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The Ultimate Washington, DC Bucket List: 25 Things to Cross off Your List
Published on March 22, 2023 by Julia Weaver
As a melting pot of history, culture, and politics, Washington, DC is a city unlike any other. From the iconic monuments and museums to the vibrant food and nightlife scenes, DC is a city that truly has it all.
If you’re a local Washingtonian, or thinking about moving to DC and planning to rent an apartment in Washington, DC or buy a home, the city offers something for everyone. But with so much to see and do, it can be overwhelming for new residents to know where to start. To help you make the most of your time living in DC, we’ve put together a list of must-try experiences and unique things to do from locals that love the District and think that everyone should add to their bucket list. So grab your walking shoes and your sense of adventure, and get ready to dive into the ultimate Washington DC bucket list.
1. Eat at Pete’s Diner before encountering real ghosts
Sure, there’s always McDonalds, Starbucks, and Walmart. But, there is only one Pete’s Diner and it’s located at 212 Second St. SE. Pete’s is also the launch point for National Nightmares: Washington DC’s REAL Ghost tour, one of the most unique ghost tours in DC. They also give back to the community by donating funds to local charities involved in a variety of humanitarian endeavors. So, as you’re getting to know your new city, or when family, friends, or clients come to visit, remember National Nightmares Ghost Tours when the sun goes down.
2. Visit the Lincoln Memorial
“From President Abraham Lincoln’s statue, you have an unobstructed view of both the Washington Monument and the US Capitol,” explains Abe Aburish, Tour Director at Monumental Tours in DC. “The Reflecting Pool is located directly in front of you, with the Vietnam and Korean Memorials on each side of the pool. This location is also where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous ‘I have a dream’ speech and where the memorable scene from the movie Forrest Gump was filmed.”
3. Check out some hidden gems
“Even as a DC-area native, the city never gets old,” states Rose Omar, Owner and Lead Photographer at Omar & Company LLC. “One of my favorite things about Washington, DC, especially as a photographer, is that there are so many beautiful, quiet hidden gems tucked away right in the city. If you come to the city, it has so much more to offer than monuments and museums. A few of my favorite spots are Dumbarton Oaks, The Meridian House, and the Bishop’s Garden at the National Cathedral.”
4. Don’t miss Blagden Alley
“Blagden Alley in the Shaw neighborhood of Washington, DC is a photographer’s dream, with its historic row houses and unique architecture offering a wealth of visual interest,” explains Wedding and Engagement Photographer, Mantas Kubilinskas. “The alley’s weathered brick walls, wrought iron balconies, and intricate details make for compelling subjects, particularly when photographed in the soft light of morning or evening. In addition, the alley’s trendy restaurants and bars offer plenty of opportunities to capture lively street scenes and candid moments.”
Kubilinskas shares further, “Whether you’re a street photographer, an architectural photographer, or simply someone who loves documenting the city’s beauty, Blagden Alley is worth visiting on your DC bucket list. You’ll find yourself drawn to the alley’s unique blend of history and modernity and how it reflects the city’s evolving identity over time.”
5. Take a day trip to Maryland or Virginia
“Washington is part of the DMV offering wonderful and unique places to visit near DC in neighboring states Maryland and Virginia,” says local catering service Feast in a Basket. “Maryland has Annapolis with the Naval Academy and shopping as well as the Eastern shore across the Bay Bridge and historic Ellicott City. Virginia has Old Town Alexandria, just a few miles away as well as Williamsburg as a weekend getaway. For the really adventurous I suggest walking on the Appalachian Trail starting in Shenandoah National Park.”
6. Cycle around the city
“Nothing beats a bike ride to DC’s famous landmarks and monuments with bonus points added for making this short two-mile ride in late March or early April as you’ll be rewarded with the cherry trees blossoming along the tidal basin,” says Ryan Zagata, President of commuter bike company Brooklyn Bicycle Co. “Start at the Jefferson Memorial and travel along the Potomac to the Lincoln Memorial. After taking a few moments to appreciate the Lincoln Memorial, travel onward alongside the reflecting pool to the Washington Monument. From there you can pitch a blanket and take in a picnic lunch or extend the ride along the National Mall to the Capitol Building. If you don’t have your own bike, DC’s Capital Bikeshare program has you covered. It’s an easy and mostly flat ride you can add to your bucket list.”
7. Spend time at Rock Creek Park
Washington DC has so many unique spots. One of my favorites is Rock Creek Park, a surprisingly large forest and series of nature trails tucked along the edge of the city,” explains local Wedding, Family, and Portrait Photographer Lauren Barkume Photography. “For outdoor enthusiasts, it is the perfect way to access nature right at your doorstep, and a great place for families and couples to get beautiful portraits.”
Jeff Miller, Owner of DC Cycling Concierge, offering Customized, private bike rides and tours around DC also suggests taking a visit to Rock Creek Park. Miller shares, “One of the wonderful things about Washington DC is the remarkable number of parks and open space. Rock Creek Park is not only the largest of DC’s many parks and twice the size of New York’s Central Park, it is the nation’s third oldest National Park. Residents of DC love to explore the Rock Creek Trail and a significant portion of Beach Drive which is now traffic free and open for people walking, jogging, biking, and pushing strollers. And for those who want to bike longer miles, Rock Creek is a great way to get out of DC onto a great network of back roads and trails around Maryland.”
8. Explore H Street Corridor
“One neighborhood that’s a bucket list item for new residents is the H Street Corridor. It’s full of unique restaurants, bars, live music venues, and more,” explains Arthur Ringel, Chef and Proprietor at Contemporary American kitchen & bar, DC Harvest. “Start your evening off with dinner at one of the many local eateries. After dinner head over to one of the area’s popular bars for some drinks or take in a show at one of its theaters. It’s possible to spend an entire night just exploring this section of town alone.
Whether it’s grabbing dinner with friends before heading over for drinks and dancing afterwards, or spending an evening exploring different sounds, you won’t want to miss out on all this neighborhood has going on during any given night.”
9. Attend a concert at the Lincoln Theater
“One of the bucket list activities for a new Washingtonian is attending an annual spectacular holiday concert by the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC, at Lincoln Theater on U Street, NW, suggests food and travel blogger Boris Savitskiy. “Each performance sprinkles an extra flare to your favorite jingles with fabulous outfits, songs from various cultures, silly moments, and dancing. Who doesn’t want to see reindeer and trees dancing with a hunky Santa? With ticket prices ranging from $25 to $65, the show won’t break your wallet.”
10. Sip on afternoon tea
“A classic bucket list-worthy Washington experience is afternoon tea at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel,” shares Maggie of Pink Caddy Travelogue. “Built in 1816 just blocks from the White House, the Willard is one of the District’s most important and historic hotels. The list of notable guests is endless, including every president since Franklin Pierce, Mark Twain, P.T. Barnum, Charles, Tom Cruise, and Steven Speilberg. And Martin Luther King Jr. even wrote his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech from his Willard hotel room. But for all of us ordinary people, the best way to experience the Willard is via high tea. No one in DC has a more elegant spread or more personalized service and it’s something every city resident should experience at least once during their time here.”
11. Visit the picturesque Washington National Cathedral
“Time and again, I return with clients to the vast grounds of Washington National Cathedral,” shares Newborn, Baby, and Child photographer Julie Kubal Photography. “One of the most popular spots to take photos on the grounds of the cathedral is the picturesque Bishop’s Garden, a space enclosed by a stone wall containing a small collection of herb gardens, a rose garden, and a meandering stone path that connects it all. While it’s no secret amongst photographers, I am often surprised to hear from clients—even those who have lived in the area for years—that they have never visited the Cathedral or its grounds before and don’t even know the garden exists.”
12. Stop by the Diyanet Center of America
“DC truly is an international hub of the world, and it’s only a short drive to explore one of the beautiful sites that embodies this iconic quality of the city,” says Recipe Blogger Iman Ahmad-Sediqe. “Next to NASA is a gem in the 15 acre property known as the Diyanet Center of America. A massive compound that will make you feel instantly transported to Istanbul in the beautiful architecture found in this cultural hub. From the grandeur of the mosque, the vast array of shopping in its gift store, the Turkish bathhouse, to the amazing Turkish food found in its cafe restaurant– the Diyanet Center is a must visit when you’re in the city. They often host events and celebrations, so be sure to check out their website to see if there’s an event happening while you’re in the area.”
13. Enjoy a local-led food tour from a DC small business
To get to know the food scene in DC, consider attending a food tour with a local business for their expertise. You’ll have the chance to experience some of DC’s finest history and eateries, all while being guided by a DC local. Mangia DC Food Tours hosts curated experiences featuring the flavors of local establishments that Washingtonians and travelers love. A portion of every ticket sold is donated to SOME (So Others Might Eat).
14. Explore the Library of Congress
“A not-so-hidden gem, but definitely an understated beauty is the Library of Congress,” states Wedding Photographer Kate Grace Photography. “The architecture both inside and out is beautifully detailed. Don’t miss the busts surrounding the exterior of the building, the King Neptune fountain in the front, and the beautiful interior staircase. And, if you’re able to go inside, check out the window overlooking the interior ‘Reading Room,’ a must for researchers around the Globe as they dive into every book you could think of. This is a personal favorite for watching the sunset over the U.S. Capitol.”
15. Enjoy an all vegan brunch
Famed Equinox Restaurant located one short block from the White House serves a eight-course plant-based (vegan) sunday brunch served by Chef Todd. The restaurant features an outdoor patio, and a sunny year-round atrium in addition to their regular dining room in downtown Washington, DC. Since 1999, five-time James Beard Award nominee Chef Todd Gray, and his wife Ellen Kassoff, have been committed to serving their distinct interpretation of mid-Atlantic, regional, and seasonal cuisine. Equinox’s hyper-local devotion to their community, producers, customers, and employees have defined Equinox as one of DC’s most progressive fine dining establishments.
16. Take a rooftop tour
“The rooftops of DC’s luxurious hotels and restaurants offer unsurpassed views of the city,” shares Elena Fierer, Marketing Assistant at MARS Tours & Travel. “A must-complete experience is a rooftop tour of DC. Start at The Ven at Embassy Row, then head over to The Wharf. At The Wharf, sip cocktails while gazing at beautiful indoor and outdoor views. For some booming nightlife visit these rooftop locations: Whisky Charlie in Canopy by Hilton, 12 Stories, Officina, Tiki TNT and Potomac Distilling Company, Cantina Bambina, and La Vie.”
17. Feast your eyes on the Cherry Blossoms at the Tidal Basin
Katie Grace Photography also recommends the Yoshino Cherry Blossoms in the Spring. “The weather does play into the timing, so one can’t really be sure of when they’ll bloom until the National Park Service gives their prediction in late February. But, once you see the approximate dates, be sure to plan a trip to see these beauties. They leave just about as fast as they bloom, so be sure to come early in the morning and see a sunrise over Jefferson Memorial, and take a walk around the Basin under a canopy of pink. You will quickly see what the hype is about.”
18. Get some steps in at the National Arboretum
“The hidden gem trail hikes at the National Arboretum are not to be missed — they offer a unique and unparalleled experience of natural beauty right in the heart of DC – without the crowds,” shares Photographer Tim Coburn of DC Headshots. “Perfect for those seeking a peaceful morning stroll, with plenty of flora to admire along the way. Whether you’re an experienced hiker or just looking for a great outdoor adventure, these spectacular hikes have something for everyone.”
“Not only is the National Arboretum my all-time favorite place to see the cherry blossoms in Washington DC, but it is also a great place for photographs all year long,” adds DC Wedding and Engagement Photographer Natasha Lamelle. “It has some of the best views of the cherry blossoms and an added perk is that the blossoms at this location often peak at a different time than those at the Tidal Basin, offering you even more chances to view these beautiful blooms. This location is also much less crowded than the Tidal Basin, in part due to its large size of 446 acres.”
19. Check out the food scene
“While not considered a Foodie City, DC boasts some fantastic restaurants,” shares Fierer. “Travel through the city eating your way through local finds. Begin with a luncheon at The Point, then snack on a hot dog at Ben’s Chili Bowl. Attend a cocktail hour at Artechouse and finish up the day with dinner at Ivy City Smokehouse or Tony & Joe’s.”
Consider purchasing an inKind Pass, which will allow you to eat your way through the DMV at over 50 restaurants in the district and even more nationwide. You can start your morning with a latte at Maman, brunch at Ted’s Bulletin, with their iconic Ted’s tarts, guacamole and margaritas at Oyamel, and get the taste of Peruvian Coastal cuisine at Causa. From cafes, to butcher shops, to full service restaurants, inKind Pass will unlock bonuses up to $2,000 to spend on food and beverage at the most popular restaurants.
20. Don’t skip Lincoln’s Cottage
“Washington, DC is home to the rightfully famous Lincoln Memorial, but when it comes time to celebrate that great president, I prefer to head to one of the city’s lesser-known historical sites: Lincoln’s Cottage,” shares Yigal Schleifer, Co-Founder and Editor in Chief of Culinary Backstreets. “Located on a quiet 250-acre campus that was once a military hospital and is now a veterans’ retirement home, the quaint cottage served as a getaway for the Lincoln family during the Civil War. In fact, it’s here that the president started working on the Emancipation Proclamation. The cottage remains very much as it was in the 1860’s and there’s also a wonderful little museum next door that offers exhibits that deal with the legacy of the ideas Lincoln espoused. Bonus: The Hitching Post, one of DC’s best neighborhood restaurants, is across the street.”
21. Dine at Farmers Fishers Bakers
Located in Georgetown’s lively Washington Harbour on the banks of the Potomac River, Farmers Fishers Bakers is a farmer-owned restaurant popular for tourists and locals with a full-service restaurant for breakfast, lunch, dinner, weekday happy hour, and their famous weekend Farmers Market Buffet Brunch. With indoor and patio dining, their diverse menus feature regionally inspired, scratch-made, thoughtfully sourced food and drink. They also have a weekday First Bake Cafe for grab & go breakfast fare and house-roasted coffees.
22. Explore the night scene
“One of my favorite places in the city is TRADE, the humble LGBTQ+ dive bar on 14th needs to be on your DC bucket list,” says Cassidy DuHon of DuHon Photography. “It’s good for colorful yet blurry patio drinking during the day, and weird and wonderful drag at night. The decor is always off-season, and the singing is always off-key. I always feel at home there.”
23. Explore the DC Wharf
“DC Wharf is a vibrant waterfront neighborhood that offers a unique mix of entertainment, dining, and shopping options,” shares local Wedding and Engagement Photographer, Danielle Real Photography. “Visitors can stroll along the beautiful promenade and enjoy stunning views of the Potomac River, or take a sunset sail on one of the many boats that depart from the marina. With live music, outdoor movies, and a bustling fish market, there’s always something exciting happening at DC Wharf. A new exciting addition is Hell’s Kitchen DC by Gordon Ramsay.”
24. Watch the sunset from the rooftop
“One of my favorite places to go on a summer night is to the Kennedy Center rooftop at sunset,” shares Kea Taylor, Photographer and Creative Director at Imagine Photography in DC. “It is so grand/majestic and peaceful but allows you to see how dynamic and beautiful DC truly is. The Kennedy Center offers free shows almost every day but if you’re lucky you’ll catch folks all dressed up for a show. Then you just escape to the roof, which has one of the most beautiful panoramic views of the city. Then follow it up with a three-block walk to Georgetown Waterfront and sit out by the water and feed the ducks. This is even a great date night out in DC.”
25. Uncover the darker side of our capital
“The Horror On Capitol Hill tour by Scary D.C. explores the spine-tingling history that lies beneath the surface of our city,” says Nick Jones, Owner of Freaky Foot Tours. “Their expert guides will take you to some of the most haunted and notorious locations in town, including the Georgetown University Exorcism site and the National Theatre, and regale you with stories of mystery, murder, and mayhem. Discover the secrets of your new home and experience the thrill of the unknown on this unforgettable tour – it’s a can’t miss DC bucket list item.”