Photo by tim02121982 / Instagram
Ever since Trump came into office, you’ve probably felt an urge to go to DC and protest one of his countless horrendous gaffes as leader of the free world (or maybe you already went to the Women’s March and March for Science, and you’re just itching to go back for one of the thousands of new issues that have cropped up since). Whether you’re upset about Russia, North Korea, transgender rights, or health care, sometimes you just have to make yourself heard in the nation’s capital. But your weekend in DC can’t be all #resisting and pooping on the White House lawn. You should let yourself have some fun while you’re there.
In addition to its politics, DC is the land of free museums, so take advantage! There are also lots of great Ethiopian restaurants, dive bars, and free arts events. But don’t feel bad about enjoying yourself while you’re supposed to be sticking it to the man. While you’re feeling guilty at the bar, feel free to chat up a random stranger; many locals are extremely well informed about current events and will gladly engage you in talk about the latest Trump tweet, and there’s very little chance you’ll run into a Trump supporter—less than 10% of the population voted for him.
Just don’t forget the bug spray. Those almost Southern mosquitoes will most certainly get you. I would know; I just moved to Brooklyn after living in DC for 8 years.
How to get there
There are dozens of ways to travel between New York and DC, but my favorite has always been the Chinatown buses, specifically the Eastern Shuttle. If you remember, back in 2012, the federal government shut down many of the Chinatown bus operations due to safety concerns after a string of deadly crashes caused by driver error and (most damningly) drunkenness on the job. When the Chinatown buses passed all their tests with flying colors and reopened for business, many people were still afraid to ride them—and many still are—which all adds up to fewer overcrowded buses, cheaper fares, and better service than Greyhound, BoltBus, and that horrible behemoth, Megabus. If you’re still scared of Chinatown buses, just remember to buy your tickets super early for the Amtrak, while they’re still affordable.
Where to stay
We all know that hotels in DC are stupid expensive, so many people use Airbnb. Although the local government has been talking about restrictions on Airbnb for a while, I don’t see it going anywhere anytime soon, so you’re probably safe. However, a great—and much cheaper—alternative to Airbnb, Couchsurfing, is alive and well in DC, with the added bonus of a knowledgeable local to show you around. Many Couchsurfing hosts live in adorable group houses in Mt. Pleasant, the best neighborhood in DC. You’ve already risked the Chinatown bus to get there, so why not also sleep on a stranger’s couch for a couple days?
Many of the free museums are on the Mall and very easy to find, so I’ll just take you through some of my favorites and ones with fantastic travelling exhibitions this summer. I can attest to the genius of the National Museum of African American History & Culture (1400 Constitution Ave. NW), but it’s extremely hard to get passes. If you don’t mind waking up really early and standing in line, that may be your best bet. If you’re unable to get in there, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (7th St. and Independence Ave. SW) is only a 15-minute-walk across the Mall and has a couple high-profile, site-specific shows on right now: Ai Weiwei: Trace at Hirshhorn (through January 1, 2018) and Yoko Ono: Four Works for Washington and the World (through September 17). Ten minutes further toward the Capitol, you’ll reach the National Museum of the American Indian (4th St. and Independence Ave. SW), which boasts the best museum cafeteria in town (but maybe not anymore?). The National Gallery of Art (4th St. and Constitution Ave. NW)—DC’s Met—is also nearby. Unlike the Met, the National Gallery likes to host important contemporary exhibitions to go with its collections of Dutch landscapes and Ancient Greek sculpture. Through September 4, you can catch a fantastic Theaster Gates exhibition there. Off the Mall, the National Postal Museum (2 Massachusetts Ave. NE) is a hidden gem, where you can learn about the Inverted Jenny and start your first stamp collection! Also nearby is the National Building Museum (401 F St. NW). It’s not free, but it has the best gift shop, with architecture books as well as sleekly designed kitchen items galore…and you can get in the shop for free, of course.
Events for under $20
Although events in DC are less plentiful than in New York, they are often cheaper. To find them, check out the local publications and blogs. I recommend Express, DCist, the Washington City Paper, 730DC, and ShowlistDC.
In the summer, there is always something going on on the Mall (I randomly stumbled on a weightlifting festival last year), and if you feel like protesting, there are often a few of those going on as well. If you’re more in the mood for a walk the woods, Rock Creek Park has some great paths up and down the city. For a more in-depth nature experience, take a free boat ride on the Anacostia River and learn about the cleanup effort behind one of the most polluted rivers in the country. And now that you’re accidentally learning while on vacation, check out Knowledge Commons DC, the city’s local free school, which puts on classes all over town on everything from the Fermi Paradox to basket weaving.
For a more high-culture experience, put your name in the lottery for the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s “Free for All” production of Othello (610 F St. NW), playing August 15–27. If you miss that, the Kennedy Center (2700 F St. NW) has free performances every day, as part of their Millennium Stage initiative; and if you’re willing to shell out $5 for the most adorable art film theater in town, check out Suns Cinema (3107 Mt. Pleasant St. NW), my favorite hangout on a random weekday.
If you get hungry
Although most of the capital’s immigrant communities have been long priced out of DC proper, you can still find some excellent Ethiopian food in the U Street/Shaw area, Salvadoran in Mt. Pleasant/Columbia Heights, and puntastic Thai throughout—Beau Thai (1550 7th St. NW), anyone? What about Thai Tanic (1326 14th St. NW) or Thaiphoon (2011 S St. NW)? Then there’s DC’s “regional dish,” a half-smoke…or perhaps chicken wings with mumbo sauce.
If you get thirsty
I recommend you go one of two ways here, either the fancy bars where presidents would “hold office” or the dives. If you’re looking for the former, go straight to the Old Ebbitt Grill (675 15th St. NW), where the animal heads on the walls were apparently bagged by Teddy Roosevelt himself. And while you’re in town and drinking fancy cocktails, order one using Green Hat Gin, a flavorful local favorite. In terms of dives—or DC’s cleaner version of dives—the best ones, in no particular order, are: Jackpot (726 7th St. NW), The Pug (1234 H St. NE), Ivy & Coney (1537 7th St. NW), The Raven (3125 Mt. Pleasant St. NW), Dew Drop Inn (2801 8th St. NE), Bravo Bar (2917 Georgia Ave. NW), Red Derby (3718 14th St. NW), and Lyman’s (3720 14th St. NW). If you’re feeling a dive with live music, go for Showtime (113 Rhode Island Ave. NW) on Sunday nights and the Black Cat (1811 14th St. NW) always.