Adams Morgan -- This ever-trendy, multiethnic neighborhood is crammed with boutiques, bars, clubs, and restaurants. Everything is located on either 18th Street NW or Columbia Road NW. In 2015, Adams Morgan expects to welcome the first hotel to be located within its actual boundaries; until then, the nearest hotel options remain in the nearby Dupont Circle and Woodley Park neighborhoods. Parking is manageable during the day but difficult at night, especially on weekends (a parking garage on Champlain St., just off 18th St., helps a little). Luckily, you can easily walk to Adams Morgan from the Dupont Circle or Woodley Park Metro stops, or take the bus or a taxi there. (Be alert in Adams Morgan at night and try to stick to the main streets: 18th St. and Columbia Rd.) The weekend begins Thursday nights in the nightlife-centric world of Adams Morgan.
Anacostia -- When people talk about the Washington, D.C. that tourists never see, they’re talking about neighborhoods like this; in fact, they’re usually talking about Anacostia, specifically. Named for the river that separates it from “mainland” D.C., it’s an old part of town, with little commercial development and mostly modest, often low-income housing. Anacostia does have two attractions: the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum and the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site.
Atlas District -- The Atlas District, no more than a section of H Street NE to the northeast of Union Station, stretches between 4th and 14th streets, but centers on the 12th to 14th streets segment. Primarily known as a nightlife and live music destination, the neighborhood has its fair share of recommendable casual dining spots, too. A hardscrabble part of town by day, the Atlas District turns into a playground at night, especially Thursday through Saturday, as the city’s thirsty scenemakers hit the street. There are no hotels, for now. A much-talked-about streetcar line debuted in the summer of 2014, finally providing the neighborhood with easier access to and from other parts of town and the nearest Metro stop (Union Station).
Barracks Row -- Barracks Row refers mainly to a single stretch of 8th Street SE, south of Pennsylvania Avenue SE, but also to side streets occupied by Marine Corps barracks since 1801 (hence the name). This southeastern subsection of Capitol Hill is known for its lineup of shops, casual bistros, and pubs. Its attractions continue to grow as a result of the 2008 opening of the Nationals baseball team’s stadium, Nationals Park, half a mile away. In fact, the ballpark has spawned its own neighborhood, dubbed the Capitol Riverfront. The closest hotels are the Capitol Hill Hotel, six blocks away, at C and 2nd St. SE, close to the Capitol, and those in Capitol Riverfront.
Capitol Hill -- Everyone’s heard of “the Hill,” the area crowned by the Capitol building. The term, in fact, refers to a large section of town, extending from the western side of the Capitol to the D.C. Armory going east, bounded by H Street to the north and the Southwest Freeway to the south. It contains not only this chief symbol of the nation’s capital, but also the Supreme Court Building, the Library of Congress, the Folger Shakespeare Library, Union Station, and Eastern Market. Much of it is a quiet residential neighborhood of tree-lined streets, rows of Federal and Victorian town houses, and old churches. Restaurants keep increasing their numbers, with most located along Pennsylvania Avenue SE on the south side of the Capitol and near North Capitol Street NW on the north side of the Capitol—the north side, near Union Station, is where most of the hotels are, too. Keep to the well-lit, well-traveled streets at night, and don’t walk alone—crime occurs more frequently in this neighborhood than in some other parts of town.
Capitol Riverfront -- The opening of Nationals Park in 2008 has led the way in the development of this old and worn part of town. The revitalized 500-acre neighborhood abuts 1 1/2 miles of the Anacostia River and, besides the ballpark, has a relatively new Courtyard by Marriott hotel (other hotels are due to open in 2015 and beyond), several restaurants, and public parks, trails, and docks. More to come.
Cleveland Park -- Cleveland Park, just north of Woodley Park, is a picturesque enclave of winding, tree-shaded streets dotted with charming old houses with wraparound porches. The streets extend off the main artery, Connecticut Avenue. With its own stop on the Red Line Metro system and a respectable number of good restaurants, Cleveland Park is worth visiting when you’re near the zoo (just up the street) or are seeking a good meal after a bike ride or stroll through nearby Rock Creek Park. Most hotels lie a short walk away in Woodley Park, and farther south in the city.
Downtown -- The area bounded roughly by 6th and 21st streets NW to the east and west, and M Street and Pennsylvania Avenue to the north and south, is a mix of the Federal Triangle’s government office buildings; K Street, ground zero for the city’s countless law and lobbying firms; Connecticut Avenue restaurants and shopping; historic hotels; the city’s poshest small hotels; Chinatown; the huge Walter E. Washington Convention Center and, as of mid-2014, its companion hotel, the Marriott Marquis; and the White House. You’ll also find the historic Penn Quarter, one of D.C.’s hottest locales, which has continued to flourish since the 1997 opening of the Verizon Center (the venue for Wizards and Mystics and Georgetown University basketball games, Capitals hockey games, and rock concerts). A number of off-the-Mall museums, like the mammoth Newseum, the International Spy Museum, and the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery and American Art Museum, are here. This is also where you’ll find hip restaurants, boutique hotels, and nightclubs. The total downtown area encompasses so many blocks and attractions that I’ve divided discussions of attractions, restaurants, and hotels in this area into two sections: “Midtown,” referring to the area from 15th Street west to 21st Street, and from Pennsylvania Avenue north to M Street; and “Penn Quarter,” from 15th Street east to 6th Street, and Pennsylvania Avenue north to New York Avenue.
Dupont Circle -- One of my favorite parts of town, Dupont Circle provides easy fun, day or night. It takes its name from the traffic circle minipark, where Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Connecticut avenues converge. Washington’s famous Embassy Row centers on Dupont Circle and refers to the parade of grand embassy mansions lining Massachusetts Avenue and its side streets. The streets extending out from the circle are lively, with all-night bookstores, good restaurants, wonderful art galleries and art museums, nightspots, and Washingtonians at their loosest. It is also the hub of D.C.’s gay community. There are plenty of hotel choices in this neighborhood, and most of them are moderately priced.
Foggy Bottom/West End -- The area west of the White House, south of Dupont Circle, and east of Georgetown encompasses both Foggy Bottom and the West End. Foggy Bottom, located below, or south, of Pennsylvania Avenue, was Washington’s early industrial center. Its name comes from the foul fumes emitted in those days by a coal depot and gasworks, but its original name, Funkstown (for owner Jacob Funk), is perhaps even worse. There’s nothing foul nor funky about the area today. The West End edges north of Pennsylvania Avenue, booming with the latest big-name restaurants and new office buildings. Together the overlapping Foggy Bottom and West End neighborhoods present a mix: the Kennedy Center, town-house residences, George Washington University campus buildings, offices for the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, State Department headquarters, small- and medium-sized hotels, student bars, and several fine eateries, lining either side of Pennsylvania Avenue and its side streets.
Georgetown -- This historic community dates from Colonial times. It was a thriving tobacco port long before the District of Columbia was formed, and one of its attractions, the Old Stone House, dates from pre-Revolutionary days. Georgetown action centers on M Street and Wisconsin Avenue NW, where you’ll find numerous boutiques, chic restaurants, and popular pubs. Expect lots of nightlife here. Luxury hotels, like the Capella, dominate. Fortunately, less pricey options are available, as well. Detour from the main drags to relish the quiet, tree-lined streets of restored Colonial row houses, stroll the beautiful gardens of Dumbarton Oaks, and check out the C&O Canal. Georgetown is also home to Georgetown University. Note: Not surprisingly, the neighborhood gets pretty raucous on weekends.
Glover Park -- Mostly a residential neighborhood, this section of town just above Georgetown and just south of the Washington National Cathedral is worth mentioning because of several good restaurants and bars located along its main stretch, Wisconsin Avenue NW. Glover Park sits between the campuses of Georgetown and American universities, so there’s a large student presence here.
The National Mall -- This lovely, tree-lined stretch of open space between Constitution and Independence avenues, extending for nearly 2 miles from the foot of the Capitol to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, is the hub of tourist attractions. It includes most of the Smithsonian Institution museums and several other notable sites. Tourists as well as natives—joggers, food vendors, kite flyers, and picnickers among them—traipse the 700-acre Mall. Most hotels and restaurants are located beyond the Mall to the north, with a few located south of the Mall, across Independence Avenue. The proper name for the entire parkland area that encompasses the National Mall, as well as the Jefferson, FDR, and Martin Luther King, Jr. memorials and other sites, is actually National Mall and Memorial Parks, which is how I refer to it in chapter 6.
Midtown -- This refers roughly to the part of downtown from 15th Street west to 21st Street, and from Pennsylvania Avenue north to M Street.
Mount Vernon Square -- Located due north of the Penn Quarter and central downtown, east of the U&14th Street Corridors, and west of Mount Vernon Triangle, this area defines urban renewal, thanks to the opening of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in 2003, and a convention center hotel, the Marriott Marquis, in 2014. Other development includes a complex known as CityMarket at O, which holds a just-opened Cambria Suites hotel, apartments, markets, and shops.
Mount Vernon Triangle -- Yet another old neighborhood experiencing renewal, Mount Vernon lies east of the convention center, its boundary streets of New Jersey, Massachusetts, and New York avenues defining a perfectly shaped triangle. Within that triangle, hotspots, such as the trendy restaurant Kushi, are starting to multiply. The neighborhood has one hotel, a Hampton Inn, and there is talk of more on the way.
NoMa -- NoMa, as in “North of Massachusetts,” is a curious mix of a neighborhood. Located east of downtown D.C. and directly north of Union Station, NoMa’s got old residential streets of real character, but also major thoroughfares, such as New York Avenue, North Capitol Street, and Florida Avenue, slicing through, which makes it not the most walkable of areas. Wide swaths of commuter and Amtrak train tracks form the neighborhood’s eastern boundary. Except for the smattering of pleasant side streets, the place has an industrial look about it. And yet, NoMa won’t be ignored, and here’s why you shouldn’t: You’re close to Capitol Hill and Union Station, have access to two Metro stations, bike stations and a bike path, and the neighborhood has caught the eye of developers, who have built three hotels here in the last few years and more and more restaurants. (The popular Union Market, attracts people from all over the city.) If you’re here on Capitol Hill business, especially, this might be a good pick.
Northern Virginia -- Across the Potomac River from the capital lies Northern Virginia and its close-in city/towns of Arlington and Old Town Alexandria. The Arlington Memorial Bridge leads directly from the Lincoln Memorial to Arlington National Cemetery, and beyond to Arlington and Old Town. Commuters travel back and forth between the District and Virginia all day using the Arlington Memorial Bridge and others, including the Key Bridge, which leads to and from Georgetown; the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Bridge, whose roadways connect Rte. 50 and I-66; and the 14th Street Bridge, whose I-395 roadway connects downtown D.C. and Northern Virginia’s access to I-95 and points south.
Penn Quarter -- This refers roughly to the part of downtown from 15th Street east to 6th Street, and Pennsylvania Avenue north to New York Avenue.
Southwest/Waterfront -- It’s happening, people: Investors and developers are at last working to transform the waterfront into an attractive and vital area of the city! 2017 is the target for completion, but you can expect openings of hotels, restaurants, and music venues between now and then. As the new buildings go up, this stretch of waterfront continues as a working marina, with fishing boats docked the length of the Washington Channel and vendors selling fresh crabs and fish from stalls up and down the promenade. This is where locals and restaurateurs come to buy fresh seafood. The neighborhood is also home to the acclaimed Arena Stage, another excellent reason to visit this out-of-the-way section of town. Southwest does have its own Metro station (Southwest-Waterfront, on the Green Line).
U&14th Street Corridors -- U Street NW and 14th Street NW form the crux of D.C.’s most diverse neighborhood, where people of varied race, color, nationality, and age mix more comfortably than anywhere else in the city. The quarter continues to rise from the ashes of long-ago “Black Broadway” nightclubs and theaters, where jazz and blues legends Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and Cab Calloway once performed. Today clubs like the renovated Howard Theatre and the smaller Twins Jazz honor that legacy, drawing jazz lovers, while the Corridor’s many bar hangouts fill nightly with the city’s young and restless. New restaurants and little shops proliferate, including offshoots of successful startups in other neighborhoods. The Penn Quarter may be hot and high energy, but the U&14th Street Corridors are officially now the hippest part of town. The Helix is one of the few hotels within the neighborhood’s near reach. FYI: My presentation of the U&14th Street Corridors neighborhood in this book encompasses the greater Shaw neighborhood as well as smaller areas, like Logan Circle.
Woodley Park -- Home to the second-largest hotel (the Washington Marriott Wardman Park, with nearly 1,152 rooms, now stands behind the new convention hotel, the Marriott Marquis, with 1,175.), Woodley Park boasts the National Zoo, many good restaurants, and some antiques stores. Washingtonians are used to seeing conventioneers wandering the neighborhood’s pretty residential streets with their name tags still on.