29 Things to Do in Washington, D.C.

The front of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington D.C.

When it comes to baking, chef Padua Player (aka “SugaChef”) says, “I want to give people the same confidence that I learned, especially people at home.” It’s one of many quotes in this recent article about the native Washingtonian’s life and career. 

It got me thinking about my own work as a travel writer. As The Washington Post’s D.C. local guide and daily-explorer of Washington, D.C., I create guides to help give confidence to tourists and locals in exploring Washington, D.C., chef Padua’s hometown. 

Using chef Padua’s life as inspiration, here are a few places to explore and things to do in Washington, D.C.

National Museum of African American History and Culture

If it’s your first time in Washington, D.C., you can’t miss the monuments, memorials, and museums along the National Mall. There are plenty of free museums in Washington, D.C. One notable stop that SugaChef recommends is the National Museum of African American History & Culture (NMAAHC). 

A dream since 1915 and a reality since it opened in 2016, the NMAAHC is the world’s largest museum dedicated to African American history and culture. Open every day from 10 AM to 5:30 PM, visitors can easily spend an entire day here. One of the highlights is seeing notable items like belongings of abolitionist Harriet Tubman or boxer Muhammad Ali’s boxing gloves. You can even see the uniform of basketball player Kobe Bryant. 

First, grab free timed-entry passes online here

To make the most of your visit, walk through the permanent exhibit. Here, you’ll learn about slavery in the United States, the Jim Crow era, the Civil Rights Movement, and more. Then, finish the exhibit near the Contemplative Court. At this cascading waterfall, visitors reflect and honor what they learned in the permanent exhibit.

Spread across three additional floors are exhibits celebrating African American contributions to pop culture, sports, etc. Without a doubt, you’ll want to set aside the better part of a day to see it all. There’s also the award-winning Sweet Home Café serving food from different parts of the country.

Northeast D.C.

Washington, D.C. is divided into four quadrants. Chef Padua grew up in the Northeast quadrant. A quadrant with the Western Hemisphere’s largest Catholic building, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, a large arboretum, and long-time restaurants, there’s much to do in Northeast D.C. 

For a food tour, start at Union Station and walk down H Street N.E. toward the Atlas Theater, a 1938 Art Deco theater, now a performing arts center. First, you’ll hit Cane, a Black-owned, award-winning Caribbean restaurant. Next, you’ll smell Ethiopian coffee beans roasting from Sidamo, a Black family-owned coffee shop. 

Then, for ramen, pop into Toki Underground, a second-floor restaurant serving seven kinds of bowls. If you want D.C. classic fare like Halfsmoke, stop at the second location of Ben’s Chili Bowl, a local institution since 1958. 

Woman-owned Turning Natural for smoothies, cocktails at bartenders’ favorite Copycat, and lattes at cafe/restaurant/bar/retail space Maketto round out an H Street N.E. visit. 

For even more food options in Northeast D.C., visit La Cosecha, a Latin American market, and Union Market, a large food hall on the site of one of D.C.’s original markets. 

If green space is your thing, grab a Capital Bikeshare, one of the country’s earliest bike share programs, and head to the U.S. National Arboretum, 446 acres of gardens, trails, and old U.S. Capitol columns. The arboretum has one of the only bonsai museums in the country, the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum

To see ornate religious buildings, explore the catacombs of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. This is the largest Catholic church building in the Western Hemisphere. More catacombs, including a catacomb tour, can be found nearby at the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land In America, an 1899 monastery with public gardens.

Navy Yard

Along the Anacostia River with views into Anacostia, where SugaChef teaches baking classes to youth, is a neighborhood called Navy Yard, named after the U.S. Navy’s oldest shore establishment. Home to Nationals Park and top restaurants, there’s a lot to explore in the area. 

If the Nationals are playing, snag tickets to a baseball game at Nationals Park. While there, walk to the top of the stadium for a view like none other of the Washington Monument and U.S. Capitol

Before or after a Nationals game, walk along the Anacostia River, stopping at All-Purpose Pizzeria for pizza and pasta on a rooftop or Dacha Beer Garden for draft beer on a spacious outdoor patio. For quality cocktails, go to Trouble Bird, the brainchild of D.C.’s bar scene veterans.  

For outdoor adventure in Navy Yard, rent kayaks from the Ballpark Boathouse after Memorial Day, or take your kids to the splash park at Yards Park, an award-winning green space along the river. Or rent Capital Bikeshare bikes, cross the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge, and bike up the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail, a popular trail that leads to aquatic gardens. 

Unknown even to many locals is the Walking Museum of Transportation, an outdoor museum open 24/7 about transportation history.  

Not in Navy Yard, but a short walk north is Eastern Market, the city’s oldest continuously-operating market. Next, head across the street to REWILD, a local houseplant store. Even if you’re not planning to buy a plant, go in. It’s an oasis, an escape from the city.

The Best Things to Do in Washington D.C. Inspired by SugaChef

Chef Padua Player’s life is a testimony to the rich culture, people, and food throughout Washington, D.C. This list of the best things to do in Washington, D.C. is inspired by Player’s life. It’s a great way to see and experience the city’s highlights. For more information about Padua’s life and career, check out his Meet the Locals feature.

19 thoughts on “29 Things to Do in Washington, D.C.

  1. I’ve been to the USA a couple of times now, and I’m still yet to visit Washington DC. So much history to explore. On my list!

  2. Our family loves Washington! Next time we will have to spend more time at the Navy Yard like you recommended! DC has some of the best food and culture!

  3. I spent a few weeks in Washington DC a long time ago. I remember being fascinated by the public transportation system. There was nothing like it in LA at the time so it was new to me.

  4. I’ve never been to Washington DC but I know it is gorgeous! I would love to explore this beautiful city soon, very soon I hope.

  5. I’ll be using this fabulous list next time I go to D.C. – I also love all the free museums and sites to see. I love how you were inspired by SugaChef! I have to do the food tour for sure!

  6. I love that It’s easy to ride the Metro or hop on a bike and explore all that the nation’s capital has to offer.

  7. i have been to DC about 6 times…but i feel like you just opened a whole new DC for me and my wife. any tips on the best vegan restaurants in DC? thanks so much for your awesome insights!

  8. I heard a lot of good things about Washington D.C So many great things to do here especially the historical and free ones! Thank you for the guide.

  9. I’ve been to Washington DC a few times before but only for a day at a time so we didn’t manage to get too many museums in. I’d love to go back and explore more of the things you’ve picked out x

  10. I love this list. I’m actually visiting DC in November. I’ll be trying out a few of these spots.

  11. We have been talking about taking the kids to Washington DC for many years. This would be a great trip! So much to see, and it is easy to get around too. Your post is inspring me to put something together for a road trip.

  12. What a good idea to rent the kayaks! I live in the south and that’s not really fun for me because of the alligators in every body of water, but in DC, I’m sure it’d be so much easier to enjoy water events.

  13. Washington. D.C., is such a rich in places, history, and art. You need to spend a few weeks to really soak in all that heritage and history.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.