There is a moment in the life of every DC resident when you realize the hordes have descended. It’s typically a different cue for all of us, depending on where we live and our regular schedules lead us. For BabeBQ, it’s when the sidewalk in front of her Connecticut Ave building are clogged with tourists heading to the zoo. For Mike, it’s when the Capitol South metro entrance is jammed with a sullen teenagers in matching shirts. My observations are less kind but also involve a kind of uniform. You’ve likely spotted your personal cue by now. Cherry Blossom season is DC’s version of opening day for tourists. This isn’t all bad. Not only does it support the economy but having tourists around can be a great reminder of what a cool city we get to enjoy round the clock.
This isn’t a post for the locals. This is a for all those friends and relatives of yours musing about a trip to DC. Inspired by Concierge’s recent write up of Ten Things Not to do in Paris, Mike and I have compiled our own PSA of 10 Things *NOT* to Do in DC. Please do your DC-duty and send this to those you know are visiting soon. Add your two (or ten) cents in the comments. Some of this may seem a little harsh but really, we do this because we care. We want visitors to get to know and love DC for the great city it is. And learn how to live, commute, and eat like a local.
Ten Things Not To Do in DC: A Public Service Announcement
1. Stand on the left. This is no f’ing joke. When you are on the escalator heading into or out of any DC metro station, you stand on the right and pass on the left. Think of it as a two lane highway. You may be enjoying a leisurely vacation and spring weather but residents caught up behind you may be late to a meeting or desperately trying to catch a train. Most DCers are pretty polite and will give you a quick “excuse me!” to scoot over. This is the biggest area of frustration for locals and it’s an easy trap to avoid.
2. Get Chinese food in Chinatown. This is an epic food fail and a total disapopintment to many a visitor hoping that Chinatown (Chinablock, really) = good quality Chinese food. It does not. I’m sorry. I wish it did, too. If you find yourself in the Chinatown and staring down some hunger pains, head a few blocks into Penn Quarter for a plethora of options. Some of our favorites are the bar menu at Poste, small plates at Zaytinya, and hefty, creative burritos at California Tortilla.
3. Eat the hotel’s breakfast. Because honestly, there are a dozen great breakfast options in town. Why stock up on yesterday’s danishes? Those staying near the Hill or kicking off morning activities there will feel like insiders at Jimmy T’s Place, a hidden, hole in the wall institution serving breakfast 7 6 days a week. If you’re willing to head a little farther afield to Eastern Market, your sense of adventure will be rewardedwith Market Lunch where both the crabcakes and buckwheat pancakes are the stuff of local legend. From there you can amble the beautific side streets of the Hill, making your way back to the Capital Building or the Mall with a full and satisfied stomach. Staying one of the tourist towers of Crystal City? Make a quick trip to Alexandria for Buzz Bakery where you can ease into your vacation morning with a delicious breakfast pastry and fresh coffee in one of the bakery’s plush leather club chairs, surrounded by charming vintage kitchen appliances.
4. Drive. It may seem like it will be more convenient. But you’re probably wrong. GPS or not, driving inevitably heightens frustration about the city – the parking! the traffic! all the one way streets! and still with the parking! – without any real convenience payback. The city can be confusing. You want to find parking right in front of that one Smithsonian you’re so excited about but guess what? So do the 50,000 other visitors driving into town that day. You have several options in your favor here. DC is an inherently walkable city. It’s pretty flat with only the occassional sloping hill. The streets are easy to navigate. Our public transportation, specifically the metro, is clean and (pretty) efficient and can deposit you very near just about every major attraction. DC is a wonderfully bikeable city, too, and a great way to take in the sights. Our fair capital isn’t terribly large and you could find yourself biking down the Mall, past the Jefferson Memorial, and into Arlington cemetary in no time. Or pedal your way down the insanely charming Georgetown side streets before heading toward DuPont to check out the impressive embassies on Mass Ave.
5. Limit your dining options to The Mall or your hotel neighborhood. This is directly related to #4. The Mall is a notorious restaurant dead zone. Central is a nearby option that is delicious but a bit pricey for a quick pick me up. When it comes to meal times, do yourself a favor and explore new neighborhoods. If you’re already taking the metro, your own two feet, or a bike around the city you have a great advantage. Head up Pennsylvania Avenue for a burger and shake at Good Stuff Eatery near the Capitol. Metro to DuPont or U Street and explore any number of delicious options that may catch your eye. But for God’s sake just avoid the chains and fast food restaurants. You didn’t travel all this way to have the same #4 value meal, did you?
The final 5 after the jump!
6. Limit souvenir shopping to Smithsonian gift shops or t-shirt carts. There are some delightful DC-specific items you can pick up for yourself or loved ones back home. One of our favorite shopping destinations is Hill’s Kitchen, where you can pick up an adorable cookie cutter in the shape of the District. If you have little ones at home, consider a trip to Kramer Books in DuPont, where you can score a copy of Good Night DC (cousin of Good Night Moon). If you would like to bring a taste of local and delcious DC home with you, visit one of the Farmer’s Markets and seek out The Copper Pot Food Company where Chef Frigerio dishes up amazing sauces and homemade pastas ready to travel.
7. Blow your food budget on a high-end seafood restaurant. DC is known for power lunches and expense check dinners. But more authentic DC seafood experiences can be had for a fraction of the price. Warm weather visitors can enjoy DC’s proximity to the Cheasapeake at Quarterdeck, a locals-only dive featuring all you can eat crabs doused in Old Bay seasoning, another local flavor.
8. Go to Ben’s Chili Bowl before midnight. This DC institution is a must-visit on any moderately with-it tourist’s list. And sure, daytime visits are good enough for Obama and visiting European dignitaries. But for the full effect we recommend hitting up some of the nightlife on U Street and keeping a chilli half smoke and milkshake as your evening nightcap. You’ll rub elbows with locals, get to make some new friends, and maybe not even feel guilty when you get cheese on those fries.
9. Limit yourself to foods you can pronounce. DC is blessed with a diverse population and it shows in our restaurant options. Our favorite for visitors is Ethiopian and our favorite Ethiopian to date is Etete in the U Street corridor. Go for the spicy kitfo (we prefer it raw but you can get it medium or well-done) and polish off your meal with some honeywine.
10. Order a Miller Lite or a G&T. DC has a phenomenal cocktail and beer scene these days. Anyone tipping back a cold one should do themselves a favor and explore what the city has to offer. For cocktails in a grown up environment, we haven’t found anything better than PX in Old Town. If you prefer to stay in the District proper you won’t be disappointed with The Gibson. For a great beer list, try Pizzeria Paradiso in DuPont or Georgetown and Granville Moore’s in the H St Corridor.
Locals – have I missed any key elements?