What is Washington D.C.’s cultural scene like?

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Washington, D.C. has earned its title as the nation’s seat of power. The city houses the three branches of the federal government, plus thousands of lobbyists, lawyers, advocates and journalists all vying for their slice of the pie, which makes for an interesting scene.

Washington also has more than half a million residents; the metropolitan area, which includes the surrounding Virginia and Maryland suburbs, is the eighth largest in the country, and with that comes thriving ethnic pockets that represent African, Asian and Latin American cultures. And thanks in large part to the sartorial smarts of first lady Michelle Obama, D.C. is ditching the stuffy pants suits and getting more fashion-forward.

In this power town, a long list of iPhone contacts trumps a fat bank account any day of the week. Power drives Washington and the people who run it. From lobbyists to lawyers to journalists to politicos, Washingtonians make a living off of knowing who matters — and who doesn’t.

You can see it everywhere — from the highway-clearing motorcades that shuttle diplomats around town to the sequestered tables at top restaurants that cater to an elite group of regulars. At happy hour, you’re more likely to overhear ladder-climbing twenty-somethings debating international policy than the merits of a college football team. Even playtime nods to power, with popular annual events like the Roll Call Congressional Ball.

Despite a palpable air of power, a true local — someone born and raised here — is a rarity in Washington. A genuine local wears that native status like a badge of honor. Everyone else is quick to point out how long he or she has been a resident — five, 10, 20 years.

Why the fuss? D.C. has earned a reputation for being a transient city for good reason: Lots of people come here for school or short-term jobs in the federal government. And not that it’s a bad thing: The come-and-go nature has allowed D.C. to become a melting pot in the truest sense. Rather than lacking an identity, the city has merged the hustle and bustle of northern cities with the appealing small-town feel of the South. Home to hundreds of embassies, D.C. also has an international flair, with cultural events and festivals celebrating traditions from around the world.

Ethnic enclaves abound, too. At Ninth and U streets, Northwest, there’s a hub of authentic Ethiopian restaurants. In the Mount Pleasant and Columbia Heights neighborhoods, you’ll find Latino grocery markets, cafés and street vendors. For a taste of authentic Asia, head just outside the city to the Eden Center in Falls Church, Va. It’s packed with enough Vietnamese restaurants and bakeries to make any world traveler pine for Hanoi.

There’s really no phrase or easy way to describe the culture in D.C., except to say that it’s an eclectic mix of people from every country, background and status, all jumbled in one bustling city bent on who’s in power.

  • On June 30, 2013
    Mary Beth Albright answered the question: Mary Beth Albright

    What is Washington D.C.’s dining scene like?

    Washington’s dining scene is as diverse as its residents. On one level, there are the up-in-bright-lights fine dining restaurants in busy areas that capture the glitterati’s imaginations and get almost as much ink as Kate Middleton’s pregnancy. Some of them are worthy of the hype – I’m thinking of Komi, Bourbon Steak, and The Source.

    DC has terrific off-the-beaten-path choices too, like the outdoor garden at The Tabard Inn (or the cozy dining room in winter) and Palena in Cleveland Park for both high-end dining or the busy no-reservations café which serves the city’s greatest roast chicken and hamburgers, in addition to delicate consommés and crudo.

    Don’t neglect niche restaurants that are positively crave worthy. Amsterdam Falafel Shop in Adams Morgan makes such great chickpea patties, they didn’t need to make some of the city’s best French fries too…but they do, served steaming in a paper bag that keeps these crunchy potatoes hot until you devour them on your walk home. Etete serves terrific Ethiopian food.

    For outdoor dining, head for the firepits and Southern comforts of Art & Soul, with a direct view of the Capitol Dome. This summer, it’s offering alfresco supers the second Saturday of each month, with a reception, four-course meal and drink pairings. The past couple of suppers have boasted whole roasted lamb and clambake, so come hungry. Often a great view means mediocre food, but waterfront dining alfresco in Georgetown is as good as it gets at Farmers Fishers Bakers, with a New American menu showcasing the country’s best ingredients.
  • On June 30, 2013
    Mary Beth Albright answered the question: Mary Beth Albright

    What are the best day trips near Washington D.C.?

    After an early renaissance that was, for some wineries, as rocky as Burgundian soil, Virginia vineyards are blooming into their full potential. For one-stop tasting, head to Early Mountain Vineyards where owners Steve and Jean Case have created a hub for showcasing Virginia wines and food. Opened just last year at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the tasting room offers sips from ten or so different Virginia wineries, including the spectacular Linden, Barboursville, and Thibaut-Janisson labels. Our favorite comes from Early Mountain’s own property, a lush 2008 Merlot.

    Early Mountain shows off the state’s terroir by matching local artisanal foods with their wines in a casual, relaxed atmosphere. Antipasti plates of famed Virginia ham and local cow- and goat-milk cheeses paired with vino taste even better when sinking into one of the long room’s plush couches. Live music and a blazing fireplace welcome imbibers from 6 to 8 pm Fridays in the winter, and there’s a picnic space for warmer weather. Or buy a sandwich to-go from the Marketplace and take a stroll through nearby Shenandoah National Park, where the wildflowers arrive in March and April.

    Another fantastic destination for locavores is The Inn at Perry Cabin, which recently added five hives that house 80,000 bees. The Inn’s chef uses their honey in dishes, and massage therapists incorporate the honey in treatments at the Linden spa.
  • On June 30, 2013
    Mary Beth Albright answered the question: Mary Beth Albright

    Where is the best ice cream in Washington D.C.?

    Dolcezza Artisanal Gelato is a DC company with a cult-like following. New for summer: Dolcezza’s soft-serve gelato maker, DC’s first, which makes the best ice cream sundae imaginable at its Dupont Circle location. Consider the DDL Sundae, a cup swirled high with dulce de leche gelato (blackberry is another seasonal flavor), homemade meringue, local-strawberry jam, and Valrhona chocolate brownies.

    Using local milk and seasonal ingredients, Dolcezza's take on ice cream is a trip to Nirvana. Their gelato makers have a chef's eye for ingredients, like the Sicilian Blood Orange Sorbetto made with that special Italian fruit or the Valrhona Chocolate Gelato, using the special French luxury chocolate. I've been know to order their Valrhona hot chocolate in July, for the thick, pudding-like drink that is 70% chocolate (as it was made in 1920s France). If sweet isn't your thing, Dolcezza serves an amazing cappuccino.

    With four area stores and stands at several farmers' markets, Dolcezza reigns as a top DC frozen treat.
  • On June 30, 2013
    Mary Beth Albright answered the question: Mary Beth Albright

    What festivals are going on in Washington D.C.?

    The upcoming Capital Fringe Festival is one of my favorite summer events. From July 11-28, more than 135 groups will perform eclectic selections throughout the city, from burlesque interpretations of Stanley Kubrick’s movies Mme. Macbeth (in which the women rule the world and then men are domestic plotters). The only rule is that all performances chosen by the Fringe Committee are creative and uninhibited.

    Another can’t miss Shakespeare show: “43 and ½”, staging just the deaths and “stabby bits” from the Bard’s masterpieces. Even if you’re not a performance-art aficionado, stop by the festival’s Baldacchino Gypsy Tent Bar for prosecco, craft beer, and one of the coolest, most artistic crowd in Washington.
  • On June 30, 2013
    Mary Beth Albright answered the question: Mary Beth Albright

    What are the best museums in Washington D.C.?

    One of our favorite spots is the International Spy Museum, proof positive that DC has evolved since your eighth-grade field trip. Check in and you’ll receive a dossier with a secret identity. Then travel through interactive exhibits on hush-hush missions and discover DC’s covert history with a GPS-guided tour of the city’s top spy spots. Special programs include Argo Exposed, a comprehensive history of the real events that inspired the Academy Awards’ Best Picture this year, and SpyKids, a drop-off class for children (one recent topic: ninjas). The museum also houses one of the city’s niftiest gift shops.

    With the world’s largest collection of Shakespeare materials, the Folger Shakespeare Library on Capitol Hill has gorgeous gardens, spontaneous readings of the Bard’s best, and my favorite stained-glass window in DC, of the Stages of Man. The Kreeger Museum boasts Cezannes, Renoirs, Picassos – and outside you’ll discover five sculpture-filled gardens designed by legendary architect Philip Johnson.

    The US Botanic Garden is terrific for all seasons, but we especially love it in winter and early spring – few experiences chase the chill away quite like stepping out of the blustery cold and into a hothouse filled with Hawaiian orchids. Under the shadow of the dome on Capitol Hill, the Conservatory houses several different climates, including jungles and deserts, and thousands of plants. The perfect spot for a clandestine political meeting.
  • On June 27, 2013
    McLean Robbins answered the question: McLean Robbins

    What are the best technology hotels in Washington D.C.?

    Technology at hotels in Washington, DC might be fairly standard among the luxury set, but the most technologically advanced property in the city is likely its newest – Capella Washington, DC Georgetown. Just opened in March, 2013, the property offers tablet based check-in and in-room tablets for guest use, a state of the art sound system, and complimentary Wi-Fi throughout. An additional touch we particularly enjoy is the use of personal assistants who correspond with guests before and during their stay. These assistants can do all of the up-front work of planning dinners, shows and travel via email, telephone, or even text message.
  • On June 27, 2013
    McLean Robbins answered the question: McLean Robbins

    Where is the best outlet shopping in Washington D.C.?

    While Washington, DC boasts its fair share of stores like TJ Maxx and Loehmann’s, there aren’t any outlet malls in the city proper. That said, just a short drive away are three great areas for outlet and discount shopping.

    The first and largest is Potomac Mills Mall, a 30 to 45-minute drive from DC. This indoor mall boasts outlet versions of stores like Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdales, plus hundreds of other stores, a movie theater, an Ikea and much, much more.

    We also love the outdoor Leesburg Corner Premium Outlets, which offers a number of high-end stores just 20 minutes from Tysons Corner. Find Saks Fifth Avenue, Williams & Sonoma, Restoration Hardware, Barney’s, Burberry and Kate Spade here, among others.

    If you’re in the mood to drive about 45 minutes, try Arundel Mills Mall, which also offers Maryland’s best live action casino, Maryland Live! next door. Here, find Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and your standard array of outlet shops, plus a movie theater and dozens of restaurants.
  • On June 27, 2013
    McLean Robbins answered the question: McLean Robbins

    What are the best waterfront hotels in Washington D.C.?

    Washington, DC’s best waterfront hotel is undoubtedly the Four Star Mandarin Oriental Washington, DC, located on the city’s Southwest waterfront. The Mandarin is a standout among its U.S.-based counterparts, offering one of the city’s best fine dining restaurants (rated Four Stars by Forbes), CityZen, a popular afternoon tea, a Four Star rated spa and spacious guestrooms. If possible, opt for a guestroom offering views of the tidal basin and monuments. Cherry Blossom season is a particularly picturesque time to visit the hotel, as it offers prime views of the blooms and a location that is walking distance to many of the monuments and museums of the National Mall. Sunset is also a particularly pretty time to visit this hotel, as many rooms offer views of the planes taking off and landing at nearby Reagan National Airport.
  • On June 27, 2013
    McLean Robbins answered the question: McLean Robbins

    What are the best boutique hotels in Washington D.C.?

    While there are a number of wonderful name brand hotels in Washington, D.C., some of our favorites are the boutique properties. Our all time favorite is the Four Star Jefferson Hotel, located at 16th and M Streets Northwest, just a few blocks from the White House and minutes from major leisure and business attractions. The Jefferson boasts one of the area’s best fine dining restaurants, Plume, a boutique spa, and Quill, a craft cocktail bar. If you have the chance, opt for one of the hotel’s signature suites, which offer spacious separate living areas and décor themed around Jefferson’s passions – art, music, gardening and wine.
  • On June 27, 2013
    McLean Robbins answered the question: McLean Robbins

    What are the best kid-friendly restaurants in Washington D.C.?

    Washingtonians bring their kids almost anywhere, so many of the area’s best restaurants are also kid friendly. Many kid-friendly restaurants are clustered near the National Mall – try a place like Matchbox in Penn Quarter, where you’ll find a menu full of kid-friendly items like sliders and pizzas. Gordon Biersch, a popular chain, also has a location downtown. Another favorite would be the popular Pete’s APizza, a New Haven-style pizzeria with locations in Clarendon, Columbia Heights, Tenleytown and more.
  • On June 27, 2013
    McLean Robbins answered the question: McLean Robbins

    What are the best golf courses in Washington D.C.?

    It’s easy to find a great golf course in and around Washington, D.C. Relatively temperate climates mean that you can golf year-round, and the wealth of public courses in the area means that it’s easy to get on the links whenever you want. Here are a few of our favorites:

    Rock Creek Golf Course is located inside in the confines of Rock Creek Park. This public course offers a real refuge from city life. In addition to 18 holes of golf, the course has a 3,500 square foot putting green, pro shop, snack cart and beverage cart.

    East Potomac Golf Course is one of the city’s most well-known courses and is ideally located just minutes from the National Mall and monuments. In addition to heated driving ranges (also a great place for golf lessons) the course actually offers three unique areas, an 18-hole Blue Course and two 9-hole courses, dubbed Red and White for their varying levels of difficulty. You’ll also find a 3-hole practice course, mini golf course, pro shop and restaurant.
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