Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Beyond the Monuments

The capital's neighborhoods are alive with trendy restaurants and galleries, parks for play, and quirky shops.

With the Capitol in the background, visitors gather on the terrace of the Newseum, the journalism museum recently moved from Virginia to Washington.
With the Capitol in the background, visitors gather on the terrace of the Newseum, the journalism museum recently moved from Virginia to Washington.Read more

WASHINGTON - Theatergoers pour out of the Studio Theatre and head to Artfully Chocolate Kingsbury Confections, with its nine-seat cocoa bar, cafe, chocolate store and art gallery. Or they stop in Cork, a trendy wine bar with an acclaimed menu, including French fries with lemon zest and garlic. Then there's Cafe Saint-Ex, with sidewalk tables and an art deco, Paris-like lounge serving American bistro-style cuisine.

Decisions, decisions. There are so many things to see and do beyond the Capitol, the Smithsonian Institute, the Lincoln Memorial, and the rest of the monuments and museums on the Mall. While tourists are following guides or scouring their maps, the locals are browsing through cozy art galleries and trendy stores, biking in Rock Creek Park, and dining, drinking and dancing in restaurants and nightspots that visitors rarely find.

For example, the Logan Circle neighborhood around the Studio Theatre, about 12 blocks north of the Washington Monument, continues its rejuvenation 40 years after the 1968 riots. Old liquor stores and pawnbrokers remain along 14th Street, but they are overshadowed by such shops as Pulp, Home Rule, and Go Mama Go. You can find eclectic and eccentric goods, from President Bush air fresheners and lime-green-handled frying pans to frogs made of wire and beads. Even if you're not looking to buy, wandering through these places entertains.

Bob Homan, a 15-year regular at the Vegas Lounge on P Street, can hardly believe that his favorite spot for live Motown music is surrounded by condos and trendy hangouts. The view from the front door used to be of a paint store and vacant parking lots.

"The changes in this neighborhood are amazing," he says. "It's completely different."

D.C. has plenty of unique attractions for adults and children. Go to the International Spy Museum and get an assignment: Find a new identity, memorize it, and pretend to be a spy. Learn how spies used to hide small cameras, bug buildings, and pick locks.

The National Museum of Crime and Punishment continues the intrigue with interactive exhibits about pirates, Wild West outlaws, serial killers, gangsters, and white-collar criminals. The museum, which opened in April, also explains crime-fighting techniques and how to figure out whodunit.

Budding television anchors get a chance to do "stand-ups" in front of well-known Washington backdrops at the Newseum, which relocated from Virginia and reopened in April near the Capitol. Each day, the museum displays the front pages of 80 newspapers from around the world.

And every night at 6, there are free performances on the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage. This month's acts include the U.S. Air Force Singing Sergeants, the Cherokee National Youth Choir, and the Manhattan Transfer.

If you're up for a ball game, the new $611 million Nationals baseball stadium welcomes all comers - even Phillies fans - with panoramic views of D.C. Some fans have complained about a barrage of commercialism and overkill from the 4,500-square-foot, high-definition scoreboard, but others love the scene.

The district is dotted with historic neighborhoods with character. Adams Morgan, two miles northwest of the White House, is a jumble of storefronts and townhouses with ethnic restaurants and shops selling architectural antiques, home furnishings, African art and accessories.

Inexpensive salsa lessons entice dancers to Habana Village, and the weekly drag-queen brunch draws gawkers to Perry's. For a caffeine fix, there's Tryst, a Friends-like coffeehouse with the requisite sofas for lounging.

Restaurant fare ranges from Italian to Eritrean, Salvadoran to West African. For good old American food, there is the 24-hour Diner for pancakes, meat loaf, and everything in between. Sit in a booth or spin on cushioned stools at the counter.

On Saturdays this time of year, a farmers' market draws shoppers. And the annual Adams Morgan Day - Sept. 14 this year - is one big block party, with crafts and foods from Central America, Africa and Europe and music to shop by.

It's tough to find a parking space in Adams Morgan, so you might want to take a taxi or the Metro to the Woodley Park station.

The flavor is different in the upscale Penn Quarter neighborhood, centered at Seventh and E streets and home to congressmen and business executives. It also houses one of D.C.'s main arts corridors, with almost a dozen galleries.

The community was resuscitated in the early 1990s, and its formerly bleak blocks are thriving. The Shakespeare Theatre, a 450-seat playhouse, is in the Lansburgh Building, in what used to be a department store.

On one corner is Jaleo, a lively restaurant serving 50 choices of hot and cold tapas. Colorful mosaic-tiled tables, painted wood and wicker chairs, and a mural of a Spanish dancer add to the warm and spirited atmosphere.

Across the street, the neon sign for the Zenith Gallery attracts art lovers who browse through paintings, contemporary sculpture, jewelry and clothing.

"We do everything from monumental sculpture installations to selling you a pair of earrings for $50, and everything in between," says Marjery Goldberg, a wood sculptor and furniture designer who has owned the gallery for 30 years.

A few blocks away are Chinatown and the Verizon Center, home to Washington's professional basketball and hockey teams. Another neighborhood that has undergone a radical transformation, the streets around the Gallery Place-Chinatown Metro station are packed and bustling, especially on game nights.

You can bowl at Lucky Strike, take in a movie at the Regal Cinemas, or dine at popular restaurants: Indebleu for American cuisine spiced with international flavors; Oyamel Cocina Mexicana for authentic Mexican tacos, seviches and snacks; Rasika for modern Indian food; and Zengo for Asian fusion.

With all that diversity, it's tough to find Chinese food in Chinatown. Although you will see Chinese lettering on the storefronts, Full Kee is one of the few traditional Chinese restaurants.

A couple of miles northwest of downtown on Connecticut Avenue are two popular hangouts. Ireland's Four Fields encourages patrons to sing along to live Irish music and to rent darts for games in the back room. And at Politics and Prose, an independent bookstore and coffeehouse, authors discuss their new books.

And don't miss D.C.'s great outdoors. Sitting on a rock in the middle of the Potomac River, watching a blue heron glide to a stop on a nearby boulder, it's easy to forget that Georgetown and the Kennedy Center are just a short paddle away. Several places rent kayaks and canoes for the day.

Want to take it easy? In Rock Creek Park, which splits the city into East and West, do as the locals do and have a picnic, bike, skate, jog and dip your feet in the creek. On weekends, the National Park Service closes parts of the road for exercisers, carriage pushers and people watchers.

You can fit right in.

Seeing D.C.'s Neighborhoods

Logan Circle

Studio Theatre
1501 14th St. NW

Artfully Chocolate Kingsbury Confections
1529C 14th St. NW

Cork Wine Bar
1720 14th St. NW

Cafe Saint-Ex
1847 14th St. NW

1803 14th St. NW

Home Rule
1807 14th St. NW

Go Mama Go
1809 14th St. NW

Vegas Lounge
1415 P St. NW

Adams Morgan

Habana Village Cuban Cuisine & Latin Music
1834 Columbia Rd. NW

1811 Columbia Rd.

Tryst coffeehouse
2459 18th St. NW

The Diner
2453 18th St. NW

Penn Quarter

Shakespeare Theatre, Harman Center for the Arts
450 7th St. NW

480 7th St. NW

Zenith Gallery
413 7th St. NW

Verizon Center
601 F St. NW
202- 661-5000

Lucky Strike
701 7th St. NW

Regal Cinemas
701 Seventh St. NW

707 G St. NW

633 D St. NW

781 7th St. NW

401 7th St. NW

Full Kee
509 H St. NW

Ireland's Four Fields
3412 Connecticut Ave. NW

Politics and Prose
5015 Connecticut Ave. NW


International Spy Museum
800 F St. NW

National Museum of Crime and Punishment
575 7th St. NW, between E and F streets
Hours: 9 a.m.-8 p.m. daily
Admission: Adults and children, $17.95; seniors, $14.95; age 6 and younger, free.

555 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily
Admission: Adults (13 to 64), $20; seniors, $18; children 7-12, $13; 6 and younger, free

Kennedy Center Millennium Stage
2700 F St. NW

Nationals Park
1500 S. Capitol St. SE

Rock Creek Park
5200 Glover Rd. NW

Rock Creek Park Horse Center
5100 Glover Rd. NW

More information

Destination DC

- Ellen PerlmanEndText