There is much to be said for the sights, sounds and culinary offerings of Washington, DC, or simply DC, often overlooked in favour of nearby New York City. Named after the country’s founding father, George, the capital city of the US is as insightful, inspiring and charming as they come. Go in springtime to view the legendary cherry blossoms — more than 3,000 cherry trees were gifted from Japan as a symbol of friendship and planted in 1912 around the Tidal Basin by the Potomac River. DC also offers fun, festivities and delicious flavours all year round. Read on for a quick guide on how to spend a few short but sweet days.
11am: Assuming one is taking the train (versus opting for the unnecessary stress of a domestic flight), pull into DC’s beautiful Union Station, which is served by Amtrak’s high-speed Acela Express — an easy ride from New York’s shiny new Moynihan Train Hall at Penn Station. It is tempting to immediately hail a cab and head straight for the hotel, but do take a moment to gaze in awe at the station’s interesting mishmash of architectural styles. The great vaulted interior spaces are said to be inspired by the Baths of Diocletian while the main façade’s exterior boasts an arch reminiscent of Constantine’s. Do not miss the six colossal statues located above the main cornice of the central block that represent Prometheus, Thales, Themis, Apollo, Ceres and Archimedes.
1pm: Assuming your hotel check-in is not for another two hours, grab a quick bite at the hugely popular Founding Farmers restaurant. The award-winning flagship may be found just three blocks west of the White House and is open for meals from breakfast right till dinner. Order the Yankee pot roast with mash and crispy onions or the chicken ’n’ waffles with green beans and a side of mac ’n’ cheese. If you plan to go for weekend brunch, expect to wait in line with hordes of people!
3pm: Check into someplace convenient and calming. The Kimpton George is reasonably priced and a literal stone’s throw from Union Station and Capitol Hill, making schlepping luggage about all that much easier. For a much more central location under the same group, however, go for the Kimpton Hotel Monaco DC, housed in what was once the General Post Office, also known as the Tariff Commission Building. All the historical significance and architectural grandeur is preserved, of course, so do not miss design touches such as the 5ft-wide architectural medallion of a lion’s head in each guestroom, which pays tribute to the strength, power and noble elements of DC’s government buildings, or the large hanging globe sconces inspired by Union Station’s promenade.
4pm: Walk around to get a feel of the city and, should you be near the White House, hop over to the Old Ebbitt Grill, DC’s oldest bar and restaurant at 675 15th St — a magnet for politicos and celebrities. Do not miss its popular Happy Hour, where you can sample oysters with the signature Bloody Mary, which comes with a large jumbo shrimp and Old Bay seasoning.
5.30pm: Hail a cab and hotfoot it to the John F Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, which is named after the slain American president. If you have not booked a show, do not worry. There is always something happening. There are often free performances happening in the Grand Foyer on certain weekdays at 6pm and there is currently a Tribal Nations Flag exhibit at the Hall of States until July 20, where more than 100 tribal nations’ flags hang for the first time, making a powerful statement on native sovereignty and a recognition of indigenous peoples across the US.
8pm: Head over to Jaleo by celebrity chef Jose Andres, whom everyone knows as much for his culinary prowess as for his humanitarian heart. The Penn Quarter restaurant opened in 1993 and its popularity shows no signs of abating. Andres made TIME magazine’s 100 Most Influential People list in both 2012 and 2018 for his outstanding work, including feeding millions in Puerto Rico after 2017’s Hurricane Maria, together with World Central Kitchen and #chefsforpuertorico. The only way to start a meal here is with Jaleo’s Ultimate Gin & Tonic, followed by a succession of tapas, most notably the chicken croquetas, gambas al ajillo and ensaladilla rusa. Chase it with a pitcher of sangria to ensure a good night’s rest. Food aficionados should also plan a trip for when Andres opens his long-awaited Bazaar restaurant (30 years of planning and counting) in the Old Post Office building, which has officially reopened as a Waldorf Astoria Hotel.
10am: It is National Mall day out. What makes DC such a draw is the fact that admission to almost all its museums are free. To save your pocket further, avoid hefty cab fares by considering the city’s Circulator bus service, which operates along the following routes: National Mall, Congress Heights, Georgetown, Dupont Circle and Eastern Market. It costs only US$1 per ride and is an excellent way to get your bearings. The National Mall service starts from Union Station and stops at all the sights, including the not-to-be-missed National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, and the Lincoln Memorial.
10.30am: The architecture of the National Museum of African American History and Culture is enough to warrant a visit. Its three-tiered shape, designed by David Adjaye and Philip Freelon and set on five acres, is said to be inspired by the Yoruban Caryatid. The façade is clad in ironwork influenced by the toil of enslaved New Orleans craftsmen. You could easily spend the whole day here — gazing and studying artefacts and exhibits as poignant as Harriet Tubman’s hymnal and a painting of Breonna Taylor by artist Amy Sherald, modern pop culture paraphernalia, like Michael Jackson’s fedora hat and Chuck Berry’s red 1973 Cadillac El Dorado convertible. There is also an extensive sports exhibit with statues and images of personalities such as Serena and Venus Williams, Michael Jordan and Jackie Robinson.
1pm: Take a quick break by heading outside into the sunshine to quickly rest and refuel. You will not fail to notice the snaking lines of food trucks that take up every available lot along the National Mall. Here, DC’s dining diversity pops to life, and you can pick from standard American staples such as pizza and hot dogs to Philly cheese steaks, bubble tea (yes, boba is popular here too) and shawarma wrap sandwiches.
4pm: It can be easy to get lost amid the vastness of DC’s many museums, but do not leave the city without feasting your eyes on the Hope Diamond at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. A gift from luxury jeweller Harry Winston, the 45.52-carat stunner takes pride of place at the forefront of the museum’s gem collection.
6pm: Museums can tire you out; so, before retiring for the day, stop by at Busboys and Poets, a restaurant and bookshop named in reference to American poet Langston Hughes, who worked as a hotel busboy prior to gaining fame and recognition as a poet. Established in 2005 by founder and CEO Andy Shallal, it is found in several locations now, but the flagship remains at 14th and V Sts. At this cultural hub for artists, activists, writers, thinkers and dreamers, you can also wolf down the signature Busboys Burger, made using brisket and ground beef, or a Southern-inspired feast of fried catfish with collard greens and herb grits, before browsing the wonderful selection of books on topics as enlightening and empowering as anti-racism, female empowerment, pride and growth.
8am: Wake up bright and early to indulge in a spot of naughtiness at Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken on G St, named among the best restaurants in America for its exemplary — what else but — doughnuts and fried chicken. The crème brûlée doughnut is especially famous, but we are also rather in love with its maple bacon and PB&J versions. For a punchy start to the day, be sure to order the Fried Chicken Honey — chicken breast slathered in honey butter and hot sauce.
10am: Catch the Circulator bus again, this time to Georgetown, renowned for its federalist architecture, charming cobblestone streets and historic brick and frame row houses, many of which date back to the early 1700s. It was originally established as a tobacco port town and is now designated a National Historic Landmark. There are several sites to visit, of course, including Dumbarton House, Tudor Place and The Old Stone House, established in 1765 and the oldest standing building in Washington. But what gets most visitors’ vote would be to simply explore the wonderful shops, cafés and restaurants as well as stroll along the scenic Canal Towpath. You can now also enjoy a canal boat tour, reintroduced this year as part of a multi-year revitalisation of the Canal’s first mile.
11am: Make time for a cupcake pit stop as Georgetown is home to two very well-known cupcakeries: Georgetown Cupcake, run by sisters Katherine Kallinis Berman and Sophie Kallinis LaMontagne; and Baked and Wired, a family-run coffee shop and bakery. The former is known for its stylish, designer-looking treats; the latter offers premium baked goods, all made in small batches using only fine ingredients. We favour the latter because of its proximity to the gorgeous Canal. Order a cupcake or 10 and an Arnold Palmer (a refreshing blend of iced tea and lemonade) to go. Bag a seat by the water and tuck in. Unbeatable!
3pm: Before leaving DC, a quick visit to U St — once the heart of Black culture in America and now home to a thriving music and nightlife scene — is a must, if only to eat at Ben’s Chili Bowl. Proudly Black-owned and occupying a special place in DC history, the community restaurant has hosted many who’s who visiting the capital — from Pope Francis to Jesse Jackson, Jimmy Fallon, Chaka Khan and U2’s Bono, all of whom come for an order of chilli half-smoke with chilli cheese fries. Virginia Ali, who founded the restaurant with her late husband Ben and is now in her late 80s, can still be seen working the floor — a true testimony to her people’s grit and resilience — and is never too busy to stop for a chat and smile for pictures. Before leaving, stop by Ben Ali Way to admire the murals, featuring iconic figures such as Barack and Michelle Obama and Prince.
This article first appeared on July 4, 2022 in The Edge Malaysia.