What to Do in DC—Day or Night

If you’ve flown into Washington and taken a cab from the airport, or had some time to walk around DC’s streets, you may have noticed that our license plates read “Taxation without Representation.” Although DC pays the highest per capita tax rate in the country, its residents have no voting representation in either house of Congress. DC residents only gained the right to vote for president in 1961, and the city did not gain the right to choose its own local leaders until Congress passed the Home Rule Act of 1973. Compounding this lack of voice, Congress has the right to repeal any DC law or even prohibit the city from counting referendum votes. Also, the city’s annual budget falls under Congress’s purview; Congress may modify the budget as it sees fit, and it falls to them to approve it and send it on to the President.

To learn more about DC’s fight for self-determination and representation, check out the webpages for DCVote and the New Columbia Statehood Commission, where you can also find out about the campaign to encourage those with Congressional representation to contact their congresspeople about supporting DC statehood. You can learn about DC history by following a self-guided neighborhood walking trail. Pick up a guide to one of 18 trails at the U Street Visitor’s Center next to the iconic Ben’s Chili Bowl, where you can grab a half-smoke hotdog with chili for the walk.

A DC license plate displays the lack of representation for residents. Jennifer Leeman

To see the city through the eyes of its young people, visit the Where We Live exhibit at the National Building Museum. The museum has a number of other exhibits related to architecture and urban space and some great play/build areas for kids. Other museums with good kids sections/programming that aren’t too crowded are the National Museum of the American Indian,  the Freer and Sackler Galleries of Asian Art,  and the National Portrait Gallery, which also has a huge open space great for running around. If your kids need some running-around space closer to the hotel, the National Zoo is a short walk from the conference hotels–there’s a fun “zoolights” exhibit at night — and there are three playgrounds nearby – Walter Pierce Park, Kalorama Park, and the Marie Reed School playground, which is open to non-students on weekends. The hotels are also around the corner from the entrance to Rock Creek Park, which has a nice walking and bike trail that connects to trails in other parts of the city. Close to the park entrance are a number of exercise stations if you fancy an outdoor workout. Another fun outdoor activity is the Malcolm X/ Meridian Hill Park drum circle/acro yoga/ picnic scene on Sunday afternoons.

The newest museum on the National Mall is the National Museum of African American History and Culture. It’s difficult to get in, but free same-day timed entry tickets are available online starting at 6:30 a.m.  If you’re interested in museums a bit farther from the National Mall, the Renwick Gallery,  part of the American Art Museum, showcases contemporary crafts, and the Anacostia Community Museum focuses on everyday life in urban communities. Not far from there is the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, where you can tour Frederick Douglass’s home and learn more about the abolitionist and statesman. And if you like dwelling-based museums, you might also be interested in Abraham Lincoln’s cottage, where the 16th president and his family lived during the Civil War, or the Mary McLeod Bethune Council House, which served as the first headquarters of the National Council of Negro Women.

A cyclist passes by the George Washington mural on 15th and U Streets NW. Gabriella Modan

There’s also plenty to do in DC at night. If you’re interested in Washington-as-capital-city, a nighttime walk around the National Mall and lit-up monuments won’t disappoint. For a more local vibe, there’s interesting theater, music, lectures, and various open-mike events. Adams Morgan on the other side of the Calvert Street bridge from the hotels is home to DCAC, the District of Columbia Arts Center, which hosts a range of performing arts and gallery shows.  Take the Circulator bus ($1 each way) to  Columbia Heights, to the GALA Hispanic Theatre where actors perform Spanish-language plays with English surtitles, from the classical to the avant-garde. Just down 14th Street NW is the Studio Theatre, and across town on H Street NE is the Atlas Performing Arts Center which houses the Mosaic Theater Company, with a focus on “plays by authors on the front lines of conflict zones.”A range of great free performances can be found at the Kennedy Center’s Millenium Stage. If you’re in mood for a movie, you can snag balcony seats at the old-style Uptown Theater, one metro stop away in Cleveland Park.

Looking for a group activity? In Adams Morgan you can sing and eat Korean seafood pancakes in a private room at Muzette karaoke bar, or pool your cognitive resources to make it out of an escape room at Omescape. And if spoken word or political programming is what you’re looking for, try Busboys and Poets café and bookstore on 14th & V Streets NW. DC’s music venues offer a wide range of music relatively close to the meeting hotels; check out the Black Cat, 9:30 Club, Howard Theatre, or Blues Alley. In addition, many of the bars on 18th Street NW and U Street NW also have live music. If you’re into basketball or hockey, during AAA both the Wizards and Capitals are playing at the Capital One Arena, formerly known as the Verizon Center, formerly known as the MCI Center.

Restaurants in nearby Adams Morgan, Cleveland Park, Columbia Heights, and Shaw area offer a break from the anthropology crowds in Woodley Park. All of these neighborhoods offer food at a range of price points, from the fries with peanut sauce at Adams Morgan’s Amsterdam Falafel or laghman at Cleveland Park’s Dolan Uighur Restaurant, to the small plate artistry at Convivial in Shaw. DC is also known for its Ethiopian restaurants, a number of which can be found on 18th Street NW in Adams Morgan (try the small, casual Adams Morgan Coffee Shop, also called Adams Morgan Ethiopian Restaurant/Café/; Quara; or Zenebech), or on the U Street NW and 9th Street NW corridors (Chercher is a good bet). These days DC has a quite a creative restaurant scene; in 2016 Bon Appétit magazine named it Restaurant City of Year. Find out more about DC restaurants in the Washingtonian’s 100 Very Best Restaurants 2017, or Washington Post’s Spring Dining Guide or 40 Most Essential DC Restaurant Dishes of 2017. Finally, thrillist has a good list of vegetarian and vegan recommendations.

Most of the listings here are easily accessible from the conference location by metro, bus, or bike. DC has a substantial biking infrastructure. You can rent Capital Bikeshare bikes from two stations nearby, and there are stations to drop off or pick up a bike all over the city.

With all the options for sightseeing, dining, entertainment, and learning the history behind DC’s quest for statehood, the only problem will be fitting it all in between sessions and workshops!

Gabriella Modan is an associate professor of sociolinguistics in the English Department at The Ohio State University. She is the author of Turf Wars: Discourse, Diversity and the Politics of Place, which examines conflicts over claims to space in gentrifying Washington, DC.

Cite as: Modan, Gabriella. 2017. “What to Do in DC—Day or Night.” Anthropology News website, November 3, 2017. doi: 10.1111/AN.672


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