What makes a big city compelling? While there are likely as many ways to answer that question as there are responders, common thoughts would be interesting history, intriguing attractions, natural beauty, great restaurants, funky shops, and friendly locals.
All of those descriptors apply to Washington, D.C., but the U.S. capital city’s most fascinating asset may be its vibrant group of neighborhoods.
“DC is full of dynamic neighborhoods, architecture, and history for groups of any kind,” says Elliott L. Ferguson II, president and CEO of Destination DC. “We’re always focused on making sure when groups are in the city, they’re not just on the National Mall, but they’re also enjoying our neighborhoods.”
While there are many compelling, eclectic areas across the city worth a visit, this article offers a sampling of the following five: Capitol Riverfront, Ivy City, Shaw, Anacostia, and The Southwest & The Wharf.
Capitol Riverfront and Ivy City
Home to the new stadium of the World Champion Washington Nationals, the Capitol Riverfront neighborhood is a hot spot for outdoor recreation. In addition to the baseball park, the area south of the U.S. Capitol near the Anacostia River includes The Yards Park and Canal Park.
With a history that’s tied to the nearby Washington Naval Yards, Yards Park has a harbor area that is the launch point for kayak tours and rentals for excursions on the river. Canal Park has a number of unique sculptures and popular seasonal offerings such as a bustling farmer’s market and a winter ice rink.
“It’s amazing to see how the city is redeveloping the neighborhoods along the Anacostia River, like Yards Park at Capitol Riverfront,” says Ferguson. “And the National Arboretum has some of the best-kept nature preserves in the city.”
The 446-acre arboretum is one of the highlights of Ivy City, an area located northeast of the National Mall. As they roam the natural landscape, travelers can see elaborate gardens, water features, and monuments, including the famous National Capitol Columns. The National Bonsai and Penjing Museum also is on the grounds.
Ivy City, a former industrial area, has seen its warehouses transformed into vibrant public spaces. The culinary scene is noteworthy, as it includes Michelin-star restaurants and a group of craft distilleries.
Shaw and Anacostia
Two Washington, D.C, neighborhoods—Shaw and Anacostia—have strong ties to the city’s Black history. The Shaw, located east of the U Street corridor, is renowned for its historical row houses that date back to the 1800s and entertainment venues that helped it earn the moniker of the Black Broadway. The Lincoln Theatre and the Howard Theatre—both still in operation today—have made their mark across the past century by bringing a who’s who of Black performers to their stages. The southern part of the Shaw is a favorite for shoppers.
Anacostia was home to noted abolitionist Frederick Douglass, and his residence, Cedar Hill, offers a look at the statesman’s life and legacy. Another of the neighborhood’s gems is the Anacostia Community Museum, which focuses on urban life and local Black culture.
The area also is a haven for walkers and bikers. Its Riverwalk Trail is just one of the places where locals and visitors alike can stay active. And, if groups want to spend a few hours volunteering to help preserve the area’s ecosystem, they can link up with Anacostia Riverkeepers or the Anacostia Watershed Society.
The Southwest & The Wharf
Two names and one exciting place, The Southwest & The Wharf has undergone a major facelift in recent years. The Wharf, a $2 billion redevelopment a few blocks south of the National Mall that debuted its first phase in 2017, is a mix of restaurants and bars, retail spots, and concert venues.
The waterfront area draws from its roots as a 1700s shipyard where immigrant fishermen sold their catch right off their boats. A market was established in 1802, and what is now known as Municipal Market is a popular spot where people go to grab some fresh fish. The proximity to the Potomac River also makes The Southwest & The Wharf a hub for on-the-water recreation, and stand-up paddleboards and kayaks can be rented at the Wharf Boathouse.
Making museum-y memories
No trip to the U.S. capital city would be complete without a visit to a museum, and, boy, does the Washington, D.C., area have a lot of great options. See more here.
DC-area travel pros reveal their local favorites
Choosing your best-loved Washington, D.C., place or experience is a tall order. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of options among the city’s A-list museums, brilliant greenspaces, sumptuous restaurants, hidden gems, and waterfront spots. Courier magazine asked travel professionals who live in the D.C. area to offer their favorites. See their responses here.
Top photo: Lincoln Theatre
Photo by CC Flickr/Ted Eytan: bit.ly/2WRe96T