Lindsay and I have spent a little more than a year based in Washington DC. We had an incredible opportunity to really dig in and experience tons of what DC has to offer. Use this guide to help plan your DC adventures and let us know if you have any questions in the comments below.
Getting to Washington DC
If you’re flying, you have several options. There are three airports in the DMV [DC, Maryland, Virginia] area. Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport [DCA] is located directly on the Metrorail’s blue and yellow lines. Which makes it my favorite airport in the area. It’s the most convenient, which comes at a cost. Washington Dulles International Airport [IAD] is about 45 minutes by car and is accessible to the city by bus, cab, and Uber/Lyft. Baltimore Washington International Airport [BWI] is about 45 minutes outside of the city in the opposite direction. BWI has Amtrak shuttles into DC available and frequently has the cheapest flights in and out of the DMV area. BWI is generally the cheapest airport to fly into, but it’s also the least convenient.
Once you are in the DC area I recommend taking Uber/Lyft or the metro wherever you need to go unless you plan to travel extensively outside of DC proper. In that case, you may need a rental car. Be forewarned, parking in downtown DC can get pricey. It’s not uncommon to see $30 a day for a parking spot. In DC we use the Metro, not the Subway – that’s a New York City term. DC’s Metro is fairly easy to navigate. Rates are based on the distance you’re traveling and are generally less than $3 each way in the DC area. You can buy a SmartTrip card at most DC Metro stations. Or order it online before you go.
Best Budget Accommodations
Airbnb is a great option for independent accommodations. You can choose to rent a bed, a room, or an entire house. The options are endless in DC. Get $40 off your first Airbnb stay.
Pod DC is all about surprising details, intelligent design, and no fuss. Pod DC is for savvy travelers who wish to stay in the heart of the Nation’s Capital without spending it all. Their bright, affordable accommodations offer everything you need and nothing you don’t – plus a few surprising extras you’ll love. They have a beautiful rooftop restaurant and design but skip on the extras like the spa or room services you’d find at similar hotels This keeps costs low and you out of a hostel. Prices range from $80-$190 a night depending on the season.
Best Mid-Range Hotels
Hotel Monaco DC
Kimpton’s Hotel Monaco DC is funky, eclectic, and dare I say – campy. The hunter green glass decor accents in the lobby make it extremely memorable. Which is a tall statement coming from me, I’ve been to hundreds of hotels. I have a soft spot for Kimpton Hotels because they’re super LGBT friendly and backup their marketing with inclusive policies for their staff. Hotel Monaco is in a great location right in the heart of downtown DC. The lobby restaurant Dirty Habit is one of my favorites in the DC area. PLUS it’s right near an excellent train station which will take you anywhere you need to go. At $150-$200 a night it won’t break the bank either.
George Hotel is another one of Kimpton’s properties but with a very different look. This hotel honors America’s founding father with an upscale design fit for a respected president. George Hotel is right on Capitol Hill and super close to the National Mall and all of the landmarks of DC. I’d describe the aesthetic of the George as preppy chic. It’s a perfect fit for someone who likes clean modern lines and historical nods. At $150-$200 a night depending on the season, it’s a reasonable price point.
Mason and Rook
I recently attended a party on the Mason and Rook’s rooftop pool deck and was blown away by the views of DC. It kind of feels like you’ve just arrived at your stylish friend’s urban home. The design is beautiful and layered but not as showy as some of the other properties. It feels like subtle elegance. Right now, rooms are going for $160 a night which feels like a steal for a hotel this gorgeous.
NOTE: I wasn’t paid by Kimpton to say this. I just really love their hotels. Kimpton also has a great loyalty program where you get free wifi, a $10 bar credit when you check in and $30 off spa services. Plus you can earn free rooms. Many Kimpton Hotels offer a buy 2 nights get one free deal for loyalty members.
Best Luxury Accommodations
The Jefferson Hotel is the definition of old-school elegance. Set in a 1926 beaux arts building, this posh luxury hotel is 5 stars through and through. The hotel rooms feature deep soaking tubs made of hand-cut Italian and Spanish stone and marble. YUP – that kinda fancy pants stuff is par for the course at The Jefferson. Regular rooms range from $300-$500 a night.
Things To Do in Washington DC
Union Market is one of my favorite places in DC. It’s a bougie Warehouse-like food market with a bunch of fancy food stands and shops. Think charcuterie, empanadas, gelato, waffles and more. One of our favorites is Buffalo and Bergen. Inspired by old school New York soda shops, they serve handcrafted sodas and bagel sandwiches that are really the perfect brunch food. While you’re there check out Salt & Sundry. The lifestyle shop features a beautifully curated selection of tableware, linens, artisanal foods and one-of-a-kind vintage finds, as well as reclaimed hand-crafted wood farm tables.
Check out the Mystics live at the Verizon Center. The local WNBA team plays in the Eastern Conference and frequently hosts events like Youth Night or Pride Night. Same day tickets are available or you can order online. Prices range from $20-$125 per ticket.
The Wharf is a new $2 billion, world-class waterfront neighborhood on the Potomac River, a short walk from the National Mall. Check out dozens of shops, eateries and live music venues. Take the local water taxi for a tour around the waterway or have some fresh seafood at The Fish Market.
If you’re looking to stay on your fitness game while in DC make sure you check out one of the many boutique fitness spots in town. My favorite is FlyWheel, DC’s best spinning studio. Sure, DC has a bunch of spin studios but I like Flywheel’s indoor cycling classes best because they offer performance tracking technology that allows you to track your progress. It’s not there to make the atmosphere super competitive but rather to give you a baseline for performance. The 45-minute classes are a perfect way to jumpstart your day and with multiple locations, there’s probably one near your hotel.
Georgetown is a neighborhood in DC known for shopping, dining, and nightlife selections. It’s a fun area to spend wandering around on a nice day. The views of the canal make for a great Instagram-worthy photo opportunity. Plus you can spend some time browsing the racks of your favorite boutiques and shops.
The National Harbor & Tanger Outlets
The National Harbor and Tanger Outlets are practically next door to each other. The National Harbor is home to some great shopping, restaurants, and coffee shops. Take some time to shop and then drop by The Capital Wheel for an awesome view of the area.
Adventure Links does some cool adventure based excursion to the Carderock Recreation Area in Potomac, MD which is just outside of Washington DC. Try your hand at rock climbing, ropes course activities, kayaking, canoeing and cave expeditions just outside the city limits.
Escape Room Live
Escape Room Live in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington DC is a fun activity for small groups. Basically, it’s a live action puzzle where your goal is to try and solve the mystery and break out of the room. For example, one of the descriptions on their website reads “Agents, your former ally, Agent X, has remotely hijacked your train and plans to wreak havoc on the city! Can you save the city by stopping the train, entering the abandoned station, and finding the bomb to defuse it before it’s too late?”
Georgetown Foodie Tour
Head out with Mangia DC to Georgetown to sample some foodie staples and learn a bit about the history of one of DC’s most famous neighborhoods. Georgetown is home to some of the city’s most notable historical residents, local commerce, embassies, and of course, culinary gems. Mangia DC pays tribute to Georgetown by learning about its early iconic years as you stroll off the beaten path to taste from local eateries. Portions and drink are included in the ticket price of $65.
DC City Center
City Center is the high-end shopping and dining are in DC. From luxury retailers like Louis Vuitton, Dior, and Gucci to famous chefs, like French Chef Daniel Boulud’s DBGB Kitchen and Bar and one of my personal favorites, Mediterranean-focused Fig & Olive. City Center also has a beautiful park with a fountain and interactive video displays in the middle, perfect for that Instagram shot.
Washington DC is home to the Smithsonian Museum Collection. There are literally dozens of museums to choose from. I narrowed it down to a few of my favorites for you to choose from, but if you’d like to see a more comprehensive list check out Culture Capital’s Guide.
The Hirshhorn is not your momma’s art museum. The Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum is a leading voice for contemporary art and culture and provides a national platform for the art and artists of our time. It’s a very millennial-friendly museum and hosts exhibits that you’ve probably seen on Instagram. Like Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors.
International Spy Museum
International Spy Museum showcases the history of espionage and intelligence. It’s definitely not your average museum, it’s more interactive and engaging. The museum does a great job featuring the stories of individual spies, through film, interactives, and state-of-the-art exhibits, provide a dynamic context to foster an understanding of espionage and its impact on current and historic events.
Smithsonian American Art Museum
The Smithsonian American Art Museum, the nation’s first art collection. While you’re there grab a selfie in front of the Electronic Superhighway by Nam June Paik. It’s one of the coolest pieces of art in the DC area.
Newseum is an interactive museum that promotes free expression and the five freedoms of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution while tracing the evolution of print and electronic. That sounds super boring, but I promise it’s not. It’s my favorite DC museum – BY FAR. Admittedly, as a member of the media, I’m super biased on this one – but I love their events and their unique takes on media relations in the world.
Places to Eat in Washington DC
Farmers Fishers Bakers
Farm-inspired American fare, plus sushi & cocktails served in sleek, eco-chic digs with river views. Farmers Fishers Bakers is a full-service, upscale casual restaurant with an in-house bakery, sushi counter, full bar with 24 beer taps, and year-round patio with water views. The restaurant is located at The Washington Harbour in Georgetown. Try the Crab Louis Salad ($21) or indulge with the Honey Pot Fried Chicken ($16).
Right Proper Brewery
Right Proper serves up housemade brews & Southern-influenced American eats in an industrial-chic space lined with murals. Are you sold yet? Because that description was enough for me. Try the Fried Green Tomato & Cheddar Grits ($12) or the Baby Back Ribs ($15). Wash it all down with one of their house-made cocktails or brews to really get the homegrown DC feel.
Founding Farmers is a Co-op-owned American eatery serving traditional American comfort cuisine along with rustic-chic style. There are several locations in the DC metro area. When you visit be sure to try the Avocado Bacon Burger ($13) or the Lobster Mac and Cheese ($28)
Busboys and Poets
Busboys and Poets is a social justice themed eatery with tons of vegetarian and vegan options. They list their tribal mission as “Busboys and Poets is a community where racial and cultural connections are consciously uplifted…a place to take a deliberate pause and feed your mind, body and soul…a space for art, culture, and politics to intentionally collide…we believe that by creating such a space we can inspire social change and begin to transform our community and the world.” This is exactly the kind of business I like to support while I’m traveling and their food is great too! Try the Cubano Panini ($12) or the Steak and Asparagus Salad ($15).
Nido is where Lindsay and I hosted our wedding reception brunch. Check out more photos from our big day and if you stop by sample the Braised Pork Shoulder over patatas bravas & topped with two fried eggs ($12) or the Pancakes with Berry Compote ($10).
Birch & Barley
Birch & Barley is THE destination for beer lovers visiting DC. They have 555 items on their hand curated beer menu. It’s also one of the most buzzed about restaurants in town and is home to one of the best boozy prefix brunches. Their brunch comes with a choice of two brunch cocktails and bottomless tea or coffee with the purchase of any brunch entree for $12. The space is urban industrial chic and the Frittata ($15) is to die for.
The only word that can describe the Iron Gate is swanky. It’s the kind of spot where you take a date if you’re looking for a truly romantic night out. They offer Italian & Greek small plates, a tasting menu & more in courtyard-enhanced digs complete with twinkly lights cause everyone knows the ladies dig the twinkly lights. Try the Farm Burrata ($12) and the Lamb Sausage ($15).
Pinstripes is a family friendly Italian-American restaurant that doesn’t look like any bowling & bocce alley you’ve ever seen. It’s a sprawling space with indoor and outdoor seating plus a bar. Come for the flatbread ($13-$15) [they’re HUGE] stay for a game of bowling and a cocktail and then come back because the price point and the food are so good.
Ted’s Bulletin is that spot that makes all of DC’s best of lists. Whether it’s a boozy milkshake ($17) or a homemade Ted’s Tart, everyone LOVES Ted’s Bulletin. It’s designed to look like a modern version of the classic 1950’s dinner and the food is revisioned American classics like Nana’s Biscuits and Sausage Gravy ($12.29).
Cuba Libre serves Cuban cuisine with a vast rum bar. The location is right in Downtown DC just down the block from the Verizon Center and Chinatown. The decor is accented by Caribbean themes and they host late-night salsa dancing. Try the Pineapple Guacamole ($7) and split the two person, Plato Gaucho Mixed Grill ($64). Don’t forget to indulge in their house crafted Mojitos, get a pitcher if you’re feeling festive.
Dirty Habit is a scene stealer in Washington DC’s Penn Quarter. The globally inspired menu is made of New American share plates & cocktails in hip, edgy hotel space with courtyard. This is a date night restaurant for a trendy crowd. Try the Shrimp Dumplings ($14) and the Ceviche ($15).
Fig & Olive
Fig and Olive is where DC’s upper crust dine. The Upscale restaurant and bar has a seasonal Mediterranean menu prepared with flavored olive oils. The $55 three course pre-fix dinner is worth the splurge. For another $30 they’ll add a wine pairing for each course. Try the Primavera Risotto with asparagus, green pea, parmesan, and pea shoots paired with the Duckhorn Chardonnay as your main.
LGBT Nightlife & Events
DC no longer has a dedicated bar for queer women BUT The Coven is Washington DC’s premier party and event company. Anything Kate Ross touches turns to gold. The Coven is a twice-monthly dance party that draws about 300 folks. But what makes The Coven special is their commitment to nurturing the queer community. Whether that’s through showcasing diverse DC talent, reaching out beyond the gay women’s community, supporting others’ events, or soliciting feedback from others, they’re all about community. They’ve hosted book clubs, fitness classes and all sorts of other community events.
Black Femme Brunch
Black Femme Brunch builds community by being a radical, irreverent, and unapologetic celebration of queer and trans black femmes of all genders. Their Facebook page describes their event as, “This is a turn up for queer and trans black femmes of all (or no) gender(s) to feel celebrated and centered. If you’re a lil masculine but you’re in touch with your feminine side come thru, boo. If you’re coming from a city that ain’t litty and the queer scene there is mostly white or mostly shitty this is an experience of a lifetime.” They regularly host weekly brunches around the DMV area. Visit their Tumblr for more information.
Honey Groove is an annual festival in September celebrating queer and transgender creatives of color in the performing and visual arts. Honey Groove will be held at Dock 5 this year with Big Freeda [ you may know her from Beyonce’s Lemonade ] headlining the event. For more on Honey Groove check out our interview with one of the founders Queers You Should Know Kyrisha Deschamps.
Cobalt is a large multi-level LGBT club with a mixed crowd. Upstairs is the bar and Level One the restaurant is downstairs. The club hosts a mixed crowd but they have a monthly dedicated LezBiQueer night that changes each month. They host mostly gay male-centric theme nights throughout the week and have great Happy Hour specials like on Fridays they have $15 all you can drink wells from 6PM-9PM.
Nelly’s Sports Bar
Nelly’s is an LGBT sports bar which is fairly typical of a sports bar you’ve probably been to but with a gay twist. The crowd is very mixed and it tends to be one of the bars that the LezBiQueer crowd enjoys. They host a weekly drag brunch where the queens of DC are your servers and performers. They serve quality bar food with Maria’s Homemade Empanada’s ($11) being a personal favorite.
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Is Washington DC LGBT Friendly?
I would consider Washington DC a very LGBT-Friendly city. There is a thriving local LGBT scene here. There is a club, association, or group for everything you could think of pretty much. Including MeetUp groups for every activity, you could dream up. DC has an LGBT newspaper and a lesbian magazine. That being said, traveling as an LGBT person is never without risk – it’s an unfortunate consequence of existing as an LGBT person.
Want More Washington DC Tips?
Phat Girl Chic
Phat Girl Chic is a great resource for weekly and monthly events going on in the DC metro area. They cover most of the lesbian circuit parties in the area as well as community events and social gatherings.
Tagg Magazine is DC’s local lesbian magazine. They’re a free monthly print magazine, but their website is always up to date with the latest events in the area. They’re also huge sponsors of local entrepreneurs and creatives.