Last weekend, Andrew and I went to Washington, D.C. for a long weekend to celebrate our sixth wedding anniversary (Six years? I know it's cliched, but where did the time go?).
We chose D.C. because neither of us had ever been, and (more importantly) Southwest Airlines had a sale on flights. Last year, we had just moved back to the US from Cambodia a few days before our anniversary. And we did absolutely nothing to celebrate. We could barely keep our eyes open from jet lag, let alone make and carry out any elaborate plans. So we made up for it this year.
Our two goals for the trip were to see the major sites (which, in D.C., it seems like everything is essential) and to just spend time, eating, drinking, and being merry. Fortunately, attractions in D.C. are all free, which makes the latter goal much more affordable.
I know everyone has different agendas and preferences when it comes to travel. But I thought I'd share the places we enjoyed the most.
The Essentials: Getting There, Getting Around, and Sleeping
- We flew into Reagan National Airport from KCI. Reagan is a much smaller and closer (to the city) airport than the other two. From KC, flights were a direct 2 hour, $200 ticket.
- To get from Reagan into downtown D.C., you can take a taxi (about $20 and 20 minutes) or take the metro system (much longer transit time; around $3.50 per person, depending on your destination, peak time, etc.).
- We used AirBnB for our accomodations. We ended up about one mile northeast of the Capital, within walking distance from Union Station. And it was perfect. Staying in someone's home is the best way to travel (in my opinion, at least - read more about that here), and we saved a lot of money, too. Our host, Patrick, gave us great tips and ideas about where to go in the city.
- Walk, walk, walk - D.C. is one of the fittest cities in the nation, and people walk everywhere. Renting a car is unnecessary, unless you're staying longer and want to take longer daytrips out of the city to other places. Bring your walking shoes.
- We took one city taxi, and it was not a good experience. Then we tried Uber, and loved it. Both drivers responded to us in less than 5 minutes and took us straight to our destination, no hassle, and about half the price of a city taxi.
What to See
Andrew and I were definitely museum'd-out by the end of our trip. The beautiful thing about D.C. is that the museums along the mall are free, which means you can wander in and out pretty quickly if it's not interesting to you and not feel cheated out of $20. Here were a few of our favorites.
- U.S. Capitol - if you contact your state senator or representative's office, they can help you make reservations to tour the capitol. However, it just gets you into the dome and lower level on a guided tour (which is still pretty interesting). If you want to visit the actual chambers, you have to go to your congress member's office and get tickets from their staff.
- The U.S. Botanic Garden - the indoor conservatory was a haven on the rainy, cold day we toured the mall. The displays of orchids, desert plants, near-extinct plant species, and more were all beautiful and informative. And very photogenic.
- The Eastern Market - we walked down to the market on Sunday morning on a whim, when we realized how close it was to our breakfast spot. The long brick building has been a fresh food marketplace since 1873 and also hosts a handmade arts and crafts market on Sunday mornings. (Don't forget to stop by Capitol Books and Peregrine Espresso right down the block, if you're a local-coffee-and-books nerd like me.)
- All the museums - we walked through the Natural History Museum, the Postal Museum (surprisingly interesting, especially for appreciating the artistry and history on stamps), the National Museum of the American Indian...and we didn't even touch all of them.
I think the biggest piece of advice I can give for a short trip to D.C. is not feel pressured to see everything. Find what you enjoy, soak it in, and put all the others down on the list for next time.
Where to Eat
And finally...my favorite part about D.C.: the food. I traveled with the express desire to eat as much good food as possible. And D.C. did not disappoint. It certainly helped that, unknown to us at the time of reservation, we stayed only a few blocks away from one of the top hipster neighborhoods in the country. Most of the restaurants we loved were in the northeast area around the Capitol.
To find places to eat, we used Yelp, local advice, and the good travel rule of thumb: if the restaurant is empty on a Saturday night, stay away; if there's a wait, it's probably worth it.
- Toki Underground (12th & H Street; photo above) - On Saturday night, we tried getting a table and were told there was a 3 hour wait. Fortunately, there was no wait for a Monday lunch when we returned. This ramen lover's paradise did not disappoint. Warm, spicy broth thick with noodles, crispy chicken, and a creamy gold-yoked egg hit the spot, along with a side of pan fried veggie dumplings and Taiwanese-style root beer that tastes like root beer candy. If you get stuck with a long wait, hang out downstairs in the dive bar The Pug. (Be sure to look closely at the photo - there's no sign above the door for Toki, just a small logo on the door leading upstairs).
- Shophouse (Union Station) - we stumbled onto this Southeast Asian restaurant in Union Station. Think Asian food Chipotle style: you pick your meats, rice or noodles, and from a mix of pickled veggies, green papaya salad, curry or peanut sauces, and mixed herbs to create your own Asian food masterpiece. I felt I had died and gone back to Thailand with my first bite. (And we later learned Shophouse IS owned by Chipotle and is coming to...Chicago. As close as we can get.)
- Granville Moore's (12th & H Street; above photo, right) - Billed as "a gastropub with a Belgian fetish", it's also known for serving the best mussels in D.C. We popped inside here after declining a 3 hour wait at Toki's next door. The heavy wooden slab bar, low ceiling, and walls covered in European flags encouraged us to stick around. We sat at the bar and devoured some of the best spicy chicken wings with garlic aioli that has ever passed my lips, followed by watermelon and spinach salad, and mussels steamed in a broth of bleu cheese, spinach, white wine, and fried pork belly, all chased down with a sour cherry Belgian ale. My mouth is watering, just rereading that sentence.
- Queen Vic's Pub (12th & H Street; above photo, left) - We knew we'd found a winner when our bartender from the night before at Granville Moore's walked in and sat next to us at the bar at Queen Vic's. Although we didn't eat too much of the food, the sticky toffee pudding and Samuel Smith ales won us over, as well as one of the friendliest and informative bar tenders I've ever met. He'd lean over the bar and tell us how easy it is to make the sticky toffee pudding, or talked earnestly to the girl next to us about where they source their organic sweet potatoes and beets. I love listening to someone who loves food and drink like I do, and knows how to talk about it. And the British accent didn't hurt, either.
- Toscana Cafe & Restaurant (2nd & F Street) - we met up with a friend here on our last night in D.C. and took advantage of the happy hour specials. Plates of fried calamari, prosciutto wrapped with mozzarella and roasted red peppers, and a thick slice of tiramisu wrapped up an amazing weekend of food.
The best part about the weekend was uninterrupted time with my husband. It is so easy to get caught up in jobs, parenting, housework, and other commitments, and to forget that he is the person I enjoy being with the most, laugh with the most, and have the most fun with. Six years of marriage has taught us how different we are, yet has also drawn us closer together. It's been the best six years of my life (to borrow his words), and I hope there are many more adventures with him to come.