Where to Stay in DC: Let’s Explore Washington DC Neighborhoods
There are dozens of outstanding hotels in Washington DC, the problem is deciding which one is right for you. While researching the Unofficial Guide to Washington DC, I was able to create a list of my favorite hotels—accommodations that offer comfort, luxury and location. I’ve also described some of the top attractions found in each neighborhood. I hope it will help you plan your vacation or business trip to the area. If you’re planning a trip to the Nation’s Capital, the Unofficial Guide to DC will be a huge help. Find the book here.
The National Mall
Besides Times Square in New York, The National Mall is perhaps the best known neighborhood in America. Known for its iconic monuments and lavish museums, these spacious sidewalks, ancient elms, grassy landscape and wide avenues are the centerpiece of Washington DC. Along both sides of the National Mall you’ll find the Smithsonian collection of museums including the Air and Space Museum, National Museum of Natural History, National Museum of American History, National Museum of African American History and Culture as well as the American Indian Museum. Other highlights include the Jefferson, Lincoln, Korean, FDR, WWII and Vietnam Memorials along with the 2000 ft-long reflecting pool. Please don’t forget the incredible National Gallery of Art with it’s soaring East Wing expansion. It’s crazy how much there is to do here, and almost everything is FREE!!! Many of Washington’s first-class hotels are steps away, like the Mandarin Oriental, The Willard Intercontinental Hotel, The W Hotel and the Sofitel Washington DC. For more options, see the White House and Midtown paragraph below. For dining consider District Taco, Fiola, Old Ebbitt Grill and The Source. Inside the museums, check out Mitsitam Cafe in the American Indian Museum, Sweet Home Cafe in the African American Museum of History & Culture, The Pavilion Cafe in the National Gallery of Art and Manna in the Museum of the Bible.
Midtown and the White House
Visitors choose this neighborhood because of the concentration of attractions, namely the White House, but also the historic National Theatre, Freedom Plaza, DAR Museum and the Renwick American Art Museums. There are several luxury hotels in this area that cater the most discerning of visitors. They include The St. Regis Hotel, The Hay Adams Hotel, the Loews Madison Hotel, the Hamilton Crowne Plaza, and the Jefferson Hotel. All are award-winning boutique properties and worth the splurge.
Capitol Hill and Barracks Row
The seat of lawmaking in America, these two adjacent neighborhoods contain the chief symbol of the nation– the US Capitol–but also the Supreme Court, the Library of Congress, Folger Shakespeare Library, Eastern Market, National Postal Museum and Union Station. You’ll find the beaux arts Union Station—the city’s Amtrak and subway station—both stunning, yet practical, with excellent eateries and shops. Blocks away, National’s Stadium inspired a renaissance in the area closer to the riverfront called Barracks Row. The new U.S. Capitol Visitors Center (underground at the US Capitol) is a must see. Residential architecture in the neighborhood consists of charming Victorian townhomes with wrought iron gates and colorful gardens. The restaurant and bar scene draws the Hill staffers and young families. Best hotels in this neighborhood include The Liaison Capitol Hill, Courtyard Washington Capitol Hill/Navy Yard and a short distance away, The Hotel George by Kimpton Hotels.
Federal Triangle and Convention Center
This busy area is filled with fast-moving federal employees making their way through tourists. Many visitors choose this area because of the proximity to the Washington DC Convention Center. But there are some attractions of note too. You’ll be impressed by the soaring ceiling in the National Building Museum and the classical architecture at National Museum of Women in the Arts. There are also some posh, celebrated restaurants near this neighborhood. Nearby hotels include Morrison Clark Hotel, the Henley Park Hotel, The Donovan and the Marriott Marquis.
Adams Morgan and Columbia Heights
These two very international neighborhoods are chock full of restaurants, nightclubs and historic homes. Adams Morgan and Columbia Heights have evolved from being funky and experimental, to becoming gentrified in many areas. There’s a thriving nightlife scene that draws hip bands and popular DJ’s. Washington’s first Hispanic and African cultural influences originated here, and its Western Market offers the zesty flavors and multi-cultural crafts reflecting residents’ homelands. There aren’t any chain hotels here but the Washington Marriott Wardman Park and Omni Shoreham are a short walk away, and for a charming bed and breakfast, consider the Woodley Park Guest House.
Cleveland Park and Woodley Park
Once DC’s suburbs, today’s affluent urbanites live in sprawling art deco apartment homes and historic mansions. The National Zoological Park is the beating heart of these neighborhoods. Not far from Woodley Park is the highest point in the city, and on this hill is the magnificent National Cathedral. Residents and visitors add to the eclectic restaurant and boutique-shopping scene on Connecticut Avenue, its central artery. With two Metrorail stations, and embraced by verdant Rock Creek Park, these neighborhoods attract Washingtonians who love having parkland as their backyard playground. Superb hotels near these neighborhoods are The Line DC, Washington Marriott Wardman Park, Woodley Park Guesthouse and the Churchill Hotel.
Once a collection of Chinese restaurants and hidden dance clubs, Penn Quarter rose to become a prosperous, dynamic neighborhood frequented by sports fans and culture clubbers alike. Several outstanding museums are located here–Ford’s Theatre and its Center for Education and Leadership, The Spy Museum, Smithsonian Museum of American Art/National Portrait Gallery, and Marian Koshland Science Center. The Verizon Center is home of the town’s pro-teams: The Wizards, Mystics and Capitals. Revelers are drawn both to the venue, and to the exciting restaurants nearby including Zaytinya, Carmine’s, , 701, The Smith, Unconventional Diner, Momofuku DC, Daikaya, Hill Street Barbecue, China Chilcano and Oyamel. The busy Gallery Place Metrorail station is central to visiting the museums, and there are many excellent hotels in this area including the Hotel Monaco, Grand Hyatt and the Renaissance Washington DC Hotel.
Foggy Bottom/West End
Formerly an industrial complex where coal smoke and a rendering plant emitted foul odors (hence the name), it’s actually a very fashionable neighborhood, home to the State Department, the World Bank and a lively student population attending George Washington University. The collegiate atmosphere adds energy to stately town houses and office buildings. Fine hotels like the Washington Fairmont Hotel, the elegant Park Hyatt, the Washington DC Ritz Carlton and the Four Seasons, along with restaurants like Rasika West, The Pig, Blue Duck Tavern, Bindass, Beefsteak (fast casual vegetarian) and Marcel’s dot this neighborhood stretched along the Potomac shoreline. Popular with runners, bikers and kayakers, it’s the southernmost point of Rock Creek Park. Foggy Bottom is also the nearest Metrorail station to Georgetown, the Watergate and the Kennedy Center. The Watergate Hotel is another option for history lovers as well.
U Street Corridor and Logan Circle
This neighborhood is what The Washington Post calls “Washington’s Main Street” with its lovelly mixture of historic homes, grand buildings, spacious parks and wide streets. It’s also the home of some of Washington’s busiest restaurants, like the brewpub ChurchKey, Le Diplomat, Busboys and Poets, and Barcelona Wine Bar. The DC Government offices and millennials helped fuel the growth of this progressive area, where some of DC’s most-celebrated bars, galleries, music venues and boutiques await sophisticated clientele. This was also formerly Washington’s “Black Broadway,” and the Studio Theatre draws audiences seeking cutting edge-performances and cocktails to follow. The best places to stay are the Kimpton Carlyle, Kimpton Mason & Rook Hotel and the Kimpton Rouge Hotel.
Dupont Circle and Kalorama
Spokes of Washington’s broadest avenues meet here at Dupont Circle, the premier circular park surrounded by benches perfect for people watching. This area has lots of boutiques and restaurants for every budget. The neighborhood is home to the Woodrow Wilson House and the Phillips Collection with its fine collection of modern and impressionist paintings. Swanky mansions crowd into Kalorama Circle, now home to the Obama’s and Ivanka Trump’s family. Network news staffers, luxurious hotels and fashionable restaurants add to the chic. This is where some of my favorite Washington hotels are found including the Dupont Circle Hotel, Mayflower Renaissance, Tabard Inn, Hotel Palomar, Topaz Hotel, and the Dupont Circle Hotel. For standout hotels consider Kinship, Iron Gate, Teddy & the Bully Bar, Ankara and The Riggsby.
The only downside of charming Georgetown is that there’s no Metro stop, but the Circulator Bus makes it easy to get around with a loop to Union Station for just $1. Many feel a visit here is the highlight of their trip to Washington DC with Georgetown’s chic shops and stunning Federal row houses. Steeped in its colonial roots, the preservation society fiercely protects these historic row houses leaning crookedly along cobblestone streets. Georgetown is best visited on foot with enough time to browse the upscale stores, peek into private grounds and sample tasty bistros. Georgetown offers beautiful views from the steep hills lining the banks of the Potomac. Visitors will be impressed by the stately buildings that make up Georgetown University and the lush gardens at Dumbarton Oaks. My favorite luxury hotels here include the Ritz Carlton and the Graham Hotel. For dining consider Il Canale, Fiola Mare, Farmers Fishers Bakers and Das Ethiopian, Thunder Burger, Good Stuff Eatery and Patisserie Poupon to name a few.
Embassy Row and Glover Park
You can’t enter the Vice President’s home at the Naval Observatory, but you can stroll alongside dozens of embassies in this neighborhood–many reflecting the pride and culture of their nation. The curious should visit in May for “Passport DC,” when embassies offer open houses and host events. The neighborhood sits between the campuses of American and Georgetown Universities, so there’s a strong student vibe and several trendy restaurants on Wisconsin Avenue. Under ornate bridges, picturesque Rock Creek trickles below. Visitors love staying at the Embassy Row Guest House because it will make them feel like a local, but there’s also the Normandy Hotel and the Fairfax at Embassy Row.
Not usually on the list of tourist sites or even visited by most residents, these neighborhoods have unique attractions including the National Arboretum and Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. These attractions have fewer restaurants or accommodations nearby, but it is worth a cab ride to explore these lesser known treasures. Another site Metrorail-accessible is the byzantine-style Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on the campus of Catholic University.