A Weekend In Washington DC

Once or twice a year my mom, sister, sister-in-law, and I head out for a Girls Weekend. While there have been exceptions, our general rule is to keep it within a 5-hour drive from North Carolina’s Triangle area (Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill).  

After a bit of back and forth, we decided Washington DC was the next destination. 

The EPA building in Washington DC

Bad Memories of Washington DC 

Washinton DC wasn’t my first choice for a Girls’ Weekend.  

Twenty years ago, I was on a business trip to DC and decided to stay a few days to explore. My faint memory was dingy buildings and people huddled outside smoking. The city felt old, rundown, and sad.  

I also remember that I destroyed my feet walking everywhere. Blazoned in my brain is the memory of huffing it from the Washington Monument to the Reflecting Pool which is a longer distance than you would think.  

Even worse was the sense of defeat when I reached the Reflecting Pool only to find it’s quite long, and there would be more hiking to reach the Lincoln Memorial.   

Of course, I could be a bit jaded because I had spent three days standing on my feet for hours at a trade show and then walked miles in a pair of fashion boots not up to the journey. 

Needless to say, my expectations were low for our Girls Weekend.  

But I have to say, returning to the scene of the mottled feet crime almost 20 years later, I was pleasantly surprised.  

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Pinterest pin for a weekend in Washington DC.

Washington DC Now 

The first thing that hit me was how light and bright the city appeared. The city was transformed from my memory of dingy buildings to a light, bright, modern feel. Everything seemed fresh and clean. 

The history was still there though. Walking down 9th street, historic buildings sat pleasantly together with the modern glass offices like good friends.  

The National Museum of African American History and Culture.

And let me tell you, it is easy to tell locals and tourists apart. Locals dress well.

I thought we’d all given up and were just wandering around in sweats without even bothering to be embarrassed. Not in DC. Many of the locals walked with purpose down sidewalks, looking like they just stepped out of a magazine shoot.  

Either Washington DC had changed a lot, or my memory was flawed.  

Planning a Weekend in Washington DC 

Where to Stay 

There are a lot of options in Washington DC from AirBnbs to posh hotels. We splurged and stayed at the Conrad Hotel on New York Avenue. It’s walking distance to the National Mall which was important.  

Another good option, if you prefer to stay near the waterfront is the Hotel Intercontinental.  

When you book, especially if it’s a private rental, verify parking. Street parking can be difficult, and decks are expensive. This is something you’ll want to have sorted before you head out.  

The advantage of a hotel is the bar. The Conrad has a beautiful lounge which is perfect for a drink before heading out to dinner. They have an amazing wine menu and carry a very hard-to-find bourbon. 

Looking for great locations for a Girls’ Weekend? Here are a few of our favorites.

Where to Eat 

There are several top-rated restaurants in Washington DC covering any type of international food you can think of. You’ll need to choose the ones you want to try and definitely secure a reservation.  

I couldn’t possibly try them all, so I’m offering a mere sample of what’s available.  

El Secreto De Rosita 

El Secreto De Rosita offers Peruvian dishes in a lively atmosphere. The cocktail menu has several Pisco drinks. I love Pisco and haven’t had it since my trip to Chile. The Pisco with passion fruit puree and lime was excellent.  

There were four of us and each tried a different dish. Everything was excellent from the chicken to the short rib to the mahi-mahi.  

Toki Underground 

Toki Underground does a brisk take-out service, but getting in-house reservations is difficult. They open reservations on a specific day, and you have to be quick. We managed to snag one.  

It’s an interesting mix of a Japanese Ramen house with a Jamaica vibe.  

I am going to get a lot of hate for this, but it didn’t live up to the hype. The food was good, but it wasn’t anywhere near “great” enough to warrant the craze and sitting online desperately trying to get reservations.  

I just wasn’t seeing the “best ramen you’ve ever had”.  

Perhaps if you get it as takeout, things are different.  

Moon Rabbit 

Moon Rabbit is a Vietnamese restaurant in the Hotel Intercontinental on the waterfront. They have an excellent brunch. You may think Vietnamese food and brunch don’t go together, but this was the most amazing food we had all weekend.  

Moon Rabbit restaurant on the waterfront

We started with the special donut of the day. It was black sesame with a miso custard (I apologize to the chef because I know the waiter gave us a much better description). They were unbelievably delicious. 

The Breakfast Bowl with curry coconut rice, Vietnamese sausage, herbs, Maggi gravy, fried egg, and pickled red onions was a delightful mix of flavors.  

We also had the Banh Mi, Pho seasoned fried chicken sandwich, and the Vege Breakfast bowl. Everything was so good that we cleaned the bowls.  

I will definitely make it a point to return.  

City Tap on 9th Street 

This was a last-minute find. Tired and hungry after a day of walking, we stopped in at City Tap for drinks and appetizers.  

One of the specials was homemade potato chips with a blue cheese sauce. At first, we thought it would be too much, but the cheese paired beautifully with the chips. If I can figure out how to make these at home, I would.  

We also enjoyed the charred brussels sprout and ahi tuna. 

What to Do in Washington DC 

The International Spy Museum 

You’ll want to purchase tickets ahead of time. The tickets have a set time for you to arrive to prevent overcrowding.  

The Spy Museum is a cool experience where you become a spy and complete certain tasks at computer stations as you go. An elevator takes you to the top floor where you grab your badge and retrieve your cover identity and background. 

You’ve got to move fast though, the information is only on the screen for a few seconds, then you’re on your way.  

As you weave through the museum, you’ll learn about many spies throughout time, what they did, and what became of them.  

There is also a display of gadgets, many of which were surprising. Without current technology, they were still able to design hidden compartments, secret methods to communicate, and ways to tap a room.  

A submersible canoe used by British spies.

The museum is dark and gives off the vibe of mystery and suspense. Several interactive exhibits are found throughout, beyond the ones where you complete your spy tasks.  

I found it entertaining and enjoyed my time.  

After a little over two hours, we headed to the gift store and then out to explore more of the city. 

The Waterfront 

The waterfront is a special area. It’s light and bright with the sun shining on the water and expensive boats. On nice days, you’ll find it crowded with people walking up and down the pedestrian road.  

The road is lined with shops and restaurants, making it a fun place to wander and explore.  

The National Museum of American History 

The Smithsonian has several museums, and you cannot do them all in one weekend. I wouldn’t even try to do two of them in a day. It can be overwhelming.  

The National Museum of American History is one of the largest and has something for everyone. If you can, arrive just as it opens. The museum becomes crowded quickly and you’ll want time to wander through all the exhibits.

I should warn that if you’re over forty years old, get ready to see your childhood on display. There was a wall with a rotary phone, Etch A Sketch, and a few other items I was surprised to see in a museum.  

You could easily spend a day here. We spent four hours and didn’t see all the exhibits. It became exhausting and we had to stop at the café for a break.  

My recommendation is to start at the top and work your way down, but don’t spend too long in the Revolutionary and Civil War sections.  

A Few Highlights 

The ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz are on the third floor and clearly marked on the map.  

The ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz.

The inaugural gowns of the First Ladies are also on the third floor and worth going to see.

Julia Child’s kitchen is on the first floor. During our visit, due to renovations, you had to go down to the lower level on an elevator and then come back up to the first floor via an escalator. There are plenty of helpful museum staff around to assist and they usually know what you’re trying to find before you ask.  

Regardless of your interests, there’s something here for everyone in your group. The fashionista will love the First Lady dresses. Transportation enthusiasts will enjoy the full-size trains, cars, and buses. Cooks will find inspiration in the Food Exhibition, and the history buff has every war covered.  

Explore The National Mall 

There are many things to see at the National Mall. Don’t try to do them all in one day.  

The Washington Monument is a good place to start since it’s easily viewable from the entire city. Keep in mind, my memory of the long walk to the Reflecting Pool is correct.  

From the Washington Monument to the Reflecting Pool is 0.4 miles, and the Reflecting Pool itself is 0.375 miles. Assume an almost 1-mile walk to get from the monument to the Lincoln Memorial.  

Wear good walking shoes and take your time.   

Visit The Smithsonian Gardens 

The Smithsonian has several gardens throughout the city. The most popular is the Enid A. Haupt Garden. It’s right outside the Smithsonian Castle facing Independence Avenue.  

Enid Haupt garden with Smithsonian castle in the background.

Technically, it’s a rooftop garden even though you appear to be walking at street level. But you’re actually walking on the roofs of the National Museum of African Art, the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, and the S. Dillon Ripley Center.  

Many of the gardens appear as simple landscaping in front of a museum, or a sidewalk with a garden alongside and informational kiosks.  

A good example is the Dead Wood is Life exhibit that runs alongside the National Museum of American History.  

Admire the Historic Buildings 

As you walk through the city, note some of the iconic buildings. There’s the Supreme Court Building, Capital Building, FBI Building, and the EPA building to name a few.  

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Pinterest pin for a leisurely weekend in Washington DC.

A Weekend in Washington DC – Where to Next? 

Washington DC is the perfect weekend getaway. There’s something for everyone making it perfect for families, friends, and even Girls’ Weekends.  

You’ll need to pace yourself. Pick one or two things you really want to do, grab tickets, and then leave the rest of the time empty to explore. If you have time, there are plenty of ways to fill it.  

Now that I’m friends with Washington DC and knowing it’s only a 4.5-hour drive away, I can come back and perhaps try that walk from the Washington Monument to the Reflecting Pool again. This time with sneakers.  

More Things to do in Washington, DC

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