"To be totally honest, this was probably the most challenging travel editorial project that I’ve done," says Jess Moss, coauthor of the just-released Frommer's EasyGuide to Washington, D.C.
The "easy" in the title refers to how convenient the book makes visiting the city for you, the reader. But writing the thing, according to the guide's other author, Kaeli Conforti, required learning to "navigate D.C.’s ever-changing Covid-19 restrictions and keep track of which places had closed as a result of the pandemic."
Plus, adds Moss, "we had the double whammy of not just the pandemic impacting things but the events of January 6, ," which led to even more restrictions and temporary closures (as of this writing, for instance, visitors are still not allowed to tour the U.S. Capitol).
But despite the turmoil and uncertainty of the last two years, both authors maintain that D.C. is still a uniquely rewarding destination for tourists interested in history, culture, cuisine, and the outdoors.
Museums have reopened, and the majority of them—notably, the ones operated by the Smithsonian—are still free (though you should check to see if you need an advance reservation). Freshly unveiled monuments and memorials invite reflection on important movements, conflicts, and historical figures.
And, according to Conforti, there's no shortage of intriguing new "hotels, bars, and attractions that opened up despite everything, a true testament to the city’s resilience."
We caught up with Moss (via phone) and Conforti (by email) to get the lowdown on D.C.'s trendy bars and neighborhoods, the best place to take a hike, and the one new sight every visitor should see. Responses have been condensed and edited for clarity.
FROMMER'S: What was it like to research a guidebook during the pandemic?
KAELI CONFORTI: Working on this guidebook was the excuse I needed to safely explore D.C. at a time when many tourists simply weren’t around. I especially enjoyed checking out many of the District’s best hotels, bars, and beer gardens, and working on the "Day Trips" chapter, which allowed me to geek out at all the historical places I visited in Old Town Alexandria and Mount Vernon.
What's something new that readers should see?
JESS MOSS: The most significant is Black Lives Matter Plaza. In the summer of 2020, when the George Floyd protests erupted around the country, there were protests right outside the White House. As a statement of the city’s values, our mayor commissioned a bunch of local artists to paint this enormous mural on the street that says “Black Lives Matter.” It’s on the two blocks of 16th Street that lead right up to the White House. It’s a place where people now come to reflect or celebrate. Sometimes there are gatherings, impromptu dance parties. It’s important to see and a good reminder of everything that still needs to be fought for.
(July 2020 photo of Black Lives Matter Plaza leading to the White House; credit: Allison C Bailey / Shutterstock)
If you only had a day to show a first-time visitor around, where would you go?
JM: I know it is the most touristy part of Washington, but I still think you can’t visit without seeing the National Mall. What I love about it is it’s used by locals. I run there most days. You’ll see all these social softball and kickball teams playing right below the Washington Monument. You have to start with the Mall. And I’m biased because I live in the Dupont Circle neighborhood, but I would come up here. It’s really fun to walk along the streets and see all the embassies. Try to guess what country [each embassy] is based on the flag.
What about nightlife?
KC: There are plenty of new bars to check out, like Lady Bird, the new rooftop bar at the Kimpton Banneker Hotel, and Never Looked Better, a funky speakeasy in Shaw’s Blagden Alley.
What's the best time of year to visit D.C.?
JM: Spring and fall are probably my favorites because of the ability to be outdoors without sweating a ton. But summer is amazing. If you’re ready for a little heat, there’s so much going on. You can get out on the river. There’s Rock Creek Park—one of my favorite places to go hiking. You kind of forget that you’re in a major city because [the park is] so green and wooded. It’s full of great trails for hiking or biking or running. You hear nature instead of cars.
KC:I love taking long walks around the Tidal Basin in the spring when the cherry blossoms are in bloom, in Rock Creek Park when the leaves change in the fall, and all year long through the Greater U Street Heritage District. Otherwise, you’ll find me picnicking along the National Mall, checking out the ice skating rinks in winter, and attending festivals by The Wharf in summer.
(Rock Creek Park; credit: Robert A. Powell / Shutterstock)
Any upcoming travel plans?
JM: It's been a really cold winter here, so I'm excited to be in the D.C. area as it starts to warm up. In a day, you can be in the mountains and go hiking at Shenandoah National Park, or you can head to the beach and have an awesome weekend at the Delaware, Maryland, or Virginia shore. Then you have the Chesapeake Bay. There’s so much to do within three hours of D.C.
Frommer's EasyGuide to Washington, D.C., by Kaeli Conforti and Jess Moss is available now.
For insights from the authors of other recent Frommer's releases, check out our features on the latest editions of Frommer's EasyGuide to Paris; Frommer's Maine Coast; Frommer's EasyGuide to Disney, Universal & Orlando; and Frommer's New York City Day by Day.