It’s the nation’s capital, but there’s much more to Washington DC than government buildings and politicians. The District of Columbia is a melting pot of American and immigrant histories bursting with authentic flavors from Ethiopian, Jamaican, and Chinese kitchens. It’s also home to a thriving arts and music scene. From the heart of African-American culture in the U Street neighborhood, where the jazz legend Duke Ellington grew up, to the influences of the church, chapel, and monastery-filled community of Brookland, DC’s neighborhoods are rich in heritage and varied in walks of life. With plenty of parks and greenspaces winding around a range of bustling urban to quiet tree-lined streets, DC welcomes young professionals, families, and wide-eyed students into its vibrant hub.
For the college crowd, the city’s academic offering sprawls far beyond the boundaries of any campus. Residents have access to vast communities of scholars, think tanks, international government organizations, and world-class museums to complement formal studies. And the international population offers a chance to meet people from all over the world.
Rental homes and apartments in Washington DC are just as varied as the culture. You can find renovated row homes, modern condos, and loft apartments rising in up-and-coming areas. Neighborhoods like Cleveland Park also pepper more residential areas with turn-of-the-century Victorian and Art Deco homes. Though the cost of living in DC is higher than the national average, it’s considered more affordable than in cities like New York, Boston, or San Francisco. And with active music, art, culinary, pro sports, and theatre scenes, there’s much to offer any type of lifestyle.
Washington DC offers plenty of public transportation options, and most neighborhoods are easy to travel on foot. In fact, residents make almost 60% of their commuter trips in DC by walking, biking, or taking public transit. There are bike lanes along major thoroughfares, and, if you want to travel light, Capital Bikeshare has over 350 stations across DC, Virginia, and Maryland, where more than 3,000 bicycles can be picked up and dropped off at docking stations scattered all around the city and neighboring suburbs.
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) supervises the transportation systems that serve local and visiting travelers nearly 24/7/365 via the Metrorail and Metrobus, connecting neighborhoods in every direction. These five rail lines and extensive bus service also connect DC with neighboring Maryland and Virginia suburbs. You’ll find train lines named after colors: red, yellow, blue, green, and orange. Brown pylons mark the station entrances capped with the letter M along with colored stripes displaying the lines available in that station.
DC also houses one of the busiest train stations in the country: Washington Union Station. As Amtrak’s headquarters, trains depart from here regularly for major eastern seaboard destinations such as New York City, Boston, and Miami. The trains easily connect to Chicago and other destinations in the midwest and south. Chinatown buses provide another popular way to travel from DC to points in the northeast. Convenient and inexpensive bus lines pick up DC riders near the intersection of 6th and H Street in Chinatown for road trips to New York, Boston, or Philadelphia.
International flavors represent the diverse population in DC. Yes, there are places for the well-heeled to have their power lunches and steak dinners, but there are equally just as many restaurants for an authentic ethnic meal or establishments offering an other-worldly Michelin-starred experience. Variety is the spice of DC living.
The District happens to be home to some of the largest populations of Ethiopian and Salvadoran expats in the nation. When you’re looking for berbere flavors, head to the neighborhood of Shaw, nicknamed “Little Ethiopia,” for its signature doro watt dish. For flavorful Salvadoran trifectas of meat, dough, and cheese called pupusas, head to La Placitas in Capitol Hill or Gloria’s Pupuseria in Columbia Heights.
And the next time you have a hankering for jerk chicken, thank Howard University for its long-standing relationship with Jamaica, bringing an influx of the island nation’s immigrants. That’s why you’ll find countless delicious Caribbean eateries filled with delicacies like roti and curry goat up and down Georgia Avenue in Petworth.
For comfort food served with a helping of art and culture, find one of eight Busboys and Poets restaurants in the Washington DC Metropolitan and Baltimore areas. It classifies itself as a cultural hub for artists, activists, writers, thinkers, and dreamers. For the average citizen, that just means that beyond a dining establishment, it’s also a bar, bookstore, and community gathering place.
When special occasions call for upscale cuisine, visit Adams Morgan for the Michelin-starred Tail Up Goat. This restaurant delicately balances Italian and American flavors and counts Michelle Obama among its fans. Just as popular with the presidential crowd, Rasika West End serves up modern and traditional Indian fare inside canopied turquoise booths.
For the hands-down, best belly-warming food, Ben’s Chili Bowl in U Street is a hallmark of the District. If you don’t live in DC, you may have never heard of a half-smoke, but to Washingtonians, it’s the ultimate palate pleaser. A half-smoke is like a hot dog, usually half-pork and half beef, then smoked with herbs and covered with chili sauce. Best of all, ten bucks or less is all you need to enjoy one.
When you want to cook at home, you’ll find most neighborhoods are convenient to at least one major supermarket like Giant Food, Trader Joe’s, or Yes! Organic Market. But there are also some specialty grocery stores in San Diego worth venturing out for. If you’re near H Street Corridor or Near Northeast, pop into Udderly Nuts for all-natural sprouted cold-pressed almond milk. They boast it’s the only almond milk only on store shelves without additives. You can find finely ground almond flour and creamy almond butter there, too. Visit Brookland to shop at Salumeria Italiana, where you can pick up cured meats, cheeses, oils, vinegars, and pastas imported from the Bel Paese. And if you want a grocery shopping experience that is more of an event, head to the Dupont Circle FRESHFARM Market. Open Sundays year-round, there are often more than 50 local and regional farmers selling fresh harvests, local-raised meats, and artisanal foods like breads and cheeses.
If you’re a serious shopper, you can’t go wrong in Georgetown, where there’s something for every type of whimsy to necessity. Spend hours browsing and buying from a range of indie specialty shops to home design stores and high-end boutiques to popular national and international retail brands.
For more eclectic tastes, U Street is the neighborhood to hit when you’re looking for a blend of classic and trend-setting. Find funky furniture and home goods stores such as GoodWood and Salt & Sundry. And scour the racks at edgy clothing boutiques like Lettie Gooch.
Looking to splurge? A stone’s throw from Chinatown, blow those birthday or holiday gift cards you’ve been saving for something special at CityCenterDC in luxury stores like Hermes, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, and Chanel.
For everyday sundries and food items, make a beeline for Dupont Circle Farmer’s Market, open Sundays year-round. One of the largest in the area, this farmer’s market offers bounties from 50 farm stands. Hand select your fruits, vegetables, meats, handmade cheeses, and artisan goods like candles, soaps, and other fun finds.
The nation’s capital tells our country’s stories well, with historical sites, museums, and monuments of different eras throughout its neighborhoods. Its natural resources give residents beautiful parks and gardens for enjoyment, exercise, and community gathering. And the area offers diverse, vibrant expressions in various arts and culture venues like Atlas Performing Arts Center, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and even using the city buildings themselves as canvases for graffiti murals.
Residents also organize to share the abundance of different talents in the city. The annual H Street Festival has become one of the most popular celebrations in all of DC. Spanning 11 blocks with 14 stages, the festival features a broad mix of music, fashion, arts, poetry readings, and family-friendly programs. And, every year, sixteen DC neighborhoods host Art All Night, an event that opens pop-up galleries that stage exhibits from 7 pm to 2 am.
Several national universities in the DC area are ranked highly based on their performance across a set of common metrics of excellence. Georgetown University is the oldest Catholic university in the country. George Washington University’s Law School and Graduate School of Education and Human Development are particularly well regarded. Howard University stands as the most prestigious historically black college and university in the United States. And, American University’s School of International Service is one of the top ten international affairs schools in the country.
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