So let me preface this by saying that overall, I had a GREAT time in D.C. a few weeks ago and fully intend on going back soon. I got to attend a friend’s beautiful wedding, celebrate my birthday on U-Street, revisit some of our national monuments, and cover quite a lot of ground in the short time that I was there.
With that being said, there was definitely a learning curve on this trip. This was my first time back to D.C. as an “adult”, so here’s a few things I learned that you may want to make note of.
1. Don’t Bring a Car to D.C.
The primary reason my friends and I were headed down to D.C. that weekend was for a wedding, so I figured with our extra stuff like garment bags full of dresses, driving would be the smartest thing to do right?
Okay first of all, what you might save on an Amtrak by driving instead, you’ll immediately rack up in tolls (and gas). Sure, we had a nice comfortable ride down from NYC, but once we entered downtown D.C. en route to our first hotel near The White House, I seriously thought I was going to run someone down. I guess this is the truth in any new city, but between the odd setup of the streets, low traffic lights, and nonsensical one-ways, you’re in for at least half the frequency of panic attacks that I had. Which is still a lot.
Like most major cities, parking is also a nightmare. Most of the time, we left the car at the hotel because we had to pay $50+ a night just to park it there. Ugh. But when we did have the car, finding a metered spot/any parking was like next to impossible.
We had to deal with a broken meter, a $100 parking ticket, and near gridlock traffic at one point. Overall, so not worth it, guys.
That being said, we were happy to learn that Uber in D.C. is actually really reasonable considering how much we’d pay regularly and at surge times in NYC, so that’s a really great option for anyone visiting. The Metro is also reliable from what I’ve seen; just keep an eye out on their hours of operation.
Normally, I’d say when in doubt just walk everywhere, especially around the Mall area where all the major sights are concentrated, but we definitely struggled a little with that. Which brings me to my next point...
2. Don’t Go To DC In the Summer
The heat and humidity we were hit with in a mid-August Washington DC seemed to render this city unwalkable - at least during the daytime. If you’re walking between icy, air-conditioned buildings and museums, I’d say sure - it’s doable. But the fact of the matter is that there’s so much more of D.C. to see, and it’s hard getting motivated to walk miles and miles during the day when it feels like the air is made of boiling hot soup. It really does take a toll.
If you find yourself in a Southern city like D.C. (notice I didn’t say “The South” for fear of mass controversy), seriously don’t underestimate dressing for the weather. I wore sneakers and these cropped jeans two of the days exploring and have honestly never sweat more in my life. It was a struggle.
3. Don’t Miss Out on Smaller Neighborhoods
While my friends and I were really committed to museums and sightseeing, we definitely did our best to check out some of the smaller neighborhoods of the city. One mistake I think people make in a lot of major cities is getting way too caught up in all of the 'checklist items' to even enjoy the local flavor. It’s something I hear from people all the time when I mention NYC - they swear up and down how much they hate it, and then I find out they never left the lines and chaos of midtown.
I got to spend a night exploring the U-Street corridor where we had AMAZING Ethiopian food at Dukem, the weirdest/most delicious gelato I’ve ever had at Dolcezza, and drinks at a few local spots including my new favorite bar, Cafe Saint-Ex.
Another recommendation is to stroll around the Capitol Hill Neighborhood - we stumbled upon it while wandering around after visiting the US Botanic Garden. Next time, I definitely want to see Georgetown, Adams Morgan, and Dupont Circle (that’s where our hotel was, but we never explored the area).
4. Don’t Leave D.C. at Rush Hour
I feel like this goes without saying, but I had no idea how bad it would be until we stupidly decided to try anyway. If you think New York or LA traffic is bad, jeez. You’ve seen nothing yet. It’s reason enough to follow my first recommendation NOT to drive in Washington, D.C. at all.
5. Don’t Do The Monuments During The Day (if You’re Strapped For Time)
Finally, if you’re only here for a night or a short weekend...just don’t waste your day looking at the monuments at the Mall. This is something I really regret not doing, considering how hot and crowded these popular tourist destinations get during the day. After learning more about them while we were there, I found out that these don’t close at night, and are stunningly lit up when it’s dark out.
Did I forget any? Let me know if you experienced any blunders while visiting Washington, D.C. or if any residents want to school me on some “don’ts” that I missed. Make sure to pin this if you found it helpful!