We asked docents to tell us about neighborhoods or areas of DC that they like and thought visitors might enjoy. Just raving their FAVES! Some of these you probably know about. But maybe you didn’t know about certain restaurants, sculpture, or museums in that area. Scroll down and enjoy this insider information. Check back as we will be adding more ideas to ensure you have a great experience while in DC.
Dupont Circle Area
Less than ½ mile from the Mayflower Hotel (about a 9 minute walk, or one stop by Metro from Farragut North to Dupont) is Dupont Circle, Freer|Sackler docent Betsy V’s personal favorite. The area above and east and west of the Circle offers street snooping of lovely old townhouses and mansions, many still resident homes. Others house art galleries (R Street and Hillyer Place), the world famous Phillips Collection, the National Women’s Democratic Club, and Anderson House to mention a few. Walk several blocks up Connecticut toward the Circle to Kramerbooks and Afterwards Café, open until 1 AM for great book selections and good food. Other dining options are Komi, one of DC’s finest, but reserve WAY ahead; La Tomate; Teaism; and the very romantic Iron Gate Inn, close to the Mayflower.
Melissa C., docent at Smithsonian American Art, also loves the Dupont Circle areas. The Circle itself boasts a beautiful fountain designed by sculptor Daniel Chester French and architect Henry Bacon (of Lincoln Memorial fame) complete with open space and benches where you’ll find locals reading, biking, doing yoga or picnicking with friends. Restaurants abound, ranging from fast casual spots to Asian fusion (Rakuya). Or stop in at Kramerbooks and Afterwards, an independent bookstore that’s open late and enjoy a meal in their café after perusing the newest releases. Last but not least, don’t forget to visit The Phillips Collection, the country’s first private museum devoted to modern art, housed in a Georgian mansion on 21st Street two blocks from the Q Street Dupont Circle Metro exit (the museum is closed on Mondays; you may be entitled to free entrance if you show your docent badge!)
Old Town Alexandria, VA
Betsy H., a Smithsonian American Art Museum Docent, says this is the fun side of the Potomac. Nestled along the Potomac River, Old Town offers a variety of restaurants, stores and the opportunity for a stroll by homes dating back to the 1700s. Need an art museum fix? I love the Athenaeum – historic, beautiful, and intimate. Check the open hours. Want to buy some art? Stop in to the Torpedo Factory where you will find active artist studios and galleries. Hungry? Try Blackwall Hitch for food and a spectacular river view. Want something delish? Fontaine’s for French crepes made with the freshest ingredients. You can get to Old Town on Metro’s Yellow or Blue lines. Get off at King Street/Old Town. Walk the mile to the water or take the free King Street Trolley from the Metro Station to the Waterfront getting on and off as often as you like.
In the Mayflower Neighborhood
Just out the back door of the Mayflower on 17th Street is the National Geographic Museum. Susan W. from the National Museum for Women in the Arts says their shows are always interesting and if you bring your docent badge from your home institution you should get in for free. Exhibits are always changing so we will update this posting as soon as we know what will be showing during the Symposium. This is a convenient place to stop in if you get to the hotel before your room is ready. Park your bags with the bell hop and have a look.
On the National Mall
Pat G. from Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick has a fun favorite when she is ready for something different down on the Mall – The Albert Einstein Memorial. Take a stroll from the Viet Nam Memorial across Constitution Avenue at 21st Street. Here you will find one of Washington DC’s true hidden treasures. Be beguiled and entranced by this monumental sculpture of the real space-time traveler. You can see that he has tousled his hair while he contemplates the universe. But his smile tells you to find the joy in discovery. Yes, please do sit on his lap. If you are a selfie person, be sure to take a friend. Otherwise, you will never be able to catch his huge head and hands.
The Mary Livingston Ripley Garden is ideal for recharging your batteries after a busy visit to the National Mall says Phoebe K, from the Smithsonian American Art Museum. A pocket garden located between the Hirshhorn Museum and the Arts and Industries Building, it offers horticultural labels for your gardening education and benches along the winding pathway for rest and relaxation. The Smithsonian Metro stop is closest. Use the Mall exit.
Phoebe K, Smithsonian American Art Museum docent, recommends Penn Quarter. Jaleo offers some of the best tapas west of Spain and a wide choice of Spanish wines and sherries. The food is delicious and patrons support the humanitarian endeavors of the Executive Chef/Owner, Jose Andres. While you are there, consider the rest of the neighborhood offerings - several theater venues, the Capital One Arena and the American Art and Portrait Gallery museums. Easy walking distance from Gallery Place /Chinatown – Arena exit or the Penn Quarter Metro stops.
You’re exhausted and starving after too many museums on the mall. Just as you need lunch, dinner or a drink, you notice the huge food desert on the mall--unless you love cafeteria fast food. Where to go? Pat G. from Smithsonian American Art Museum loves the Chinatown area for one stop shopping for a delicious meal no matter what you are in the mood for. So quick, take a bike, scooter, Lyft, Uber or Metro (Gallery Place/ Chinatown - Arena exit) to the mecca of fabulous restaurants. Walk down 7th from G to D —with a few detours off 7th to 6th or 9th. What will you find? Real regional Mexican, Peruvian/Chinese/Japanese fusion, lobster rolls, delightful original Indian, spectacular Spanish, the best ramen, or terrific Mediterranean and real good pizza.
A pleasant twenty minute stroll west of the Mayflower lands you in Georgetown, one of DC’s oldest neighborhoods and a favorite of Linnea H., a docent at the Kreeger and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Bordered by the Potomac River, locals and tourists flock to this charming district to enjoy the waterfront, the historic residential streets and its many boutiques and lively restaurants. Slip into Martin’s Tavern on Wisconsin Ave. for a drink at the local watering hole where JFK proposed to Jackie in 1953. Head further up Wisconsin to the area called Book Hill to explore its many art galleries. Closer to the River and tucked in an alley off Wisconsin, catch some live music at the legendary Blues Alley Jazz & Supper club. Nearby is Baked and Wired, an independent coffee shop and bakery with some of the best coffee & cakes in town. Slightly off the beaten track, explore the gardens of Dumbarton Oaks (1703 32nd St, NW) and wander through its museum featuring choice Byzantine and Pre-Columbian collections. There is no Metro stop in Georgetown, but the Circulator Bus runs there.
Pat G. from the Smithsonian American Art Museum agrees with Linnea H about Dumbarton Oaks. Pat recommends you take this unique opportunity to view one of the finest examples of Federal period architecture in the United States. Tour the highlights of the museum’s stately, charming and elegant history, as well as outstanding Federal Period furniture and decorative arts. Drawing on the rich compilation of public and private collections, the museum presents a delightful and vivid story of what life was like in Georgetown during the early days of the Republic.
Smithsonian Castle Docent Susan S. recommends taking a short subway ride on the Red Line to Friendship Heights a fun area of suburban Maryland . There is high-end shopping to be found at Neiman Marcus, inside Mazza Gallerie (Western and Wisconsin Avenues) as well as Saks Fifth Avenue, a short walk up Wisconsin. In between, there are plenty of other shopping choices for the budget conscious including Nordstrom Rack and Marshalls. Plan on stopping at Clyde’s on your return from Saks for a drink or early dinner. This Bethesda location of the well-known local restaurant chain features a “travel” motif including a train that runs overhead diners throughout the day. Try the turkey burger on whole wheat – a real surprise.