As you’re taking in the many historic sights of Washington DC, it may be tempting to show off that ‘I heart DC’ shirt you just picked up at the souvenir shop. But just like the magnets you bought, some souvenirs are better off displayed at home to avoid looking like a tourist.
Some souvenirs are better off displayed at home to avoid looking like a tourist.
That’s not the only thing that will make you stand out in DC. Are you the only one riding around in a pedicab? Did you dare to take a photo with your finger on the tip of the Washington Monument? And most importantly, did you say the full “Washington DC” out loud instead of just “DC”?
If you want to avoid getting asked by locals “Where are you from?”, here are 10 tips on how not to look like a tourist during your trip to DC.
1. Plan Your Trip At The Right Time
The bright and brisk springtime is when DC is at its peak prettiness. Instead of coming just for the museums, take a stroll around the Tidal Basin while the Cherry Blossoms are in bloom.
Time your trip perfectly to take part in the yearly National Cherry Blossom Festival that honors both American and Japanese cultures featuring a Japanese street festival, kite festival, live performances, art exhibits, a parade, and more.
You’ll not only have views of the pink frosted trees but the path also passes by the Jefferson Memorial, the National Mall, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial.
2. Leave The Car At Home
Skip the rental and travel throughout the city – as well as parts of Maryland and Virginia – with the DC Metro, formally the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.
Get around using the Metrorail from the early morning hours until 11:00 p.m. or the Metrobus which runs until midnight. Regular routes cost $2.00 per trip while express trips cost $4.25, and little ones ride free with an adult if they’re under 5. It may not be as well known as the New York City Subway but there is a Union Station stop.
There are also some familiar and localized ride-sharing apps for low-cost ways to get around. Compare fares on Via, Uber, and Lyft or schedule a taxi on the DC Yellow Cab or Curb apps.
If you prefer to be behind the wheel or handlebars, you can rent a car, bike, or scooter and pay as you go. Get behind the wheel when you need it with Car2Go, Zipcar, Free2Move, or Getaround. Start pedaling with many of the Capital Bikeshare or JUMP bikes around the city. Hop on a scooter using Lime, Bird, Skip, Spin, Lyft, JUMP, or Bolt.
3. Clear A Path For Fast Walkers
When you plan to take on DC by foot you may be tempted to stop suddenly to admire the sights or congregate to decide where to eat, especially when traveling with a group. But to avoid huffs and puffs from locals speeding to their next meeting or trying to make it to happy hour, remember to stick to one side of the sidewalk when you’re taking it slow.
Everyone in DC has somewhere to be all of the time so you’ll stick out if you’re standing around in the middle of the sidewalk. Think of the walkway as the highway and let faster foot traffic pass on the left.
This tip also covers the escalators for the Metro. If you get caught standing on the left you’ll hear way more than huffs and puffs from people trying to get by.
4. Meet The Locals for Happy Hour
When not rushing to work, DC area natives are usually rushing to happy hour hoping to take advantage of the time-sensitive drop-in menu prices. The best way to fit in is to join them.
Check out the Takoda Rooftop Beer Garden where happy hour drinks range from $4 – 8, the landmark Mexican eatery Lauriol Plaza for margaritas just under $4, or the Vietnamese and Caribbean inspired Immigrant Food for all-day happy hour with cocktails ranging from $5 – 8.
These primetime discounts aren’t just limited to drinks. Many happy hour specials include reduced pricing on food as well. Washington’s oldest bar Old Ebbitt Grill offers a daily happy hour on oysters and shellfish platters or you can pair drinks and axe throwing with $6 pizzas and $7 hummus at the ‘backyard game’ themed Throw Social.
Business attire not required.
5. Get Guided By A Local Expert
You want to see the monuments honoring historic leaders and events plus the government buildings where world leaders convene and then get a little shopping done but you’re not sure how to fit it all in. Let the expert local tour guides of USA Guided Tours handle the logistics so that you don’t miss a landmark.
Book a private or local tour for an insider’s look at the nation’s capital on the DC Highlights, Discover DC, DC Deluxe, Best of DC Tours, or choose from a dozen other themed itineraries. You can even venture out to surrounding sights such as Annapolis, MD, Old Town in Alexandria, VA, or the Luray Caverns. Many tours include your entry into monuments or museums as well as luxury transportation.
6. See As Many Museums As You Want
Washington DC has some of the country’s most famous attractions and museums, and just like the locals, you know that many of them are free to enter.
Not only is strolling past the White House or the National Monument free, but the Library of Congress, National Gallery of Art, and the 17 museums, galleries, and zoo of the Smithsonian Institution always offer free admission. You can also keep your coins when visiting the US Botanic Garden, Holocaust Memorial Museum, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, and more.
If they’re not free, they usually offer entry free of charge on certain days. On the first Sunday of every month, there’s no cost to enter the National Museum of Women in the Arts on their Free Community Day.
Check out the other museum websites on your wish list to see if they also offer free admission.
7. Save The Monuments For Night
Once the sun sets over DC, that doesn’t mean the sightseeing is done. That’s actually the perfect time to explore the monuments once they’re lit up at night.
Climb the stairs to visit the illuminated Lincoln Memorial in front of the reflecting pool that looks magical in the dark. Walk around World War II Memorial where the statues and fountain are flooded with light. Even the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is lit up so that all of the names can still be read. You can also book a DC at Dusk tour to see even more sights at night.
The museums may close but the monuments never sleep.
8. Skip The Chains And Support Local Favorites
Unless you’re in desperate need of Wi-Fi, pass up the coffee conglomerates and check out some of the best local brews and food spots around DC.
If you’re looking for something to eat on-the-go head to the Call Your Mother deli – then probably wait in line – and once inside choose from a variety of freshly made bagels, bagel sandwiches as big as your hands, or lunch boxes complete with chips and a pickle. They have a full range of drinks and coffees including the Nitro Cold Brew.
For homegrown local eats stop at The Market Lunch inside the Capitol Hill Eastern Market for breakfast and choose from omelets, fresh toast, or their weekend specials of blueberry pancakes, shrimp and grits, or chicken and waffles. For lunch pick up a burger, BBQ, or the DMV area staple crab cakes. On your way out, visit the local merchants of flowers, pottery, poultry, baked goods, and more.
Sit down and experience some of the area’s best comfort food at Ted’s Bulletin. Across their multiple locations in DC, the traditional American diner not only offers all-day breakfast, hearty meal options, classic and boozy milkshakes, and pies, they also serve homemade pop tarts. And in true diner fashion, get unlimited refills on brewed coffee.
9. Don’t Forget To Pack Your Sneakers
Those supportive soles won’t just be needed to pound the pavement, you can also enjoy quite a bit of nature in the DC area.
Federally managed since 1890, Rock Creek Park features over 32 miles of hiking trails, Civil War-era landmarks, furry friends including white-tailed deer, horseback riding, a tennis center, and evening stargazing programs from April to November.
You can also download their plant finder and stroll through the US National Arboretum. Covering almost 450 acres and nearly 700 plant introductions from all over the world you get to take in the fresh air among the trees, flowers, and herbs.
Really put those sneakers to use.
10. Escape The City For The Islands
Need a break from the crowds and noise of the city during your visit to DC? Take a trip to the man-made Kingman and Heritage Islands. As a part of the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail, you can access the islands by foot or bike.
Completed in 1916, the local’s haven of Kingman Island not only conducts environmental education programs but also welcomes visitors to enjoy activities such as kayaking, boating, birding with over 100 species of local and migratory birds, or hiking through the mile and a half long trail.
If you’re visiting DC during the spring, check out the Kingman Island Bluegrass and Folk Festival hosted every year featuring dozens of bands, food, drinks, and activities for all ages.
You can also just bring a picnic and enjoy the taste of DC island life.
Serita Braxton, USA Guided Tours Blog Contributor