When you’re living in the nation’s capital, there’s never a shortage of activities to capitalize on, from taking in the breathtaking beauty that is the National Mall, visiting the Washington Monument or Lincoln Memorial, taking a tour of the White House at Pennsylvania Avenue, to exploring the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
But what about when you’ve settled in and are ready to let loose in downtown Washington DC? No, we’re not talking about a wild and crazy night out—although there are plenty of places downtown for a riveting night of fun and frivolity.
If you’re looking for activities to bolster your downtown DC lifestyle, look no further. We’ve compiled some of our favorite things to see, do, and eat while living in DC’s metropolitan district.
#1 Shop at CityCenterDC
One day you’re sitting at your dining table accounting for your monthly expenditures and the next you can’t shake the feeling that you deserve to treat yourself to something nice. If money is suddenly burning a hot hole in your pocket, we’ve got you covered.
Spanning multiple blocks of downtown, CityCenterDC provides the ultimate shopping experience for fashionistas and style aficionados alike. From lavish boutiques to famed fashion brands, there’s plenty to explore (and potentially add to your wardrobe) while strolling through the open-air breezeways.
You can treat yourself to a Pretty Woman shopping spree or simply take part in an hour of innocent window shopping at swanky storefronts like:1
- Christian Dior
- Kate Spade New York
#2 Eat To Your Heart’s Content at CityCenterDC’s Finest Restaurants
You can shop ‘til you drop as much as the next shopaholic, but that doesn’t mean we want you to shop until you actually drop. You can avoid that last bit by treating yourself to a tasty treat at one of CityCenterDC’s tempting eateries.
Whether you’re in the mood for something sweet like freshly made gelato or prefer a sit-down affair with a glass of red and a plethora of small plates for your dining pleasure, there are plenty of palatable places to choose from, including:2
- Tatte Bakery and Cafe – With breakfasts like lamb hash and Croque madame served all day long, Tatte is more than just a bakery. The menu also includes three types of shakshuka, a fabulous combination of Mediterranean-style bowls, and a short rib grilled cheese sandwich3—need we say more? Probably not, but Tatte also boasts plenty of vegetarian and gluten-free options if that’s your jam. No matter your dietary preferences, you’re sure to find something that pleases your cravings.
- Piccolina – Piccolina is a picturesque Italian osteria where you can comfortably sit back, relax, and enjoy an all-day menu cooked (almost) completely in a wood-fired oven. If you’ve got your heart set on something meaty, choose from a variety of wood-grilled skewers like lamb and pork sausage, salmon, or cuttlefish and calamari. If you prefer to keep it simple, try one of their wood-fired pizzas, such as the classic Margherita or the bold pizza zuccha, complete with roasted pumpkin, mushrooms, and rosemary—oh my!
- Dolcezza – This is the perfect place to treat yourself to a post-shopping sugar rush. With uniquely delicious gelato flavors ranging from black and white cookie batter to Honeycrisp apple, you can savor the cold creamy goodness and follow it up with a hot cup of joe—or a flavored cappuccino or latte.
#3 Experience Afternoon Tea St. Regis Hotel
If you’re looking for an excuse to dress up in your finest pair of trousers and a blazer, we know just the place. Enter the St. Regis Hotel, the home away from home for prime ministers, presidents, and other government figures visiting the nation’s capital from around the world.
Not only is this grand hotel two blocks from the White House (so you can enjoy the view as you walk off your scones and tea sandwiches), but it also boasts luxurious interior decor that’ll help you feel right at home in your regal attire.
From a finely balanced citrus rooibos tea to the subtle fruity flavor of the passion de fleurs,4 the St. Regis has paired with Dammann Frères to provide you with a one-of-a-kind tea experience.
The moment you put the delicate table napkin in your lap, you can confidently sip your tea with your pinkies out while appreciating the savory sandwiches and sweets that accompany your elegant afternoon spread.
#4 Embrace Your Inner James Bond at the International Spy Museum
Whether you’re interested in going undercover for an afternoon of espionage or you simply want to learn the history and role of international spies, you’re in luck! You can have your undercover cake and eat it too at the International Spy Museum.
Once you’ve arrived, you can head up to the 5th floor to begin your Undercover Mission. Yep, this is your chance to make all of your spy-related childhood dreams come true. First, you’ll receive your cover identity at the Briefing Center, where you’ll be—you guessed it—briefed on your mission.
From there, you can soak in hundreds of imaginative gadgets on display as you work your way through the Undercover Mission. As you live out your fantasies of espionage, you’ll take part in 17 interactive spy-related activities, including:5
- Taking a whack at cracking codes
- Discovering how analysts are required to think to successfully do their jobs
- Experiencing “Red Teaming” in the decision room, where you can participate in an exercise used by the CIA
#5 Take a Stroll Through Chinatown
You’ll certainly work up an appetite during your brief time as an international spy. Thankfully, Chinatown in Penn Quarter is less than two miles away, and you can enjoy a leisurely walk (or quick car ride) to this historic downtown neighborhood.
Located a few blocks between H and I streets, you’ll certainly know when you’ve arrived when you see the mesmerizing 60-foot tall colorful Chinese archway known as the Friendship Arch.6
Once you’re there, there are plenty of vibrantly-colored buildings and restaurants to take in. The neighborhood also hosts an intoxicatingly fun annual Chinese New Year Parade in the early months of the year.
If you were wondering, “What food is Washington DC known for?” Chinese cuisine is one of them. Chinatown also offers a nearly endless supply of delicious Chinese-inspired restaurants to visitors passing through. To help you narrow down the vast but delicious options, here are a few of our favorites:
- Reren Lamen and Bar – You’re probably familiar with the phenomenon that is ramen, but what about lamen? Here, at Reren Lamen and Bar, you can try your hand at one of their signature lamen bowls, which consists of homemade in-house Chinese wheat noodles,7 a rich and creamy broth, and several other delicious add-ins, depending on your preferences (with vegetarian options available, too)!8
- Tony Cheng’s – If you’re torn between dim sum and Mongolian barbeque, you’re certainly not alone. Tony Cheng’s has read your mind and combined the best of both worlds by offering two unique dining experiences in their multi-level dining establishment. You can have mouthwatering Mongolian barbecue on the lower level (and enjoy your dim sum on the weekends). Or, if you’re in the mood for Chinese-inspired seafood, you can saunter upstairs for authentic Cantonese and Hong Kong seafood fare.9
- China Boy – A self-proclaimed no-frills Chinese eatery, you can take in the delectable smells at one of the few inside tables or order your takeout to eat on the go. From its incredible pork steamed buns to the unforgettable wonton soup, the most challenging part will be not ordering every item from the menu.
#6 Watch a Performance at Ford’s Theatre
Ford’s Theatre gained notoriety for being the place of President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. Since then, it’s become one of Washington DC’s most famed attractions—and for good reason. There’s plenty to explore while you’re there, including:
- Touring the theatre – Take a trip back in time by visiting the inside of the theatre where President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth. The historical (and eerie) look and feel of its interior have mostly remained intact from that fateful day on April 15, 1865.
- Visiting the museum – The self-guided tour at the museum is about 30 minutes long and gives you the chance to dive deeper into Lincoln’s time as president. You can also learn more about the struggles he faced during the Civil War and discover rare artifacts from his assassination.10
- Seeing live performances – However long you’re staying in the capital, catching a play is one of the must-see Washington DC events (if you have a date, it’s also one of the most romantic things to do Washington DC). Not only can you learn about the history of this monumental building, but you can also experience a live performance at the theatre. Whether you come during the holiday season for its annual rendition of A Christmas Carol or want to watch one of its upcoming American-themed productions, you can check out the theatre’s list of future performances on its website for up-to-date details.11
Nightlife in Washington DC would not be complete without going to this theater.
If you have some time to spare, here are other sights in Downtown Washington:
- Drive around Logan Circle.
- Stroll along Lafayette Square
- Check out some cool documents at the National Archives.
- View some notable pictures at the National Portrait Gallery.
- Hiking along Mount Vernon.
Let Common Help You Find a Place to Call Home in Washington DC
When it comes to things to do, Washington DC has your back. And when you’ve decided that this fun and fast-paced city is the next place you want to call home, Common has your best interest at heart.
We offer comfortable and contemporary coliving apartments, complete with amenities like utilities, wifi, and cleaning—at no additional charge.
You can rest easy in your fully furnished bedroom knowing you’re saving over $500 every month over a traditional studio apartment, giving you easy access to all of the fun Washington DC has to offer—our Common apartments are located throughout the downtown DC and surrounding areas like Chinatown, Brookland, Mount Vernon Shaw, and Columbia Heights.
Enjoy the fun and fabulous lifestyle of coliving in Common today.
- CityCenterDC. Directory. https://www.citycenterdc.com/directory/
- CityCenterDC. Centrolina. https://www.citycenterdc.com/retailer/centrolina
- Tatte Bakery. Menu. https://tattebakery.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/10/DC_Fall2022_allday_101122.pdf
- Marriott. St. Regis Afternoon Tea. https://www.marriott.com/marriottassets/marriott/WASSX/PDF/WASSX_Afternoon_Tea_Menu_2020.pdf
- SPY. Gallery: Making Sense of Secrets. https://www.spymuseum.org/exhibition-experiences/gallery-making-sense-of-secret/
- Washington. 11 Things to See & Do in Penn Quarter & Chinatown. https://washington.org/visit-dc/things-see-do-penn-quarter-chinatown-neighborhood
- Washington Post. Reren Lamen review: A fresh source for noodles in Chinatown. https://www.washingtonpost.com/goingoutguide/restaurants/reren-lamen-review-a-fresh-source-for-noodles/2016/08/04/1705a6b4-54d8-11e6-bbf5-957ad17b4385_story.html
- Reren. Our Menu. https://rerenlamen.com/menu/
- Downtown DC. Tony Cheng’s Seafood Restaurant & Mongolian BBQ. https://www.downtowndc.org/go/tony-chengs-seafood-restaurant-mongolian-bbq/
- Ford’s. Museum. https://www.fords.org/visit/historic-site/museum/
- Ford’s. Current and Upcoming Performances. https://www.fords.org/performances/current-and-upcoming/