Updated: 2 hours ago
As a local for the last 8 years, let me tell you – there’s A LOT to do in DC beyond the National Mall. I’m continually surprised by how much there is to do in the city beyond the immediate downtown area. Below are some fun and non-touristy things to do in DC.
This list is full of hidden gems around DC that you’ll love to discover on your trip to Washington, DC. Some of my friends and I were just talking about how unique DC is and how often people overlook the coolest things that the city offers. So this list is here to help!
Non-Touristy Things to Do in DC
The Phillips Collection is an art museum founded by Duncan Phillips and Marjorie Acker Phillips in 1921 as the Phillips Memorial Gallery located in Dupont Circle. It’s a beautiful building and a museum often missed by those visiting since there’s so much downtown. It’s much quieter than Smithsonians, and a favorite of locals because of their concert series. The museum stays open late, and you’ll be able to walk to select galleries with a drink and some live music.
1600 21st St NW, Washington, DC 20009, Tuesday-Sunday, 11 am-6 pm. Timed tickets are required.
Eastern Market is a popular local spot not far from the National Mall that I just love. It’s been in operation since the 1800s, and you’ll find local food, coffee, art, music, books, live music, and more in the area. I love grabbing a bagel at Bullfrog Bagels, a homemade pop tart at Ted’s Bulletin, and a Coffee at Radici.
On the weekend, a huge flea market opens up outside, and you can shop local art, old maps, funky jewelry, and more. After walking around the market, check out Capitol Hill Books for some used books, records, and fun perusing through an old row home in the historic neighborhood.
225 7th St SE, Washington, DC 20003,9 am -4 pm
South of Eastern Market is the Congressional Cemetery. Named for those buried there years ago, this is now a favorite spot for a walk for many locals in the area. It was founded over 200 years ago, and today, people can visit this beautiful space daily.
Congressional Cemetery was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2011 and owned by Christ Church, Washington Parish. Walking the grounds is a walk through the history of DC and seeing the natural landscape along the Anacostia River.
1801 E St SE, Washington, DC 20003, 8 am –8 pm
Did you know that DC’s second-largest industry during the 1800s was breweries/making beer? DC was a hot spot for all types of beer makers, and one of these was Christian Heurich. His castle (home) is now a museum open to the public daily.
In addition, the gardens are open for happy hour on Thursdays (complete with a remake of his famous beer from the 1800s – Senate Beer) for you to enjoy the outdoor space.
1307 New Hampshire Ave NW, Washington, DC 20036, 11 am –5 pm, Thursdays 11 am –8 pm
The Wharf is DC’s newest development and has some of the best views at sunset. Whiskey Charley offers excellent views of the Capitol from its roof (located inside the Hilton), La Vie has happy hour specials, and Officina has a massive patio with greenery that is pretty romantic.
After that, grab dinner at one of the great restaurants there. My favorites are Hank’s Oyster House (seafood), Officina (Italian), and Mi Vida (Mexican).
Check if any shows are going on in the Wharf too. Three different music and comedy venues have opened up in the Wharf and offer a variety of music genres every night. The Anthem is the largest venue, Pearl Street Warehouse often hosts local or cover bands, and Union Stage hosts smaller names and comedy regularly. In the summer, there are large games such as cornhole and outdoor concerts happening as well. Plenty of entertainment options!
Go to a Non-Touristy Show
DC has a thriving music scene with venues around the city. There’s plenty to choose from, and you’ll get to see a different side of DC visiting a spot for some live music. A few local favorite places to check out are:
Meridian Hill Park
You’ll find 12 acres of fountains, gardens, and green space in Meridian Hill Park. The steps are modeled after the Spanish Steps in Rome, and they offer beautiful views of the fountains and space.
Every Sunday at 3 pm for 40 years, a drum circle happens. But it’s no longer just drums, and now you’ll find a multicultural mix of drummers, dancers, tight-rope walkers, hula-hoopers, yogis, and jugglers. The scene is inviting, positive, and shows off what DC does best – bringing people together. It’s fun for the whole family!
16th St NW &, W St NW, Washington, DC 20009, sunrise to sundown
The National Arboretum is a popular spot, and here you’ll find the First Capitol Columns! Most people on a trip to DC don’t make it here, but it’s worth going. The columns are an arrangement of twenty-two Corinthian columns that were a part of the United States Capitol from 1828 to 1958.
You’ll also find a collection of 53 bonsai trees here in the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum there.
3501 New York Ave NE, Washington, DC 20002, 8 am –5 pm
Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens
The Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens are a National Park dedicated to showcasing different water plants. It was founded right after the Civil War by Walter Shaw, who studied thousands of water plants, lilies, lotuses, water hyacinths, and bamboo. The flowers bloom in late spring, May to September/October every year, and it’s so beautiful!
1550 Anacostia Ave NE, Washington, DC 20019, 9 am – 4 pm
Rock Creek Park
Rock Creek Park is truly a gem in our nation’s capital. This 1,754-acre city park was officially authorized in 1890, making it the third national park to be designated by the federal government. It offers visitors the opportunity to escape the bustle of the city and find a peaceful refuge, recreation, fresh air, majestic trees, wild animals, and thousands of years of human history.
Hillwood Gardens and Estate
Hillwood Gardens and Estate are located near the very popular Rock Creek Park and are truly gorgeous! The Estate was owned by Marjorie Merriweather Post, who was way ahead of her time acting as CEO of Post Cereal in the early 1900s. Her Estate in DC is now a beautiful museum with 13 acres of gardens. The grounds are beautiful, and you can enjoy a picnic or purchase drinks and food there.
$10-12 for a ticket, 4155 Linnean Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008, 10 am –5 pm
Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America
This Monastery is located in Brookland and has recreations of different parts of the Holy Land. It was originally built back in the late 1800s and is now a favorite spot for outdoor garden walks, prayer, and more. It’s beautiful and relaxing to walk around the hilly gardens here!
1400 Quincy St NE, Washington, DC 20017, 9 am –5 pm
This former church has been repainted and reimagined into a home for art and music. They host events and things inside throughout the year, but the outside and surrounding areas are worth a visit all on their own! On any given day, you’ll find people doing a photo shoot outside. It’s a beautifully reimagined space.
700 Delaware Ave SW, Washington, DC 20024
Hidden inside alleyways near Logan Circle/Shaw, you’ll find Blagden Alley. Craft cocktails and coffee, street art, and one of the city’s most popular new restaurants await you, and almost all of it is hosted inside beautiful historic buildings.
This neighborhood has been around since the 1870s as almost a neighborhood inside a neighborhood. You’ll love strolling through this fun area of DC! Grab a coffee, dinner, shop, or just hang out enjoying the art that can be found around every corner.
Blocks of 9th, 10th, M and O Sts., NW.
Technically right outside DC but, I had to include Gravelly Point on the list. It’s located within walking distance of DC, and so I say it counts!
Gravelly Point is part of the National Park Service, and the wide-open green spaces allow you to watch huge planes flying into DC just above you. It’s along the water, and in addition to seeing the planes fly over, you get a great view of the Potomac and monuments as the planes go above your head. Bring a picnic or frisbee for some added fun.
Washington Memorial Parkway, sunrise to sunset.
Kingman Island is a man-made island along the Anacostia River in Northeast DC. It’s a lesser-visited spot along the water with great views! The area is perfect for running, walking, biking, and exploring in general. In addition, there are spots for fishing and kayaking that make it an ideal outdoor space around DC.
575 Oklahoma Avenue NE, Washington DC, 20002, sunrise to sundown
If you’ve ever wanted to see some fun, anonymous local art, you need to take a walk through the Logan Circle neighborhood to get a look at the ever-changing installation of Barbie dolls in front of one of the buildings. They’re rarely disappointed by the rows of Barbies in fun different scenarios throughout the year. Grab a coffee at Slipstream and walk down Q Street for some fun! Go where the locals go and find the non-touristy things to do in DC.
2, 1454 1/2 Q St NW, Washington, DC 20009
Latest murals at Union Market
Union Market is one of my favorite places as a local to hang out and one of my favorite cheap eats in Washington, DC. There are over 40 food options in and around the market, which has been open since the 1930s. There are tons of affordable food options here that you’ll love as well as local brews and cocktails. My favorite is Rappahannock Oysters which does a happy hour daily with 1/2 off oysters (local to the DC area).
1309 5th St NE, Washington, DC 20002, 8 am –9 pm daily
Right next to Union Market is La Cosecha. La Cosecha is a contemporary Latin American marketplace in Washington DC that celebrates centuries of heritage. Inside you’ll find artisans, authentic food, a bar, and an overall fun atmosphere for an afternoon or evening of relaxation.
1280 4th St NE, Washington, DC 20002, 8 am -12 am daily
Kayak on the Potomac
Boating in DC is located right on the water in Georgetown and offers kayak, SUP, rowboat, and bike rentals. They are all available first-come, first-serve, or for reservations ahead of time. You’ll get great views of Georgetown, Roosevelt Island, and Arlington when kayaking here. I like to start by heading north from the kayak let-in point and then heading back down the river.
about $20 an hour
Across the river from Boating in DC is Roosevelt Island. This island was dedicated as a memorial to President Theodore Roosevelt, an early champion of conservation.
It is accessible by footbridge from the parking lot, off the north-bound lane of the George Washington Memorial Parkway, and includes a memorial plaza with a 17-foot statue of Roosevelt as well as nearly 2-miles of trails through forest and wetlands. Walking around the island, you’ll get great views of the Potomac, wildlife, and Georgetown.
George Washington Memorial Pkwy.Rosslyn, VA 22209, sunrise to sunset
City Center is located in downtown DCC. One of the big draws of City Center is the beautiful decorations they have there year-round. They are constantly changing them for each season and have different art displays and pop-ups throughout the year. You’ll also find high-end shopping and fancy restaurants as well. I think this spot is best in winter!
825 10th St NW, Washington, DC 20268
Watch a Sports Game
DC is full of good sports teams, and no doubt this is something we DC locals do all the time. I love watching one of our local teams play, and the games are always a good time. There are year-round options for watching sports teams in DC.
DC United – Soccer Team
Wizards- Basketball Team
Capitals – Hockey Team
Nationals Baseball Team
Katzen Art Gallery
The Katzen Art Gallery is one of many free things to do in DC and located on American University’s campus. It hosts rotating exhibitions of contemporary art from around the globe and the Alper Initiative, a dedicated research and display space for the art history of Washington, DC.
4400 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington, DC, 11 am -4 pm
There are a lot of cool places near DC as well, like Old Town Alexandria, Baltimore, and Downtown Hyattsville. So don’t be afraid to take a day trip outside DC too and get the chance to look at one of these fantastic places for more non-touristy things to do in DC.