Where to take the family when they visit DC

The next time you have visitors in town, try these not-so-typical destinations, and show your family another side of D.C. (WTOP’s Abigail Constantino and Jack Moore contributed to this report).

Tour the National Cathedral

The National Cathedral is a great destination for those interested in learning more about art and history (the Cathedral offers several different tours, including one that ends with a traditional English tea). It’s also perfect for those who like to wander (the gardens on the grounds are simply gorgeous). Pack your appetite: Open City serves coffee, sandwiches and sweets in the Cathedral’s cafe. Or check out one of the many restaurants across the street, including Cactus Cantina, 2Amys, Barcelona and The Grilled Oyster Company.

Get out to Glenstone

The 15-mile ride out to Glenstone in Potomac, Maryland, is a must for modern art-lovers. The newly reopened museum includes a 204,000-square-foot building filled with water courts and gallery rooms. It’s surrounded by 230 acres of meadow, peppered with wildflowers, walking paths and outdoor sculptures. Admission is free but reservations are required and sometimes hard to come by. However, if you take the Montgomery County RideOn bus route 301 to the museum, you are guaranteed entry with no reservation required.

The Renwick Gallery

When The Renwick Gallery reopened in November 2015, its exhibits quickly flooded the Instagram feeds of many Washingtonians … and it hasn’t stopped. The contemporary craft and art museum is one of the many Smithsonian museums in D.C. It’s interactive, family-friendly, and best of all, free. Current exhibits include a special showing that merges traditional glass sculpture with augmented reality technology.

Take in a timeless tale

It wouldn’t be Christmas without “The Nutcracker.” The holiday staple gets its own D.C.-centric spin. Set in historic Georgetown 19th century Georgetown features Gen. George Washington as the Nutcracker, King George III as the Rat King and historical characters, such as Betsy Ross, Harriet Tubman and Miss Liberty all making appearances.

Performances from Nov. 30 through Dec. 29 at the Warner Theatre in downtown D.C.

Free concerts at The Kennedy Center 

If your family enjoys the arts, take them to a show at the Kennedy Center. Put your credit card away — this one won’t cost you anything.

Every day, the Kennedy Center puts on free performances at its Millennium Stage at 6 p.m. — perfect if you’re looking for a predinner activity or are trying to keep it an early evening. For the full calendar of events, visit the venue’s website.

New in 2019 is The REACH, which opened in September. The expansion is a new way of imagining the intersection between audiences and art.


Beginning Nov. 29 and running through Jan. 1, the Smithsonian National Zoo tradition features more than a half-million eco-friendly lights. This year’s event includes a gingerbread village, a holiday market and rides on the Zoo Choo-Choo. Admission is free, and the show runs from 5 to 9 p.m. More information is available on the zoo’s website.

Take a trip to Union Market …

D.C.’s Union Market is a food-lover’s paradise under one roof. And when parents or family come into town, it’s one of the best places to take a crowd for lunch, because there’s no need to agree on one cuisine.

Your vegetarian brother can chow down on some curry potatoes at DC Dosa or spicy tofu tacos at TaKorean, while your meat-loving father can overindulge on one of Nathan Anda’s famous porkstrami sandwiches at Red Apron. Mom can peruse the tablescapes and décor options at Salt & Sundry, while you relax with some oysters and bubbly at Rappahannock Oyster Bar — after all, entertaining family is hard work.

Be sure to check out new additions across the street from the food hall, including Politics and Prose, Cotton & Reed distillery and The Village Cafe.

Show off D.C.’s most spirited neighborhood 

D.C.’s Ivy City is the city’s top distillery destination. Head to the Northeast neighborhood to show your family a more spirited side of the nation’s capital.

New Columbia Distillers, One Eight DistillingJos. A. Magnus & Co. and Republic Restoratives all offer tours, tastings and cocktails. While you’re over there, find food at Ivy City Smokehouse Tavern, Ari’s Diner and La Puerta Verde, and catch live music at City Winery.

Insider tip: Jos. A. Magnus & Co. is located next to Atlas Brew Works, should you also have a beer fan in the family. See below for more information on that.

Show them what’s brewing 

D.C. has become a serious beer town. With countless packaging breweries and brewpubs, there’s no shortage of places to introduce mom and pop to hops. In Northeast, there’s DC Brau, Atlas Brew Works and Hellbender. In Northwest, check out Right Proper and 3 Stars, and in Southeast, Bluejacket.

Don’t forget about Denizens in Silver Spring and Port City in Alexandria — both are worth the short drive outside the District.

Highlight D.C.’s culinary scene 

There’s no doubt you’ll want to give your guests a taste of D.C.’s burgeoning dining scene by taking them to some of the city’s hottest restaurants, but do yourself a favor and limit your options to restaurants that accept reservations. Chances are, your parents are not going to want to stand in a four-hour line for a table at a crowded eatery — no matter how amazing it is.

That said, you don’t have to deviate from the city’s “best of” list. Most of the top 10 restaurants on Tom Sietsema’s 2018 Fall Dining Guide take reservations, and same goes for many of D.C.’s Michelin-starred restaurants.

Eden Center in Falls Church and Koreatown in Annandale

Take visiting friends and family to Virginia for authentic Vietnamese and Korean eating and shopping experiences.

Eden Center in Falls Church is a well-known destination in the D.C. area for those hankering for delicious Vietnamese food. If the weather is chilly, nothing warms you up quicker than a steamy bowl of pho. Or looking for a quick bite or a sandwich to go? Visit one of the restaurants that’s been selling banh mi sandwiches even before you ever knew what a banh mi sandwich was. You can also peruse the stores that sell a variety of products, such as skin care, herbs, knickknacks and jewelry.

Then head on down to Annandale, Virginia, to the D.C. area’s “Koreatown.” There’s more to Korean food than kimchi and barbecue. There’s also delicious cakes and desserts. You can find delicate, baked goods at the Korean bakeries in the area. Many are French inspired but with an Asian flavor. And, yes, there are plenty of restaurants that serve barbecue and kimchi, so don’t fret. Annandale is also where The Block is located. Can’t decide if you’re in the mood for meats, soup, seafood or a snocream (a shaved ice and ice cream type of dessert), then take everyone to this food hall.

And if you’re looking for that face mask that promises results, check out what’s in store at cosmetic stores Tony Moly and The Face Shop.

Visit the Arboretum

The United States National Arboretum is one of the more hidden treasures of D.C., mostly because it is far away from the National Mall, just off New York Avenue in Northeast. But just like the national museums, this destination is also free. Wander the gardens and explore the exhibits — your visitors will never believe you’re still in the city.

Head to Hillwood 

Another option to D.C.’s crowded museums is the peaceful Hillwood Estate and Gardens, which is tucked just a few blocks behind the Van Ness Metro station in Northwest.

The former home of Marjorie Merriweather Post is now a museum that houses her collection of Russian imperial art and 18th century French decorative art, plus it sits on 25 acres of lush gardens.

This is not M Street 

Dumbarton Oaks is another D.C. estate that’s worth a visit. And if your guests are insistent on going to Georgetown, this is a great alternative to dodging crazed holiday shoppers on M Street. (Courtesy Dumbarton Oaks Facebook)

Linger at the Library 

Have a book-lover in town? The Library of Congress should keep her occupied for a few hours.

Guests can take a free one-hour guided tour of the building, or sit in one of the library’s breathtaking reading rooms, which are organized by subject, language and format.

Walk around Eastern Market 

Not too far from the Library of Congress is D.C.’s Eastern Market. On the weekends, farmers and artists set tents up outside the main building to sell their products. Restaurants and cafes line the main street, should you get hungry for a warm meal or a hot beverage.

Walk along The Wharf

D.C.’s newest neighborhood is along the city’s Southwest waterfront. At The Wharf, there are restaurants, music venues, shops and water activities, including a free shuttle that takes visitors from the piers to East Potomac Park.

Dig into Dupont

Sundays are quite social in Dupont Circle. Each week, farmers and producers sells their products at the FRESHFARM Farmers Market, and Washingtonians gather to grab breakfast, shop and hangout and listen to live music. The market runs from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. April through December, and from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. January through March. (WTOP/Rachel Nania)

Visit the home of an American hero

Cedar Hill, a stately home atop a 50-foot hill in Anacostia, was the place abolitionist and orator Frederick Douglass called home the last 20 years of his life.

Carefully restored to its 1890s-era glory, you can visit and learn about the extraordinary life of Douglass, who escaped from slavery to become one the leaders of the abolitionist movement. Guided tours cost just $1 per person. You can find more information on reserving a tour on the National Park Service website. While you’re in the neighborhood, the famous massive chair at the corner of Martin Luther King Avenue and V Streets in Southeast. Originally installed in 1959 to showcase a furniture company’s wares, the giant chair is now an iconic D.C. landmark.

A coffee crawl

D.C.’s in the midst of a coffee renaissance, so take your coffee-loving visitors to some of the city’s newest cafes. Stroll along 14th Street and try the java at Slipstream, Peregrine, Dolcezza, Colada Shop, and The Wydown. Then, burn off some of that extra “energy” with a walk-up to Meridian Hill Park for a picnic.

Remember: The museums are free 

If the Mall is a must, might we suggest the Hirshhorn? The modern art museum is always a unique gallery through which to wander. The National Gallery of Art is another treasure. The museum has everything from caroling to ice skating during the holiday season.

And (some) have great food

If you do head to the Mall and hunger strikes, your options aren’t limited to hot dog carts. The Mitsitam Native Foods Cafe at the National Museum of the American Indian is one of the best places to score a meal in D.C.

It has everything from wild rice salad, to herb marinated bison strip steak, to beet cherry salad.

Beat the Newseum deadline

This fall and winter is your last chance to visit the Newseum, the museum dedicated to honoring and celebrating the role of journalists and a free press.

Current exhibits also include “Rise Up: Stonewall and the LGBT Rights Movement” and “Seriously Funny: From the Desk of ‘The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.'”

You can also take in Pulitzer Prize-winning photos, pieces of the Berlin Wall — even WTOP reporter Neal Augenstein’s iPhone 4S, which showcases how technology has revolutionized the practice of news gathering.

Admission to the museum, located on an iconic stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue, does carry a price tag — about $25 for adults and $15 for kids 7 and up. There may be discount codes offered on the website.

Buff up on your history 

Just a short drive outside of D.C. is George Washington’s Mount Vernon, where you can take a tour of the mansion, the grounds and even the first president’s whiskey distillery. Holiday-themed events includes a behind-the-scenes look at how George Washington’s Christmas dinner was prepared, chocolate-making demonstrations, candlelight tours and Christmas illumination fireworks Dec. 20 and Dec. 21. See more holiday events on the Mount Vernon website.

Explore Old Town Alexandria 

Walking up and down the streets of Old Town Alexandria is a great way to spend an afternoon — and there’s plenty to do and see. Catch an art exhibit in The Torpedo Factory, explore an 18th century mansion that once doubled as a Civil War hospital, shop boutiques and check out one of the city’s many restaurants. (R. Michael Zilz/Visit Alexandria)

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