Washington D.C. shines with local gems. These neighborhood treasures include off-the-beaten path museums and nightlife options frequented by in-the-know residents. First-time visitors to D.C. understandably tackle the Mall museums, major monuments and memorials. For something different consider these neighborhood treasures.
Start uptown in Forest Hills at the Hillwood Estate, Museum, and Gardens, the former home of the Midwest-born heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post who became American royalty. Hillwood showcases one of the most comprehensive collections of Russian imperial art—including Faberge eggs—outside Russia and pairs it with a dazzling display of 18th century French furnishings. Hillwood also features changing exhibits and beautifully landscaped gardens.
Grab a snack at Hillwood. Self-service sandwiches are available until the refurbished café opens in spring 2018.
Choices abound. One itinerary keeps you uptown and the other leads you to less-visited Capitol Hill sites.
If staying uptown, head to nearby Cathedral Heights to the Washington National Cathedral, then explore the National Zoo and Rock Creek Park.
At the cathedral, the 6th largest in the world and the 2nd largest in the country, look up to catch sight of the gargoyles and grotesques adorning the building’s façade. Learn more about these mythical creatures as well as the noted stained glass windows on tours. For a grand city view, climb the 333-steps in the central tower. (Specialty tours and climbs available at select times; reserve ahead).
Giant pandas star at the National Zoological Park, a good option when traveling with children. The Smithsonian facility houses orangutans, Andean bears, tigers, elephants and many more critters.
Bordering the zoo, Rock Creek Park’s 339-acres offers trails, horseback riding, (book months in advance), a creek, and the Nature Center and Planetarium, a hidden gem that introduces youngsters to the night sky and planets at shows geared just for kids.
If you go downtown, explore two of Capitol Hill’s attractions. At the National Postal Museum north of the Capitol, “going postal” takes on a whole new meaning. Located in the Old City Post Office, the museum details the history, development and social importance of the United States mail service. Learn about the Pony Express and the rise of airmail, read letters soldiers wrote home, see a collection of rural and city mailboxes and peruse colorful stamps.
At the U.S. Botanic Garden’s indoor conservatory, south of the Capitol, flowers and greenery abound year-round. Stroll through the sweet-smelling orchid room, the jungle-like tropical rainforest and other exhibits. In spring and summer, explore the nearby outdoor gardens.
The District buzzes with nighttime entertainment, including these events frequented by locals.
See a play at Woolly Mammoth Theatre where the point is to be thought-provoking. Go for the laughs at DC Improv, the District’s comedy club, where newbies and seasoned comics do stand-up.
At Busboys and Poets, a long-time community gathering place, bookstore, and restaurant, activists, poets, authors and pundits hold forth. Busboys and Poets operates four locations in D.C., one in Maryland and one in Virginia.
Check out the Smithsonian museums’ evening events. The Smithsonian American Art Museum hosts Luce Unplugged, a free monthly concert series. Enjoy more music at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History’s concerts (fee required) and, in the summer, at the National Gallery of Art’s free jazz concerts in the outdoor Sculpture Garden. Browse the Smithsonian Museums’ calendars for additional events.