Washington DC has always been one of my favorite cities because it is rich in history and has so much energy. There are trees everywhere and driving down George Washington Memorial Parkway makes me feel like I’m far away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Summertime in DC is very hot and humid but thankfully, Will and I missed the 100+F degree temps the week before so our trip was pleasant the entire time. We visited a lot of places, ate a lot of good food and unplugged from social media (except for a couple of stories I shared on Instagram) to fully immerse ourselves in our DC experience.
We had such a wonderful trip I knew I just had to share with you my Washington DC Travel Guide with Historical Must-See Spots (perfect for the first time visitor), DC’s Newest Waterfront Destination, How to Get Around, Places to Eat At and my Travel Tips. I hope you’ll find this guide useful!
HISTORICAL MUST-SEE SPOTS
Head over to the National Mall and you’ll hit all the must-see monuments and memorials such as the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Capitol, WWII Memorial, Korean War Memorial, Vietnam War Memorial, Jefferson Memorial. You will be getting your steps in because walking from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial is approximately 2 miles.
If you have extra time, plan a nighttime visit when it’s quieter and less crowded to see the monuments all lit up. I love to sit on the top step of the Lincoln Memorial facing the reflecting pool and the Washington Monument at night. I can’t help but feel moved and inspired to be surrounded with so much history.
A lot of tourists come here to see the Eternal flame and visit John F. Kennedy’s grave and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. These were the only ones that we saw because we only had a couple of hours (and it was so hot) but there’s a lot more to see. The cemetery is big, a bit hilly and there aren’t many trees so visiting during summer time requires a hat and lots of sunscreen! There’s a tram that goes around if you don’t feel like walking or braving the hot hot sun.
You’ll need a car to visit Mount Vernon (or take an Uber or Lyft) and be prepared to spend a few hours to walk around and admire the estate and its grounds. The gardens are beautiful and there are helpful employees everywhere that gave us a background about each area that we visited.
George Washington and his wife Martha’s are buried at the new tomb which is about a 10-minute walk from the main house.
The Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights and Constitution are all housed at the National Archives. Don’t miss out on viewing the three most important documents in US history! Admission is free but we made advanced online reservations to skip the line to get into the building.
Learn about Abraham Lincoln and all the events leading up to his assassination by visiting Ford’s Theater. The museum has the gun that John Wilkes Booth used on the fateful night of April 14, 1865 plus some relics that are worth seeing. A ticket is required to visit and access to the Petersen House (where Lincoln died the next day) is included.
There are 11 Smithsonian museums and galleries on the National Mall and visiting each and every one of them will take at least a week. The three that I recommend for first time visitors are the Air and Space, Natural History and American History Museums. Entrance is free and it’s generally less crowded during the week versus the weekends.
We chose the Hyatt Place as our home for the week as we explored DC. This hotel is located at The Wharf which is DC’s newest waterfront destination with lots of restaurants, shops and activities such as kayaking, paddleboarding and sailing. It was great to wake up to an amazing view of the water, people playing Bag O and airplanes take off from Reagan airport. Our room had a full kitchen (which we did not use because vacay!) plus free hot breakfast every morning with a made to order omelet station in addition to prepared scrambled eggs, sausages, bacon, potatoes, fresh fruit, oatmeal, etc. They don’t have gluten-free bread but they have almond milk which I used for my morning coffee.
HOW TO GET AROUND
Since we were staying at the Wharf, we took advantage of the free Southwest Shuttle that came around every 10 minutes. It stops at 3 other locations, L’Enfant Metro, National Mall and L’Enfant retail shops. It was super convenient, clean and saved us from walking from our hotel to the metro stop or the National Mall!
We each got a reloadable SmarTrip card and hopped on the Metro for a few places that we visited. The fares are higher during rush hour and the trains are more packed.
Lyft or Uber
I thought we would be using the Metro more to get around but it turned out that calling a Lyft or Uber was cheaper, faster and more convenient. Each trip was about $5-7 and we didn’t have to fight the rush hour crowd at the Metro.
PLACES TO EAT AT
A lot of restaurants in DC have gluten-free options and most are willing to accommodate any dietary requests! Here are the places we ate at and enjoyed during our trip.
This is a chain restaurant with catchy names for each item on their menu. They are famous for their hoagies (no gluten-free option) so I ordered the Columbus salad which had shredded kale, grape tomatoes, roasted corn, red pepper, avocado and bacon tossed in a black pepper parmesan dressing. I added a grilled chicken on top for protein. Will tried their Ben Franklin hoagie that has marinara, provolone, basil and a chicken cutlet. The servings were pretty generous and super filling!
I always recommend Founding Farmers to anyone visiting DC. They have a pretty extensive menu and gluten-free items are clearly marked. The flagship location near George Washington University is the biggest and nicest one so it’s worth checking out. We ate here for lunch and I ordered the shrimp and grits. Will got the French Dip Sandwich which he said was the second best French dip sandwich he’s ever had after Philippe’s in LA.
There were a lot of fresh fish and seafood stalls to pick from so you can never go wrong with any of them. We ordered half a pound of steamed male Maryland blue crabs from Captain White’s to snack on. It came out to 8 pieces for $8 which wasn’t bad at all. The wooden mallet was an extra $1 and it made cracking the crab claws so much easier. It was Will’s first time to crack open and eat fresh crabs (I told him imitation crab doesn’t count!) and I’m glad he enjoyed it.
This bright and modern spot located at the Navy Yard was a 5-minute drive from the Wharf has a nice view of the Anacostia River. It was the perfect place for us to meet up with my cousin Diana for an early dinner. Whaley’s has $1 oysters during Happy Hour but we opted to try out their Seafood Platter and Grilled Bavette Steak. The Seafood platter had oysters, clams, mussels, shrimp, crudo, catfish and tuna with kimchi. The presentation was beautiful but I wish they had more seafood for the price because I can totally eat that entire platter myself. Will’s never had oysters before and he was such a trooper for shooting down oysters with me and my cousin!
This restaurant that is a block away from the White House is a historic landmark and a reservation is highly recommended for dinner if you don’t want to wait an hour for a table! We ate there twice, once for dinner and once for Happy Hour to enjoy some oysters. Old Ebbitt Grill always seems to be packed with people no matter what time it is. They also have a gluten-free menu and they offer gluten-free substitutions for a lot of items on their regular menu as well.
Happy Hour is from 3-6pm daily at the bar only. Their menu only indicated that oysters are 50% off during Happy Hour but all their seafood towers are 50% off as well! There was a couple next to us that ordered the Orca platter (good for 4 people) for just $70. That was the same price we paid at Whaley’s for their tiny seafood plate.
When in DC, I always make it a point to get my Afghan food fix. Lapis is a charming Afghan bistro in the Adams Morgan neighborhood in Northwest DC and I was super excited to check it out. We had dinner reservations for 7 pm on a Tuesday and this place was packed when we got there! The menu is pretty extensive and all gluten-free items are clearly marked. We got the Qabuli Palow, a rice pilaf with carrots, raisins and lamb and extra skewers of grilled chicken and beef with chutney. I was pleasantly surprised the Palow came with a big lamb shank! If you check this place out, I highly recommend getting the Qabuli Palow. Will doesn’t raisins (at all!) and he loved this dish.
The green chutney that was served with the grilled chicken and beef was to die for. Its tangy and spicy and I poured it all over my Palow.
We saved the best for last during our trip and Del Mar didn’t disappoint! The interior was beyond beautiful with high ceilings, huge windows, and tasteful coastal decor. This place is definitely a splurge but the food was totally worth it. We started off with some tapas plates – Tortilla Espanola, sliced Jamon, Galician style octopus and some sweet melon with Jamon and sheep cheese. For our entree, we had the soupy Paella with prawns and monkfish.
I ordered a glass of Sangria Rojo and it was one of the best sangrias I’ve ever had! They served it in a nice glass with frozen cubes of fruit so my drink stayed cold and didn’t taste watered down as the cubes melted. Will had the Mahou Spanish beer and he said it paired perfectly with everything that we ate.
DC TRAVEL TIPS
1. First and foremost, wear comfortable shoes!!! You will be walking A LOT in DC especially if you plan to walk the National Mall end to end.
2. Make online reservations ahead of time if possible to skip the line to get into certain locations. We made online reservations to visit the National Archives ($3 per person) and it was worth it because we were able to skip the long line under the hot sun to get in!
3. I ended up not carrying a purse beginning the second day we were there and it made walking around so much easier. I had Will carry my Driver’s license, Credit card and a $20 bill in his wallet and all I had in my pocket was my lipstick (lol) and phone. The Smithsonian museums had a “no bag” entrance so we were able to skip the long lines again. Also, the museums have multiple entrances with multiple doors and most people will line up at the longest one they see. Walk around the building to the entrance with no line!
4. Don’t cram too many things in 1 day. Each place we visited was chockful of information and things to read. Plan to be at each location for 2-3 hours to enjoy and appreciate it. We visited 2 major spots each day so we didn’t feel rushed!