Just a quick 30-minute walk from the front gates or a 15-minute bus ride, Dupont Circle combines the hustle and bustle of downtown Washington, D.C., with the stately architecture found in the neighborhood you now call home. Filled with restaurants, retail stores and office buildings — as well as a Red line Metro station — Dupont, even as its cachet has faded over the years, is still one of the most exciting places in the District.
The park-like circle itself, while perilous for drivers and pedestrians alike, is often filled with people looking for a bit of fresh air or a place to grab lunch.
Just off the circle, you can find one of the city’s most storied farmers markets on Sunday mornings, which offers everything from organic produce to ice pops from more than 50 different vendors.
Located in Dupont Circle, Kramerbooks & Afterwords Cafe, open until 1 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and until 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday, combines an independent bookstore with a cozy cafe. If you’re looking for a book that may be a little harder to find, the nearby Second Story Books specializes in out-of-print, used and rare works.
Dupont Circle is filled with restaurants of all types, whether you’d like to grab a quick bite to eat at chicken chain Nando’s PERi-PERi and DGS Delicatessen or celebrate after a tough week of midterms at Banana Leaves, Bistrot Du Coin and Sette Osteria. If you’re a hamburger fan, there’s nowhere in D.C. like Dupont, which can fill your taste for both classics like Shake Shack and the gourmet at Black & Orange or BGR The Burger Joint.
If you’re willing to walk a few blocks for your food, check out the newly opened Momofuku CCDC Milk Bar. An offshoot of the hit New York restaurant, Momofuku specializes in grown-up versions of milk-based treats, including its acclaimed cereal milk ice cream.
14th Street Corridor/Logan Circle
No area in D.C. has grown quite like the 14th Street Corridor, which just 25 years ago was the city’s main red-light district and is now the site of a culinary boom. Nearly 30 new eateries opened in this area just in 2013, and the number is only growing as construction on residential and commercial properties continues at a dizzying pace.
The star of the revival is French bistro Le Diplomate, which, after being open for just a few years, has already taken a spot among the most popular restaurants in the city. The atmosphere is nearly as impressive as the food, with the airy yet comfortable interior — complete with an authentic zinc bar — supplemented by generous, cafe-like outdoor seating. Its reputation as both a culinary delight and political hot spot, however, means that reservations need to be made weeks in advance.
On 14th Street, quantity has not come at the cost of quality. Pearl Dive Oyster Palace specializes in catfish sandwiches, gumbo and, of course, oysters, while The Pig’s menu focuses nearly exclusively on pork. Birch & Barley has an unbelievable 555 beers on tap to go along with its understated New American cuisine, while its sister restaurant, ChurchKey, offers an even larger selection of brews in a more casual setting.
Between Q and R Streets is the trendy restaurant and wine bar Barcelona, which has a no-reservations policy, making it tricky to get a table. Show up early, grab a drink and prepare to be patient while enjoying the Spanish-style cuisine.
Logan Circle is the unofficial center of D.C.’s LGBTQ community. You’d be hard-pressed to find a local business that doesn’t have a pride flag draped outside, and there are a host of gay and lesbian clubs nearby, including Town Danceboutique, Cobalt, Number Nine and Nellie’s Sports Bar, which is also considered the best sports bar in the District. Culturally, the Studio Theatre is the city’s premier destination for modern theater and is featuring nine different plays in the upcoming season, including Skeleton Crew and The Wolves.
Located just north of Logan Circle is U Street, a rapidly growing area that is arguably the center of the District’s cultural life. A good time on a weekend night, however, is nowhere near all this area has to offer. The most famous institution on U Street is Ben’s Chili Bowl. The only business in the area to survive the 1968 riots that devastated the city, Ben’s and its famous half-smokes — a sausage/hot dog combo topped with chili and cheese — are a throwback to a different era. That doesn’t mean Ben’s hasn’t changed with the times as well; a more upscale sister restaurant, Ben’s Next Door, opened in 2009.
U Street is equally well-known for its high concentration of live music venues. The one you’ll most likely head to is the 9:30 Club, which will host popular acts such as Car Seat Headrest, The Growlers and St. Lucia this fall. Another popular venue is the Black Cat, known for featuring lesser-known alternative acts and for its Red Room Bar. Other venues in the area include the venerable jazz club Bohemian Caverns, U Street Music Hall, DC9 Nightclub and the recently reopened Lincoln Theatre. The Howard Theatre is also located nearby.
Restaurant, bookstore and event space Busboys and Poets is another U Street highlight. This unclassifiable institution, which frequently holds book signings and poetry readings, is also a center for progressive politics and discussion; its founder, Andy Shallal, ran for mayor in the 2013 Democratic primary. The restaurant’s food is fresh but casual, and it offers a number of vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options.
U Street is a hotbed of D.C.’s noted Ethiopian cuisine — with Selam Restaurant being especially delicious — but its culinary options are far from one-dimensional. Other highlights include The Brixton, which focuses on British-style pub fare, and Marvin, named for D.C. native Marvin Gaye, which is known for its delectable chicken and waffles.
Adams Morgan is the tried-and-true home of late-night D.C., less stuffy than the occasionally buttoned-up Dupont Circle and more worn in than what you’ll find on U Street. As the murals that line the neighborhood’s buildings show, Adams Morgan is culturally vibrant. Although soaring rent prices over the past 20 years have caused what was once the city’s most diverse neighborhood to become somewhat gentrified, Adams Morgan nevertheless retains an aura of multiculturalism and artistry that’s hard to find anywhere else in the city.
Late-night eating options are plentiful: Pizza Mart provides the prototypical jumbo slice for which the District is known, open until at least 3 a.m. every night, Amsterdam Falafelshop is one of the best places to get falafel in the city, staying open until 4 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and The Diner, which offers typical, if refined, diner-style food, is open 24/7. If you’re feeling more adventurous, you can stand in line for a table at Bad Saint, a high-end Filipino restaurant located close to Columbia Heights with an average wait time of several hours. Bad Saint opens every day at 5:30 p.m. for dinner, but people start lining up sometimes as early as 3 p.m. If you just want to take a walk on a weekend afternoon, Adams Morgan is a solid destination. In the northern area of the neighborhood, Meridian Hill Park contains many statues, including a memorial for President James Buchanan, and a fountain with a striking 13-basin waterfall. There are also a number of record stores in the area: Smash! Records specializes in rock n’ roll albums, Red Onion Records on U Street is known for its wide variety of records and Hill and Dale, in Georgetown, is recognizable for its sleek interior.
The nightlife options in Adams Morgan are extensive, as well. The main corridor of 18th Street is lined almost entirely with bars, so there will always be somewhere to go.
H Street NE
A proposed streetcar line from Georgetown to Union Station has been in the works for a long time, and it won’t be completed until long after you’ve graduated. But the most exciting prospect of this plan isn’t that it will be easier to take the train home — it is how easy it will become to get to H Street NE, one of the fastest developing areas of D.C. Like the U Street Corridor, H Street, damaged heavily during the 1968 riots, was once a cultural hub of the District. And like U Street, H Street is now the home of new businesses and rapid apartment construction, not to mention a front-row view of the positives and negatives of D.C.’s rapid gentrification.
While H Street is similar to U Street in that most of its establishments are relatively new and cater to a younger crowd, the locations here are a little more playful and bohemian. Take, for example, the H Street Country Club, which, in addition to serving Mexican food, is home to an indoor miniature golf course.
This doesn’t mean that H Street completely values style over substance. Sidamo may just be the best coffee shop in the District, with standard black coffee as impressive as its lattes. And Toki Underground, although small and often crowded, serves unbeatable ramen. If you’re looking for a place to grab dinner with friends or relatives, Smith Commons is delicious and reasonably priced and has an excellent brunch, too. As far as nightlife goes, there are plenty of options, but Little Miss Whiskey’s Golden Dollar stands out as the most fun.
The area isn’t as music-focused as is U Street, but the arts played a central role in H Street’s revitalization and continue to define it today. Another name for the area, the Atlas District, comes from the Atlas Performing Arts Center, which reopened in 2001. It offers a full array of theater, music and dance productions, from symphonies to mind readers, and the center was home to more events in this summer’s annual Capital Fringe Festival than any other venue. The Rock & Roll Hotel boasts a lounge, a rooftop deck and a concert hall with an impressive lineup of independent bands.
Despite a name that suggests a monolithic governmental presence, the neighborhood of Capitol Hill is the city’s largest and presents a more diverse visiting experience than its name would suggest.
That doesn’t mean, however, that the building for which the neighborhood is named isn’t worth a visit. The U.S. Capitol building is the home of Congress, and the architecture and aura of importance are awe-inspiring even for the less politically inclined.
For those more interested in how our government works, many hearings are open to the public, and you can even score a tour of the Capitol complex — not just the rotunda itself but the myriad office buildings that surround it — by getting in contact with the office of your hometown representative. The Supreme Court building and Library of Congress are also close by if your interest extends beyond the operations of the legislative branch; the latter is a great excursion if you want to give studying for that important midterm an extra sense of gravitas.
Eastern Market, located a few blocks east of the Capitol complex, is the hub of the neighborhood’s residential area. On weekdays, vendors offering everything from filets to flowers sell their wares in the South Hall Market. The area really comes alive on weekends, however, when hundreds of local farmers and artisans set up stands around the market and create an atmosphere unlike anywhere else in the District.
If you’re looking for a casual bite to eat, deli Mangialardo & Sons, located in the heart of the neighborhood, has been around for over 50 years and is famous for the “G-man,” its take on the classic Italian sub. Ted’s Bulletin is a comfortable diner-style eatery specializing in burgers and milkshakes, while Ambar offers bottomless Balkan food and drinks if you’re especially hungry. To eat next to a senator or representative, Charlie Palmer Steak is your best bet, though Johnny’s Half Shell is also an option if you want to watch your wallet.
As a new resident of D.C., you will definitely find yourself in this area at some point during your year, whether for an internship or a protest: This neighborhood houses the White House and other historic buildings.
After you snap that selfie with the president’s residence and the ever-present fence around it, grab a bite to eat at any of the fast, casual restaurants nearby. A few favorites include GCDC, a grilled cheese-centered restaurant on Pennsylvania Avenue a block from the White House and District Taco, a Mexican restaurant that began as a food truck but now has locations throughout D.C.
Many of the eateries in the area are open relatively late, which is convenient as I Street is also home to Eden, a venue that occasionally hosts formals for many campus organizations.
If politics isn’t necessarily your thing, check out the Renwick Gallery located across the street from the back end of the White House. Although the exhibitions change frequently, admission to this small art museum is free as it is part of the Smithsonian Institution’s museum complex.