No matter where you live, you probably have your go-to spots for taking out-of-town guests. Whether they are popular tourist sites in town or places that are personal to you, they are reliable locales for entertaining visitors — and giving them a look into your life.
When some friends visited earlier this year and said they wanted to skip the museums because they’d already been to them, I didn’t blink an eye. Between sites right in my Capitol Hill neighborhood and some favorites beyond, I knew which DC spots we’d be hitting, because they’d already been proven as tried-and-true with previous visiting family and friends.
Here are my go-to (non-museum) spots with out-of-town guests — shown through pics of that visit with my childhood besties — and I’d love to hear yours, too!
Where: 225 7th Street SE | Capitol Hill, DC
When: Tuesday-Saturday, 8am -6pm | Sunday, 8am – 5pm | Flea Market Saturday-Sunday, 9am – 4pm
One of my favorite things about living on Capitol Hill is always on the agenda when guests come to town. Eastern Market at once makes me feel at home and like a vacation in my own neighborhood, the latter especially on weekends when the flea market is in full swing. Inside, food stalls offer all kinds of fresh fare, from meats and cheese to produce and baked goods to fish and flowers. Outdoors on most Saturdays & Sundays, local farmers sell fresh produce, and other vendors sell art, jewelry, housewares, clothes and accessories, food, and a variety of other goods. Live music and food trucks are additional treats. It’s rare to leave empty handed, whether picking up from in the market or buying from the outdoor merchants. I love bringing family and friends to enjoy it all, too.
Mix Tip: The Market Lunch is an institution, serving some of best crab cakes and pancakes around (don’t let the name fool ya… the breakfast is legendary.)
Library of Congress
Where: 101 Independence Avenue SE | Capitol Hill, DC
When: Tuesday – Saturday, 10am – 5pm
Admission: Free with timed-entry passes
Not only is the Library of Congress in our neighborhood and an easy walk from our house, it’s one of DC’s most iconic and fascinating attractions — but all too often overlooked by tourists (and locals, for that matter) who are focused on the National Mall museums, U.S. Capitol, and White House. Thus, I always make a point of taking visitors there. The largest library in the world is a trove of knowledge, art, history, and culture — there are both permanent and traveling exhibits — and the space itself is absolutely stunning. Many design and architectural details have special meaning, and docents are always on hand to share insight about them. One of my favorite parts is the Thomas Jefferson Library, a reconstruction of the third president’s library arranged in the same particular order he preferred. There are 2,000 volumes from his original collection (noted with a green ribbon), plus another 3,000 or so that match those destroyed in an 1851 fire at the Capitol (noted with a yellow ribbon). The Main Reading Room is also a must-see and recently started opening to visitors Tuesday – Friday, 10:30-11:30am and 2-3pm. Read more about the Library of Congress on KidFriendly DC here.
Mix Tip: Show guests how the round design of the Thomas Jefferson Library creates an echo chamber by doing a little tap dance (or just calling out hello!) in the middle.
U.S. Botanic Garden
Where: 100 Maryland Avenue SW | Capitol Ground, DC
When: Daily, 10am – 5pm
This is another spot that seems to elude the tourist radar despite its prime location on the U.S. Capitol grounds, right next to the National Mall and museums. Which is part of the reason I like to include the U.S. Botanic Garden on tours of my town. The other part is that it’s such a beautiful, unique, and fun place to explore. It’s also an easy pop-in — no tickets or admission fee required. And while I like to say that visiting the USBG on a foul weather day is like pulling a fast one on the weather gods — you can experience the outdoors in the comfort of a warm (or cool, depending on the season), dry place — an outing there is fantastic no matter the conditions outside. You can wander among a variety of plant collections, from lush flora in the lofty tropical area to all kinds of cacti in the desert gallery to a landscape of ferns and other ancient plant groups to an entire small room dedicated to Hawaiian vegetation (here’s a fun peek at that). There’s even more, including interactive exhibits and, during the warm months, a Children’s Garden outside that welcomes little ones to plant, dig, and play. Generally, the Botanic Garden seems to be an unexpected and reliably delightful attraction — for guests and locals. See more about the USBG on KidFriendly DC here.
Mix Tip: Don’t miss the outdoor parts, the National Garden right outside the Conservatory and the Bartholdi Garden across Independence Avenue.
Old Post Office Tower
Where: 1100 Pennsylvania Avenue NW | Downtown DC
When: Daily, 9am – 4pm
For years, this has been one of my back pocket places to take out-of-town guests for impressive views of the city. While most people would head to the Washington Monument or a hotel rooftop, I would bring guests to this historic building that is now a Waldorf Astoria. The Clock Tower is operated by the National Park Service with its own entrance at the back of the building. Along the way in, there are displays about DC history, the building, and the area where it’s located. And the glass walls of the elevator that take you up to the tower give you a glimpse of the inside area below, which is now Jose Andres’ The Bazaar. And from the observation deck, the views of DC are incredible, and you pick out all of the major sites in the city and into Virginia. Along with the views, you can also see all the gears and inner workings of the clock in a small glass case. [Side note: We once happened to be there when it was time to reset the clock to fall back, and they let the kids help turn it — how cool is that?!]. While the Old Post Office Tower isn’t as much of a secret as it used to be, we’ve never had a wait to get in. It’s still my pick for bird’s eye views of DC. Note closures on these days: July 7, August 3, September 5, October 2, November 3, December 5 & 25. Read more about it on KidFriendly DC here.
Mix Tip: Try to get a reservation at The Bazaar for a drinks or even a meal after your visit!
Where: 480 7th Stret NW | Penn Quarter, DC
When: Mon 11am – 10pm | Tues-Thurs 11am – 11pm | Fri 11am – 12am | Sat 10am-12am |Sun 10am-10pm
Admission: The cost of your meal
There may be certain DC restaurants known as “institutions” for bringing guests, but Jaleo easily is my go-to with visiting fiends and family. José Andrés’ very first DC restaurant opened over 30 years ago, and it is still thriving now, serving scrumptious Spanish cuisine in a vibrant, welcoming setting that never disappoints. But it’s not just the food that makes this a top dining spot. Andrés has opened many more successful restaurants in DC and beyond since, and even more, has made a name for himself as an amazing humanitarian with World Central Kitchen, his non-profit that is always on the frontlines, feeding people all over the world during times of crisis. Guests always know who he is and are excited to dine at his original restaurant. The menu consists mostly of tapas, which is fun for sharing… I highly recommend the pan de cristal con tomate (tomato brushed bread), buñuelos de bacalao, (cod fritters), patatas bravas (potatoes with aioli), gambas al ajillo (garlicky shrimp), and the best gazpacho around. Make reservations!
Mix Tip: If you have enough people in your party, try to request the Foosball table.
Shout out: I also have to give a shout-out to La Collina, an Italian restaurant that opened on Capitol Hill a couple of years ago. It hasn’t been around long enough to call a go-to like the spots above (all places I’ve been bringing guests for many, many years), but it’s definitely become a neighborhood fave for treating visitors to a good meal.
What about you? Where are your go-to DC spots with out-of-town guests?