Washington D.C. really feels like a city of government. Everywhere I turn there is a government building, museum, or politician hangout restaurant. We flew on a red eye into D.C. and landed super early Friday morning (those economy seats are really rough these days!). Jean, one of my dear college friends, had been road tripping throughout the U.S. with her husband. So Mui (her BFF) and I wanted to make a trip out to be reunited with her. Luckily she did not have the chance to explore much of the city yet so it was a new experience for all of us.
Friday: We were very fortunate to have the hotel let us check in at 8 am in the morning. So to take advantage of this, we both took a 2 hour nap before our breakfast meetup with Jean at Busboys & Poets. After a nice breakfast, we headed towards the Chinatown gate because Jean wanted to show her heritage? haha I actually don't know why she did, but it was on the way. There was actually only a few Chinese joints around the area, and mostly just American restaurants with Chinese translations below it. Odd, but interesting to discover that. Our first official attraction off the 1,000 List was the US Capitol Building! Unfortunately, none of us contacted our congressmen to get access to the private tour inside so we only took pictures of the exterior. So, for those planning ahead, make sure to contact your congressmen to gain access to the Capitol Building, Library of Congress, and White House. Next, we headed to the National Mall to experience all the free museums D.C. had to offer! Our first museum was part of the Smithsonian collection called the National Air & Space Museum, where you can find the Wright Brothers glider, old US missiles, and retired planes. Out of all the Smithsonian museums on this trip, the Hirshhorn museum was my favorite. I love modern and contemporary art, and this place had tons of it. It's also even more exciting when there are interactive exhibits, like the Wish Tree by Yoko Ono. If you are planning to be in D.C. during the summer, be prepared for the hot and muggy weather. Drink lots of water to stay hydrated and maybe even bring an umbrella to shade you from the sun. After lunch, we hit up the National Museum of American History (also part of the Smithsonian collection) to see Julia Child's kitchen and the 1st Ladies wardrobe collection. We had dinner at Rasika (an Indian restaurant) later that night and I highly recommend the black cod dish. It wasn't on the 1,000 List, but it should've been. After dinner, we got cereal milk shakes at Milk and went straight to bed!
Saturday: Now, with a full night's sleep, we were ready to go Saturday morning. We decided to meet Jean and Brant at a brunch place for some amazing brunch buffet before walking through Georgetown. We've heard all the hype about Georgetown cupcakes and we had to try it out! I don't know if it was because we picked the specialty cupcakes of the day, but their cupcakes are definitely overrated. And to be honest, I prefer the Sprinkles cupcakes over theirs. After disappointing cupcakes, I tried to redeem the moment by heading over to the Old Stone House (which is obviously on the List). It's the only surviving pre-Revolutionary building in the capital, built in 1766. Afterwards, we headed back to the National Mall for the anticipated Spy Museum everyone in our group wanted to go to. I would suggest buying tickets ahead of time if you are limited in your schedule and want to participate in the Spy Game (this is an additional cost, but you can save some money by buying a combo pack). When we got there at 2:45 pm, the only time slots left for the Spy Game were for the 5:25 pm. So to kill time we decided to check out the National Portrait Gallery and the American Art Museum, which was right across the street. These two museums were actually housed in the same building, but split in the middle when it came to their exhibits. One of the highlights to the American Art Museum is the paintings of all the presidents thus far, based on their choice of artistic take on their portrait. If you had to choose one area of that museum to see, that would be it. This section also included the recommended Gilbert Stuart painting of George Washington. But at the time of visit it was taken away for maintenance, and a different portrait of him was displayed instead. Our last stop before dinner was the National Archives. Now, the National Archives contains the original Bill of Rights, Declaration of Independence, and Magna Carta. No pictures can be taken inside whatsoever, and the lights are dimmed to protect the fragile documents. You really can't read the documents that well since its been faded over time, but it was cool to just be in the presence of these documents that shaped our country to what it is today. Since our dinner reservations were later at night, we decided to use that time to check out the Tidal Basin and Lincoln Memorial. It was closer to sunset when we saw it and there were still hordes of people taking pictures of the site. I think my experience would have been more meaningful if there wasn't as much of a crowd as there was that day. Anyways, we had dinner at Zaytinya (one of Jose Andres restaurant) and it was a decent meal. The pita bread was unique, but all the other dishes were basically like any other Lebanese/Middle Eastern food restaurant.
Sunday: Our last full day in D.C. was bittersweet for us. We were excited to leave this hot and humid town, but I still had so much stuff to see and do. By today, I've come to the conclusion that Mui and I are great travel buddies and we work together very efficiently as fellow planners. So, thanks Mui for helping me check off as many places on my list as I did for this trip! We woke up early in the morning so that we can make a stop at Union Station for some coffee and pastries before heading to brunch at Old Ebbitt Grill. The Union Station in D.C. used to be the world's largest railroad station back in the day and had some historical significance. It's not as beautiful as the one in Los Angeles or New York, but it could have been the largest. Afterwards, we took the train to Old Ebbitt Grill for brunch. However, we had much more time than we expected so we decided to make a quick jaunt to the White House. They blocked off the road in the beginning, so we had to take pictures from across the street. But around 11 am, they opened it up and let us walk all the way up to the black gate. It was pretty cool! Ok, so after the loads of pictures we took we went back to Old Ebbitt Grill to eat. I had the chicken and waffles and they were really good, with the portion size being perfect. It has such an old school luxurious vibe, you will feel like you're dining with the best of the politicians. After brunch, Mui and I moved hotels to one in Arlington so that we can be closer to the airport for our 6 am flight the next day. We then met up with Jean and Brant at Arlington Cemetery. Even though it is a cemetery, it felt like Universal Studios because of the tram tour. It was about $16.50 for the tram tour and it acts like a hop-on hop-off bus. Some of the stops included the Iwo Jima Memorial, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, JFK Burial Site, and Arlington House. Arlington House was the former residence of Robert E. Lee and it was actually a small mansion compared to houses today. Even though it looked grand from the outside, the inside only had a few rooms and really high ceilings. We got off on the wrong stop (JFK Burial), but you should learn from our mistake and get off on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier stop. That way you see the Tomb, then walk to the JFK Burial, then walk to Arlington House. Take the tram from Arlington House and make your way back to the exit. This should allow you to see everything the cemetery has to offer. For our final adventure in D.C., we took a Lyft down to old town Alexandria to check out the Gadsby's Tavern and Museum. It's only about a 11 minute drive and it didn't cost that much actually. The museum was cool, but the restaurant was even better! They say that it was the original dining room where a bunch of historical figures dined in (ie. George Washington). Even the servers were dressed in colonial attire! I had the Gentleman's Pye, which was a spin on Shepherd's Pie. Don't forget to walk down to the beautiful Waterfront where you can see boats, other restaurants, shops, and a park.
To avoid the random rain & sun that comes in the summer (which makes it humid), maybe buy a small umbrella that's travel friendly. Also, on a side note, the restaurant inside the Mandarin Oriental called City Zen has now been replaced and is no longer there.