DC right now.

Have a picnic at the new Victura Park at the REACH

Foggy Bottom
Grab a seat or bring your own blanket to Victura Park at the REACH, part of the Kennedy Center’s new expansion. Named after John F. Kennedy’s beloved sailboat, Victura Park is technically a laid back wine bar with some pretty epic views of the Potomac River and Roosevelt Island. It’s open on weekends, free to go, and family friendly -- though a food and drink menu is available to order from as well.

Learn about history the fun way with Profs and Pints

Online
These talks are nothing like the snooze-inducing lessons you sat through in school. Profs and Pints brings renowned college faculty members online (as well as into bars, cafés, and other off-campus venues during non-quarantine times) to give fascinating talks and instructive workshops on topics like the treason of Benedict Arnold or the history of witches and witch hunts.

Watch local comedy online or take a class 

Online
Crack open a cold one tonight and give the news a rest tonight with a live online comedy show put on by the DC Improv. The comedy club has a packed calendar of virtual shows, from its popular pun competition to cringe and laugh-packed discussions about relationships and single strife. You can even sharpen your own comedic skills by signing up for one-on-one coaching from their stand-up comedy instructors, which are all conducted via video conferencing.

Visit baby cheetah cubs at the National Zoo

Woodley Park
We were so excited to hear that the National Zoo is back open with some new hours (last admittance is at 3pm) and new rules (everyone ages 6 and up must be wearing a face mask). But there has been lots of wild news in 2020 including the birth of four cheetah cubs Amabala, Jabari, Hasani, and Erindi. Check them out and so much more, but just be sure to reserve a free admission pass beforehand.

Take a virtual tour of the National Gallery of Art

Free
The Smithsonian Institution might still be closed for the foreseeable future, but that doesn’t mean you can’t appreciate its collections from afar. Tour the National Gallery of Art from your sofa with its True to Nature Virtual Tour, which allows you to explore each room of the exhibition True to Nature: Open-Air Painting in Europe. You can zoom in to read wall texts, view super high-resolution photos of the artwork, and read artists biographies. 

Support local restaurants through takeout and delivery

Various locations
There are a ton of ways to support the local restaurant industry right now, including outdoor diningtakeout and delivery options, work from home lunch ideas, and supporting global cuisine throughout the city. To go even further, think about supporting local causes like World Central Kitchen, The Power of 10 Initiative, or simply donating a Ben’s Chili Bowl gift card to local frontline workers.

And don’t forget about the booze!

Various locations
Now that DC, Maryland, and Virginia have gotten all of its alcohol legislation worked out during the shutdown, there are more options than ever to get local booze. Try your hand at curbside pickup, carryout cocktail kits, online delivery, or tacking on a to-go cocktail with your next restaurant order.

Look back at the past four years of NMAAHC

Various loations
Though the National Museum of African American History & Culture is, of course, currently closed to the public, you can still take in its stories. Since opening in 2016, the museum has been archiving its events and educational seminars online. Enjoy visitor interviews, in-depth exhibit exploration, Patti LaBelle’s performance from the opening, and a revealing interview with Oprah.

Grab some grub at Union Market

Union Market
Everyone’s favorite food hall is open for pick up, which means that you can now grab fusion tacos from Takorean, an acai bowl from South Block, and a burger from Lucky Buns (all at the same time if you’re feelin’ it). Then head to the rooftop or patio seating to soak up the last rays of summer. Washingtonians with cars can also head back once the sun goes down to catch a movie at the drive-in theater.

Buy 9:30 Club merch and donate to staff

Various locations
We all miss concerts -- and honestly it feels like a lifetime ago we were all packed into 9:30 Club, The Anthem, or any of the IMP venues. But in order to make sure they’re still standing after the pandemic, you can buy merch like bandanas that make great face masks, t-shirts, and even a piece of the Merriweather Post Pavilion stage. Plus, you can donate directly to provide need-based relief to IMP staff members. Be sure to visit Save Our Stages to see how you can help other independent music venues around the country.

Appreciate art and landscape at Glenstone

Potomac
Glenstone is technically around a 40-minute drive outside of the city, but it’s a quick and scenic trip that delivers you to nearly 300 acres of beautiful landscape, sculpture, and other art. The privately owned gallery reopened to the public on July 23 at a limited capacity, and tickets are always free with a reservation. Arriving there, you’ll feel a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of the city -- surrounded by nature and in an artsy world of your own (it’s also the perfect place to grab a pic for the ‘gram).

Get educated with think tank discussions

Online
This is the nation’s capital, after all, and if you miss free-wheeling, intellectual discussions at networking events or happy hours, there is a solution for you. Think tanks like the Brookings Institution and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace have plenty of upcoming online talks and informative discussions scheduled, helping to keep you educated on topics big and small. 

Watch famous artists take the Kennedy Center’s digital stage 

Online
Already made it through your Discover Weekly on Spotify? Check out some of the most extraordinary performances from the Kennedy Center, which is releasing new videos daily. From special series and original stories to performances from world renowned artists such as John Legend and Beyonce, these are the next best thing to catching a live performance at the historic venue.

Stroll the grounds of the National Cathedral

Cathedral Heights
Those who spend most of their time on Capitol Hill or downtown might not think to venture north to the National Cathedral, so we’re here to tell you that it’s worth the trip. While the cathedral itself is still closed for public safety reasons, the 59 gorgeous acres surrounding it are now reopened to the public, from dawn until dusk each day. Bring a date, some friends, or even your pet and take a scenic walk through areas like the Bishop’s Garden and the Olmsted Woods.

Make your indoor jungle flourish

Online
We know you’ve probably gotten much closer to your house plants since the start of stay-at-home orders. Now you can bring them home a stylish friend from local plant shop Rewild, and give yourself a fun evening activity in the process. The shop has joined up with Rock Paper Plant for an ongoing series of botanical workshops, like learning how to mount and care for jungle-y anthuriums or making DIY planter baskets.

Find new (stacks of) books to read

Online
If you’re missing the leisurely fun of perusing the stacks at the bookstore for an undiscovered treasure, you’re not alone. Capitol Hill Books luckily has the answer to your woes, and is now mailing out “Grab Bags” of books daily during the pandemic. Just fill out their form, including your budget and authors or genres you like, and they'll send over a picture of a proposed stack of books. Thrill seekers can even go with a blind stack for what they call “the full mystery effect.”

View the online collections of Dumbarton Oaks

Online
Normally, we love perusing this Georgetown country house for its beautifully designed grounds, hillside of cherry trees, and immaculate rose garden. But now we get to focus on the heart of the matter, which is the art and collections inside. With its online portal, you can explore artifacts from the Byzantine era, digitized rare books, and ancient Peruvian iconography. If you’re really missing the garden, there are historical photos of that, too.

Paint and sip from the comfort of your home

Online
We’re always up for a good paint and sip class, but letting us participate in our pajamas? Even better. Check out local Dupont studio ArtJamz, which is dedicated to making the world a more creative place. They’ve got a full roster of live virtual painting experiences taught by talented artists -- all you need to do is order one of their At-Home Paint Kits and sign up for a class that sounds fun to you.

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Austa Somvichian-Clausen is an LA native turned DC resident. During the day, she works for National Geographic Partners on their digital news team. By night, she is a freelance food writer with a particular proclivity for restaurants that source locally, and loves a good happy hour. Over the weekend she loves hiking, exploring the city, and traveling. Follow her on Instagram.