The perfect, cheap day-long date in D.C.

WASHINGTON — Aside from its famous Smithsonian museums, D.C. has the reputation for being expensive. But just because some things are overpriced doesn’t mean every experience in the city is exclusive to big spenders.

There are plenty of inexpensive restaurants and activities in D.C., especially when the weather cooperates.

So make a breakfast date, and, assuming it goes well, follow this guide for an adventurous and inexpensive day with your favorite person.


Big Bear Cafe:This laid-back cafe has a relaxing patio garden. Sit outside and enjoy a breakfast sandwich and a solid cup of coffee. It’s a great place to talk, read or fill out a crossword puzzle.

Cost: $7/person
Address: 1700 1st St. NW
Metro: Shaw/Howard


The National Building Museum is beautiful and free to tour the main hall. (WTOP/Joey Kahn)

Mid-Morning Activity

The National Building Museum: What was once the United States Pension Bureau in the 1880s is now home to social and political functions. Hundreds of thousands of Civil War soldiers and their families came to collect their pensions in this building — and now it’s a beautiful place to absorb everything you want to know about architecture. The tours are free, and the museum shop is worth perusing.

Cost: Free for the main hall tour; $8 for exhibits; $16 for admission to the maze.
Address: 401 F St. NW
Metro: Gallery Place/Chinatown or Judiciary Square


SUNdeVICH: OK, so sandwiches here run between $11 and $14 each — but they are huge, so why not split? It’s romantic and cost-effective, and you’ll be up for a late dinner. I recommend the Buenos Aires or the Seoul. And if you and your date can’t agree on one, it probably wasn’t meant to be in the first place.

Cost: $6-7/person
Address: 1314 9th St. NW (It’s in an alley between O Street and N Street.) There’s also a food truck; find its location on Twitter.
Metro: Mount Vernon Square/Convention Center

Daytime Fun

National Arboretum: It’s an often overlooked “living” museum, filled with trees, shrubs, flowers and picnicking spots. Yes, you can bring your sandwich to the Arboretum and have a picnic. Talk about romantic. And it’s free.

Cost: Free
Address: 3501 New York Ave. NE, or enter at 24th and R Streets NE
Metro: The closest is Stadium Armory, but you’ll have to take the B2 North after getting off. It’s better to bike over; you can cover more ground in the Arboretum.
Note: The National Arboretum is closed Tuesday through Thursday.


United States Botanic Garden: It’s one place on the National Mall that’s not overrun by tourists — and it may be one your date has yet to visit. If exotic and rare flowers don’t provide the perfect setting for hand-holding, I don’t know what does.

Cost: Free
Address: 100 Maryland Ave. SW
Metro: South Capitol


The United States Botanic Garden provides beautiful — and free — scenery for a daytime date. (WTOP/Joey Kahn)


The Kennedy Center: Every night, The Millennium Stage at The Kennedy Center puts on a free show — from comedy to opera, ballet, theater and flamenco. Regardless of the variety, the show is always quality. The curtain goes up at 6 p.m. unless otherwise stated, and no ticket is required. If you get there a little early, check out the view from the rooftop.

Cost: Free
Address: 2700 F St. NW
Metro: Foggy Bottom


Jazz in the Garden: It’s a popular cultural event in the Sculpture Garden of the National Gallery of Art, but the crowds don’t take away from its perks: an evening outside with live music, friends and sangria. Jazz in the Garden is held on Fridays from 5 to 8:30 p.m. during the summer.

Cost: Free
Address: 700 Constitution Ave. NW
Closest Metro: Archives/Navy Memorial


Tacos: Tacos are the most cost-efficient — and tasty — way to eat a lot of food in the District. The following four spots are are all fantastic in their own way.

  • Takorean: This establishment is the most original taco joint on the list. Its location at Union Market sometimes puts Takorean at a disadvantage for those who live on the other side of town, but it’s worth the trip. You can get three tacos for $9. Mix-and-match bulgogi steak, tangy chicken and caramelized tofu, and top the proteins with Asian slaws and Sriracha.
  • El Chilango: The most authentic of the bunch, El Chilango serves up tacos filled with carne asada or al pastor, topped with chopped white onions, cilantro and a squirt of lime. Expect to pay $7.50 for three tacos.
  • El Chucho: This choice is a true sit-down restaurant that serves plenty of other delicious dishes, in addition to its tacos. Expect to pay $5 for two smoked Tecate can-chicken tacos, or more if you get the special fish tacos.
  • District Taco: With four locations, District Taco is the most accessible. The efficiency will remind you of a Chipotle, but it’s much better. Toppings include garlic-lime rice and grilled veggies. Plus, there is a stocked salsa bar.


Big Bear Cafe is a great place to kick-off your day (or date). Go for coffee and conversation. (WTOP/Joey Kahn)

Pho: Not in the mood for tacos? Pho is a filling and relatively inexpensive option. Pho 75 in Arlington serves up some of the area’s best; Pho 14 and Pho DC are also good options.


This is the time to splurge. If you’ve made it this far on your date, why not go out for a nice cocktail or dessert? These recommendations are expensive for dinner, but offer more affordable cocktails and desserts for those who’ve already eaten.

The Red Hen: This Bloomingdale restaurant is a cozy and rustic spot that’s equipped with a bar and reasonably-priced infused cocktails. The beer and dessert lists are also attractive.

PX: Located in Old Town, Alexandria, this speakeasy does not have a sign and is slightly off the main drag. The bar shines a blue light when it has table space. You can also make reservations ahead of time. And yes, the cocktails are worth it.

Quill: Quill is the bar at the Jefferson Hotel — an over-the-top, extravagant hotel that costs more than $300 a room. But you’re not staying there. Grab a Pimm’s Cup and share a butterscotch pudding.

Bluejacket: If your date likes beer, this is the place to go. Expect 20 original beers on tap, from light to hoppy, sour and fruity — all of them delicious. The industrial interior creates a unique ambiance.

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