Many people think the museums and monuments in the National Mall are all there is to experience in America’s capital city. But those looking to go off the beaten path will find that there are plenty of non-touristy things to do in Washington DC – the type of things that locals like to do away from the crowds. We’ve got some recommendations from the folks at HI Washington DC hostel on where to go and what to do if you want to discover DC’s offbeat side.
Check out a happy hour
For both locals and travelers on a budget, happy hour in DC is the best time to get affordable drinks in the many swanky bars and restaurants around town. Plus, it’s a great way to strike up a conversation with a stranger since you’ll be sitting at the bar, so it doesn’t matter if you’re solo or with some friends. There are some good happy hours right near the hostel, like the one at Penn Social, which also has a giant games area with ping-pong and skee-ball. Or, meander around Chinatown and down H Street to see what else you can find.
Go for a walk on Teddy Roosevelt Island
Escape the city bustle for a couple of hours and head to Roosevelt Island, a national memorial tucked away on the Potomac River. Featuring a network of trails, wildlife, and beautiful trees and wildflowers in the spring and summer, the secluded park is an excellent place to go for a long nature walk. Teddy Roosevelt Island is easy to get to from HI Washington DC: catch the Metro to Rosslyn Station and then it’s a short walk to the park.
Stock up on goodies at the Eastern Market
The Eastern Market in the historic Capitol Hill neighborhood is a pretty well-kept local secret, and a great place to stock up on fresh produce to prepare back at the hostel. Open from Tuesday to Sunday, the market features a range of farmers selling their seasonal wares, plus arts and crafts, and mouth-watering prepared foods to snack on while you meander the indoor and outdoor spaces. Weekends are especially great with live music and even more stalls. Take the Metro, or rent a bike to ride to the market on a nice day.
Have a picnic by the Capitol Hill Reflecting Pool
Almost everyone knows about the famous reflecting pool between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial, but not many know about its counterpart on the other end of the National Mall. The Capitol Reflecting Pool sits in an area called Union Square, and has a nice grassy area with shady trees perfect for picnicking under. While this is still in the touristy zone, you’ll find fewer crowds and really great views of the Capitol Dome.
Go jam at the drum circle at Meridian Hill Park
Started more than 50 years ago as a celebration of African American culture and liberation, the weekly drum circle at Meridian Hill Park is a lively celebration featuring a clash of drummers, dancers, and acrobat yogis in a festival atmosphere. The park is right near the diverse neighborhoods of Adams Morgan and Columbia Heights, and the drum circle highlights just how many different cultures and people come together to make D.C. a great city. Join the drumming and dancing, or just sit back and take it all in.
Catch a live concert or see some stand-up comedy
Washington DC has a pretty underrated arts and culture scene, and on any given day, you’re likely to find a music or comedy show in one of the local venues. Check out places like Black Cat, U Street Music Hall, and the 9:30 Club to see your favorite big-name act, or to discover your new favorite DC band. Or if you’d like a good laugh, you can find some open mic nights and stand-up comedy shows at places like the Boundary Stone and The Big Hunt. If you’re not sure where to start, ask the friendly front desk folk at the hostel for their favorite spots.
Hang out in the neighborhoods away from the National Mall
Get away from the touristy side of Washington D.C. and venture out to one of the local neighborhoods that aren’t near the National Mall. Here you can discover excellent restaurants, shop in local stores, and have a night out on the town to see a side of the city that not many visitors get to see. Check out this roundup of a few of the coolest neighborhoods in D.C. where you can find the capital’s quirky and cool hidden gems.
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Lace up your walking shoes and go check out some HI Washington DC-approved spots that’ll get you seeing the city like a traveler, and not just like a tourist.