Washington DC, the home of the White House, is notable for its diversity, stable housing market and position as a high-income tech hub. Though federal government and contract workers make up much of the workforce, ‘Silicon Valley East’ provides field bases for the likes of Oracle and Microsoft. The city is also filled with museums, including the National Museum of American History, and a dazzling arts scene, courtesy of the John F Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
Misty Belles, managing director, global public relations at Virtuoso, has lived in the DC area for the past 10 years. For the first seven years she lived on Capitol Hill (“just blocks away from the action”), surrounded by monuments and memorials, as well as some of the world’s best museums. For the past three years she has lived in Chevy Chase, Maryland, just north of the city. Here she shares her tips on what to see, what to eat and what to do in Washington DC.
While I am fortunate to live in this beautiful city, I also have some favourite hotels thanks to working in the travel industry. You can’t beat The Hay-Adams for location – it overlooks the White House and has one of the best Fourth of July fireworks vantage points in the city. I also like the Mandarin Oriental for its views of the Tidal Basin. But I have a sentimental attachment to The Ritz-Carlton Georgetown – I love the exposed brickwork along with the floor-to-ceiling windows.
Fiola Mare in Georgetown is my favourite restaurant. It sits right on the Potomac River and, as the name suggests, seafood is the highlight. Chef Fabio Trabocchi is a master with sauces and no matter how many times I say I am going to try something new, I can’t resist the lobster ravioli. For fine-dining, I love Marcel’s. The classic European-inspired menu is always executed perfectly, but it’s the service that really makes this restaurant a must-visit destination. The senior captain, Jonathan Crayne, will feel like a friend by the time you leave.
I’m a sucker for a good bagel, so if I get to choose, you’ll typically find me breakfasting at Bethesda Bagels. My kids love Silver, which is a more upscale version of the local Silver Diner. However, don’t miss Old Ebbitt Grill – it’s an institution, with its origins beginning in 1856. It’s the place for weekend brunch with great food and a rich tradition – a very DC experience.
Georgetown Cupcake is the epicentre of the cupcake wars. While other cities and bakeries have their own specialties, these are a cut above and people flock from all over to get theirs. You can’t go wrong with any flavour, though it’s widely believed in my household that the chocolate salted caramel is the best.
If you want a typical DC pub, head to Hawk ’n’ Dove on the Hill. Given its proximity to the Capitol, it’s frequented by congressional staffers. And if coffee is more your thing, try Peregrine Expresso on the Hill at the heart of that neighbourhood. The coffee there has character, just like the community that frequents it.
On the same block, you’ll find Good Stuff Eatery, Spike Mendelsohn’s burger joint and home to the food I crave the most in the city. Did I mention I’m a vegetarian? This is high praise from someone who hasn’t had a proper burger in 30 years. The shroom burger calls my name, as does the salty caramel kiss shake, and it’s worth every extra mile on the treadmill. And if burgers aren’t your thing, his We, The Pizza branch is directly next door and serves delicious artisanal pies.
For something a little hipper, I love Gravitas, a new restaurant in an up-and-coming area called Ivy City. The farm-to-table menu changes seasonally as you would expect from such a concept, and even the staunchest carnivore will leave with a newfound love of braised beets. And if you can make it there in the summer, the rooftop terrace is the place to be. District Wharf is also a cool scene these days. After years of renovation, this area of dilapidated warehouses has been transformed into a waterfront gem – with dining, shopping, bars, and fun.
If you’re looking for a co-working space, I love the new start-up, WorkChew, which combines good food with quieter space-sharing options. Through its membership app, WorkChew leverages restaurant space that is not being used during the day and offers space in some of the busiest and coolest neighbourhoods: Shaw, District Wharf, Dupont Circle, Petworth, Adams Morgan, Downtown and the Navy Yard.
If you need a quiet place to talk, The Park Hyatt hotel’s Blue Duck Lounge has several glass-enclosed booths that are perfectly sized for intimate meetings by day or cocktails in the evening. Another cocktail hotspot is U Street, with a bar or restaurant for every style or taste. And don’t miss the Round Robin Bar at the Willard InterContinental. Not only has it served as a meeting place for the DC elite, including US presidents, it’s also where the deals get made.
For a run or cycle, try Rock Creek Park, an oasis in the middle of the city. Bigger than New York’s Central Park, it offers plenty of running and cycling paths and ranks up there as my kids’ top place to explore on a Saturday afternoon.
There was no central area within DC for high-end shopping for many years. Enter CityCenterDC, and you have your favourite ‘one-word’ stores – Dior, Gucci, Ferragamo, Hermès – in one central area. And when it’s time to rest your weary feet (and wallet), Daniel Boulud’s DBGB Kitchen & Bar is there to welcome you with a fab cocktail and even better meal. If you want something with a local feel, Georgetown’s endless boutiques are a shopper’s paradise.
The Old Stone House is my hidden gem – a quiet oasis in the centre of bustling Georgetown. Built in 1766 in the British colony of Maryland, it’s also the oldest structure on its original foundation in DC. The garden that sits behind the home is the perfect place to rest your feet and enjoy some solitude while surrounded by flowers of every colour. And if you have small children, don’t miss story time at the Library of Congress, the research facility for the US Congress and an iconic place to listen to a story.
Finally, if you have time, take a day trip to Mount Vernon, former US president George Washington’s historic home. It’s a great example of early colonial American living, and the home is set on the serene banks of the Potomac River. Other landmarks worth a visit include Arlington National Cemetery and Washington National Cathedral. The former is very humbling and the latter is stunning – try to catch a performance of Handel’s Messiah if you’re there over the Christmas holidays.
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