There’s so much more to the nation’s capital than meets the eye – Which, at first glance, can seem like an intimidating cluster of government buildings with traffic as thick as you’ve ever experienced. But if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find a thriving outdoor adventure scene with many residents trading their suits for running tights as soon as the day’s work is done. And we recently went to see what kinds of adventure we could experience for ourselves in D.C.
Our takeaway? We’re stoked on this city.
There are numerous ways to access Washington, D.C. For starter’s, check out flights to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA). It’s the closest to the city and a flight into DCA will maximize your time exploring the city. Other options within fairly close proximity are Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI) and Washington Dulles Airport (IAD).
If you decide to drive to D.C. make sure to work around rush hour. Hours to avoid on a Friday are from around 6 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. when everyone’s doing the morning commute and from 3:30 p.m. to about 6:30 p.m. when everyone is doing the reverse “dance” home. If you do end up having to drive during rush hour, just be prepared for lots of traffic.
Where to Stay
You’ve got a ton of options when it comes to lodging in D.C. There’s everything from common chain hotels to boutique hotels to upscale bed and breakfasts as well as Airbnb. Staying downtown will put you closest to the museums, memorials and the National Mall but there are so many fun neighborhoods in and around the city – as well as public transportation to support your choice – that you really shouldn’t find yourself forced into paying more for lodging than you want.
One of the best ways to get around D.C. is a combination of walking and public transportation (because you don't have to worry about parking or traffic). You can take the Metro which has numerous stops all over town. In places where there isn’t a train stop, there is often a bus to fill the gap. We recommend the all-day unlimited SmarTrip card which allows you to hop on and off without reloading the card or stressing about fares. Metro’s website has a helpful Trip Planner section that can make navigating the system a bit easier. It’ll also give you updates on delays.
If you're going to drive, timing is everything. Rush hour starts early and can mean long delays. If you have to travel by car, consider hopping in an Uber and letting someone else navigate and negotiate for space.
Here’s how to maximize a full weekend in Washington, DC:
5 p.m. – Start your adventure at Earth Treks, a climbing gym with over 400 roped routes and boulders to choose from. You don’t need to be a member in order to climb and/or work out (they also have a gym), you can purchase a day pass. They have rental gear on-site, as well. Just getting into climbing? No worries, you can sign up for a class.
7:30 p.m. – Grab a beer at Right Proper Brewing Company. There are two locations in the city. One is a brewpub and kitchen and the other is a production house and tasting room. You can’t go wrong with either. Our favorite beer on tap is their Pacific Ocean Blue which is hoppy, earthy and super easy to drink.
7 a.m. – Coffee up at Compass Coffee. They have nine coffees to choose from; three light roasts, three medium roasts and three dark roasts. Their flavors range from bright and sweet to warm and smoky. Fuel up and then lace up.
8 a.m. – Go for a run along the National Mall. You’ll have excellent views of the Capitol, the Washington Monument and numerous memorials and museums. Not up for a run? No worries, take your camera and go for a walk. This is one of the most iconic and photographed areas in the city.
9:30 a.m. – Visit at least one of the museums along the Mall. There are so many to choose from. Two of our favorites are the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History and the Air and Space Museum. (Bonus: They’re both free.)
12 p.m. – Head to Union Market for lunch and a little bit of shopping. There’s a bunch of vendors to explore in this community oriented space. In addition, there’s often free fitness classes (yoga and kettlebell classes are common) at Union Market so check the website before you go, and fit in both a workout and a meal.
2 p.m. – After some lunch and shopping make time to head on over to the Anacostia River and Park. There are miles of well-marked trails for you to explore either on foot or bike. If you’re wanting to get out on the river than just be near it, you can rent kayaks, canoes, paddleboards and more at the nearby at Ballpark Boathouse.
4 p.m. – Check out the Shaw Skate Park. It’s the city’s first public skatepark and is free and open from dusk to dawn.
6 p.m. – Dinner at Timber Pizza Company. Damn fine pizza: perfect crust, excellent blend of cheeses, cool, laid-back space and a good selection of beers. You’ll be thinking about this pie long after you leave.
7:30 p.m. – Grab drinks at the Petworth Citizen & Reading Room. The Petworth Combo, a Narragansett and a shot of Old Overholt Straight Rye Whiskey, will cost you just $7. Or, go a step up and order the Petworth Gin Smash which is a neatly blended combo of gin, aperol, lemon and mint.
8 a.m. – Snag a cup of coffee and a coffee cake at Baked & Wired in Georgetown. They also make espresso and chai drinks. The baristas are friendly and the vibe is cool. Plus, it’s just a downhill walk to the C&O Canal.
8:30 a.m. – Get a long walk, run or ride in on the C&O Canal. The C&O is a multi-use path made of gravel and dirt that is enjoyed by cyclists, hikers and runners throughout the year. You can rent bikes at one of over 500 Capital Bikeshare stations across the city. If you want to rent a hybrid or mountain bike, head on over to nearby Big Wheel Bikes.
10 a.m. – Go ice skating outdoors at the National Gallery of Art. Skate rentals are only $4 per person. If your bike ride takes longer than you’d planned, you come here late in the evening. It’s open until 9 p.m. on Sundays.
12 p.m. – Lunch at Indigo – Indigo serves up incredibly delicious homestyle Indian food at a price point that won’t break your wallet. The menu is constantly changing and the dishes being served up are always made with the freshest of ingredients. You can’t go wrong with anything you choose but we’re head over heels for the the cheese and spinach, saag paneer, butter chicken, samosas and the mango lassi.
2 p.m. – Make your way toward Politics and Prose, a unique bookstore with three different locations in D.C. They’ve got a great selection of books in all categories but we’re stoked on their selection of titles by (and about) local authors. They’ve also got a great travel section. Plus, there’s a cafe within the bookstore in case you need a shot of caffeine.
3 p.m. – Explore the grounds of the National Arboretum in this gorgeous 400-acre open space on the edge of D.C. It’s free and is open every day, except Christmas day, until 5 p.m. Highlights at the Arboretum include a visit to the National Capitol Columns as well as the bonsai trees, some of which are over 100 years old.
5 p.m. – Grab a beer at DC Brau's tasting room before you depart and take a growler or six pack home with you.
Erin McGrady and Caroline Whatley are based in Asheville, North Carolina, but are currently traveling the country in their van. You can follow along with their adventures at Authentic Asheville.
All Photos (Unless Specified Otherwise) By Erin McGrady and Caroline Whatley.
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