Travel

The Best Neighborhoods in DC to Spend a Weekend

There’s no denying that DC is a town practically built for tourists. But beyond the monument and museum mecca that is the National Mall, all of the best restaurants, bars, and things to do in the nation’s capital are just waiting to be discovered by tourists and locals alike. There’s no harm in visiting a typical tourist spot or two -- DC is fraught with them, after all -- but once you start to feel like you’re on a middle school field trip, spend some quality time in one of these DC neighborhoods to know the true character of the District.

Adams Morgan/Mount Pleasant

This duo of neighborhoods sits a few miles north of the National Mall so there is rarely a tourist in sight -- making this the perfect weekend destination for tourists looking to blend in.

Where to stay: After traversing streets riddled with giant pizza boxes (we’ll get to that), The Line Hotel is an oasis. The hotel is part of a chain three strong and growing where each space is inspired by the locale it occupies. The DC outpost was carved out of an early-20th century church leaving behind details like vaulted ceilings and a grand exterior to shine alongside indie posh decor. The luxe yet approachable hotel is situated smack dab in the middle of the two neighborhoods and sits atop a hill overlooking Adams Morgan (and much of the city!), so the views are incredible.

Things to do: While Adams Morgan will be your nightlife hangout, residential Mount Pleasant makes for the perfect lowkey days. Each Peach Market is a dreamy store with sandwiches, a carefully curated selection of wine, and mostly local products, so it’s the perfect place to gear up for an afternoon picnic in nearby Meridian Hill Park. You can scope out a quiet spot on Saturday or eat listening to a roaring drum circle and watching the cascading fountains on Sunday. To mix up your evening plans, head to Suns Cinema for an indie movie and a PBR in a tiny theater where the mix of seats look more like a yard sale than a cinema.

Best restaurants: Your hotel hosts impressive restaurants like A Rake’s Progress and the standing-room only Spoken English, but as tempting as it may be to stay in bed all day, you gotta venture outside during your stay. Elle, an all-day cafe up the street in Mount Pleasant, could easily be a staple of each day of your weekend, but choose a day and get there early for the impossibly flakey, buttery biscuits that are the neighborhood’s worst-kept secret. Come dinnertime, you could head to Lucky Buns for a juicy burger with wordly toppings and innovative cocktails, but stop by for lunch instead and head up the street in the evening. Mintwood Place, a French-American bistro serving up the classics with a spin, is a romantic choice, while Lapis offers a collection Afghan fare unlike anything else in the city.

Bars and nightlife: Adams Morgan was once known for sticky dancefloors and drunk college kids, but don’t hold that against it. Sure, you can get liquor in a squirt bottle at Dan’s Cafe, one of DC’s best dive bars, but top-notch cocktail bars are popping up all over to revitalize this nightlife mainstay. Stop into Jack Rose Dining Saloon for a whiskey tasting experience you won’t soon forget, or head across the street to its sister spot, The Imperial, to further explore the owners’ vast collection of rare spirits. Up the street, continue drinking cocktails at Middle Eastern bar The Green Zone, or visit the hidden gem of the neighborhood, Grand Duchess. Wherever you spend your night, ease your drunchies with seriously huge pizza at one of the aptly named Jumbo Slice locations on 18th Street or a pita at Amsterdam Falafel Shop.

Georgetown

With a prime location bordering the Potomac River and Rock Creek Park and bars and restaurants seeking to rid this neighborhood of its tourist trap reputation, there’s never been a better time to visit Georgetown. Oh yeah, there might be a university somewhere in there, too.

Where to stay: You could stay at the major chains or boutique hotels positioned along the waterfront, but the true gems are hidden among tree-lined streets. Georgetown is known for cobblestoned streets with gorgeous historic row houses -- so your best bet is to grab an Airbnb a few blocks up from the riverside. There are plenty of options, but this gorgeous and airy townhouse or luxurious, four-bedroom home really caught our eye. 

Things to do: Shopping is one of the main reasons people venture into the public transportation void that is Georgetown. But the neighborhood is so much more than M Street. DC certainly doesn’t have the concrete jungle qualities of other major cities, but you’ll enjoy the reprise from city life along the Potomac River and in 1,754-acre Rock Creek Park. For the less adventurous, you can have tea in the gardens at the Dumbarton Oaks estates or climb the steps that led to Father Damien Karras’ death in The Exorcist.

Best restaurants: Georgetown has earned a reputation as one of the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods. If you want to lean in, you can dine at Reverie, which is helmed by a chef who has worked in the country’s (and even the world’s) best kitchens. But it’s not all share plates with three-figure prices and fine wine. Check out Falafel Inc., a charitable fast-casual spot where pitas and bowls are stuffed with Mediterranean toppings for less than $4 a piece. Off the main drag, you’ll find Stachowski’s Market where you can take home meat from the butcher for dinner or order a mile-high sandwich with fresh cut meat and still get change for a $20. The mania surrounding Georgetown Cupcakes has largely died down and shifted to Baked & Wired. But you’ll still face a line at both bakeries, so split with your group and have the best of both worlds to round out the full Georgetown eating experience.

Bars and nightlife: Not known for its party scene, Georgetown has moved up the ranks in the past few years adding two sprawling beer bars -- The Sovereign, which boasts nearly 400 brews, and Church Hall, a subterranean game bar perfect for watching sports on its 17 TVs. Newer bars add some liveliness to the neighborhood but if you want to stay true to the area’s more refined reputation, you can visit ENO Wine Bar for a tasting or sneak inside The Alex inside The Graham Hotel for cocktails in a speakeasy.

Old Town Alexandria

Want a small-town weekend far away from the eye-sore federal buildings of DC? Look no further than Alexandria, Virginia. The cobblestoned streets and tiny shops of Old Town are Metro accessible, but come Sunday, you’ll feel like you left the District behind for a true getaway.

Where to stay: For a weekend in Alexandria, your best best is Kimpton Lorien Hotel & Spa. The much-loved boutique hotel chain has an Alexandria location with a gorgeous spa and two restaurants you’ll actually want to go to. Situated just a few blocks from the waterfront in charming Old Town, you’ll be in the perfect location for your weekend outside of DC proper.

Things to do: Whether holiday lights are strung overhead or the sun is glistening off the Potomac River, King Street is a gorgeous destination for your small town getaway. You could easily spend all day exploring locally owned boutiques, home decor stores, and antique shops that fill worn-brick buildings. Check out indie clothes and accessories at Threadleaf, mid-century-modern cocktail glassware at The Hour, adorable kids’ gifts at Hooray for Books, or obscure records at Crooked Beat. For a quick history lesson, visit the Mount Vernon Estate just eight miles south of Old Town to tour George Washington’s old home (and distillery!) or explore an art center at a former World War II torpedo factory right in Alexandria.

Best restaurants: For being a DC suburb, Alexandria’s dining scene is downright impressive. You may be out of political territory, but you can still dine in the seats’ of former presidents in Alexandria. Check out Vermillion, a cozy, farm-to-table restaurant visited by Barack and Michelle Obama for a Valentine’s Day dinner in the midst of his reelection campaign. Take a trip around the world without leaving the ‘hood with Ethiopian at Makeda, high-end sashimi at Nasime, or Indian and Nepalese at the tiny Royal Nepal. For more casual fare, enjoy a dozen at Hank’s Oyster Bar, tacos and craft beer at Chop Shop, or gelato at the family-owned Casa Rosada.

Bars and nightlife: We’ve said Virginia is for (beer) lovers and Alexandria is no exception -- so spend the weekend at Port City Brewing, one of the most well-known hops spots in the area. But if beer isn’t your thing Lost Boy Cider’s dog-friendly brewery will do the trick. Or, if you really want to go under the radar for the weekend, pull a lever on the wall inside of Sugar Shack Donuts to reveal Captain Gregory’s, a speakeasy where you can hold court all night while enjoying the cocktails worthy of a trip to Alexandria just to drink.

H Street
H Street Festival | Stephanie Kenner/Shutterstock

H Street Corridor

Once a far-out and largely inaccessible region, the H Street Corridor in Northeast DC is now seen as a foodie destination, music lover’s paradise, and even a historical site perfect well worth exploring over a few days.

Where to stay: H Street Corridor is among the smallest neighborhoods in the District, so your weekend can easily be spent exploring the region while staying in another neighborhood. Nearby Capitol Hill has a host of Airbnb options including early-20th century row houses, plenty of exposed brick with pops of color, or a renovated auto body shop with some of the industrial charm still intact.

Things to do: DC’s storied punk scene from the early ’80s has ebbed and flowed ever since and, while many of the major venues from that period are gone, some of the spots keeping the underground scene alive are on H Street Corridor. Rock and Roll Hotel hosts rising national acts in a refurbished funeral parlor, while a venue tucked inside Dangerously Delicious Pies hosts local bands. Sort of like a mini-Smithsonian museum, Gallery O on H is a community space that hosts art shows and even features outdoor jazz concerts in its courtyard.

Best restaurants: For years, the food scene in this neighborhood was tragically underrated. But thanks to attention from national publications (including this one), people are flocking to the NE quadrant for the best food and drink in the city. Toki Underground, a hip, aboveground ramen joint that many say kicked off the ramen boom in DC, has made H Street a food destination since Erik Bruner-Yang opened its doors. Fast-forward nearly 10 years and the neighborhood boasts multiple innovative restaurants that are some of the best in DC. There’s another Bruner-Yang spot, Maketto, that has an amazing dim-sum brunch; Cane, a brother-sister act dishing stand out Caribbean cuisine; and Thamee, the city’s first Burmese restaurant, which keeps collecting national accolades.

Bars and nightlife: From dive bars to cocktails, H Street Corridor has it all. Copycat Company has perfected all of the classics for when you just want an expertly made gimlet. If you want to be more active, head to H Street Country Club, but don’t be fooled by the name. The only golf you’ll be doing at this bar is of the mini-variety. Plus you’ll play shuffleboard, Skee-Ball, and other games, while most likely drinking a cheap beer or frozen margarita. Mainstays in the neighborhood are mostly divey so be sure to pay rough-around-the-edges spots like The Pug and Little Miss Whiskey's their due.

Navy Yard/Southwest Waterfront

District residents may have rolled their eyes when The Wharf first debuted three years ago. But it’s hard to deny that the city’s newest tourist haven has become a hot spot for those seeking waterfront views and splashy names in food, drink, and entertainment. 

Where to stay: The rapidly growing development at The Wharf means there’s a new tasting menu restaurant, top-notch cocktail bar, or luxury hotel is seemingly every time you turn around. So lean into that and check out one of the new hotels overlooking the Potomac River like the Intercontinental, which is gold-plated from top to bottom and is located just steps from all the bars and restaurants nearby.

Things to do: Between The Wharf and Navy Yard, there are plenty of lowkey outdoor activities to fill up your entire weekend. Yards Park has an Instagram-famous bridge you can explore and a water basin that pays homage to the historic canal that once ran from the Anacostia River to the Capitol Building. You won’t find greener pastures than Yards Park, but if you leave in search of them, get a scoop at Ice Cream Jubilee -- arguably the best cone in the District. If you’re looking to set your activities in stone, The Anthem has quickly become a destination for national musical acts and Nationals Park is sure to be abuzz with fans rooting for the home team, aka world champions. Even though you’ll pay way too much for a domestic beer, it’s the perfect place to spend an afternoon.

Best restaurants: You’ll find that DC chainlets like TaKorean and District Doughnut abound near The Wharf, so use this opportunity to grab lunch at one of them. But when it comes time for your main meal, the restaurants here are designed for the expense account set, but some are worth the extra dollar signs. Kith + Kin has an Carribean and West African inspired menu that wows inspired by Chef Kwame Onwuachi, who has become a celebrity chef in his own right. And another local culinary star, Fabio Trabocchi, plays with Spanish seafood in a dreamy spot called Del Mar that will make you feel like you took a quick flight to Mallorca. Speaking of seasides, La Vie is a coastal haven that is worth a trip just to take in the sprawling chandeliers.

Bars and nightlife: Rooftop bars are hardly few and far between, and lucky for us, many are concentrated along the rivers that wrap around Southwest DC. Officina, a three-level Italian market, restaurant, and bar megaplex, is one of the few year round spots. When the weather warms up, hotel bars redeem themselves with rooftops boasting incredible views. 12 Stories, the gleaming cocktail bar atop the InterContinental, is always a great choice, while Whiskey Charlie features sleek fireplaces and classic cocktails. If you’d rather run the gamut of tastings, hit up Bluejacket’s massive taproom and District Winery, which was the first commercial winery in DC, before heading to Tiki TNT to sample Thrasher’s Rum from Potomac Distilling Company and tour the distillery on select days.

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Liz Provencher recently accomplished her life goal of staying at The Line Hotel and has spent many a day camped out at Elle. You can talk to her at lprovencher@thrillist.com, follow her on Twitter, or see what she eats on Instagram.