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48 Hours In Washington DC: An Insider’s Guide

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Summer stresses me out the same way pumpkin spice lattes do.

Don’t get me wrong, I love anything procured from a can of Libby’s (because let’s be real here – no one is buying the coffee industry’s this-au-natural-syrup-is-born-and-bred-from-farm-raised-jack-o-lanterns PR campaign).

My problem lies with their seasonality.

Or rather their supposed seasonality.

It’s a fall beverage. Everyone knows that. Hell it’s been that way since the dawn of the pilgrims (ok so maybe that needs a fact check but it certainly feels true).

I can’t remember a time before the stalking of sidewalk billboards. As soon as the season’s first cool breeze dares to rustle leaves the color of gold and crimson, there am I. Lurking. Ready for the barista to emerge, chalk in hand, to sketch a white girl grasping an orange sleeved to-go cup. The words OMG THEY’RE BACKKK!!! filling the thought bubble overhead.

Seriously, how did anyone even know when fall was before the invention of the pumpkin spice latte?

The build-up and anticipation makes each sip all the more sweeter, forcing us to savor every last drip before the peppermint mochas come in and ruin everything.

That’s Mother Nature folks. The cold, calculated circle of life.

But last year presented a shift in the continuum. Corporations challenged the rules of nature in deference to the mighty dollar. The action was blatant, evidence spreading far and wide; it splashed on specials boards, clung to telephone poles, and glared from storefront windows. Pumpkin spice was here.

Only it was August.

Which, if memory serves, is still considered summer.

I’m sorry but if you’re still able to prance around in cutoff shorts and a crop top then you shouldn’t be able to order a PSL. Unless maybe you live in Florida (but seriously guys,  take a good hard look in the mirror and ask yourselves – when residing in a place where the lowest fall temperature loiters at 70 degrees, do you really deserve that pumpkin spice latte?).

There’s no respect for the now anymore. We skip ahead, overshadowing the present and leaving it with a perpetual feeling of neglect.

It’s akin to how Halloween costumes feel when they see Christmas decorations on the opposite shelf.

Or the vulnerability passion fruit iced teas display when propped against steaming pumpkin cappuccinos.

Spring feels it too. Every time Summer comes round like a bad mother-in-law: a full three weeks before its scheduled arrival.

48 hours in DC - an insiders guide of places to see in washington dc

Kicking Off Summer Celebrating Spring in Washington DC

Memorial Day is the ringleader responsible for this invasion of Spring.

With its Monday slot designation, time has morphed the long holiday weekend into an unofficial representation of summer. Remembrance for those who died protecting our freedom is replaced with close-out sales promotions fabricated in the name of  “Summer Kickoff Celebrations.”

Aside from the fact summer is nearly a month away,  it’s short-sighted because (a) the importance of the holiday gets relegated to the back burner and (b) summer f****** sucks.

The crowds are thicker than the humidity. Prices skyrocket. Shaving your legs is no longer optional. Everything on TV is pure crap. Indoor temperatures rival the arctic. And every party you’re invited to requires a bikini.

Like I said. Summer. Sucks.

So this year I chose not to buy into the madness. No going in on a time share in the Hamptons. No feeling fabulous at Fire Island. No frat parties in Montauk. No schlepping it out to Far Rockaway and no skipping over the best season of the year in order to pretend like it’s summer when it’s not.

Instead, I paid a spring visit to an old friend in the nation’s capital – Washington DC.

No bathing suit required.

Street art near union market in Washington DC

My friend Laura moved to DC from Manhattan a couple of years ago. Back in our NYC glory days we were part of a five-member girl squad (one formed way before Taylor Swift slapped a copyright on the term) who primarily ruled the West Village. Though one could argue we held territories in the East as well. We ruled with a fun and convivial fist, oftentimes assisted by our ally Prosecco.

Flash-forward to life 5 years later and you’re left with one semi-nomad, a sole Manhattanite, two reformed Bostonians, and Laura. A few times a year we bring the squad back together to rehash old stories and create new ones. So Trisha and Sam flew over from Boston while my roommate Meagan and I took the train, eager to catch-up and spend the long spring weekend getting a local’s perspective on Washington DC.

48 Hours in Washington DC

We left the schedule up to Laura. This wasn’t our first time visiting DC so a “must see” list didn’t exist. One of the reasons I’m pro re-return is because I believe a second (or third or fourth or sixtieth) trip to the same destination allows for a truer understanding of that particular place.

Union Market- places to see in washington dc

The below is intended as a loose guide to DC. 

It can be followed to the letter (as was the case with us) or you can tailor it to your personal travel style, swapping in other sights that capture your interest. This blog is geared towards off-the-beaten-path travel with this post being no exception. Though it does include some touristy sites, it’s not your typical Top 10 list. If you’re short on time I HIGHLY recommend trying out the activities from Day 2 as it’s jam-packed with fantastic hidden gems.

Day One: Monuments, Galleries, and Food

1. Start with Brunch at Founding Farmers

You can’t rightly label it a girls’ weekend if brunch is excluded. Lucky for us, Founding Farmers was a quick Uber ride from Laura’s house – in theory if not in practice. When traveling you should always leave a margin for error in the instance your driver crosses the border into Virginia and insists he was only following the GPS when you call him on it, not realizing the system kept rerouting him each and every time he missed the turn it had originally indicated.

The food was worth the wait. Founding Farmers specializes in farm-to-table American dishes, all of which are made from scratch on the premises. They even go so far as to churn their own butter, topping their on-site baked bread with gooey deliciousness.

Brunch at Founding Farmers - 48 hours in Washington DC

Kristen Recommends: Start off with the Peanut Butter Banana Toast topped with marshmallow cream. For your main, go with the Chicken & Waffles. I can’t say they’re the best in the world (I’m from the South after all) but they come in at a close second. Wash it all down with a Bloody Mary. They infuse their vodka with pepper, giving it an extra kick that pairs well with their spiced mix.

2. Peruse the Renwick Gallery

An 8 minute walk from Founding Farmers, the Renwick was the first building in the United States created specifically as an art museum. Its importance lent it its National Historic Landmark designation. It is now home to rotating contemporary and innovative art exhibitions. The current collection WONDER (which ends July 10, 2016) displays immersive art that’s a welcome break from the city’s many historical museums.

And besides, who doesn’t love art you can play with?

48 Hours - places to see in washington dc - Art exhibit at the Renwick Gallery

48 hours; places to see in washington dc - wonder at the renwick gallery

3. Monument and Memorial Hop

Seeing as how the Renwick is approximately 38 seconds from the White House, it would have been unconstitutional not to make a pit spot to see the not-nearly-as-big-and-grand-as-you-would-think home of the President. Impressive level? I’d give it a neutral 5. Maybe higher if Fitz were standing on the balcony swirling bourbon round his tumbler.

From there we traced the monuments and memorials trail beneath the midday sun; passing the Washington Monument grounds, heading through the World War II Memorial and on down past the reflecting pool. A group of veterans stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, chanting as they paid homage to troops who died serving in the US military. A reminder of what Memorial Weekend was all about.

We continued to my favorite part of the path – the one that hugs the Tidal Basin where Martin Luther King, Jr, FDR and Thomas Jefferson lounge about in all their stone glory.

You can join a walking tour or do it yourself like we did. GPSmyCity has a nice mapped-out path similar to the route we took.

48 hours in washington dc - a local's guide to the nations capital

4. Dinner at Thally

After a refreshing change of clothes and pre-dinner Blueberry Bourbon Smashes back at Laura’s casa, our host took us to Thally, a casual and inviting restaurant in the Shaw neighborhood of Northwest DC. Simple cuisine defines a menu best ordered from with the intention of sharing a varying selection of plates. The bar serves local craft beers along with a wide range of ciders and their extensive mead options allow you to take a trip back to the Middle Ages. We hopped on that nostalgia plane, trying out a flight of the honeyed beverage.

Kristen Recommends: Any dish with mussels. The seafood is clean and fresh; cooked simply yet flavor-fully. Also, mead is disgusting (unless you’re into self-inflicted torture).

5. Al Fresco Drinks at Dacha Beer Garden

Down the street from Thally, the Dacha Beer Garden is your typical outdoor beer garden. Set with stringed lights, walled-taps, artfully decorated exposed brick, and communal-style picnic tables – Dacha is a lively scene day or night with a curated collection of fine craft beers. Even those with the most discerning palate will find something to quench their thirst.

6. Ivy and Coney

This cozy neighborhood bar in the Shaw area was next on the agenda. Any bar copping to the belief of “sometimes you just want a cold beer, a shot, and a hot dog” is immediately green-lighted into my good graces. Chicago meets Detroit in this local joint where the rule of the day is cheap drinks and a cheap menu of – you guessed it – hot dogs.

Click the image below for an interactive map of our full Day One path.

48 hours in washington dc - our mapped path for day one

Day Two: Waterfront Views, Food, Beer, Beer, Food

1. Stroll the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail and Waterfront

Laura lives in Southwest DC on a corner block that’s up-and-coming, an overused descriptive word but nonetheless an apt one for her neighborhood. Take a left and you’ll hit the National’s Baseball Stadium; take a right and you’ll submerge beneath a tunnel of trees on the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail, dead ending at the Washington Channel.

Titanic Memorial on theWashinton Channel - places to see in Washington DC

Starting at the Titanic Memorial (no – we did not question the out-of-place dedicatory statue despite knowing the disaster had nothing to do with Washington DC), you can head due west on the waterfront path for a scenic stroll, passing more oddities like the Maine Lobsterman Memorial.

Continue on for another 30 minutes and you’ll hit The Holocaust Museum. If you go to one museum in DC, make it this one. It’s a somber, harrowing experience. One that delves into the depths of your emotional chambers. But the Holocaust is an important part of our history. Something never to be forgotten and certainly not repeated. We skipped the museum (though I’ve been at least 5 times) but it’s the number one thing I would do in DC and strongly felt it needed a mention in this post.

2. Eat Everything at Union Market 

I’ve been trained to salivate every two hours if not fed and we were approaching hour number three which is when the whining and complaining kicks in. To avoid the inevitable tantrum we took an Uber to Northeast Washington for lunch at Union Market. A fun place to hangout, the market offers indoor and outdoor seating to enjoy food from one of their many vendors. Locals shop for specialty meats and spices. Visitors buy stylish home decor. Vegans fill up on organic juice.

The worst thing about the market is choosing where to eat. You can’t go wrong with any of the below:

  • Arepa Zone: Venezuelan food at its best. It may take 15 minutes to cook and dish up the arepas, however you won’t be disappointed. Can’t decide which fillings to stuff the grilled corn patty with? They offer mini combination platters so you don’t have to!
  • Little Baby’s Ice Cream: If you’re into trendy flavors like Earl Grey Sriracha or Smoked Cinnamon, then head to Little Baby’s. They don’t taste as weird as they sound – I promise. If you’re into simple flavors then try the Birch Beer Vanilla Bean. It tastes like a root beer float minus the liquidity and bubbles.
  • Mason Dixie Biscuit Co: I’m recommending this place after just one bite of my friend’s order. It’s that good. How could it not be when the centerpiece of their gourmet sandwiches is the flaky, buttery biscuit.

Please note the market is closed on Mondays.

48 Hours in Washington DC: Arepas from Arepa Zone at Union Market

3. Quench Your Thirst with Local Craft Brews

An unseasonably hot weekend demands ice cold beer – a staple Washington DC is never short of with local breweries spread throughout the district. We had high ambitions in our plan to stop at four or five brew houses that afternoon.

We only made it to two:

  • Atlas Brew Works: 100% solar-powered, Atlas Brew Works offers tours of their facility on Saturdays while their tap room is open seven days a week. Locals refill their growlers, visitors stop in for a flight or two, and hungry patrons trade their coins for pasta salads and sandwiches from a first-class vending machine.
  • DC Brau: I’ve been to a lot of breweries in my day and I can say without a doubt, DC Brau is my favorite. Chalk it up to a friendly staff, gratifying craft beers, and a chill atmosphere. It doesn’t look like much from the outset. The entrance is tucked away behind a gravel lot framed by a barbed wire fence. Once inside, it’s casual and cozy. Flights of their recommended brews come in plastic cups, the name of your poison illegibly scribbled in permanent marker. A table stockpiled with board games lies in the corner. We wiled away the hours with classic whodunit games.

places to see in washington dc in 48 hours. Head to DC Brau for beer and games

4. Dinner at Tico

Over on 14th Street, a lively avenue lined with bars and restaurants, is the bustling Tico – a Spanish-influenced tapas restaurant. With a sizable tequila selection, bottles of cava, and simple fare, it’s the perfect pre-going out spot.

Kristen Recommends: share the shishito peppers, black risotto croquettes, ceviche, and the calamari with the table. If you can’t decide, put your faith in the restaurant and let them choose for you. 

5. Shaken, not Stirred Cocktails at Quarter + Glory

As I mentioned above, this area is chock full of happening nightlife spots. Laura’s all-time favorite for crafted cocktails is Quarter + Glory. I’ll let the bar describe itself as its curated prose captures the essence better than I ever could – “Q+G is an ode to the bars of old; classic American watering holes where the everyman gathered to share good drink and conversation with whomever happened to stride up to the bar….Q+G embodies the spirit of creative types of an era coming together to converse about their individual crafts and the unique creative process that connected one to the other, whether it be journalists, poets, actors, novelists, or just the neighborhood raconteur. It is this feeling, this simple conviviality built on a foundation of solid cocktail bona fides that creates an atmosphere and a community that is an American Cocktail Bar.”

Click the image below for an interactive map of our full Day Two path.

48 Hours in Washington DC: our day two itinerary

Alternative Itinerary Suggestions

There are other places in Washington DC I love but didn’t make it to on this trip.

Places that bear thinking about when planning your DC itinerary – especially if it’s your first time visiting.

48 Hours in Washington DC - Library of Congress - places to see in washington dc

1. The Library of Congress

I’m a massive book nerd who loves nothing more than being surrounded by shelves upon shelves of musky, leather-bound novels. My love of the written word has spurred many visits over the years to the Library of Congress, the largest library in the world. Archived collections  live within the confines of an architectural masterpiece rife with symbolic art murals. Free walking tours are available Monday thru Saturday. Click here for times and schedules.

2. Cheer on the Nationals at their Home Stadium 

There’s something special about watching America’s favorite pastime in the nation’s capital. Buy yourself some peanuts and cracker jacks, root for the home team, and enjoy nine innings of baseball madness. Schedules and ticket information can be found here.

3. Have a Night Out in Georgetown

Visit the gorgeous and historical Georgetown campus before experiencing the neighborhood’s buzzing restaurant and bar scene. Check out this helpful article for a full list of Georgetown activities.

4. Laura Recommends

An additional suggestion from our resident local includes sampling French fare at Convivial – one her favorites in Washington DC.

Have you ever had a local show you around a touristy city? What unexpected gems did you find? Let me know in the comments below!

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