Chances are, you already think that you know a few things about the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington, DC. It’s obviously in the shadow of the White House and all of the major government buildings on Capitol Hill. And the neighborhood itself, located just east and south of the Capitol building, is full of well-maintained older buildings on tree-lined streets. You might know that the neighborhood has centuries’ worth of history, as some of the most famous figures in our nation’s past have lived among these streets.
This neighborhood has seen some rises and falls in its history, which spans nearly as long as the nation has been in existence. After some notably rough patches in the 1980s, today’s Capitol Hill is urbane and sophisticated but also likes to let its hair down. In general, you’ll find the bustling streets safe enough to explore after hours.
But what you might not know is that this neighborhood has a lot more to offer than just history and an easy commute to jobs on Capitol Hill. This is actually one of the country’s most perennially popular neighborhoods for plenty of good reasons, like its vibrant cultural scene and a well-trafficked weekly market. You’ll bump elbows with political figures, young staffers, and tourists alike. One thing you’ll find about this neighborhood is that it’s never boring or sleepy. Read on to learn more about why Capitol Hill is full of good surprises.
How to get around Capitol Hill
As is true in many of the country’s biggest cities, you can get by without a car, but you may find it easier to have one. You’ll see plenty of people riding their bikes through this neighborhood, especially on days when the weather is clear. Walking is also pretty common, regardless of the weather.
But you can also use the local public transit, called the circulator, to get around the city. The stop for this neighborhood is Congress Heights-Union Station. The circulator runs from 6 am to 9 pm on weekdays and 7 am to 9 pm on weekends. In the remaining hours, if you happen to stay at a bar or restaurant past the end of the circulator’s run, there’s always Uber and Lyft.
Where the people hang out
Maybe this neighborhood is where it makes the most sense to live because you have a job on Capitol Hill (the collective group of government buildings.) But if you’re expecting your life to be all your work and no play, you’ll be mistaken. There’s no question that DC is a town where people work hard, but they also regularly get out of their homes and enjoy all that this world-class city has to offer.
The first place you should definitely check out is Eastern Market, a public market on 7th Street NE. It’s been operating since 1873 but it’s more than just a historic version of a farmer’s market. It’s a lively place where you’ll see your neighbors interacting with vendors and browsing the various items on display. While it’s open every day of the week, DC locals recommend going on Sundays, when there’s an outdoor flea market featuring arts, crafts, and unique items from around the world. (Go early because it gets busy.)
Your neighborhood extends to include Barracks Row, a bustling center of shops, bars, and bistros on 8th Street. You’ll find people milling about and dining on patios any time of day. If you’re trying to get a table, we recommend getting a reservation first, unless you don’t mind a wait.
Of course, Capitol Hill also offers a lot to explore for out-of-state tourists, but that doesn’t mean you should pass them by. The Capitol building offers some jaw-droppingly beautiful sites (like the intricately painted ceiling and the Old Supreme Court) which you might miss even if you work at the building.
The Library of Congress is also worth at least one visit, if not more. It’s open to the public and it’s guaranteed that it’s much larger than any library you’ve ever visited. Plus, it’s housed in the original 1897 Thomas Jefferson building, which features stunning architecture and an enormous reading room with 160-foot ceilings.
There’s also the US Botanic Garden, which sits at the base of the Capitol property. It’s a peaceful place to escape, with a wide variety of greenery including ferns, orchids, and palms. It’s also a pretty romantic spot and you might witness an occasional wedding proposal.
But you might be asking: what about the nightlife? Sure, there’s lots to keep you busy during the day, but there’s also a varied and active nightlife scene. Whatever type of bar or scene you like, you’ll find it in Barracks Row or other adjoining neighborhoods.
Bring your dog for a casual hangout at The Brig Beergarden on 7th Street on the south edge of the Capitol Hill neighborhood near Navy Yard. You’ll find friendly people here enjoying a brew, with or without their dogs.
For a classier type of setting, The Eastern on 7th Street SE is a wine bar where you can meet someone for a first date. (But you might be likely to also run into your boss, as this wine bar seems to be popular among just about everyone who works on the Hill.)
If dive bars are more your style, grab a drink served in half of a school bus at Trusty’s Full-Serve Bar on Pennsylvania St SE. The drinks are strong, just the way you might need it after a long day at work.
Where to delight your taste buds
One thing’s for certain: your taste buds won’t be bored in this neighborhood, either. Most of the restaurants in this neighborhood specialize in inventive dishes that you can’t find anywhere else. Be warned that you won’t find a lot of restaurants serving dinner much past 9 p.m., so you’ll want to make sure that you go earlier than that.
If you feel like having Italian dishes that really stand out, like handmade lamb pasta or lobster risotto, make sure to schedule a stop at Lavagna. Located on 8th St SE, this Italian restaurant incorporates local ingredients, fresh pasta, and classic dishes, all served up in a classy atmosphere. Check out their happy hour specials if you want to try their bruschetta and an Aperol spritz.
If you feel more like having breakfast (at any time of day), you’ll want to step into Barrel on Pennsylvania Ave SE. This Southern-inspired take on breakfast delivers delicious takes on dishes like shrimp and grits, smoked brisket, and brioche French toast. The bartenders are friendly and serve up well-crafted cocktails out of a cascading barrel. The real insider tip is to come here for brunch on Sundays when you can enjoy bottomless mimosas.
Rose’s Luxury is only open from 5 pm to 7:30 pm, making it a definite must to get reservations if you want to dine in. But trust us that it will be worth the wait to get a table at this bistro on 8th Street SE. Serving tapas, fresh vegetable dishes featuring locally-grown produce, and gorgeous desserts, this is the perfect spot for dining in or taking it to go. Locals love the lychee salad and the variety of vegetarian-friendly dishes.
If you’re wandering around the Eastern Market, you can’t go wrong with CHIKO. The name is a hybrid of Chinese and Korean, which reflects the kind of food that they serve. If you’re a lover of inventive dishes, you’ll love the fusion approach to food at CHIKO, with dishes like cumin lamb stir fry and catfish fried rice. But for those looking for a fix of classics like sticky wings, you’ll also find this to be a solid choice. Check out the nearly universal favorite crispy chicken spring rolls — we bet you’ll be a fan. Open late until 10 pm weeknights and until midnight on the weekends.