Best of North American Travel
Cultural guide to Washington DC
Beneath the surface, Washington, DC is a city thriving with a unique history and culture, diverse food scene and some of the most beautiful architecture in the USA. DC-native Shayla Martin
goes beyond politics to share the best of her home town.
When I was growing up, a lot of people didn’t set foot in Washington, DC after dark.
The city saw most of its inhabitants during the hours of seven in the morning and six in the evening.
By 1980, the city’s population had dwindled, with most wealthy residents opting to move out to the cookie-cutter suburbs of Virginia and Maryland in search of what they couldn’t find in the city: lawns, good schools and safety.
Despite being the headquarters of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Administration, the nationwide crack epidemic of the 1980s and ’90s took a strong hold in Washington, increasing violent crime and earning the city the moniker ‘murder capital’ of the United States.
By 1995, much in part to the federal government’s renewed interest in its city, DC recorded less than 400 homicides for the first time in years and the decrease in violence has, for the most part, continued.
As with most major cities that were touched by the war on drugs, when the drugs left, in came gentrification.
Housing projects were replaced by mixed-income developments, with a smattering of sparkling new condos to lure in the young, six-figure-making population of the mid-2000s.
It’s been said that ‘if you build it, they will come,’ and DC has been building and on the rise ever since, its dark glamour depicted by Hollywood producers in TV shows like Scandal and House of Cards.
But there’s something these shows don’t get quite right. Sure, DC can be the playground for dirty politics, but Hollywood has completely missed the distinct and vibrant feel that DC has cultivated over the last 15 years.
Travellers still hoping to check out the US capital, but who may have been put off by the antics and policies of its newly elected reality TV show star-turned president, can be thankful that DC is so much more than politics.
Walkable neighbourhoods, a buzzing creative scene, some of the best restaurants in the world, one of the ‘52 Places to Go in 2016’ according to The New York Times.
This is not the DC I grew up with, but I think I like it.
While getting into all the nooks and crannies of DC during a holiday would be impossible, you can dive beneath the surface if you hit certain neighbourhoods.
Perhaps the best way would be to divide the city between old and new: the tried and true places that have been doing it right for decades, and the new wave of DC-based designers, restaurateurs and culture-pushers.
Don't miss out on visiting these Washington neighbourhoods:
- Logan Circle/U-Street
Qantas and Virgin Australia flies to Washington, DC via Dallas and LA respectively from Sydney; and via LA from Melbourne.
The Hay-Adams: An elegant hotel on Lafayette Square that sports the tagline ‘where nothing is overlooked but the White House’. Enjoy incredible city views, plush linens and make sure to tuck into a corner booth at the subterranean bar, Off the Record.
Four Seasons Washington, DC: A chic and stylish property located within walking distance to all of the major attractions in Georgetown.
Better yet, if you can’t bear to leave the room, unwind in the deep soaking tub.
Four Seasons Washington, DC: Feel like a true local in this boutique hotel from the Kimpton Brand on a tree-lined street in the heart of Logan Circle. Styled more like a swanky apartment complex than a hotel, enjoy spacious suites, a rooftop pool and an innovative cocktail bar.
Four Seasons Washington, DC: Steps from the Capitol, this contemporary building blends seamlessly with the charming brick rowhouses and historic structures on Capitol Hill. It’s a great value option with breakfast included.
Travelling to Washington DC? Here are our 8 Things you have to do in Washington DC.
A guide to Washington DC. Neighbourhoods – Logan Circle/U Street
West of Shaw is the Logan Circle neighbourhood, where the main drag of 14th street is lined with DC’s hottest eateries and home décor stores.
If it’s the weekend, start the day like a local with brunch at Le Diplomate.
The French brasserie gives major Paris vibes with subway-tiled dining rooms, gorgeous crown moulding and arguably the best steak tartare this side of the Atlantic Ocean.
Walk off brunch with a stroll up 14th street, stopping to admire the quirky vintage home furnishings at Miss Pixie’s Furnishings & Whatnot and the futuristic-looking light fixtures at Urban Essentials.
Continue north en route to the U Street Corridor, pausing to reflect at the African American Civil War Memorial honouring the free, and in some cases still enslaved, African American men who fought during the American Civil War.
If time allows, stop into the nearby African American Civil War Museum to see historic documents, photographs and exhibits dedicated to the names on the monument.
Once you hit U Street, welcome to ‘Black Broadway’.
The neighbourhood earned the nickname much in part to its native son, jazz legend Duke Ellington, and a host of famous African American artists including Cab Calloway and Pearl Bailey who performed in the area’s theatres in the early 20th century.
However, since the 19th century, U Street has been the site of African American owned businesses, rowhouses and restaurants and is home to Howard University, a historically black university.
Stop by long-standing local restaurant (and one of Obama’s favourites) Ben’s Chili Bowl for a signature half smoke sausage, before checking out the line-up at the recently refurbished Howard Theatre, where a large sculpture of Ellington in front of an abstracted piano is erected in his honour.
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