As a soon to be college graduate, I am often finding myself wanting to do things that others do not–I’m finding that I’m happier doing the things that I want to do, even if it means I have to do them on my own. So, if you ever find yourself like me, alone in Washington D.C., here are some things to do that won’t have you clinging to your phone like a loner lifeline–you know how you do it.
Get Drunk At Brunch, And Go to Your Favorite Museum
Okay, don’t get, like, belligerent and start singing and skipping the halls of the Smithsonian or start drunkenly alerting everyone that you’re here to steal one of the National Archives. But, admittedly, when I found myself alone in Washington D.C., a few good-morning mimosas undoubtedly helped me find the courage to do more things on my own, because being alone in a strange place can be scary. Personally, I found my solace at the bottom of my third mimosa (that I used to wash down an amazing egg’s Benedict) from Farmers & Distillers, an eatery not far from the hotel I stayed at. After bothering my waitress about the coolest places to visit, in typical tourist fashion, I put my faith in Google Maps, weaving my way through D.C.’s Chinatown toward the National Gallery of Art. There was something so freeing about being tipsy among priceless Rembrandts and gawking, inebriated, at the proudly hung Monets as I tried to cover my poorly disguised hiccups behind my mask. Only myself and fellow Impressionists knew of my secret giddiness, fueled either by my newfound independence or the champagne, I do not know–it didn’t really matter, anyway.
And Then, Go to the Other Art Museum
That is, if your favorite museum was the National Gallery of Art. Because there are, seemingly, an endless number of art museums in D.C., I got terribly lost on my second day. You see, in my drunken stupor (mild exaggeration) I was unable to recognize that the National Gallery of Art resides in not just one building, but several. The East and West buildings of the National Gallery of Art are, however, connected by an underground concourse; said concourse, an artwork of it’s own, boasts of over 40,000 of Leo Villareal‘s LED lights, leading museum-goers to a café and an accompanying gift shop–where I purchased a Van Gough-inspired umbrella to help me combat the sporadic weather of D.C.
Word of advice if you’re traveling literally anywhere, bring an umbrella so you don’t have to pay thirty dollars for one in a famous art gallery. Sidenote: the lovely sales associates working at the The National Gallery of Art gift shop do not negotiate prices.
Go House Hunting
One of my favorite morning rituals in this historic district was simply putting in my airpods and perusing the remarkable townhomes, all of which sat sturdy and colorful along the street. Especially down the side streets connecting to Constitution Avenue, I walked with my head tilted backwards, carefully admiring every inch of the blue, white, yellow, pink, and brick-colored townhouses, which rose up over me with intense, historical grandeur. Some of them even had garages around the back, though my ill-informed, tourist-driven opinion has me certain that owning a car in this city would be more trouble than its worth.
Enjoy The Eastern Market
The Eastern Market, a weekend tradition in the District of Colombia, was a breath of fresh air to me. Unaccustomed to the curt behaviors of non-southern city life, I was growing tired of the unfriendly passersby and lack of etiquette I noted in the people of D.C. However, under the shade of hundreds of crisp, white tents, amidst the endless array of artfully-sewn scarfs, beaded jewelry boxes, and hand-painted portraits, we found the juiciest peaches for purchase by some of the kindest traders. Just around the corner from one of the many townhomes I picked for myself to grow old in, the Eastern Market sits proudly on 7th Street–just a few blocks from the Capitol. Farmers, weavers, growers, and artists of all kinds gathered along the street, selling their goods with welcoming smiles and offering kind words to us as we went.
Right in the middle of the staple, D.C. attraction that is Eastern Market, amidst the weekend hubbub of buyers and sellers, there lay a few small eateries, all teeming with regulars, tourists, and market-goers. Bullfrog Bagels, wedged between a Persian rug shop and a local toy store, brags not only of their life-changing bagel sandwiches, but also an envious view of the square–thanks to their second-floor balcony–where customers may sit and savor their breakfast whilst enjoying an unmatched view of the excitement from the bustling bodega shops below.
Go to Union Station
As embarrassing as it is to admit, Union Station was probably my favorite spot to visit during my time alone in Washington D.C. My friend, Mallory, (who is my big-city D.C. contact and personal confidant) took me below the shops of the station and showed me the ins and outs of the Metro Rail, teaching me, firsthand, that if you forget to step off the escalator and let it eat up some of your shoe at the bottom, the (very busy) magical floating stairs will stop–completely.
For a Kentucky girl like myself, the commotion surrounding the Metro trains fascinated me and, though I was too chicken to brave the complicated, underground transportation system without my friend beside me, I found myself at Union Station’s quaint Blue Bottle Coffee almost every morning. Now there’s a place to get a damn good cappuccino and a chocolate croissant! (Get chocolate for sure. I didn’t try the regular croissant but, I mean, who would?)
Nestled almost right on the water, District Winery at the Navy Yard took home the prize as my favorite dinner location. It could have just been the entire bottle of Riesling I consumed on my own, but the view from our florally-decorated patio seats took my breath away–and so did the savory deliciousness of their vegan, three-cheese Grilled Cheese Sandwich. If you have some room on your itinerary, make a reservation at this hot spot!
After enjoying your meal, there’s a small bar just on the edge of the dock which allows customers to sit and relax on the riverside boardwalk. After dinner, we chanced a pre-sundown stroll, gazing out at the boats passing by, noting how close we were to the Nationals Park Baseball Stadium, and even finding ourselves enamored by the window-walled apartments overhead–all of which surely provide residents with a great view of the waterfront, as well as the growing nightlife scene the Navy Yard district had to offer.
Okay, so I was only there for five-ish days, and I was basically by myself without any real knowledge or understanding of the city–but Lord knows I went out. On Friday, one of my friends (who is currently attending Catholic University) graciously invited Mal and I to a happy hour party that one of his buddies won at Sign of the Whale. An upbeat college bar, and a great place to take a face that’s new to the city, we drank as much as we could for their $15 happy hour special. Envision flashing lights, flirty bartenders, pink wristbands that promise the importance of your entrance, and lots of college students. 10/10 recommend.
On my second night out, the elusive Saturday, I found myself bar-hopping with some of Mallory’s roommates, letting them show me the wonders of M Street. If I could recall the names of these loud and people-packed bars, I would gladly hand them over. My advice? Grab a friend (because I don’t recommend clubbing alone in Washington D.C.) and call an Uber to M Street. Work from there.
On the morning of my last day, I, with much anticipation, called myself an expensive Uber to Georgetown, no plans in place. After emerging like a fresh-faced, heel-toed Carrie Bradshaw from the 2007 Toyota Carolla belonging to my Uber, Walt, I was met with the overwhelming urge to see it all. It was easy to fantasize about living there: surrounded by lush greenery, a stream (which strayed from the Georgetown Waterfront Park) trickled peacefully nearby, brick walkways led to even more colorful, townhome mansions, the looming towers of the nearby campus library outlined a perfectly sunny sky, and (the best part) there was some serious shopping–enough to collapse the energies of every shopaholic socialite within a 10 mile radius after a long day surveying the racks at Alice + Olivia.
I, myself, walked the busy streets with care, opting for a cupcake from Baked & Wired over one from the famous Georgetown Cupcakes–whose line was outrageous. I trotted myself along the Waterfront, basking in the September sun, lazily walked the streets of Georgetown University‘s campus, and shopped at some of the more affordable stores along Potomac St. An adorable little tea room caught my eye as I passed, as well as the highly rated (now closed) seafood restaurant, Luke’s Lobster; but as it was my last day, I decided to save those adventures for my next trip.
Monuments By Moonlight Trolley Tour
I did this tour at the end of my trip to D.C., though I wish I had done it sooner. The Monuments by Moonlight tour, a two-hour trolley tour which is free for children under the age of four, begins at the Washington Welcome Center–where I successfully talked myself out of buying two different Air Force One t-shirts.
If I could do it all over again, I would have done this trolley tour at the beginning of my trip; it gave me a better understanding (and a better view) of the city, guiding us through downtown shopping before winding us through the historical architecture of the city, eventually taking us to the monuments. Our tour guide was exceptionally knowledgeable (probably part of the job) and, being a young woman on my own, he constantly made sure I knew that he was looking out for me when the bus would stop for personalized walking tours. As the sun went down, the monuments lit up the city in wondrous fashion. It was absolutely breathtaking. My only regret was not bringing a hoodie–the whipping wind from the windowless bus ride had me shivering by the time we got off. Though this tour would be fun with friends or family, it’s an excellent choice when you’re alone in Washington D.C.
- When I traveled to D.C., it was early September and, let me tell you, the heat was felt. However, specifically for the Monuments By Moonlight Tour and any other nighttime activities, I would recommend bringing a jacket.
- The impoverished population surrounding Capitol Hill also surprised me, so mentally prepare for the catcalls and figure out which areas are safe for walking at night–lots of homeless people set up camp directly on North Capitol Street, and they aren’t afraid to ask you for things. I find that keeping granola bars in my purse is a great way to help someone in need when you pass them on the street.
- Again, I spent my time alone in Washington D.C. during mid-September, so, depending on when you go, you might face different climate challenges than I did. However, I will never go back to D.C. without first making sure I have a healthy amount of bug spray. During my stroll around Arlington Cemetary, it was hard to focus on anything except for the bug bites materializing on my ankles. Don’t cut your trip to Arlington National Cemetery short like I did: bring bug spray.
- Ubers here are expensive, so plan accordingly. Despite having a friend living close to Capitol Hill, I didn’t have access to a car here, and, although the city’s parking is relatively scarce, alternative transportation would have saved me a lot of money. If you’re feeling confident, put some money on a Metro card and travel by train, otherwise, pack some running shoes and get ready to walk–everywhere. Don’t worry, it’s good for you.
- Bring your mask! Washington D.C. is still taking pandemic precautions, and to get in to any of the museums, a mask is required.
- Be respectful. Whether it be whilst roaming the historical landmarks, walking the museums, paying your respects in Arlington National Cemetery, or partaking in any number of other activities on your D.C. to-do list, remember that there is a lot of history in this area, and there are certain spots in D.C. where respectful (and sometimes silent) behavior is expected.
For My Next Trip
Only spending five days in the capital city of the United States, there were things on my to-do list (and things not on my to-do list) that I wish I had found the time for. And even though I was satisfied with the various escapades of my recent excursion, a trip to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum didn’t secure a spot on the itinerary. Home to various exhibitions such as Modern Military Aviation, the Ultralight Aircraft, and Neil Armstrong’s Apollo 11 Spacesuit, the National Air and Space Museum is open to the public Thursday through Monday from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
A lover of art, and a visitor of (at the time, what I believed was) every art exhibit in the city, my insightful trolley tour informed me of all that I was missing out on by not going to the Sculpture Garden at the National Gallery of Art. Located in the courtyard in front of various other art museums, the Sculpture Garden at the National Gallery of Art is free–and it’s not even the only sculpture garden in town! Boasting of 30 acres of outdoor masterpieces, the Sculpture Garden at the National Gallery of Art, like most of the other art galleries nearby, is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays. There is no charge upon entry.
If you’re interested in coming back with me on my next trip to Washington D.C., we’re doing mimosas and then the Sculpture Garden first–no exceptions. Leave a comment or fill me in on all of the things you did while traveling alone in Washington D.C. so that fellow lone wolfs everywhere can muster up the courage to eat alone–it’s really quite thrilling.