As the seat of power in this country, Washington, D.C. is where the most important decisions are made that directly impact you as an American. With that said, the city is more than just national monuments and Congressional staffers in crisp suits. It’s home to a thriving gay community and an emerging middle and upper-middle class. Once derisively known as “the Murder Capital,” crime has sharply declined over the past ten years, making D.C. the safest it’s been in a generation. Let me give you the scoop on what to see and do in our nation’s capital.
HOW TO GET THERE
The city is served by two major airports. The first is Washington Dulles International Airport, located 25 miles west of the city, and connected with D.C. by taxi, Uber and the Washington Metrorail system. The second is Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, located just three miles south of the city. It is also easily serviced by taxi, Uber and Metrorail.
Delta and U.S. Airways fly directly from Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International AIrport to both Dulles and Reagan National. Delta and U.S. Airways also have daily direct flights from airports in West Palm Beach, Orlando and Tampa. AmericanAirlines and United Airlines fly directly to both Dulles and Reagan National from Miami and Key West. Flights are very affordable, with many one-way discounted flights offered for $100 or less.
WHERE TO STAY
If you want luxurious accommodations with a distinct European feel, try the Sofitel Washington D.C. Lafayette Square (202-730-8800). This 237-room hotel was once a bank building, and now it’s a stylish and chic hotel in the middle of all the action. Speaking of all the action, you’ll be in the thick of it if you stay at The Dupont Circle Hotel (202-483-6000), located right in the middle of D.C.’s oldest Gayborhood. The lobby and guest rooms recently underwent a massive year-long renovation process. The Hotel Monaco (202-628-7177) is located in a Greek Revival building fit for a king. Fun fact: it was once the city’s general post office. The interior of the building is decorated in a rather adventurous manner, and I bet those bright colors will bring a smile to your face.
The Quincy Hotel (202-223-4320) offers oversized rooms for every budget (even the smallest one is a roomy 400 square feet). Each room has a microwave, refrigerator, and free WiFi, and the hotel’s location in the Golden Triangle District puts it close to Dupont Circle and The White House. The William Lewis House (202-462-7574) is a gay-owned bed and breakfast that has been welcoming guests for nearly 20 years. There are ten guest rooms, all decorated with antiques. Enjoy a continental breakfast each morning and a happy hour in the early evening.
WHERE TO PLAY
The largest gay neighborhood by far in Washington, D.C. is Dupont Circle. Thousands of LGBT people live there and it has welcomed gay tourists and the “pink dollar” since the 1970s. There are also gay bars in nearby Logan Circle.
JR’s Bar and Grill (202-328-0090) is a great place to people-watch; if you’re looking for trendy urban professionals and sexy, young gym bodies, this is the place to go to. It’s hopping nearly every night of the week. Go to The Fireplace (202-293-1293) if you want a good drink (we mean really good) and a fun and quirky experience. Go upstairs to dance the night away to some hot beats. Number Nine (202-986-0999), co-founded by Ed Bailey, a former DJ, is different in that you won’t find DJs here, nor will you find loud music. The focus is on a calm, quiet customer experience, and this dark wood-paneled bar delivers.
Larry’s Lounge (202-483-1483) is equal parts hip gay bar and neighborhood hole-in-the-wall. A place where you can get food and drinks with similar ease, Larry’s offers one of the best outside drinking options in the city — just snag a seat on the patio. Nellie’s (202-332-6355) is the city’s gay sports bar, featuring a popular happy hour each night and the most popular gay trivia night in the city on Wednesdays. Town Danceboutique (202-234-8696) calls itself the city’s “largest gay dance club,” and they might be right; the floor is absolutely massive. This club caters to everyone, and is quite popular with the bears for happy hour on Fridays. This is the “final destination” for many weekend partiers, and as such, the party kicks into high gear after 11 p.m.
Cobalt (202-232-4416) offers three floors of wining, dining and fun. If you’re looking for a popular brunch spot, dine at Level One on the first floor. On the second floor, there is an ultra-lounge called 30 Degrees where chic cocktails and martinis are the order of the day. Go up to the top floor for a hot dance party helmed by internationally-known DJs. If you’re looking for eclectic, Duplex Diner (202-265-7828) fits the bill. Where else can you find unlimited tater tots with your happy hour drinks? (6 to 8 p.m. daily.) On Fridays, Washington’s most happening ’80s theme night spins music straight out of a John Hughes movie.
WHERE TO GO
Washington, D.C. is filled with so much history, and it can be easy just to get lost in the numerous museums and national monuments. Let’s start with The Smithsonian. When people refer to “The Smithsonian,” they usually mean the Smithsonian Institution Building, but in reality there are over 20 Smithsonian Museums. Among the many museums in Washington that are affiliated with the Smithsonian are the American Art Museum, the National Air and Space Museum, the National Museum of American History, the National Museum of the American Indian, the National Museum of Natural History, the National Portrait Gallery, and even The National Zoo.
There are even more museums away from the National Mall. Visit Madame Tussauds to view wax sculptures of historical figures, famous celebrities, and all 44 Presidents. The seven-story Newseum is a shrine to American journalism and the world history that journalists have chronicled over the past three centuries. The National Geographic Museum brings the magazine to life, featuring many interactive exhibits.
The National Mall is home to quite a few prominent monuments and memorials. The two-mile Mall area features the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, the FDR Memorial, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. Pay respects to our fallen soldiers at the National World War II Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. Don’t miss the Washington Monument: it was closed after noticeable cracks were found in the foundation after a fluke 2011 earthquake, but it has since been fixed and was reopened to the public on July 4 weekend this year.
Book a tour of The White House at least three weeks in advance of your arrival (call 202-456-7041). It is now even more exciting to visit the residence of the First Family because you can now take photographs inside the massive building. Photography was banned over 40 years ago but you can thank First Lady Michelle Obama for removing that rule. Snap those selfies!
If you decide to visit Washington, D.C. in the springtime, definitely take a walk along the Tidal Basin and see the 3,000-plus cherry blossom trees in bloom. The wife of the Japanese ambassador and then-First Lady Helen Taft planted the first trees in 1912, and they still keep Washington vibrant today. Their peak bloom period usually happens in late March or early April every year.
If you love shopping, take note of five malls you must visit. Bring your charge cards! DCUSA, in Columbia Heights, includes many big-box stores that will keep you occupied for hours. The three-level Shops at National Place is adjacent to The White House and offers lots of cool amenities, such as a large food court. For more upscale shopping, visit Georgetown Park in the ritzy Georgetown neighborhood. Gallery Place is a mixed-use development which also includes offices, condominiums, and a 14-screen movie theater. Then there’s Union Station, the main train station for the city, which also includes some of the best shopping the city has to offer.
If you’d like to learn more about Washington, D.C., visit the official tourism website at washington.org.